Jesus said to them ” My meat is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to finish his work.” -Matthew 4:34

When Paul calls out some Christians in Hebrews for still needing spiritual milk when they should be into meatier matters of faith, most of us interpret this as learning more complicated, nuanced theological doctrine. And there is a place for that. But a recent conversation with Dr Laurel Buckingham gave me another way to look at spiritual maturity.
In Matthew 4 we find Jesus encountering the woman at the well. The disciples have gone off to get food, and by the time they get back Jesus is no longer longer hungry. He has had a big chunk of spiritual protein that they cannot get their minds around. He says: ” My meat is to do…” There was something about ministering to that woman at the well that filled him up and pumped him up. So maybe the meatier matters of faith have less to do with learning some new exciting truth, and more to do with putting what we already know into practise and teaching it to others. Paul seems to suggest this when he says: ” You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God.” (Hebrews 5:12)
Full disclosure here: I feel closest to God when I am serving Him in some way. So maybe I am just wired as an experiential learner. But I haven’t always been this way. There was a time when I would rather have had an abstract argument about some small point of theology. Looking back now that was often a way of avoiding the more mundane and tiring work of actually living out my faith and helping others. I would liken it to prefering dessert over the main course. Here is a poem I wrote about that.


Dear Diety,

We like you in the sky
Abstracted and removed
Cathedralled and on high
A concept to be proved

Or statued up symbolic
All metaphored to death
Warholed and Jackson Pollocked
A rainbow without depth

Indefinitely spiritual
A force we keep on call
Impressively impersonal
Oprah-vailable to all

Yet you are,

Too close to our reality
Too far from our pathology
To win our hospitality
To protein our theology

We like our gods sensational
A sugar-coated sweet
But you came incarnational
The son of God in meat.

So there you have it. Jesus is not God Dulce. Jesus is God Con Carne. Maybe spiritual maturity shows up more often in work coveralls than graduation regalia. Doing God’s will with real people in real time can inform our theology as much as our theology can inform our daily lives. That is why it is so essential that we protein our theology like Jesus did. By giving as well as receiving. By doing as well as thinking. Making sure our head, heart, and hands are all in sync with one another and with God.
Paul was an awesome example of this. He was a practical theologian, a man of action and thought. He hammered out his theology on the rough road of intinerant ministry and harrowing hardship. You can trust a theologian who has been attacked by mobs and spent time in prison. His ideas have been tested. It’s almost like hardship plus faith breeds depth and maturity.

So in our data-based culture, where we are more likely to google grace as a concept than live it, maybe we need to internalize and exercise grace more. In our faux-food culture where we are more likely to reach for the sugar-soaked carbs, maybe we need to reach for the spiritual steak. In our youth-obsessed culture, where everyone grows old without growing up, maybe God is calling us to real spiritual maturity.

” Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about Christ, let us press on to maturity…” Hebrews 6:1