I intend to explore this subject a bit this Lord's Day morning. My chief texts will be 1 Peter 1:3, 2:2, and 2 Peter 3:18 (NKJV) which respectfully read:
- "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...
- "as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby...
- "but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ"
Growing spiritually, means, first of all, growing down. It means developing roots...becoming stable. And, this rootedness begins with our being "begotten again." Neither spiritual growth nor any sort of spiritual advancement can take place without the necessary spiritual beginning--our begottenness...our new birth. There is no continuing in the Lord Jesus until there precedes it a definitive beginning in the Lord Jesus. After our start we may then joyfully finish but not without, at times, inhibiting difficulty (as we will consider in a subsequent message).
So, spiritual growth means spiritual depth--a growing down. John R.W. Stott once said, "We confess that we have sometimes pursued church growth at the expense of church depth." Deep people are hungry people--desire the Word as a new born desires milk. The term Peter employed translated by the English "desire" carries a meaning of "intense longing." But we must be on guard for it's entirely possible to intensely long for even good things like the Word all for the wrong reasons. Perhaps some intensely long for the Word out of heightened curiosity, customary habit, or even religious debate. The Apostle explicitly informs us what spiritual growth demands as a reason to crave holy communication from the Lord--"that you may grow thereby."
Secondly, spiritual growth not only means growing down, spiritual growth also means growing out. We broaden as we deepen. The taller we become spiritually the broader we become spiritually. We take our strengthened roots as we deepen ourselves and expand our base. We "grow" in both "grace" and "knowledge." There remains an obvious distinction between the church's spiritual growth and increase and the church's numerical growth and increase. All spiritual deepened growth and broadened growth is spiritual growth, but not all numerical growth is necessarily spiritual growth. Taking good care to excel in spiritual growth will ultimately end in having the most positive impact in positive numerical increase.
Third, growing spiritually not only means growing down and growing out; growing spiritually also means growing gradually. The former fisherman turned inspired Apostle informs his flock then and God's continued flock now to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Slightly different from the English translations we mostly read, Greek commentators assure us Peter speaks in such a manner as to say, "keep on growing" in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus. Even as strong a follower as was Peter before Jesus was betrayed, he became weak. Jesus prophesied to him what He knew Peter would do--deny and run. But Peter neither ran nor denied in Acts 2-4 when similarly severe threats--or perhaps ever more severe threats--challenged his faith in Jesus. No man or woman spiritually stands tall overnight.
We do young people a spiritually criminal disservice by expecting more from them than their tender faith may bear. The young John Mark felt himself capable to run in Apostolic circles--to run with the "big boys" so to speak--but quickly found out he'd not yet made the spiritual grade required; thus, he hurriedly went back home when the going got rough (Acts 13:5, 12). When the wannabe apostle wanted to try it again, Paul was hardly accommodating to his youthful whims and firmly decided Mark needed some spiritual growing to do--growing down and growing out before growing up (Acts 15:36-41). Even so, the Apostle to the Gentiles finally saw visible evidence from Mark's life--undoubtedly both his spiritual depth and spiritual breadth. Thus, he later appealed to Timothy for Mark's company--"Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry" (2Tim. 4:11). The request was among the last we have on record before Nero claimed the Apostle's prized head, and he ascended to One he'd earlier met on the Damascus Road.
In short, growing spiritually means growing gradually. S. Truett Cathy once wrote:
"I believe God wants us to be successful...and yet success is not always obvious. The Chinese bamboo does absolutely nothing--or so it seems--for the first four years. Then suddenly, sometime during the fifth year, it shoots up ninety feet in sixty days. Would you say that bamboo tree grew in six weeks, or five years? I think our lives are akin to the Chinese bamboo tree. Sometimes we put forth effort, put forth effort, and put forth effort...and nothing seems to happen. But if you do the right things long enough, you'll receive the rewards of your efforts."
What does it mean to grow spiritually? Growing spiritually means growing down, growing out, growing gradually.