Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Are the Ingredients of Spiritual Growth?

          A physician once stated that the secret to a long life was to drink eight glasses of water each day. There is no doubt that following this advice would greatly aid the longevity as well as the quality of one's life. One could wish that the secret to a strong spiritual life would be so easy, but it isn't. However, in Phillipians chapter three Paul does provide some food for thought. In this chapter, Paul reveals his spiritual biography. He points to his past in verses 1-11. There we see "Paul, the accountant." He refers to his present in verses 12-16 where we see "Paul, the athlete." Finally, he describes the future in verses 17-21 and pictures himself as an "alien" in the world.

          We focus our attention on verses twelve through fourteen where Paul unfolds some ingredients essential for spiritual development.

Dissatisfaction (3:12-13a). Though he was a religious giant, Paul was dissatisfied with his spiritual progress. He realized his personal shortcomings and wanted to advance for the sake of the kingdom. When a person becomes satisfied with his spiritual stature he signals the end of spiritual growth. The church at Sardis was satisfied with their spiritual reputation, but Jesus described them as being dead (Rev. 3:1). Laodicea felt satisfied with their status, but, in reality, they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17). Paul's spiritual maturity was shown in the recognition of his own immaturity. So is ours.

Devotion (3:13b). "One thing" is an important phrase. The self-righteous rich young ruler lacked "one thing" in obtaining the true riches (Mk. 10:21). The man blind from his birth did not know many things, but he said, "One thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (Jn. 9:25). The Psalmist requested "one thing" of the Lord: that he dwell in the house of the Lord all his life (Psa. 27:4). An ingredient essential for spiritual growth is having singleness of purpose. Just as an athlete succeeds by oncentrating on his goal so the Christian develops by focusing upon his eternal quest. A river that is allowed to overflow its banks becomes a swamp, whereas, one that is properly channeled becomes a power. The spiritually developing life is a focused life.

Direction (3:13c). Paul did not allow his checkered past of opposition to the church hinder his current service to the Lord. In order to grow Christians must break the power of the past by living for the future. Like Paul, we need to accept God's offer of forgiveness and forget the past (Acts 22:16).

Determination (3:14). This verse captures the idea of intense endeavor. The picture is that of a hunter eagerly pursuing his prey. A person does not become a winning athlete by listening to lectures in his field of competition, or by watching movies, reading books, or cheering at games. He must get on the field and perform. It may be that one of the reasons why some do not grow spiritually is because the price of success is too great for them. However, the incorruptible crown awaiting the faithful is worthy of relentless pursuit.

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