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Growth

Dear Congregation,

How do we evaluate our real progress in our personal Christian growth, our sanctification? What does the really good Christian life look like? I think if we think about this question carefully, we will realize we use one or more of three different tests.

  • The first test is to ask, how am I growing in my ability to speak for Christ? We are to extol the glories of God with our speech generally, and defend our faith and share the gospel particularly. Am I getting better at these things?

  • The second test is to ask, am I growing in my knowledge and depth of understanding in spiritual things? Is my faith becoming deeper?

  • The third test is to ask, am I living increasingly sacrificially for the gospel? Have I left all to follow Jesus? Am I improving on this score?

When we read Christian biographies, or observe Christians we admire, almost certainly one of these attributes will really distinguish the person. The truly influential Christian will set some inspiring example in one of these areas. The great Christian biographies come from the ranks of the missionaries, the church fathers and reformers, and the martyrs. Paul was all three, and he said to imitate him as he imitated Christ.

Now, for me personally, I gravitate most to the second test, as do probably a lot of OPCers. I fear when I don’t understand something that I might be missing something really important; perhaps, when I don’t understand something, it shows I have deep biases or misunderstandings that keep me on a wrong track. The fear is genuine for me. So, I do study the Bible and read books and commentaries. But I also really want to improve in the first test. There are so many times I’ll miss an opportunity to speak of the Lord, and then days later I’ll think of what I should have said. I must confess that I don’t really seek very hard to improve in the third test. Sometimes I wonder whether the Lord will bring circumstances into my life that will force me to grow more in this area.

Now, I am confident that each of you can also rank your desires and progress in these three major categories of Christian growth. I’m sure you each have a first, second, and third choice of the directions you desire and think it is important to grow. Maybe the order of your desires to grow, and the order you think is important is not the same. Think about this for a minute or two before reading further. (Then scroll past the space)

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Paul warns us that the pursuit of these three things is not the best, the most excellent way to improve our sanctification. I Cor 13:1-3 says,

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, I am nothing.

So, if pursuing love is the more excellent way, what exactly is it? Paul gives 15 characteristics of love in the following verses. Interestingly, almost all of these characteristics are negative. Love does not do this and love does not do that. Paul’s list is very much like the bill of rights in the American constitution. The bill of rights stipulates what the government must not do. We ought to think of all those with whom we interact as possessing a I Cor. 13 bill of rights – a long list of things that we will not do to them.

There is only one purely positive thing in this list that love actively does. (Maybe I am over-parsing, but I say one because, for example, patience is self-restraint, and believes all things is fighting the temptation to be cynical).

Love is kind. Contemplate this as you take stock of your Christian growth. Kindness abides forever.

Your brother in the Lord,

—Elder Jim Blake

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