Monday, October 18, 2010

Transitioning Milk to Meat

I recently had an amazing epiphany (is there any other kind?) concerning the memorization of Bible verses and understanding deep concepts. I have always sough to teach students the basics of the faith (milk) while serving the deeper things on the side (meat), that way less mature believers won't choke to death, while more mature believers will be satisfied. Yesterday we had a wonderful lesson on Christ as King and High Priest, this is a MEATY topic, yet was served with a bit of milk on the names of God (Joshua from Jehova-Yasha (God Saves), Jahoshephat from Jehovah Hoshephat (God the Judge), and Hallelujah (Praise God)). The beauty of this teaching style, which I would accedit largely to John MacArthur, is that those who are really only ready for milk get a nibble of meat along the way and are growing in their faith and knowledge.

Providentially the lesson that spurred this epiphany is on our King of Righteousness, Melchizedek, the same person Paul, Peter, and Luke were telling us about when the following verse was written in disdain that the Roman church was not able to stomach the deeper points of the completed Hebrew faith,

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 5:12-14
This thought, concluding in verse 9 of chapter 6, is one of my favorites of scripture, yet in my epiphany I found a wonderfully satisfying point which here-to-fore I had missed. Look at this section, "the mature...have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice..." The constant practice is what jumped out at me and will cause me to rethink a major facet of my ministry.

It deals with Bible memorization. I remember early in my faith doing everything I could to memorize 2 Timothy 2:24-26, which is a fairly long block of scripture with a lot of nuances. I am not posting it in order to keep your attention on the point at hand, but read it later. Early in my scripture memorization, I could not memorize these verses to save my life, sometimes I couldn't even get past the first thought. Recently I was reading a piece of drivel from an antichristian writer and they posted verse 26, only misquoting it slightly (or from an obscure translation that I'm not familiar with), and I realized that I have memorized this verse despite having such difficulty committing it to memory.

This thought led me to the idea that the transition from milk to meat in the Christian life is through constant practice, and that now I have massive sections of scripture committed to memory which are much longer than 2 Timothy 2:24-26, such as Matthew 22:1-14, Galatians 1, Revelation 19:11-16, and Revelation 20:11-15, among others. I did not memorize a single one of these early in my Christian life, but through constant memorization of short verses, the Holy Spirit has graciously enabled me to now memorize longer and more complex sections of scripture than I ever thought were possible.

One last example, and then I'll move to the application. One of the first verses I memorized was Revelation 19:11, it is still my all time favorite verse in the Bible, in this one verse it speaks of Christ being called Faithful and True, it declares him to be the judge, it gives the standard for judgment which is righteousness, it declares him to come conquering, and it promises victory for the church. Truly there is no greater verse in the Bible. A little later I memorized verse 14, which declares that the armies of Heaven follow after Christ in white robes, and stuck it onto verse 11. Later I added verses 12 and 13, and only in the past few weeks am I comfortable enough to say that I have verses 11 all the way through 16 memorized.

So here's the application. It is wrong of me to expect a student to memorize Galatians 1:3-10 as their first memory verse; there must be a learning process, a practice, a transition from John 11:35 or Job 3:2 to memorizing the whole book of Colossians. A teacher does wrong to expect a student to be able to memorize (and, probably more importantly, to apply) long sections before that student is able to memorize short verses. But, the teacher does the student an equal disservice if they are not pushing students to memorize longer and longer passages and understand deeper and deeper concepts.

I don't have to look far to be able to brag about students who, though most would expect them to be on a steady milk diet, are not only feasting on the meat of the Word, but have also become teachers themselves.

So in this, whether you are a newborn babe, a fledgling adolescent, or a seasoned elder in your understanding of the faith, I implore you to have your powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Now go read 2 Timothy 2:24-26, and also Hebrews 5:12-6:9, making sure you have a firm foundation on Hebrews 6:1-3.