Since my daughter’s maternity leave ended, I’ve had several occasions to watch my infant granddaughter for a few hours in the morning before my wife gets home from work to assume babysitting duties. It has been a delightful experience. This beautiful baby is as well-behaved as a four-month-old can be. She has even been considerate enough to only soil her diaper twice when I’ve been on duty! She sleeps, we play, we “talk.” But almost on schedule, she gets hungry, and when she gets hungry, there is no other solution. She wants her bottle of formula! I give her the amount that I am supposed to per my daughter’s instructions, with the powdered formula mixed with the proper amount of pure bottled water, not watered down further, not adulterated in any way. The baby is given just what she is supposed to have per her mother’s instruction in conjunction with her conversations with the pediatrician. At this point, I don’t sneak in anything else – not a different brand of formula, no dairy milk or other snacks. (There will be time later when Grandpa can sneak in a few unapproved treats!)
In 1 Peter 2:1-3, we read, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Just like a baby that has a single-minded focus on receiving milk, Peter reminds believers that we need to have a powerful focus on being nourished by the scriptures.
Recently I traveled with my brother to the northern panhandle area of Nebraska to attend a memorial service for our cousin after her passing. As we traveled, we listened to three recorded sermons by a noted Bible teacher and pastor, part of a series delivered some two decades ago entitled “Lessons From The Dungeon” concerning the Old Testament account of Joseph. The story of Joseph gives us profound lessons about life, how we should live, how we should react to circumstances and to adversity, which was the emphasis of these messages. This Bible teacher is a faithful expositor of Scripture; his thoughts are not only profound, but completely in accord with the passage from which he is preaching. These messages are timeless and could be applied in any culture in any period of history; with little modification, they could have been delivered to an English-speaking audience a century or more ago, or a century in the future, or translated and delivered to Asians or Africans. He compared scripture with scripture, teaching the principle that Joseph came to understand when he declared that “God meant it for good,” the principle of Romans 8:28, that God works all things for His glory and our ultimate good according to His wisdom and purposes. This pastor has a sizeable church, and a following via radio and other media of people who are “hungry” for true and meaningful teaching from scripture.
Several days before our trip, I had heard a very different teaching based loosely on the account of Joseph. Via a YouTube video, I listened to a “sermon” from one of the more prominent megachurch pastor/entertainers in the broad evangelical sphere. He speaks to a few thousand people each weekend at his main megachurch campus plus many more watching at satellite campuses. In a talk entitled “The Danger of a Dream,” there was a reading of Genesis 37:5, “Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more,” relating Joseph’s divinely-given dream that he told to his brothers causing them to reject him. This speaker used this as a pretext for an upbeat and energetic talk about developing a “dream” from God, about having a good idea and a “dream” that will make one’s life different. I noted that he spoke much about himself, but nothing of Christ or the gospel. Minus the verse, this would have been a great talk for a Silicon Valley company’s corporate event. The development of a personal vision or dream is popular in such megachurch circles, and there is of course nothing wrong with and everything right about developing purpose and direction. But there is everything wrong with a supposed evangelical church substituting such themes for those found in scripture. His talk would have been preceded by a generationally-focused contemporary christian pop concert; any mention or hint of Christian themes in the performance would have exceeded the biblical content of the speaker’s presentation. He is a deception. He is giving his audience of mostly younger people who are hungry for something not “the pure milk of the word” but grossly watered down, aberrant teaching.
Joseph is not memorialized in Scripture because he did amazing things when he dreamed big. For most of his life, he lived a nightmare, not a dream. Nor is he remembered because he added the wisdom of the Hebrews to the wisdom of Egypt. A type and foreshadow of Christ, Joseph is memorialized in scripture because he was a man of great faith and belief, because he obeyed God, manifested the highest of character, and did what he knew to be right, because he remembered and lived out the principle of “God meant it for good.” The faithful Bible teacher got it right; the other guy got applause almost on cue from his audience, but in truth he gave them nothing.
Christians need to exercise good judgement in selecting a church and in selecting teachers who they read or to whom they listen. More importantly, we must have a disciplined, healthy feeding on the Word of God. We must regularly read and study the Bible; we must have a strong desire for it. There is no other way to progress in the Christian life.
My healthy granddaughter takes in her formula and grows. She makes no effort; she simply follows her natural desire and is nourished and continues to grow. Here, the analogy begins to break down. We must make an effort to make the time for fellowship with God, to exercise discernment, to take in the Word and to grow as a result. Mere knowledge of the Bible isn’t the end. In the 1 Peter 2:1-3 passage, Peter wrote, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” The context of maintaining this desire for the Word is behavioral and attitudinal change. We take in the truth of the Word, we pray, we put the Word into practice, we lay aside sin, we experience the grace of the Lord, and we grow to maturity. Then, whether we live a dream, or sometimes live a nightmare, we can bring honor and glory to God and declare His grace to those around us.