By Irvin Himmel
Two kinds of growth may be considered: numerical and spiritual. In the New Testament one finds both kinds. Numerical growth was remarkable in the early history of the church. About three thousand people were baptized on Pentecost according to Acts 2:41. The number of the men who became believers was about five thousand in Acts 4:4. Believers were the more added to the Lord, “multitudes both of men and women” in Acts 5:14. The number of the disciples was multiplied in Acts 6:1. A “great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” in Acts 6:7.
In modem times strong emphasis is placed on numerical growth by some churches. Increase in numbers takes priority. Whatever is required to attract larger crowds, they go for it. They resort to social activities, recreational programs, entertainment and amusement, food and fun, prizes and parties, the featuring of celebrities, preaching that pleases the people, choirs and concerts, etc.
Numerical growth must be based on genuine conviction and true conversion to the Lord to be of worth. And a church that grows in numbers without spiritual development and strength is devoid of power and destitute of vitality in righteousness.
The Need for Spiritual Growth
Spiritual progress is essential for several reasons. I mention only four.
1. God expects it. When a child is born into this physical world, it is expected to grow. The heavenly Father expects every person who is “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5) into the heavenly family to grow. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2). God does not want his children to be stunted, dwarfed, weak, and sickly.
2. There is hard work to be done. The redeemed are God’s vineyard, tillage, or field (1 Cor. 3:9). The call of the gospel is similar to the call issued in the parable of the la-borers in the vineyard in Matthew 20, and the command in the parable of the two sons in Matthew 21. “Go work in my vineyard.” Much of the work requires manliness, strength, and willingness to give dedicated service. Often we find ourselves in situations where difficult tasks challenge us. Paul entreated, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Eph. 6:10). “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit ye like men, be strong” (I Cor. 16:13).
3. There are battles to fight. Every Christian must be equipped to wage relentless warfare against the forces of evil. “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6: 12). “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . . Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:1-3). Men who have gone before us have fought for the ancient order of things, for the purity of the church, for truth and righteousness. We must keep on fighting. We must train and inspire younger men to fight. Men who are spiritually strong are needed if the battle is to be waged successfully.
4. Severe trials will come.In every life there are painful experiences, hardships, and tests of our faith. Peter warned, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1 Pet. 4:12). The trying of one’s faith is more precious than gold that perishes (1 Pet. 1:7). Hard trials prove us, keep us humble, and teach us patience. But we need strength and maturity to bear up when trials come. Instead of their overcoming the world, some Christians are so spiritually weak that they are disposed to throw up their hands and quit when sore trials and burdens confront them.
Promoting Spiritual Growth
What can a congregation do to encourage and bring about spiritual growth? How can Christians be motivated to develop themselves, to achieve fuller maturity, to make real progress in the faith? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Preach and teach the word of God. Truth is the basis of solid spiritual growth whether we are considering the individual or the church collectively. Faithful teachers and preachers never shun to declare the whole counsel of God. Nothing profitable should be kept back (Acts 20:20, 27). We are not to be as immature children, “But speaking thetruth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Spiritual enlargement and maturation is the goal. Preaching the truth in love is the means of reaching that goal. Christ is our head, so all growth is toward Christ, under the leadership of Christ, and to the honor of Christ.
2. Emphasize Jesus Christ as our pattern. Some young people regard a movie star, an athlete, or other famous personality as their role model. Some men are seen as models of Christianity who are more committed to buildings, church-related institutions, programs, and projects than to Christ the Lord. All of us, young and old alike, must look to Jesus as our pattern. Paul wrote, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul’s foremost desire was to know Christ, “and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). The closer we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the more we feel the need to grow and the more we will grow in spirituality, holiness, grace, love, forbearance, patience, etc.
3. Activate people. One who is instrumental in arousing others to action must be actively involved in the Lord’s work himself. God wants Christians to be participants not spectators. Elders make a serious mistake when they attempt to do everything themselves (an impossibility), instead of encouraging others to take responsibilities. The more members who are occupied in the work of the church, the more spiritual progress will be seen. “Exercise thyself unto godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). We do not grow in godliness simply by listening to discussions of the subject, nor by reading passages in the Bible that enjoin godliness. We must gymnasticize or train ourselves in all that godliness implies.
4. Encourage a favorable climate. Bananas do not grow in Alaska. Polar bears do not thrive in warm climates. All living things require the appropriate atmosphere or environment. Spiritual life is no exception. Evil companionships corrupt good morals (1 Cor. 15:33). The moral climate in many homes is detrimental to spiritual growth. Husbands, wives, parents, and children must be taught to fulfill obligations in the family relationships. The bickering, backbiting, complaining, and divisiveness in the church creates the wrong climate for spiritual growth. The heart of an individual must be kept pure. Wicked thoughts and undisciplined behavior make for a bad environment in the person himself. “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:1, 2).
Spiritual growth is an ongoing process. The graces named in 2 Peter 1:5-7 require daily attention. Some of us may be like the high school girl who attended a formal dinner and was seated next to a famous astronomer. She introduced herself and asked, “What is your work in life?” He replied, “I study astronomy.” “Oh,” she remarked, “I finished that last year.”
Paul gave thanks to God for the Thessalonian saints be-cause their faith was growing exceedingly, and the love of everyone toward each other abounded (2 Thess. 1:3). The future of a congregation is bright when this kind of spiritual growth is in evidence.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 1 p. 18-20
January 2, 1997