What are You Eating? Four Kinds of Spiritual Food
One of the keys to spiritual growth is our intake of truth. Our growth as followers of Jesus Christ is directly connected to the amount of truth we take into our soul. Like plants must take in water and light for the process of photosynthesis to work, so the Christian must take in the truth of God’s Word for the process of spiritual growth to occur. The Bible uses the analogy of eating to illustrate how this works. In Ezekiel the prophet is commanded to eat and “fill his belly” with the scroll of God’s Word, which he would then go and declare to Israel. The Psalmist said that the Word of God was “sweeter than honey.” Jesus, quoting from Deuteronomy, said that, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Peter urged believers to be like newborn infants and “long for the our spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” Finally, both Paul and the writer of Hebrews challenge their readers to grow from the stage of spiritual infancy, where all they could handle is milk, to spiritual maturity which is equated with eating “solid food.” Drawing on this analogy of eating, I want to consider four kinds of spiritual food.
The most direct way we can take truth into our soul is through personally reading the Scriptures. However, this is not the only manner of “eating.” Often, believers, “go out to eat.” They listen to sermons of preachers who are explaining the Word of God. They read books and articles from Christian teachers. They see clips on Facebook and Twitter. They listen to podcasts and Bible studies from well known spiritual leaders. This is one of the great blessings of our age. Faithful and clear Bible teaching is literally at your finger tips 24/7. There is also a great danger, because not all spiritual food is good for you. There are some things you can ingest that will bring harm to you. The mature Christian is one who is discerning about what she is eating.
The Poison of False Teaching
The Bible is clear that not everyone who teaches God’s Word is worthy of a listening ear. Instead, many passages warn believers against “false teachers,” “false apostles” and “false prophets.” Nearly every New Testament writer cautions against this danger. This is no small matter. Christians must have discernment about the kind of teaching they accept. The Apostle John said that Christians should not receive false teachers, “into your house.” We might add to that, “onto your playlist, on your bookshelf, into your kindle, newsfeed or TV.” Just because someone is listed in the category “Religion and Spirituality” and they are called a “Christian leader” or “pastor” does not mean they are speaking the truth.
Listening to false teaching is like ingesting poison. There is no nutritional value, and the result will be sickness, even death for your soul. The danger is that like an untrained survivalist stranded in the wilderness, it is difficult to tell which plants are edible and which are deadly. If you go walking into the woods without the proper training, you could easily make the mistake of eating a poisonous berry instead of something that could provide nourishment. So too, if you walk into the local “Christian” bookstore you could easily purchase a book or bible study that looks edifying but is really erroneous.
Christian, be careful that you do not eat the poison of false teaching. Read the Bible and listen to the warnings about false teachers. They want money, and they tell you how to get rich. They are immoral. They water down the truth to accommodate what is popular. They are often very gifted. They are powerful speakers and excellent authors. Listen to what they say, not how well they say it. They deny that Jesus came in the flesh. They work deceptively, like their Father, and they secretly bring in destructive teaching. They wear sheeps clothing but are wolves. Their teaching does not agree with the sound words of Jesus Christ nor with the good deposit, the pattern, given to us by the Apostles. Read your Bible thoroughly and carefully weigh what is being said. Test the spirits.
Eating Out of the Garbage Can
Many people make the mistake of thinking there are only two categories of teachers—false teachers and true teachers (poison and healthy food). But the reality is there are many teachers who are themselves true believers, but who nevertheless are not faithful teachers. There could be may reasons for this. Perhaps they have never been trained well, or maybe they were given a platform too quickly (against Paul’s warning not to be hasty in making people teachers). Whatever the case is, they are teaching others when they should not be. As a result, they are teaching things that are not true or accurate. They say somethings that are right. They seem to understand some of the very basic things elements of the faith. They understand the gospel. Yet much of what they say is inaccurate and can be unhealthy or dangerous.
A couple of years ago I was walking the crowded streets of New York. If you have ever been there you understand just how crowded those streets can be. People are coming from every side and sometimes you get closer to people than you’d like. This day there was a lady walking directly toward me. She stopped at a garbage can right as I was walking by her. At that moment, she reached down into the garbage can, pulled out the last bite of a Big Mac and ate it. The sad reality is that this lady was probably dependent on that kind of food to get the nutrition she needed. There is a lot of food in the garbage cans of NYC and you can find nutrition there. However, there is also a danger because there is a lot of other stuff in the garbage cans of NYC. You may get nutrition. You may also get hepatitis.
That is the way many Bible teachers are. You may hear something that would be good for your soul. You could possibly be fed by them. The problem is that you may also hear things that could cause spiritual sickness. Their teaching could provide nutrition but could also lead you in unhealthy directions. I guess you could try to pick through what is being taught and make sure it is untouched by the filth. But if you have the option of eating a fresh meal, why would you? It is better to stay away from teachers like this, even while we are careful not to label them as “false prophets.”
Junk Food Junkies
Listening to other teachers may not be as dangerous as eating out of the garbage can, yet they still do not provide the proper nutrition needed to cause proper growth and health. Unfortunately, many evangelical teachers fall in this category. Though these teachers use the Bible and would usually affirm its authority, their teaching is not strongly rooted in the Bible. Often they use the texts of Scripture as a springboard into a topical discussion of their own ideas. He may be a leadership guru or a Christian psychologist. She may be a women’s Bible study leader or marriage counselor. They have a lot of ideas that seem good, but those ideas are only loosely connected to the Bible. Usually, these teachers are very gifted. They can have you laughing and crying in a matter of minutes. When you walk away from their talk or get done with their book, you think, “Wow! That was great.” But when you carefully evaluate what was really said and compare it to Scripture, it is clear that there is a disconnect. What they are saying may or may not be true, but it simply isn’t Biblical. That is, its’ not necessarily against the Bible; it just isn’t what the Bible says. This kind of teaching is marked by a fluffy vagueness that can sound very enticing but doesn’t hold up to sound Biblical discernment.
These teachers could be compared to junk food. There is a strong appeal. Your experience of eating this kind of food can be amazing. Listening to these teachers can be like eating a piece of decadent chocolate cake. It is delicious! You may feel very satisfied after eating it. The danger here is that a steady diet of potato chips and cotton candy is not going to be good for you. It isn’t going to help you grow in healthy ways. A long term diet of those kinds of food will actually lead to health issues. Diabetes, obesity and heart issues can all be the result of a junk food diet. Sure those foods are high on flavor but they are low on nutrition. So it is with Christian teaching that is high on gifting but low on truth. The danger is not that you eat poison (accept heresy). The danger is that you are filling yourself with things that do not provide proper nutrition. Friend, don’t spoil your appetite for a healthy, well-balanced meal by eating a bowl of Sugar Puffs. To do so will harm you in the long run. You will not be prepared for all the trials and complexities of the Christian life. You will find yourself constantly at the doctor’s office with some illness. You need healthy, nutritious food. You need faithful, Biblical teaching.
A Healthy, Nutritious Diet
The right kind of teaching for Christians is that which is faithful to Bible. It seeks to clearly explain the meaning of Scripture and then apply it to the life of the believer. It may not be fancy. It certainly doesn’t have all the appeal or “gifting” of other teachers. It can seem very ordinary, even mundane at times. Often you don’t walk away with tears. Most of the time you are not wowed by what you’ve heard or read. It’s just the truth. Don’t get me wrong, at times God’s Spirit moves powerfully through the preaching of the truth, and there are many gifted teachers who are also faithful. It’s just that faithful teaching is not built on gifting or emotion. It is built on a clear explanation and application of the truth. If God grants one teacher a grater teaching gift than another it doesn’t change the bottom line. One teacher may be more effective at communicating the truth than another, but in the end truth is communicated.
This teaching is like eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. This kind of food is simply not as appealing as junk food. If you give a child the choice between carrots and ice cream…well, you know where that’s going. Often, you have to acquire a taste for things that are good for you. Does anyone smell broccoli cooking and really think, “man, that smells tasty?” Some cooks are able to season and prepare healthy food in a way that makes it a little more flavorful, but in the end you eat it not because it is the best tasting food but because it is good for your body. So it is with faithful teaching. You listen and you read, not because it is the best book or the most stirring sermon but because it is good for your soul. Faithful, biblical teaching will cause you to grow to a place of spiritual health and maturity. Christian, be sure you are feeding on healthy food.