Reference to the African proverb is intentional: It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.
Exposure to the insights and experiences of many adults enriches the setting in which children learn about themselves and the world around them. It also multiplies the number of “eyes” watching and encouraging the good behavior of the child.
But my focus is not on raising young children. It is on raising adult believers, many of whom are still spiritual children. The sharing within a fellowship of Christ-followers is essential to their continued growth. It takes a fellowship of the Spirit to raise a believer.
Paul wanted to address the Corinthians as “spiritual” but couldn’t because they were still mostly in their natural “fleshly” nature. Most had been Christ-followers for only several years. They were still feeding on milk because they were not ready for the solid food he was about to give them in his letters (1 Corinthians 3; 1-4). With example after example, he taught them what a transformed life and community looks like.
“To raise’” someone is an Old English word that started out referring to buildings, like a barn raising. But it is also applied to building up or growing people. To raise children makes sense. Raising adult believers is more complicated and an even greater challenge.
My naïve assumption was that the “solid food” for Christians is greater depth in understanding God’s word. That’s true, of course. There is plenty of knowledge about Old and New Testament writings to absorb. But follow Paul’s reasoning as he addressed the troubled Corinthian congregation. We can see that the solid food is how to apply those truths to the changed life believers are being transformed into. For that purpose, examples from the everyday life of believers around us are basic.
The Christian congregations we know in modern America are a complicated set of relationships. Most visible is the formal organization of named leaders, like pastor or teacher, and scheduled groups, like Sunday school classes.
But in a healthy church, these organized efforts are only a fraction of the relationships going on among participants. You see informal relationships after the service is over and participants find friends to talk with. It also includes the relationships participants have with people beyond the fellowship as they model and share their Christian life where they work or in their neighborhood.
Let’s give a name to the totality of relationships going on among participants in a congregation. It is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Such fellowship is the hallmark of the Spirit’s work, according to Paul: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Peter, too, used the milk analogy. But for him “spiritual milk” is positive: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter2:2).
To taste something is to experience it. In the original language, the word for salvation includes the concept of healing. That’s the word used to describe the healings Jesus did. Experience how good it feels to have the Spirit at work transforming your life.
“Grow up in your salvation” is a powerful concept. It is healing in this life, not just eternal salvation. The challenge is to keep growing in it. Wherever you are in your new life in Christ under the power of the Spirit, keep growing. The best is yet to come.
The job of a Christian congregation is to raise adult believers. Some call this discipleship, but too frequently that term does not acknowledge enough how this is accomplished through the Spirit’s work. The Spirit’s workshop is believers gathered around God’s word sharing what it means in their life.