by Timothy Guess
Currently on the Baptist Bible Hour daily broadcast (available on select radio stations, but also as a podcast), Lasserre Bradley, Jr.'s messages from the book of Philippians are airing. Several of the messages recently have focused on Paul's prayer in chapter 1 for the Philippian church.
“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)
His messages have noted Paul's frequent and serious emphasis on spiritual growth. Here, the apostle prayed that their love would abound, or overflow. Paul understood that God had granted the Philippian saints a love towards God and another. But, his prayer is that this love would increase. Let's note a few significant points concerning spiritual growth.
It is certainly true that Paul placed great importance on spiritual growth. He exhorted the Thessalonian believers to “abound more and more” in pleasing God (1 Thess. 4:1). In view of the victory of Christ's resurrection, he called on the Corinthians to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Some may read these commands and think of following them as a feverish effort to keep God off our backs. They may remind others of a football coach who is rarely satisfied with his team's efforts and almost never gives compliments to his players.
Spiritual growth is not an attempt to earn God's love. Rather, it is a result of and a response to God's great salvation. The truth is, unless a soul has first been chosen, redeemed, called and justified, there will be zero spiritual growth, because there is zero spiritual life. Here is a statement that may be hard to swallow: God's acceptance of His children in Christ is the same when they are mightily growing as when they are spiritually limping. Put another way, you can't make God love you more by feverish attempts at obedience or fake attempts to look like you are “really spiritual.”
The right response to this reality is not spiritual laziness, but a freedom to really run the race without undue pressure to “perform” for God.
This is the right balance for our first point. It keeps us from abusing grace and treating spiritual growth casually. The fact is, Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to walk in a way that would please God and to be abounding in it. The book of Philippians shows that the saints there already were a people of love, but as Bro. Bradley points out in his radio messages, Paul still earnestly prayed that they keep growing in it. Scripture's message is clear: spiritual stagnation is not God's calling on our lives!
We should see this stagnancy for the threat that it is to our souls. It should give us shivers to picture a once-dedicated commitment of love to Christ becoming routine and dry to eventually a coldness of heart. We should pray against our hunger for God's word and desire for holiness to be weakened by compromise or distractions. Hear this: diligence does not buy saving grace, but diligence is the right response to saving grace. Peter, in old age and knowing he would soon die, was passionate about “stirrring up” his beloved readers in giving “all diligence” in the Christian life (2 Peter 1:5-15).
The idea of spiritual growth is less like a checklist and scorebook (“I think I am a 4.5 on faith, but only a 3.6 on longsuffering today”), and more like a long-term apprenticeship and relationship. In the prayer of Philippians 1, Paul prayed for their being filled with the fruits of righteousness (growth), which are by, through Jesus Christ (power source and relationship). Yes, we must focus on growing in certain areas like humility or patience. But, we must not focus on them apart from Christ. We seek to grow in those things for the glory of Christ, following the example of Christ, using the means Christ has provided, and in full dependence on the supply of the grace of Christ.
Perhaps a question like “Am I growing?” should be followed up with questions like, “Am I walking with Jesus? Am I finding nourishment in His word? Am I submitting to His word? Am I rejoicing in His salvation? Am I following His example and relying on His strength? Am I seeking His cleansing when I fall? Am I serving His people and being blessed by them?”
As Bro. Bradley indicates in these messages, spiritual growth is not just for a struggling church or individual. It is a call to even a healthy, mature church like the one in Philippi. May we heed the call!
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