Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cornerstone Questions: What Is The Difference Between Milk & Meat?

Over the past several months, I have tried to deal with several questions I receive at church on a regular basis. I figured that if people at church have the question, then someone else might as well. I have answered questions that have to do with what happens when you die; why Jesus is called the Everlasting Father; The Ten Commandments and Sabbath issues; and why there are only 66 books of the Bible. But today's question is certainly the most unique question so far. Actually, it was one of the earliest questions I received. I feel bad that it has taken this long to answer it. But I have really had to chew and think about it for some time. But here goes . . .

Question: What is the difference between the 'milk of the Word' and the 'meat of the Word? How do you know if and when you are eating the 'meat of the Word'? In a typical sermon, would there be both 'milk and meat'; kind of like a dinner?

The terms "milk" and "meat" have become associated with the teaching of God's Word. At least on some level. And there are a few passages in the Bible that actually use these terms to describe it. Let me begin then by looking at these verses to hopefully, gain some understanding of these terms. One of the most common passages is found in 1 Peter 2:2-3, where Peter wrote to encourage people to keep growing in their faith.
"Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation--if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Peter 2:2-3)
Peter is saying that the Christian should be like that newborn baby who longs for milk to eat. The use of the term "milk" here is simply a reference to the Word of God (the context makes that abundantly clear in 1:22-25). This is speaking more to the heart of the individual that longs for God's Word to be spoken into their life. Do you love reading the Bible? Do you love listening to preaching? Do you love your personal Bible study? And are the Scriptures providing your daily nourishment for your spiritual life?Now, in this passage, there is no comparison between "milk" or "meat." We are just told that pursuing the "milk" of the word of God is a good thing. Longing for God to speak into our lives is a good thing. It is the natural thing for the Christian. 

With that said, there are two passages that set the terms "milk" and "meat." in contrast.
"But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behave only in a human way?" (1 Corinthians 3:1-3) 
"About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5:11-14)
One basic rule of biblical interpretation is helpful at this point. We must guard against assuming "milk" in these passages is the same thing as "milk" in the First Peter passage. Generally speaking, we must interpret words based upon their contexts. For instance, in 1 Peter 2, the word "milk" is generally seen as a good thing. But in these two passages, "milk" is thought of as not a good thing. Or at least it is a shallow thing in comparison to "meat." It is the eating of "meat" that shows the maturity of the Christian. It appears that "milk" is used to refer to the elementary doctrines of the Christian faith, and "meat" as a reference to the more advanced teachings of the Christian faith.

What does that mean? Is "milk" simply that Jesus died on the cross for sins and "meat" is the doctrine of election? I don't think so. As I have been thinking about this for some time now, I have come up with a few thoughts that have helped me wrestle through this question.

First, The Difference Has To Be More Than Information. The difference between "meat" and "milk" is not simply the quoting of Greek or Hebrew. It is not simply that you learned some new information about the size of the temple or King Solomon's house. It is not that you now understand the people of the genealogy list in Matthew or Luke. It has to be more than that.

Second, The Difference Seems To Determine Spiritual Growth. In the First Peter passage, it is apparent that in order to grow, the person needs the milk of the word. In First Corinthians and Hebrews, the people are chastised for only desiring milk. It is that they have stopped growing. They are called carnal. They are called unskilled in discernment. The point seems to be that a baby should crave milk. That is beautiful and amazing. But a 20 year old should not still crave only milk. The more someone grows, the more they should desire deeper and more understanding of God's truth.

So, what is milk and meat? We are never overtly told, but if I were to guess, I would say they are the same things. Meat is simply deeper understandings that lead to greater levels of obedience of the truth. John MacArthur puts it like this:
"There is no difference at all between the truths of a spiritual milk diet and a spiritual solid food diet, except in detail and depth. All doctrine may have both milk and meat elements. It is not that we are to be continually learning new doctrines in order to grow, but that we are to be learning more about the doctrines we have known for years. A new Christian might explain the atonement, for example, as 'Christ died for my sins.' A long-time student of the Word, on the other hand, would go into such things as regeneration, justification, substitution, and propitiation. One explanation would not be truer than the other; but the first would be milk and the second, solid food" (John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, 71-72).
Then to take that thought to the rest of the question above: how do we know if and when you are eating the 'meat of the Word?' Once again, I would ask questions like, "Are you studying the same things you studied several years ago? Are you growing? Are you growing in your obedience to Christ? Are you walking in the fruit of the Spirit?" I ask the growing questions because it seems as though that is one evidence of the meat question. We grow because of meat, not just milk.

The last part of the original question asked if a typical sermon would be comprised of both. And my answer is YES. It should be the job of the preacher to share the elementary truths, but also to drive home deeper and deeper levels of the gospel into the hearts of the listeners. This is one reason why I love to connect our small groups with the sermon. I want to force people to not study another thing, but to dive deeper into the truth that they have already heard.

I know that was a long answer, but I hope it helps answer the question about milk and meat. I would love your feedback.

How Would You Answer The Meat and Milk Question?


  1. Great answer! Very clear and logical. Thank you.

  2. I am working on this. Milk is to Word, the knowledge, Facts of the Gospel. Yet Paul said without LOVE it is a zero. Give all to poor zero, Have all knowledge zero you get the point. MEAT is the FUNCTION the application the DOING of the GOSPEL. The stronger in Christ we grow the more we YIELD ME TO HIM. IN CHRIST!!

    When I finish ill send it to see if you agree.

  3. Steven R Eubanks - Great word. You are so right about the LOVE. This isn't an easy thing to do, especially to "love our enemies." (Luke 6:28) This must be the meat of the Word, or at least as big part of it. Putting into practice what we learned when we were on the "milk."


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