Yesterday we continued our series at Southampton Student NAVS with our second session entitled “An Invitation to Grow – Growing to Maturity”.
This week we thought about the ‘growth metaphor’ and thought how there are examples of growth in the people, animals and plants all around us. Likewise in the spiritual realm we also grow as we get to know Jesus better. This is growth from the inside out, not mere conformity to a particular pattern of behaviour but transformation from the ‘inside out’ in our identity, priorities, motivations, hopes and so on. Essentially when we are talking about spiritual growth we are talking about the process of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 3:18, Rom 8:28-29).
Conditions for Growth: The state of our hearts – Gardeners must consider the ‘conditions’ that affect the growth of their plants and in the same way we too must consider the conditions that will help or hinder us growing in our faith and bearing fruit. The parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15) is primary about the condition of our hearts when we come into contact with the Word of God. In the parable God Jesus says the seed represents the Word of God and the Soil represents our hearts. The farmer sows the seed but depending on where it falls there are very different results. It is not therefore so much the parable of the sower but the parable of the soils! Our hearts therefore are constantly like these different types of soil – the question is which is it and what steps can we take (with God’s help) to ensure that our hearts are like the good soil.
(1) The Path: Be Humble and Receptive to God – The seed that fell upon the path “are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:11-12). The seed did not sink in and so it is trampled on and eaten up by the birds. The challenge therefore is to be receptive to God and be hard-hearted. In the words of Isaiah; “These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). If we want to grow it is so important that we come humbly and receptively before God with a willingness to be changed. How receptive is your heart right now?
(2) The Rocky Ground: Rooted for Lasting Growth – The seed that fell upon the rocky ground are “the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away” (Luke 8:13). The soil did not allow firm and solid roots to be developed, there was no moisture and so in time the seed withered. The challenge here is to put down strong roots and rise above a superficial faith with no real commitment to growth. Maturity does not come easily but only with hard training and so we need to develop spiritual disciplines to help us grow – otherwise when the storms of live come our way they will tear us out of the ground roots and all. If we want to grow it is so important that we dig deep roots and make serious and lasting commitments to grow.
(3) The Thorns: Being Ruthless with Distractions – The seed that fell among the thorns was “choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they did not mature” (Luke 8:14). Thorns grow up and choke the life out of plants, they are a sign of neglect and a gardener must deal with them ruthlessly and persistently. If we are to grow in our faith we need to ensure our faith is not choked by things that crowd God out of our lives. The challenge is to deal ruthlessly with our distractions and entanglements.
(4) The Good soil: The potential for much growth – The seed that fell on the good soil stands for those with “a noble and good heart; who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:15). This seed on the good soil produced a crop which was up to 100 times more than what was sown. Jesus pin points three active decisions on our own part as we come to the Word of God; hearing, retaining and persevering. If our hearts are like the good soil then not only will we grow spiritually but God will be able to work through us in the lives of other people. If our hearts are not like the good soil, then we could be in store for some of the disastrous results of the seed that fell on the other soils.
Conditions for Growth: Remaining in Christ (John 15) – Secondly we looked at John 15 and Jesus’ teaching about the vine. Jesus said “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (v1-2). Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches; the Father is the gardener and His purpose is to see that we “bear much fruit” (v8). Now here’s the key; Jesus says “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (v4). Fruitfulness is dependent on remaining in the vine. Jesus is talking about the intimate connection we have with Him; remaining is about our intimacy with Christ. How is your relationship with Jesus? Fruit is the evidence that we are remaining in Jesus, the sign of a healthy relationship with Him. With Him we bear much fruit but without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). If you are committed to growth then can I encourage you to focus on your relationship with Jesus.
This fruit is first of all in us; what Paul calls ‘the fruit of the Spirit’, he writes “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” Gal 5:22-23. This fruit (which comes as a package) should be evident in our lives if we are remaining in Him. If we do not remain, Jesus says “…you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (v6). If we do remain, Jesus promises “…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (v7-8). So secondly this fruit is through us, Jesus intends us to bear much fruit showing ourselves to be His disciples. He intends us to bear fruit in the lives of others. Jesus says “…I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (v16). This is the work of gathering fruit for eternal life (see John 4:35-36) which is reaped as we lay down our lives for our friends (v13).
Helping others to grow: Spiritual immaturity – We do not live out our faith in a vacuum but amongst friends, family, neighbours and colleagues – Jesus intends for us to grow and help others to grow. Spiritual Immaturity however has implications both for our growth and for the growth of those we are seeking to help. Hebrews 5:12-14 and 1 Cor 3:1 make this clear in referring to those who should have grown to maturity but who were still struggling with the basics, still needing milk rather than solid food. How can we expect to be fruitful in the lives of others if we ourselves still need the basics?
Helping others to grow: Spiritual Parenting – Paul often speaks about this in terms of being spiritual parents…to the Corinthians Paul writes “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15). Then in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 he fleshes out his role with the Christians in Thessalonica as like a nursing mother (caring for her children) and like a Father (encouraging, comforting and urging them to live lives worthy of God).
Helping others to grow: A vision for maturity – Two verses which have been significant in giving my life direction in helping others grow towards maturity are;
“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (Col 1:28-29).
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:11-13).
These verses motivate me in my life and ministry. It will take a lifetime for any of us or indeed any of those we are seeking to help to become fully mature in Christ but God wants to use people like us in the process. I want to challenge you to be the kind of follower who is growing in your faith and the kind of follower who is helping others do to the same – being intentional, being relational and in such a way that what you are doing can be reproduced in the lives of others.