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Archive for February, 2019

Growing Up

February 25th, 2019

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head. From Him the whole body is fitted and held together by every supporting ligament; and as each individual part does its work, the body grows and builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16 BSB)

Gifted men are given to the church to enable the church to grow numerically and spiritually. It seems that churches are either drawn to qualify their numerical growth or their spiritual growth, but, in truth, they are both important to God. 

To qualify numerical growth is relatively simple. We just count people – attendances, how many baptized, how many received Christ, etc.. But to qualify spiritual growth is more difficult and requires both short-term measurements and longer-term measurements. Short-term measurements are usually based on classes attended – similar to numerical growth, but in the realm of discipleship – and are relatively simple. But long-term growth can only be measured by observation, and are specifically revealed in how people handle their resources and opportunities, but also how they handle temptations, challenges, conflicts, troubles, difficulties, sicknesses, and discouragements.

The tools of growth

God calls and sends people into our lives to teach us the Word of God, and to help apply it to our lives. The Great Commission is not to merely give information but to “teach to obey” the commands of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20). The practical teaching of the Word of God is essential to spiritual maturity. But also shared experiences, testimonies, prayer, examples of walking in the Spirit, and encouragements – all of these are tools God uses in our lives for our spiritual maturity.

Just as a balanced nutritional diet produces healthy bodies, so a balanced spiritual diet produces healthy Christian souls. 

We grow in stability

As we grow spiritually we are to build up a spiritual resistance against fear and panic, against false and divisive teachers, and to remain committed to the Lord. The sign that someone is growing in their faith is that they are not getting drawn aside by every new twist of the truth, that they do not run here or there to find some new teacher or teaching, but that they are feeding regularly on the Word of God. 

I see this as a matter of our faith, that faith that is real is sincere and embraces the truth. I have known too many Christians who will follow Christ only as long as the pastor stands by them and holds their hand, only so long as he is available to answer all their questions. But as soon as he is not there then they are vulnerable to being pulled away. 

To me they epitomize the two types of soils that are unproductive in Christ’s parable:

The seeds on rocky ground are those who hear the word and receive it with joy, but they have no root. They believe for a season, but in the time of testing, they fall away. The seeds that fell among the thorns are those who hear, but as they go on their way, they are choked by the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life, and their fruit does not mature. (Luke 8:13-14)

Sadly there are too many like this. The sign that someone is experiencing genuine spiritual growth from God is that they continue in the Word and with the teachers that God has given to them. The one who changes churches frequently never seems to mature – they go more for “sparkle” than for substance, for the “tickling of ears” than the truth of God.

For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires. (2 Tim. 4:3)

We grow in Christ

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head” (Eph. 4:15). The growth of the body should match the size of its head. Young babies have large heads compared to their bodies, but as they grow they grow “into their heads,” or in accordance to the size of their heads. And this is how the church should grow and the Christian should grow. 

This is done by “speaking the truth in love” and we cannot neglect either part of this equation. Some preachers and teachers emphasize speaking the truth, but neglect doing so in love. Others emphasize love, but neglect speaking the truth. But the growing Christian needs both. As James wrote: 

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap the fruit of righteousness. (James 3:17-18)

The final sentence of James 3 is simple to understand, but it is difficult to translate. A wooden translation would be: “But the fruit of righteousness is planted in peace by those who make peace.” The meaning is that the best chance for the seeds of truth in the Word of God to grow to their full maturity is when they are planted or taught in a spirit of graciousness and  peace.

This is entirely fitting, for we are growing into Christ, and growth into Him requires more than just head knowledge – it requires heart knowledge as well. We need to learn biblical truths but we are to learn them in the right atmosphere as well, so that our attitudes are changed along with our understanding. One may be biblically right but spiritually wrong in how he says it. 

Remember the church at Ephesus was later rebuked by Christ at the close of the first century in Revelation. The Lord spoke to the church and said: 

I know your deeds, your labor, and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate those who are evil, and you have tested and exposed as liars those who falsely claim to be apostles. Without growing weary, you have persevered and endured many things for the sake of My name. But I have this against you: You have abandoned your first love. (Rev. 2:2-4)

Despite their labor for the Lord and their intolerance of false teachers, they had lost their first love – that is the love for Christ. Vance Havner, the great revivalist, said that they had “hot heads and cold hearts.” 

There certainly are times and places where rebukes are appropriate, but the Christian rebuke is never to be given in anger but in compassion. Paul wrote: “For as I have often told you before, and now declare even with tears: Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). And Solomon wrote: “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone” (Prov. 25:15).

We grow together

The final statement in this passage about spiritual growth is that we grow together, just as our bodies do: “The whole body is fitted and held together by every supporting ligament” (Eph. 4:16). Whether we remain in one church for most of our Christian journey, or whether we must relocate often and are associated with many churches, the Christian life must always be lived in concert with other believers. The lone Christian, who stays by himself, and does not enter into conversations or circumstances with other Christians will not mature as God intended him to.

“Fitted” points to the uniqueness of each part of the body of Christ. You and I have something to offer by virtue of being unique people, and if we do not offer this in some way the body of Christ will be lacking an important aspect. “Held together” points to the inter-supporting network that a Christian fellowship is to have. Everyone is valued, every gift is acknowledged, and even contribution is precious. 

There is an important point that must be made – that our spiritual gifts are not the same as our personhood. The Bible plainly says that some spiritual gifts are “greater” than others – notably the teaching gifts, because they produce other mature Christians and open the door so that the so-called “lesser gifts” can be received (1 Cor. 12:27-31). But no Christian is greater than another Christian.

For example, we cannot and should not try to give equal time on a Sunday morning worship service to each of the spiritual gifts, for that is not how they are designed. The gifts of helps and mercy, for example, are used best in private and sometimes shameful situations – the gifts are not shameful, but the circumstances which they are able to redeem may be a great embarrassment to some. The gifts of teaching and preaching, however, need to be publicly expressed. The gift is greater for it benefits many more people, but the preacher or teacher is not greater than any other Christian. 

So this is how we grow up in Christ:

  • We grow stable through faith in His Word
  • We grow in character through the truth being preached in love
  • We grow together as we celebrate and support one another in love.

The question is whether you have positioned yourself for spiritual growth? Are you in the Word, in prayer, in the church? Have you committed your heart and soul to the Word of God? Have you accepted that the basic tools of growth are His Word, His Spirit, and His people? Have you sought to learn biblical facts as well as the character of Christ? Are you vitally connected with a meaningful body of Christ, with other believers with whom you discuss biblical truth and obeying and following Christ?   

 

 

Ephesians, Growth Points, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Leadership, Spiritual Maturity

Given to Build Up the Body

February 24th, 2019

And it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 BSB)

It is a spiritual experience to grow past our personal desires, wishes, and preferences. This growth is an absolute necessity in ministry. If we do not grow past them, then we will be swayed by them and put our own selves above Christ and His will and His glory. It must be His love that guides us and shapes our ministry and not our own affinities or preferences for this person or that person.

I read a good word from Oswald Chambers this morning:

When the Spirit of God has shed abroad the love of God in our hearts, we begin deliberately to identify ourselves with Jesus Christ’s interests in other people, and Jesus Christ is interested in every kind of man there is. We have no right in Christian work to be guided by our affinities; this is one of the biggest tests of our relationship to Jesus Christ.  (My Utmost for His Highest, February 24)

Affinity means my own preferences, or, in this case, the people I connect with or “hit it off with.”

Yet the pastor or Christian servant cannot be naive about others. He cannot assume that sin begins and ends in himself alone, for we find that selfishness and selfish obsession pervades the entire human population. After we surrender our own personal preferences for the Lord’s, self-centeredness has not, thereby, entirely left the camp of the Lord. Others will also step up and seek to gain control and prominence for themselves.

A Faulty Way of Thinking

One way that some people in church think is that the people that they know and like and have been associated with over some period of time constitute the real church, that the pastor and other new comers never really are part of it. So when they read the words above, “To equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ,” they wrongly interpret that to mean their own empowerment. A self-centered man is always self-centered and will use whatever vehicles are available to gain prominence for himself.

So a faulty interpretation of this passage is that the pastor serves as an outsider merely to train and equip the insiders. You see the essential thing to be grasped is that the pastor is also part of the church – he is a member of the church and part of the body. There is only one way to be saved – faith in Christ – and all of the saved are only members of the one church. So the pastor is as much a part of the church universal and the church local as anyone else.

Anyone who seeks to derail the purpose of the church – which is to bring honor and glory to Christ through the saving and maturing of men and women by grace – for his own purposes is doing something very evil. As James wrote: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).

The church belongs to Christ and all who come into it are His – the newcomer is not less important than the old timer. The people you and I get along with are not more important to God than those we do not. But we cannot be naive about this matter – the pastor is not the only one in the church that is tempted to selfish ambition.

The Stature of Christ

The standard for the Christian life is Christ, and there is no other standard. His “stature” or His “full maturity” is every Christian’s spiritual growth goal. “Stature” here means the completed man, the full-grown person. We may consider this, when we apply it to ourselves, as the “peak mature moment” in our lives, when all that we have learned, when our unselfishness, when our compassion for others, and our clarity of thought all came together in the fullness of the Spirit. Christ, however, did not just have a “moment” rather it was His entire life that was lived like this – in the fullness of the Spirit.

We have been sheltered by God from what it was for Jesus of Nazareth to grow up and mature. We only have this one snippet of the account when Jesus was at the temple at twelve years of age. We can derive from that that Jesus matured in knowledge and judgment much like others must, but that He did it without any moral sin. The scripture says: “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). So there was growth in wisdom for Jesus, just like there is for all of us.

But the full-grown man we meet in the gospels, and this full grown man is also related to us by the Word and by His Spirit today. As the Bible says: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). His stature is one of complete perfection and holiness, fullness of love and wisdom. And this complete man is who we all should aspire to be.

The Assets We Have

God has given us assets to use as we seek to bring people to maturity. First is His Word. Knowledge of the Word of God is an essential tool for maturity. Christ said to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Second is the new nature given to believers at salvation: “The new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). We are not called to engage in the hopeless task of trying to morally educate the old fallen sinful nature. We are called to appeal to the new self in men and to seek to grow that “little Christ” in them to maturity.

Third is the Spirit Himself, who indwells and fills and leads and guides. God commands us: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 4:18), and what would we be able to do or become without the Spirit at work in us changing our hearts and minds.

We may add to these three the asset of prayer, that we may call on the Lord and ask Him to empower us and guide us and change people’s hearts. And there is also other spiritual assets, such as hearts and eyes that discern the Lord’s timing and the movement of His Spirit.

There are other things that are also important – to a much lesser degree but still important: knowledge of new trends; awareness of new technology, etc. In growing a church we need to know so many unspiritual matters, such as capacity seating, reverb timing, sight lines, etc. Even popular font styles can be important for reaching people.

But none of these come anywhere close to the spiritual matters in importance. Prayer, teaching the Word, loving others, appealing to the New Man, being filled and empowered with the Spirit – these are the most important assets and tools that we have to do the work of God.

Building up the church is first and foremost the work of God. A call to ministry is a call to join Him in His work – standing in His grace and upon His word and strengthened by His Spirit.

Ephesians, Leadership