Kids These Days?
One of the hard things when teaching others about metaphor, simile, and allegory is trying to also explain that there are limits to how far one should take them. Describing someone as a “bull in a china shop” is not intended to make a statement about their servingware shopping habits. My wife will sometimes refer to the children as “full of beans” and invariably, one of them will inquire about their recent diet. These simple misunderstandings may be innocent enough in making jokes and puns, but we must be careful that we do not bring these same problems to the metaphors found in scripture.
The Holy Spirit knows human being, and understands how we learn and think. Therefore, He knows that using metaphor is an integral way to speak to humans. So, as with any other kind of language in the bible, it is our responsibility to learn how to interpret these inspired word-pictures so that we understand the intended message.
When Jesus is recorded as speaking to the disciples concerning the character of those who are to come into the kingdom, He used a word picture to describe innocence and lack of guile. “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:13-14) Jesus is still teaching us today about the way that we must come to Him with readiness and simplicity, as opposed to the duplicity and dishonesty so often found in adults. However, Jesus is not teaching that we must remain in a state of perpetual infancy in regards to our faith and knowledge.
When teaching that we are to be “like newborn babies” as far as how we rely on “the pure milk of the word,” Peter immediately explains that he goal is to “grow in respect to salvation.” (I Peter 2:1-3) If we press the simile too far and believe that we should remain childlike in every respect, we will never obey his encouragement to grow. Paul makes the distinction clear in I Corinthians 14:20 in speaking about fleshly attitudes about Spiritual gifts, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.”
Failing to grow in these prescribed ways was an issue the Hebrew writer addressed strongly. “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary 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 not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14) The problem of laziness in hearing and studying had kept the saints in a state of immaturity, but he encouraged them to “press on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1) so that they might better understand Christ.
Jesus never intended us to stay immature in our understanding, but provided the church with what it needed to that is could mature, using Him as the model for maturity. (Ephesians 4:11-16) Are we using what Jesus has provided? Are we growing in regards to salvation?