From infant to youth to adult, we mature as surely as time advances. Physically, our growth is inevitable; spiritually, this is not necessarily true. Peter exhorts us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, yet do we? Perhaps we may mature physically and psychologically but remain a spiritual infant. To paraphrase Psalm 65:11, to crown the year with our bounty of spiritual maturity will surely please our Lord.
Similarly, the church must also mature. Her maturity depends on the many contributions from her constituent members. These members serve the Lord and the church by performing many tasks, all according to their gifts. They are, in effect, holy workers ?workers who voluntarily give up their time, money and energy to advance the church work. Implied within this definition is that anyone can be a holy worker, not just those who have been ordained or elected.?
So how does one recognize their calling? The Lord does not necessarily command forcefully. He may whisper instead, subtle but present. An assignment from the board, or encouragement from others may be signals that the Lord is calling.
Romans 12:1 exhorts us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to serve and worship the Lord. Yet for many, the opportunity to serve is declined, perhaps out of a desire not to show off. This is misplaced modesty. After all, what would your reply be if Jesus Himself asked you to serve?
The church's road to maturity may not necessarily be smooth. Again, her development closely mirrors the spiritual maturity of her members-when they are on the road to maturity, so will the church. There will be times when insistence is required and times when compromise is the best solution. The ability to distinguish between these two is a clear milestone in the development of the church. For the truth and way to salvation has no compromise. However, it is preferred if there is more willingness to come to a compromise, typically through a decision agreed upon by the majority of members.
Recent history suggests that we have a tendency to emphasize on the construction / purchase of the church building and the increase in church membership. Both these are admirable goals. However, they cannot be pursued at the expense of the quality of the members' spirituality. If the spiritual maturation of the members lags behind the growth in population, the church will face difficulties in sustaining her loyalty to the Lord, particularly in present times.?
A healthy spiritual church is built upon a foundation of spiritually mature members. Each member is responsible and accountable for the spiritual maturity of the church. Hence, for the church to glorify the name of our Lord, her members must advance from basic teachings and strive towards perfection (Heb 6:1-2). When we are young, milk and honey suits us best, but the mature Christian can maintain the faith in whatever circumstances, even when circumstances tastes bitter. This Christian is a disciple of Christ, capable of overcoming adversity to become a living sacrifice for Christ. But let us be clear: a believer is not necessarily a disciple of Christ. Christ has commanded us to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). Not only must we preach His gospel and bring others to believe in Him, we must encourage these people to follow and imitate Christ-in short, to develop believers into disciples. The church is strengthened only when the number of disciples increases.
So, how is discipleship developed?
1. Ensuring Our Value System Reflects Our Spirituality
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuses suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward (Heb 11:24).
Moses, son of Pharaoh's daughter, a prince of Egypt, was in fact the son of a Hebrew slave. The inner struggle between acknowledging his heritage and continuing in royalty was enormous. Should he return to his roots? To slavery, bondage and a life of struggling? To sacrifice his position, his comforts and his adoptive family? As we all know, Moses discarded his royal garments and assumed the yoke of the Hebrew people. Moses made a very difficult decision. Yet, it was clearly the right one. How much would we be willing to sacrifice?
Paul regarded the Lord as above all, and the rest as rubbish (Phil 3:8). He unequivocally staked out the Christian value system: our values must reflect and respect the sacrifice of Jesus, upon whom our eternal hope lies. Paul also hinted at how we are to develop this value system. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, he suggests that we fix our eyes on what is unseen, that which is eternal. As a result, while our bodies may decay, our spirit is renewed. When confronted with choices, our decisions must be examined under the light of our spiritual values. Unblemished decisions that reflect Christ's glory should be pursued, others discarded.
To the spiritually mature Moses, his values dictated he chose the less traveled, tougher path. He put his faith in God, and with his eyes fixed on the horizon, set off towards the unseen destination, sure that this decision would bring glory to God.
2. Service to the Lord
And the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord. Samuel 2:21
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. Samuel 3:1
When Samuel was young, he began to minister to the Lord. As he grew, the Lord remained with him and the prophet's words did not fall to the ground (1 Sam 3:19). Samuel matured spiritually because he served the Lord. Through service, he developed an understanding of God's will and this in turn, was reflected in his words and deeds.
Our religious lives include prayer, bible study, attending service and fellowship with others. Yet, it is incomplete without service. To serve is to grow. The various skills with which the Lord has endowed upon us are wasted if they are not put into service.
Like maturation, service is a process; it develops gradually. There may be setbacks along the way, but with determination and fixing our eyes on the finish line, we will succeed. Take Mark, for example. In Acts 12:12,25 it is clear that Mark received good religious education from his mother and wanted to serve the Lord. He helped the apostles whenever possible, and in verse 12, provided lodging for Peter when the apostle escaped from prison. Yet in Acts 13:13, Mark did not accompany the apostles. Why? Paul decided in chapter 15:36 that Mark was not to accompany them because he was still immature and not ready to suffer for the Lord. Through the training and co-working of Barnabas, he devoted himself to service in the Lord and, by this, grew up spiritually. By the end of Paul's life, we see that Mark has indeed matured: Paul specifically asked Timothy to bring Mark along, for he is useful in Paul's ministry (2 Tim 4:11).
3. The Importance of Wisdom
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor (Lk 2:52).
What is wisdom? And where does it come from??p> The familiar Proverbs 9:10 states that to become wise, one must first fear God. A reverence towards God is a firm foundation, the ability to withstand the temptations that threaten us.
As we grow in stature, do we naturally become wise? Not necessarily!
Our education may increase our knowledge of the world, but its importance pales when compared to spiritual wisdom. By the time he was 40 years old, Moses had substantial formal education and was powerful in speech. Yet, his spirituality had not matured at the same rate. When an Egyptian mistreated a Hebrew slave, Moses killed him. Only after another 40 years were his powerful emotions tampered by spiritual wisdom and he was able to lead his people out of Goshen. In contrast, as the boy Jesus grew in stature, His wisdom grew also. This wisdom was not of the world.
Indeed, measured against any standards of formal education and status, Jesus was lowly. His wisdom was derived from His determination to follow the will of the Lord (Jn 7:17).
Heavy emphasis on formal education may obscure the wisdom of God. Indeed, Paul rebuked the Corinthians for neglecting divine wisdom in favor of worldly knowledge (1 Cor 1:20-21; 2:6-8). This is not to say that worldly knowledge is irrelevant. On the contrary, worldly education is important and should contribute to our pursuit of the word of God. Balancing the pursuit of such learning with the pursuit of divine wisdom is necessary to attaining spiritual maturity.
The church must grow. This happens only when the spirituality of her members grows.
Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head-Christ-that each member, joined and knit together, may promote the body's growth by building ourselves up in love (Eph 4:15-16).