Expecting Spiritual Growth
Intro: The tragedy of missing children. What a wonderful thing when one is located. Have you ever seen the bulletins that give information about missing children. I am always fascinated by the pictures of children that have been missing for several years -Age adjusted – they are enhanced to show the change in appearance that would have taken place over the years. It would be difficult to recognize the child from his appearance 10 years earlier. Why – if the child is alive, we assume he has grown.
- Could you be recognized from your spiritual description ten years ago?
- Is it assumed that we have grown
I. God expects you to grow. Christianity is not a static experience. it is dynamic and organic. If you define your relationship to God in the context of any single event – such as your baptism- you fail to understand the nature of salvation and spirituality. Continual conformity is at the heart of God’s message.
A. The writer of Hebrews complained that some of the Christians to whom he was writing were “dull” (NKJV). He did not mean they were uninteresting, but that they were slow to learn and thus immature. Heb 5:12 – 2 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. He called on them to leave the elementary principle sof the gospel and “go on to maturity” – grow up!
B. The spiritual growth of the Christian is expressed in differing ways in the scripture. Each picture portrays a sense of incompleteness and spiritual dissatisfaction that looks ahead, not behind.
- A runner who runs a race and perseveres to the end. He continually moves forward – “presses on” –Philippians 3:12 – 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
- A tree that matures to the point it bears fruit – John 15:1-2 – “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away;* and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
- a child that advances from baby food to real food – Heb 5:13-14 –13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
C. Maturity is mandatory. We will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ.” (Eph. 4:15 – NIV); “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” – (2 Pet. 3:8 – NIV) When a Christian is failing to grow what can be done?
II. What are the ingredients to growth? There is no secret formula. The process is rather simple and straightforward. There are no shortcuts. We grow naturally because we learn the value of doing some things without failure or neglect. Like eating and exercise. These become habits of healthy living.
A. Study the Word – Do you remember “Wonder Bread” – It builds strong bodies 12 ways” If you want to grow strong, you have to eat right. God’s word is “Wonder bread”.
1. Do you read your Bible? 1 Tim 4:12-13 “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 13 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. To give attention to reading means to make it a continual practice. It is not just an occasional reading, but a daily practice. If done habitually it yields constant results.
2. The result of this habit is the ability to discern between right & wrong, good & evil; the ability to handle difficult circumstances when they arrive; the ability to know how to answer others and help them when they need it.
a. James 1 tells of a man who has a divided mind, always hearing but never doing. James tells us that this man needs to “look into the perfect law and liberty and continue in it” (Ja. 1:25) this man is able to expect the blessing of God as he grows in the spirit.
3. We need to develop through our study the ability to arrive at our own convictions. Not simply borrow the convictions of others, or accept without consideration the teachings of others.
a. What if you went through the cafeteria and you saw a yucky looking concoction that your server told you was “pre-chewed food” – would you want it or do you want to do your own chewing? Some Christians listen to many lessons & sermons, but do little personal study or discernment. They just swallow whatever they are told.
4. We need to study with a view toward teaching others. 2 Tim 2:2 – 2 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Evangelism brings growth – not only outwardly in new converts, but inwardly in the development of the evangelizers.
5. Christians who are serious about spiritual growth will not neglect weekly Bible study with other Christians.
B. Pray without Ceasing – I Thess. 5:17 – Sandwiched in the middle of several admonitions concerning true discernment and the practice of the word is Paul’s encouragement to “pray without ceasing“.
1. Elsewhere Paul says, “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and continue steadfastly in prayer” (Rom. 12:12) Phillips translates that as “maintain the habit of prayer”. Is prayer a habit with you? We don’t mean is it a ritual that you can do without thought, but is it a continual part of your life – everyday? That is what praying w/o ceasing is – do not give up or abandon the avenue of prayer.
a. What should a Christian do to deepen his prayer life? Pray – just pray. Don’t read about prayer, don’t study about prayer – just pray. Better awkwardly than not all. Make it a habit.
b. What motivates you to pray? There are some circumstance s in which we would all pray (even our ungodly political leaders would suggest it). But the spiritual man sees the need for prayer in the most common of circumstances (getting ready to make a decision, preparing to discipline your child, rejoicing over a blessing, being tempted to lie, or sin in your heart)
C. Give – from the heart – Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to dig down deep and make a commitment to give to the needy saints in Jerusalem. Their obedience to this command would provide for the physical necessities of their Judean brothers. But ti was also designed to help them grow as Christians.
1. This giving was to go far beyond the specific amount to be given – each person had to determine that in his own heart. It was preceded by a giving of oneself, as the Macedonians had done (2 Corinthians 8:5 5 And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.)
2. Was not to be given as an obligation (2 Corinthians 9:5-7 – Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation. But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.) How does one learn to give generously without begrudging it?
a. It begins by giving regularly and freely. It was to begin with the Corinthians by “laying aside” the gift ahead of time – making the giving a matter of principle, not coercion.
b. Focus on the spiritual benefit of the gift, not only to the recipient, but also to the giver. (It is more blessed to give than receive – blessed – fulfillment to the giver).
c. In the O.T. tithing was the command by which the Israelites gave back to God. But the principle of tithing was faith and putting God first. God didn’t need the grain. Duet. 14:23 – “that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.”
d. Generous giving helps us overcome the pull of material things. We learn to trust in God and wait for His reward. Someone has said that giving to the Lord is the opportunity to clip another strand from the ropes of the earth, so that when the Lord returns you won’t be all tied up.
D. Fellowship Other Christians Regularly – Hebrews 10:25 – 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. This verse clearly teaches the necessity and importance of the assembly. God expects us to spend time together.
A. Purposeful togetherness: Why is it important to be with other Christians? We can talk about the value of Bible studies, and even the worship itself, but there is more.
1. vs. 24 identifies an important purpose that relates to spiritual growth. Hebrews 10:24 – 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, – The New Living Translation renders it this way: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” We are mutually responsible for motivating each other. God is counting on our willingness to spend time together.
a. Rooting for the visiting team. A heard about a preacher recently who went to a Boston Celtics game while he was in Boston. The only problem was that he was not a Celtic fan. He was going because his favorite team, the San Antonio Spurs happened to be playing Boston that weekend. He thought at first it might be a good idea to root quietly since he was in a strange court. But he couldn’t contain himself, and he started to cheer. People began to look – He seemed at risk. But then he noticed another friend across the aisle who was also cheering for the Spurs. He immediately felt better and was motivated to cheer harder. He gave high signs to his new friend – they were strangers, but they were suddenly united by a higher bond of fellowship. (experienced the same phenomenon at a Dolphins game, as I cheered for the Bengals) In the church we are rooting for the visiting team. We applaud the One who everyone else is booing. You stand when everyone else is sitting. We need each other to encourage us to keep cheering and not be afraid of the hostile crowd.
b. Staying focused through contact. Easy to get distracted with the cares of daily living. We lose focus on our real purpose and responsibility
Conclusion: We need to grow and we need to develop habits that will lead us in that direction. In the final analysis, growth is the outcome of consistent obedience to the revelation of God’s Spirit – so it is called the fruit of the Spirit.