To attain spiritual maturity the believer must grow in two dimensions of the Christian life, equipping and restoring. In this lesson we will focus on the equipping aspect. Webster’s dictionary defines equip as “to furnish for service or action”. The equipping dimension prepares the believer to serve others on behalf of Jesus, in effect, to carry on His work.
In Luke’s gospel narrative, he records that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). For some Christians, it can be difficult or uncomfortable to think of Jesus as needing to grow in these ways. That is part of the wonder and the mystery of the incarnation—God taking on human flesh, along with its limitations. Just as He needed to learn to crawl, walk, read, and write, so He needed to grow in wisdom and spiritual understanding. If the sinless Son of God needed to grow, it should not be surprising that we as fallen human beings should need to grow spiritually. This growth occurs as we mature in the areas discussed below.
Growth in Knowledge of God, His Ways, and His Will
Knowledge of God, including His character, His ways, and His will is essential to spiritual growth. The Apostle Paul’s understanding of this principle led him to pray for the believers in Colossae as follows: “We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10).
Paul’s prayer for these believers provides insight into the dynamics of spiritual growth. The more we grow in spiritual wisdom, the more we will live pleasing to God, doing the good things He desires us to do. This action leads to a greater knowledge of God and more spiritual wisdom. And so the circle of growth continues.
This knowledge of God is interactive and experiential, not just an accumulation of information. A person can study the sport of scuba diving, can watch others scuba dive, and can even speak intelligently about scuba diving with other people, but until he actually puts on the equipment and dives into the water, he is not a scuba diver. And though he may study advanced diving techniques, he will not become a skilled diver until he has spent many hours in the water. Similarly, there are many people who know much about what the Bible teaches, but they have not embraced the teachings of scripture as truth in their hearts and put it into action. They may know about God, but they do not know God.
The early focus of learning is centered on such subjects as God’s character, who Jesus is, and how to walk with Jesus daily. These topics are necessary for a healthy relationship and lay the foundation for further growth. As we grasp a basic knowledge of who God is, we learn how to please Him and follow His leading. We gain this knowledge through daily interaction with God in the circumstances of life.
Growth in Ministry Skills and Abilities
As mentioned above, the point of acquiring knowledge is so that it can be put into action. One of the ways we act on our knowledge of God is to minister to others or, as Paul puts it, “to bear fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:10). In the early phases of the Christian’s walk, our focus needs to be meeting the practical needs of others. We see this principle in the way Jesus taught His followers how to minister. When His disciples were new believers, Jesus gave them practical responsibilities such as dispensing food, providing transportation, controlling the crowds, and bringing their friends to learn about Him.
Jesus knew that the best way for His disciples to learn was through on-the-job training. Many businesses and other types of organizations have discovered this principle as well and are delivering more training on the job and less in the classroom. Even schools and universities are beginning to rely less on formal instruction and more on training. Sadly, many churches do not yet seem to understand the importance of this principle. What is learned in worship services and Bible study classes is essential, but it must be balanced by practical application. It is important that newer believers have the opportunity to learn and practice ministry skills under the guidance of more mature believers.
As believers grow spiritually, God often increases their ministry abilities and opportunities. This pattern is clearly seen in how Jesus trained His disciples. Although He began with giving them simple acts of service to perform, He gradually increased their responsibilities. He sent them out on their own to minister and gave them positions of leadership within the larger band of followers.
Christ not only gave His followers hands-on training, He also set the example. His days on earth were marked by selfless service to others. In his gospel account, Mark quotes Jesus as saying that, “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus’ servant leadership is a theme that surfaces frequently in the gospel accounts, as he healed the sick, fed the hungry, humbly interacted with the outcasts of society, taught His followers and, finally, laid down His life that others might have eternal life.
Another area of ministry is sharing with others what Christ has done in our lives. Some believers are intimidated by the thought of this, but it really should be quite natural. If a new restaurant in town has great food, we tell others about it. If we find a diet that works, we spread the news. If we stumble across a helpful gardening tip, we pass it on to other gardeners. How much more should we desire to tell others when we have found the Source of life?
This is what the early followers of Jesus did. Andrew found his brother Simon Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah.” Phillip found Nathanael and said, “We have found Him of whom Moses and the prophets wrote.” The Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at the well in Sychar told the townspeople, “Come see the one who told me everything I ever did.” The blind man healed by Jesus told the religious leaders, “This one thing I know. I was blind but now I see!” This is what we should do⎜simply relate to others what Christ has done in our lives.
Growth in Faith and Trust in Christ
A further area of equipping is growth in our willingness and ability to exercise faith and trust in Christ. Growth in faith means growing in strength of conviction and quickness to obey. Simply put, it means putting into action what we believe to be true. In fact, the putting into action is the proof that we truly do believe something to be so.
Some years back, there was a tightrope walker who performed unbelievable feats high above the ground. A promoter heard of this performer and offered him a substantial sum of money to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. The event was widely promoted and drew large crowds of people, eager to see the daring (or folly) of this artist. When the moment came, the performer calmly walked above the rushing waters, to the wild cheers of the crowd. Then he walked across blindfolded. The cheers grew even louder, almost drowning out the roar of the falls. It appeared that the show was over, but the artist had one act left to perform. He had a wheelbarrow raised to the rope and, addressing the crowd, asked if they believed he could walk the wheelbarrow across the falls. The crowd responded enthusiastically. Then he asked for a volunteer to get into the wheelbarrow, and the crowd fell silent. All had said they believed, but none was willing to act on that belief. As Christians, we demonstrate our faith by a ready willingness to “get into the wheelbarrow.”
Growth in trust means applying our faith in more and more areas. It is one thing to recognize Christ as our only way of salvation and place our trust in Him as savior. It is quite another to begin to trust Him in all areas of our lives. After all, we have grown up learning to be independent and to trust in ourselves—our knowledge, our abilities, and so on. However, as the writer of Proverbs reminds us, we need to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Admittedly, this is hard to do. But it is an important part of the maturing process. God, in His wisdom and providence, continues to bring circumstances into our lives that give us opportunities to trust Him and expand our faith. As we encounter these circumstances, God provides the resources to deal with them, as we take a risk and trust Him.
James Brown, pastor of Evangeline Baptist Church in Wildsville, Louisiana tells the following story. “Some years ago when I was learning to fly, my instructor told me to put the plane into a steep and extended dive. I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen. After a brief time the engine stalled, and the plane began to plunge out-of-control. It soon became evident that the instructor was not going to help me at all. After a few seconds, which seemed like eternity, my mind began to function again. I quickly corrected the situation. Immediately I turned to the instructor and began to vent my fearful frustrations on him. He very calmly said to me, “There is no position you can get this airplane into that I cannot get you out of. If you want to learn to fly, go up there and do it again.” At that moment God seemed to be saying to me, “Remember this. As you serve Me, there is no situation you can get yourself into that I cannot get you out of. If you trust me, you will be all right.”
It seems that God sometimes gets us into tough situations just so we can learn to trust Him. The Bible certainly provides enough examples, whether it be Abraham standing over Isaac on the altar, the Israelites huddled on the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptians in fierce pursuit, Daniel and his friends in the fiery furnace, Jesus’ disciples fighting a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, or any number of other events. One of the most important things that every Christian must learn is that God can be trusted, regardless of circumstances that would make it appear otherwise. Until a person reaches this place of trust, he will be limited in what he is able and willing to do for God.
To become mature we need to grow in our knowledge of God, in service, in faith, and in trust. As always, God provides everything we need to grow. He has set the example, His Word and His Spirit teach us, and He brings circumstances into our lives to accomplish His purposes. Even the faith required for growth is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). We can rejoice that He graciously provides us with everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him. (2 Peter 1:3)
• Read John 2:1-11. How do you think this situation impacted the growth of the disciples?
• Think of a situation in your life that is impacting your spiritual growth. Write down evidences of growth that is occurring because of this situation.