Editorial: February 2011
Sarah, our youngest grandchild, is now about a year old. We watch her every movement eagerly and listen excitedly to decipher every noise she makes. We respond to her every need, though she does not express them in words. As she crawls and stands, we are waiting in eager anticipation to see her walk.
This is exactly what God expects of us, His children. He wants us to grow in spiritual life. Peter exhorts us, "Laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as new born babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (1Pet.2:2).
New birth calls for a consequent concern for growth of the spiritual babe. This is to be achieved by putting away all forms of evil, and fostering the desire for spiritual milk, keeping in mind the goal of full and final salvation as the end for which the new life is given. "We can never be lilies in the garden unless we have spent time as bulbs in the dark, totally ignored," said Oswald Chambers. Christians must do two things to have a healthy growth: 1) reject unwholesome and devastating attitudes and practices, and 2) be nourished on good spiritual food. Guile, hypocrisy and envy spoil the appetite for God's Word. A Christian must consciously divest himself of all attitudes and habits which are inconsistent with the holy community into which he has been born. As new born babes, we should long for spiritual milk, so that we grow thereby to salvation. "Measure your growth in grace by your sensitiveness to sin."
The milk of the Word is sincere (pure), without mixture or adulteration, not blended or diluted with human fiction or traditions. Infants love the sweetness of their mothers' milk and desire it pure. Similarly, believers should desire the Word pure, not mixed with anything that may lessen its sweetness and hinder its efficacy. With the Word as our spiritual nourishment we will grow more in spiritual life and strength, till we come to be perfect (Gal.4:3). Peter urges new born babes to cultivate a healthy appetite for God's Word, unadulterated and elementary, like milk. He says, his readers will thereby grow unto salvation.
The true nature of Christian life is not static, but dynamic and expanding. A new Christian is a living organism, as certainly as a new baby is, and must have nourishment and exercise to assure normal growth.
Christian growth must be seen in its corporate as well as individual aspects. Believers do not grow up to salvation independently, but as a "community where members are fastened to Christ as the stones of a temple to the cornerstone." Thus God manufactures His store of precious stones, cut here in pain, which shall flash forever in the light of His glory. By constant communion with Christ, the living Stone, Christians will become like Him, living stones. The purpose of stones is not to be kept in isolation, but to be joined together so as to form a building.
The community of Christ's followers is God's work of art, God's masterpiece. Our reign with Christ in the heavenly places is to be given concrete expression in our ethical behaviour here and now. Good works are a mark of new life and our growth into faithful discipleship. Their absence is an indication of our stunted growth. Do we envision ourselves as living stones that must fit together with others in order to compose God's living place?
Considerable effort is made by several mission organisations to evangelise the nation. The effort is limited in most cases to bringing the listener to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It stops when the person starts attending the church. Seeing the need for a Saviour is the end point of their quest. This is instant Christianity, according to A. W. Tozer, in line with instant coffee and instant tea. The newcomer is made to think that he has arrived and nothing further needs to be done. This leads to growth in numbers, without adequate attention for the quality of the believers. The spiritual growth of the newcomer is stunted. "All growth that is not toward God is growing to decay," said George MacDonald.
The need to become a disciple, learning everything that Jesus taught, should be emphasised to the new convert. When he/she made the decision, it was only like entering the KG class. As Paul says, they may be swayed by every wind of doctrine, if they are not aware of the true teaching. This situation has to change. He/she has to go a long way to grow into the image of Christ. In this exercise, the senior members should set examples for the new members to emulate.
Lack of spiritual growth of the members is the cause of all the problems that we face in our churches. Churches/mission organisations should take up this responsibility seriously and ensure that every Christian grows to maturity by the study of God's Word.
As we study the Bible, when we observe what the text actually says, interpret its meaning in context, understand it in the light of other Scripture portions, and apply the meaning of the text in our lives, transformation is bound to take place. Quite often we use Bible texts taken out of context to prove a point. This should not be so. Individuals and congregations should be encouraged to undertake Bible studies, interactively in small groups. When the world sees transformation in the lives of Christians, when they observe our new life-style, problems that we face externally will tend to disappear. The concerns that we try to address separately will be part of our life-style, rather than add-ons. Internal problems between the members of the congregations will cease. Then we will live as living stones fitting together with others. Remember, we are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people" (1Pet.2:9).
We have been chosen to be holy. When the community around watches us, they should have reason to glorify God. They should sit up and wonder what an amazing group of people Christians are. In the words of John Piper, this will happen when we live up to the purposes of God in our lives-those who are tired of corruption will find that Christians do not resort to corruption; those who fail to keep the moral teachings of their religions find that Christians keep the moral distinctions; those who are lonely will find Christians as friends who can be trusted; those who are tired of injustice will find Christians standing up for the oppressed, willing to suffer in order to help the oppressed. We will have a value system different from the rest of the community. The clear witness of Christians endeavouring to live ethical lives will speak eloquently. The message that Christians are different from others will go loud and clear. "Be ye holy for I am holy" (1Pet.1:16).
Like the Early Church, we should grow to love each other. The people will then be able to say how they love each other. Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn.13:35).
When the Gospel takes root in our souls and the Spirit of God indwells us, it impels us outward to all the unjust human suffering that we see around us. As we grow, it will awaken us to the horrible reality of eternal suffering in hell under the wrath of a just God. John Piper says, "Christ does not want you to choose between pouring your life out for the alleviation of unjust human suffering now and the pouring out of your life to rescue the perishing from everlasting suffering, which is 10 million times worse than anything anybody will ever experience here." Do we engage in acts of compassion because we want to look good in the eyes of other people? Or are we living that way because we want people to see Christ?
As we grow, we will understand the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of His power, as Paul speaks in Ephesians 1:18. We will then treasure Christ more than any human comfort, security and prosperity. "Nature does not require that we be perfect; it requires only that we grow, and we can do this as well from a mistake as from a success."
God's people are called to a two-fold ministry: offering spiritual sacrifices to God and declaring His wonderful deeds. This response, both vertical and horizontal, is natural and spontaneous when the Christian has grasped that all these blessings spring directly from the free grace and mercy of God. "God judges a man not by the point he has reached, but by the way he is facing; not by distance, but by direction." "Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still." "As long as you are green, you are growing. As soon as you are ripe, you start to rot."
"When the divine owner takes possession of a property, He has a two-fold objective: intense cultivation and abounding fruitfulness." "For the earth yields crops by itself: First the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head" (Mk.4:28). "The grace of God makes a man godly; and then proceeds to make him manly," said Henrietta Mears.
God watches our every move and is keenly interested in our growth, just as we watch at home the growth of Sarah.