Chapter 4: Our Spiritual Food.
God's 2 desires and priorities for every person are:
(1) that they would be BORN AGAIN and
(2) that they would GROW SPIRITUALLY, going from babyhood to adulthood.
1 Timothy 2:4: “God wills all men (1) to be saved and
(2) to come (by a process) to the (experiential) knowledge of the truth (the Word of God) - (by hearing and doing it).”
Both are achieved through receiving the Word of God:
(1) The preaching of the Gospel and (2) teaching. See 1 Peter 1:23-2:2.
Hebrews 6:1,2 describes the elementary principles - the MILK of the Word, that we must absorb to grow out of babyhood (1Peter 2:2). These foundational revelations of truth are what a mature Christian house (life) must be built upon.
Third in this list of 7 doctrines is: “the Foundation of DOCTRINE (TEACHING).”
This is a key revelation for our growth. It is that the teaching of the Word is our number one source of spiritual life and growth - the one thing absolutely necessary for our growth is the Word of God. Knowing this makes us hungry for more of the Word because we desire it for our sustenance and growth.
“As new-born babes desire the pure milk of the Word that you may grow thereby” (1Peter 2:2). We can only grow by receiving the milk of the word like a baby. God anoints ministers of the Word for the purpose of perfecting (maturing) the saints, for all to be edified (built up) and growing together in “the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:11-14).
The number one thing every new Christian needs is good Bible Teaching along with regular Bible reading.
Why is the Word so important? We will see why through 3 PICTURES or ANALOGIES of our growth:
(1) The growth of our physical body.
(2) The growth of a building.
(3) The growth of a plant or tree.
(1) The growth of our physical body.
Food is necessary for growth. The WORD is our spiritual FOOD: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). As bread is food for our body so the Word is food for our spirit and spiritual life. It is essential for our sustenance and growth. Our body is made out of the same material substance as our food. We receive food into our stomach and it's substance and energy is absorbed into our body. Our New-man (spirit) was brought forth by the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23-25) and is made of the Word. The Word contains God's Life, Spirit, Energy and Nature: “the Word of God is living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (2Timothy 3:16). “The Word of God which lives and abides forever” (1Peter 1:23).
As we receive the Word (our food) into our heart, we absorb its spiritual substance and energy (faith, love etc) and our spiritual life grows stronger: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). The Word of God is the same substance as our spirit (which was from from the seed of the Word of God) and thus can feed it with God's life causing it to be strong in us. Like our body, our spiritual life needs to be fed and nourished in order to prosper.
The Word contains FOOD for all stages of growth.
*We start with MILK because it is the easiest to digest.
1Corinthians 3:1-2: “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to BABES in Christ. I fed you with MILK and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it.”
Hebrews 5:12-14: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need MILK and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of MILK is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
These verses speak of believers (babes in Christ) who must drink the MILK of the Word in order to grow up.
*Then we go onto HONEY, the sweet grace of God which releases sweetness into our life: “More to be desired are they (God’s words) than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than HONEY and the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).
“How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).
*There is also BREAD: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4).
God’s provision for us includes: “wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine (oil and wine symbolise the Holy-Spirit), and bread (symbolising the Word) which strengthens man’s heart” (Psalm 104:15).
Jesus gave Himself to us as the BREAD OF LIFE inviting us to eat of His life: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life (John 6:48). They did not understand how so he explained that it was by eating His words “my words are spirit and life (food for our souls)” (John 6:63).
*Finally the Word is MEAT for the mature: “He has given food (meat) to those who fear Him; He will ever be mindful of His covenant” (Psalm 111:5, see also 1Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12,14 above).
But the Word must be properly absorbed. It is not what is put before us that benefits us, but the FOOD WE DIGEST. We must chew and digest our food (the Word) to release the goodness in it
Psalm 23 and Isaiah 55:1-3 say the Lord has set a table before us with all His provisions upon it. These spiritual blessings are wrapped up in the promises of God. We have to take them and eat them for them to be activated in us.
Psalm 23:5: “You prepare a table before me in the Presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup (of wine) runs over.” (There is oil, wine and food laid out for us).
Isaiah 55:1-3: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;and you who have no money. Come, buy and EAT. Yes, come, buy wine and MILK without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not BREAD, and your wages for what does not satisfy? LISTEN carefully to Me, and (by listening and meditating) EAT what is good (the WORD contains the grace and blessings and the life of God), and let your soul delight itself in abundance (of grace). INCLINE YOUR EAR (to the Word), and come to Me. HEAR, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting Covenant with you—the sure mercies of David.”
This digestion is called MEDITATION. It means to chew the cud like cows, with 2 stomachs who regurgitate food already eaten to chew it more. Meditation is bringing a scripture up to chew on it. (CDs are helpful for meditating on and absorbing a sermon). It means to mutter the Word to ourselves. Look on it from every angle and personalise it. The more meaty it is, the more we must chew it. What have you been chewing over today?
Meditation of the Word (using our mouth) renews our youth: “Who satisfies your mouth with good things,so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:5).
It brings sweetness to our soul: “More to be desired are Your Words than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than HONEY and the honeycomb... Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:10,14).
Meditation is the key to growing strong, successful and fruitful: Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall MEDITATE in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:7,8).
As we need a daily intake of food, so likewise our spirit needs daily meditation of the Word.
(2) The growth of a building. “We are God's Building” (1Corinthians 3:9, see also Ephesians 2:20-22). The WORD is the substance (the BRICKS) the building of our spiritual life must be made from. We must use the Word to build foundations (Hebrews 6:1,2) and we continue to be built up (edified) by the Word as we hear and do it (Matthew 7:24-27). If we build our spiritual life with inferior materials our apparent growth will be shown to be false and will be destroyed. But if we build our lives with God’s Word it will stand the test and prove to be genuine:
1Corinthians 3:9-16: “You are God’s Building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work -of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the Temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the Temple of God, God will destroy him. For the Temple of God is holy, which Temple you are.”
(3) The growth of a plant or tree.
The WORD is the WATER that a plant needs in order to grow.
In Psalm 1:1-4 the growth of a believer is compared to a TREE: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD,and in His law he MEDITATES day and night. He shall be like a TREEplanted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away.”
How we turn out depends on what we focus our attention on. If we listen to rubbish (v1), we will end up as rubbish to be blown away by the wind (v4). If we plant ourselves by the Word we will grow into a strong, stable, fruitful tree planted by the Waters. He who meditates in the Word day and night (as a lifestyle) will put down roots, and grow up strong and straight and flourish as a fruitful, productive tree. Again, the key to growth is the intake of the WORD. The WORD is the WATER containing the nutrients for growth. The tree planted by the water is the believer who puts himself under the Word. Meditation is like the tree's action of sucking in the water and its goodness. The tree takes in the water day and night and allows it to flow through it and fill it causing the tree to flourish at all times.
The growth of our spirit (spiritual life) through our personality is like the growth of a plant or tree. Both grow from a SEED and both develop as a steady process if it is fed right. The New Man was created when the seed of the gospel was planted in our heart. The New Man grows out of that seed and thus is made of God's Word. Now God wants our New Man to grow like a plant or tree until it fills (controls) our personality (bringing forth much fruit). God's purpose is for us to be a fruitful tree of righteousness that glorifies the Lord: “To give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called Trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).
The number one thing necessary for this growth is the WATERING OF THE WORD of GOD (Ephesians 5:26). Plants that receive no water shrivel and die. They cannot grow. The primary need for every Christian is to be sustained, nourished and to grow is the WATERING of the WORD. We are like a young plant in the heat of the sun (the afflictions, pressures and trials of life) that continually needs watering. But we do not need the toxic rain of false doctrine! “Receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). The word is implanted at our new Birth, but we must receive more of it (hearing and doing it) for the spirit-life to grow out of it, filling and transforming our souls.
In 1Corinthians 3:6,7 the believers are compared to PLANTS. “I planted (the preached word that saved them) Apollos WATERED (by teaching the Word), but God gave the increase (the growth).” God is the Source of all growth, but He only does it through the teaching (watering) of the Word. Like plants we need a daily intake of the water of the Word.
Isaiah 55:8-12 describes the WORD as RAIN that comes down from heaven sent to WATER the plants (us) causing us to grow and be fruitful. The Word will accomplish its purpose in us, if we receive it, and then it will cause us to spring up with joy.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the RAIN comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but WATER the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater,So shall My WORD be that goes forth from My mouth. It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
The PARABLE OF THE SOWER is the clearest exposition of this picture (Luke 8:5-18, also Mark 4:1-25, Matthew 13:3-23).
Jesus said this is the most important Parable for us to understand. It is the revelation of how the Kingdom of God (the Life of God) grows in us as a PLANT. The Parable shows the progression and growth of the Kingdom in us. It shows it in 4 Stages which mirror the phases of a plant's growth. The key to the Parable is the WORD, which is the SEED of God containing the life, nature and power of the Kingdom (v11). It all starts from a Seed and the growth is the growth of the Seed (the Word) in us.
Luke 8:5-18: “A sower went out to sow his seed” (v5a).
“Now the Parable is this: The seed is the word of God” (v11).
SOIL 1: “And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down and the birds of the air devoured it” (v5)
Interpretation: “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” (v12).
SOIL 2: “Some fell on stony (shallow) soil; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture” (v6).
Interpretation: “But the ones on the stony (shallow) soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away” (v13).
SOIL 3: “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it” (v7).
Interpretation: “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard go out and are choked with cares riches and pleasures of life and bring no fruit to maturity” (v14)
SOIL 4: “But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold” (v8).
Interpretation: “But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (v15).
Conclusion (The Main-Point): “When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear (the Word), let him hear (literally: ‘let him hear and keep on hearing the Word’)!” (v8b).
Interpretation: “Therefore take heed how you hear (the Word). For whoever has (ears to hear), to him more (blessing, grace and growth) will be given; and whoever does not have (ears to hear), even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”
The Soil represents our heart. The Seed represents the Word and the Plant that grows from the Seed represents the new spiritual life that Word brings forth in us when it is planted in our heart. Under the right conditions this new-life of God will grow and manifest itself above the surface where it can be seen by all. The message of the Parable is that the Word is the key, and that God works in us through His Word, and that if we will let His Word be planted in us and if we keep on receiving His Word, we will grow spiritually and bear much fruit to God’s glory.
THE STAGES OF GROWTH OF A PLANT
(1) The seed is planted.
(2) It puts down roots.
(3) It overcomes competition from weeds.
(4) It brings forth fruit.
The Parable does not just describe 4 different kinds of Soil, but it also follows the 4 Stages of the growth of a plant, revealing the factors and forces that come to impede our spiritual growth at each Stage. It also reveals the key required to overcome these obstacles and maintain the growth of the seed unto maturity: “If anyone has EARS to HEAR (the Word) let him HEAR” (v8). The key to growth is to keep on hearing the Word of God. This hearing or receiving the WORD is like a plant receiving WATER. If the plant and the earth (heart) continues to receive the WATERING of the WORD, then good growth will continue.
Since the key to God’s operation in us is the Word, satan's strategy is to take the Word from us or to keep us away from it.
To reach STAGE 1, the Seed must penetrate the surface and be planted in the soil. Thus the Word must first be understood and received in our heart. SOIL 1 is hardened and unreceptive to the Seed, so that the Plant cannot even reach STAGE 1. To stop men reaching STAGE 1, satan blinds the minds of unbelievers (hardens their ground) so they do not even understand the Word, then he comes to take it away from their thoughts by distraction. But the answer is for them to keep hearing the Word, for the Water of the Word will soften their soil (hearts), until the Seed can be planted in them. This happens when they understand, believe and receive the Word of the Gospel, and as a result the new-life of God is planted in them (they are Born Again).
To reach STAGE 2, the Seed must put down strong faith-roots.
SOIL 2 shows the situation just after STAGE 1 is reached. The young plant with little roots is vulnerable to the heat of the sun (representing bad things or afflictions that happen to us in life), because the soil is shallow and it only has a little root-system. The roots represent our faith-commitment to the Word, and our ability to stand under pressure. The stronger they are, the more they are able to pull in the sustinance needed to endure the heat. The danger is that although the plant may seem to spring up quickly, if it does not quickly start developing roots satan will be able to come and turn up the heat, causing it to wither away in discouragement, thus stopping it from ever reaching STAGE 2. They will wither under the heat of the sun after a promising start.
Again the answer is to keep receiving the watering of the Word, which will soften and deepen the soil and allow the roots to grow strong. When tests and trials come to try and stop us believing we should keep putting our roots down deeper by turning to God more in the Word and prayer. In this way we will become strong in faith and be able to overcome the attacks and enter STAGE 2.
To reach STAGE 3, the plant must overcome competition from other plants and weeds, which want to benefit from the soil. These represent other things in our life which compete for the attention of our heart. These are cares, responsibilities, pleasures of life (including the good things of life such as our duties to our job and family). SOIL 3 shows the state of things before STAGE 3 is reached. Even though the plant is well-rooted, these other things are capable of stopping it grow to maturity, because if they are allowed to grow too much they will choke the new plant (they will take all the goodness of the soil for themselves, so that the plant does not have enough supply of life to thrive and bear fruit). So the next danger to prevent our growth is that we allow ourselves to be so distracted by these other (good) things which demand our attention, that we give no time to nourishing our spiritual life through receiving the Word. The result is we allow these things to choke our spiritual life, preventing our spiritual growth from reaching maturity and fruitfulness (STAGE 4).
So satan’s strategy at this point is to con us into thinking that we have no time for God’s Word, because we are too busy with these other important things. He tries to divert our attention from the Word onto other things. Someone under this deception says: “I’m too busy to pray or read the Bible or go to Church. When I am not working, I need to be with my family or relax, so there is no time left for God.” Such a person who replaces God by things that are just good has his priorities all wrong.
By cutting his spiritual life off from its source he stops growing and as a result (without God’s help) the rest of his life will suffer.
But if he would put first things (God’s Kingdom) first, then all the other things of his life (his job, family, relaxation) would work well. God’s life in him would then give him mastery and blessing in the other areas of his life (Matthew 6:33). This issue is illustrated with Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42 where Jesus tells Martha overwhelmed by the things of life that only ONE THING (the Word) is needful. This was what Mary chose. Putting it first will then give you mastery over the details of life.
So again the key at this Stage of growth is to keep putting the Word first, by giving it our full attention. The water of the Word has all the nutrients necessary to feed the new-life within us so that it can grow strong It also has the disinfectants needed to destroy any sinful weeds and control any overgrowth of other plants competing with our spiritual life. So by continuing to patiently receive (hear) the watering of the Word we will continue to grow and bear much fruit and so enter STAGE 4.
So the Kingdom enters us by the SEED (the Word) and grows in us from that Seed as it is WATERED (by the Word). Satan's strategies to stop our growth are all focused on cutting us off from our supply (the Word). The key is to keep under the watering of the Word for then our heart is changed into good soil and the life of God grows in us and becomes visible and fruitful. We will grow and succeed only if we continue under the Word. The New Life in you was created by the Word. As you continue to hear the Word that life is nourished, strengthened and grows.
Thus Jesus concluded the teaching of this Parable by saying: “Whoever has (ears that hear the Word) shall more (life, blessing, growth) be given in abundance, but whoever has not (ears to hear the Word) what he has shall be taken from him (by satan)” (Matthew 13:12).
“The measure (of attention to, and hearing the Word) you use, it (growth) will be measured to you and to you who HEAR (the Word) shall more be given” (Mark 4:24).
“Take heed therefore how you hear (the Word) for whosoever has (ears that hear and receive the Word) to him shall be given (blessing and growth - for the life and blessing of God is in the Word!) and whosoever has not (ears that hear) from him shall be taken (by satan) even what he seems to have” (Luke 8:18). He backslides (gets into negative growth) and loses all his gains (life, blessing, growth).