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Growing Into Spiritual Maturity

 

By Dr. Richard Ing

June 24, 2002

 

THE GOAL OF YOUR HEART

 

            In our earlier studies, we spoke about how God has two eternal purposes: to have mature sons and daughters in the image of His Son Jesus, and to have a glorious church that will be the bride of Jesus when He returns.  Fulfilling His purposes has been the cry of our hearts and the vision of this church.  Whether your goal is to be in the army of God, the woman in the wilderness or the martyrs described in Revelation 12, it will take great spiritual maturity on your part.  The woman in the wilderness (the true church) and the man-child (army of God) are the only Christians who will make it through alive.  The martyrs will give their lives for the sake of the Lord’s great name, but will be resurrected and rule the nations for a thousand years thereafter.  Rev. 6:11; 113-12; 12:17; 20:4,5.

            It is imperative that we grow into the image of Jesus Christ (Ro. 8:29; 2 Co. 3:18) and that the church begin to come together as one mighty army and true church. 

SPIRITUAL MATURITY

            What exactly is spiritual maturity?  While we cannot fully explain spiritual maturity in this short writing, we know that possessing the moral character of the Lord is essential.  While spiritual gifts are more impressive to man, God looks deep within the heart where none can see.  Jer. 17:10; Rev. 2:23.

            No matter how anointed you are, no matter how high a position you occupy, or how great fame you have and power you possess, and no matter how many demons you helped cast out or people you helped heal, no matter how many visions and prophecies you had, or miracles you did, God will never accept those things as a measure of spiritual maturity.  He will look inside of your heart to see how much of the fruit of the Spirit you possess and the motive of your heart.

            In Galatians 5:19-23, Paul distinguishes the works of the flesh from the fruit of the Spirit.  He uses the word “fruit” and not “fruits” because everything that is described in Galatians 5:22-23 portrays the heart of one person - our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is His character that constitutes the fruit of the Spirit.  Although it is not the sum total of who Jesus is, it is the external evidence of the character and nature that God wants in our heart.  The more of the fruit of the Spirit manifested in our daily activities, the more of Jesus we have allowed to possess our hearts and lives.  The more fruit of the Spirit we show in our relationships with each other and the church, the more mature we are in the spirit.

WHY SPIRITUAL MATURITY?

            As mentioned above, only the spiritually mature will make it through until the very end.  All the rest will fall away and lose their salvation.  2 Th. 2:3.  Other Bibles use the word “rebellion” and “apostasy” instead of “falling away.”  All these words indicate one thing - most of the immature in the church, will renounce the truth and turn away from Christianity.  Deception will be so great that “if it were possible, even the elect shall be deceived.”  Mt. 24:24.

            Growing into spiritual maturity requires more than just memorizing Bible scriptures or putting on a façade of holiness.  It requires almost a total change in attitudes and purposes that run your life.  While reading the Bible and knowing scriptures are important, it is the incorporating of those scriptures into your heart and life that count.  You can read a book on auto mechanics from cover to cover many times, but it will not transform you into an auto mechanic of any skill.  It is the doing that counts.  Many Christians know the Bible inside and out, but it has never changed their hearts.  Countless Christians diligently attend church every week and never grow spiritually.

WHAT IS SPIRITUAL MATURITY?

            Spiritual maturity can probably best be described as having the heart of God.  The Bible shows us that God cherishes those who seek after His own heart.  David was such a man.  He wasn’t perfect, but he desired to have the heart of God.  “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will.”  Ac. 13:22.  We all know that David was so beloved of God that He promised that there would always be a son of David on the throne forever.  Jesus calls Himself the root and offspring of David, thus fulfilling that prophecy.  Jer. 33:17; Rev. 23:16.

            The Holy Spirit was given to us, to live in us, for the purpose of guiding us into all truth and to change our hearts.  But the Holy Spirit will never force you to change.  What is in the heart is exposed by what we say and sometimes by what we do.  What comes out of the mouth is the “fruit” of what is in our heart.

            Our quest is to be like Jesus in heart and mind.

HOW IS SPIRITUAL MATURITY EXPRESSED?

            The fruit of the Spirit is manifested by and through our relationships with one another and the church.  You cannot display love, joy, peace, gentleness and so forth by living in a cave.  The fruit of the Spirit is evidenced by how we treat one another and by the attitudes, purposes, goals and intentions by which we live our lives.  Many have a higher opinion of themselves than is real, but it is how you relate to people and circumstances that prove what is in your heart.  You cannot stand afar off and claim that you love someone.  Love demands action.  There are many books written about love and the fruit of the Spirit.  But, Jesus gave us one clear criterion or test in the Bible.  This test is so opposite human nature that following it will test you to the maximum.  It is found in Matthew 20:26,27.  It might be wise to compare our attitudes with what Jesus says.

            In Matthew 20:26,27, the Lord said, “ … but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.”  Also, Mk. 10:43-45.  In the Greek, the word “servant” is actually interpreted “slave.”  Greatness in the eyes of God is determined by how much you minister to and serve others - in church, at home, in the neighborhood, in the city where you live, everywhere.  Spiritual maturity is gauged by how much of a servant’s heart you have.  You don’t have to be highly intelligent, educated, good-looking,  physically strong or possess a great personality and charm.  All you have to do is serve.

            Many claim that they serve God, but God chose a very odd way of having His people serve Him.  He said that serving others is serving Him.  In Matthew 25:31-46, our Lord says,

                        When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall he sit upon the throne of His glory: And before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.  Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

                        For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me:  I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 

                        Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

                        And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

                        Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me  not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

                        Then shall they also answer him saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister  unto thee?

                        Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not unto me.

                        And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

The church is the testing ground.  Whatever you do to serve the church and its members, you do it unto the Lord.  Whatever you refuse to do, you refuse it unto the Lord.  How good are you at serving your church and its members?

            Many claim that they obey God, and do not have to obey man.  They are wrong.  Direct commands from God are rare; instead, God chooses to use men to delegate his authority and give His commands.  Disobedience to those in spiritual authority is the same as disobedience to God and obedience to God’s delegated authority is the same as obedience to God.  He never meant the saints to be renegades and self-appointed apostles, prophets and evangelists.  He intended all saints to work together in harmony.  Likewise, you cannot claim to serve God and not serve man at the same time.  Even as most of God’s commands to you are indirect (through His delegated authority), most tasks of service to God are indirect - by serving those around you.  Serving the brethren is the same as serving God and vice versa.  It is like God is saying, “Go and help Alice and Jim.  Serve the church for me.  Establish my kingdom on earth.  Show the world my love.”

            I remember the words of a wise leader (I forget who it was) long ago.  He was giving advice to those who wanted to serve God.  He said, in effect, “If you really want to serve the Lord and make a real difference, don’t look for the biggest, most well-organized church in town.  They don’t need you.  Look for the small, poor church that needs lots of help.  Then go join and serve that church with all your heart.”  Christians today do mostly the opposite.  They look for the church from which they can get the most for themselves.  They are more interested in being served than in serving. 

            Once on a trip to Fiji, our team was taken care of by various members in the local church.  On our way home , one couple related to me how they were so humbled and blessed by the family that put them up for a week.  Their Fijian hosts kept saying that they felt so bad that they received all the blessings because they were chosen from among many families to have the privilege of feeding and housing part of the team from Hawaii.  They had been chosen several times in the past couple of years.  The couple had surrendered their master bedroom to the Hawaii couple and woke up early every morning to prepare breakfast and all their meals.  They were so happy to be able to serve.  Amazingly, within the previous year, their only son had drowned.  He was only ten years old.  The Fijian couple shared about how God had brought them through the dark times and they knew that their beloved son was in heaven and they wanted so very badly to see him again.  They shared that they didn’t have much talent to teach or be leaders, but they knew how to serve others.  They volunteered for almost everything that needed to be done and vowed to serve the church with all their heart.  They wanted to make sure that they pleased the Lord so that they could go to heaven to see their beloved son.

            When I saw the Fijian couple, there was a glow and softness on their faces that you couldn’t help but notice.  There was a love, peace, joy, gentleness and meekness that was beautiful to see.  They smiled and laughed so easily and we felt like we knew them for a long time.  I will always remember them.  They had found the secret to God’s heart.

            It would seem that if serving others is your purpose in life and your treasure in heaven, then you should be looking around for things to do for others, instead of waiting for people to ask for help.  If we store up treasures in heaven by helping others, it is us that should be thankful for the privilege of helping others.  We should be thanking those we help.  Don’t you think?  If no one wanted you to help them, how could you store up treasures in heaven?

            As your pastor, I have absolutely no desire that you do anything for me.  I am happy when you serve the church because my only concern is that you please our Lord.  He is pleased when you love His body, the church, and His desire is that you become a servant to all.  It is then that the fruit of the Spirit is manifested in your life and heart and you begin to mature spiritually.

            I know that there are other things that we must learn in order to reach spiritual maturity, but servant hood is a major and indispensable element.

WHY SERVANTHOOD?

            Why of all things would the Lord use the heart of a true servant to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit and spiritual maturity?  No doubt, the heart of a true servant contains all of the fruit of the Spirit in abundance.  A true servant serves out of love, not just out of duty, fear or hope of reward.  In the Old Testament, family or personal debts were sometimes paid off by servitude for many years.  For instance, a son of a debtor may serve twenty years as a slave in order to pay off his family’s debt.  Often, the slave is even allowed to marry and have a family while serving.  His master becomes responsible for the upkeep of the family and the entire family serves the master.  No doubt, many good servants were treated as part of the family.  At the end of his agreed-upon term of servitude, the servant may choose to continue to be a servant in the household.  If that is so, and the master agrees, the servant stands next to the side post of the front door and the master drives an awl through the earlobe of the servant.  The hole in the earlobe will be used to hang an earring which identifies the servant as a “bond slave” of the household for life.  Ex. 21:1-6.   The bond servant or slave says publicly, “I will serve my master in love for the rest of my life.  I do not want to go free.”

            The bond slave voluntarily chooses to bond himself to his master for life out of love for his master.  Although he is a free man and could have left the household, he makes a personal choice to continue serving the master he loves.  It is not the pay that he desires, because a servant is paid only a pittance for his personal needs.  He chooses to serve out of love.  In return, the master loved the servant and took care of the servant and the servant’s family as if they were his own sons and daughters.  The apostle Paul described himself as a bond slave to Jesus.  He served the Lord by serving the Lord’s people and doing the work of the Lord.  Love for the master was the motivation of his life. 

            Because of his love for the master, everything that he did was an act of love that brought joy and peace to the bond slave.  He would not have bonded himself to his master unless that master was a good master who loved the slave too.  The bond slave could live in joy and peace, knowing that his master would take care of all of his needs as he would a son.  Thus, we learn love, joy, peace, gentleness, meekness and goodness by serving others.

            Jesus came as a bond slave - in the form of a servant.  Phil. 2:7.  He came to serve.  Lk. 22:27.  It was the will of God.  Heb. 10:7.  He who desires to be like Jesus must become a servant at heart.  In Acts. 3:26, Jesus is called the Servant of God.  God called Moses “My servant.”   David was called “God’s servant.”  Ps. 119:125; Ps. 119:135, 140.  The apostles called themselves bondservants.  Ro. 1:1 (Paul); Phil. 1:1 (Paul and Timothy); Ja. 1:1 (James); 2 Pet. 1:1 (Peter); Jude 1:1 (Jude); Rev. 1:1 (John).   The physical act of driving a hole into the ear lobe was replaced by the holes in Jesus’ hands and feet on the cross.  As the apostle Paul said, “… I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”  Gal. 6:17.  The true servants of God bear in their body the marks of a bond slave.       It is God’s will that we have the heart of a bondservant.

THE CHURCH

            The true church has to be made up of servants.  No matter what the form of structure the church has - open church, house groups, para-church, etc., without faithful servants, it will never grow and mature.  When the members have no intention of serving the church and its members, it will slowly die.  Even large churches with much money and property can remain immature and Laodicean to the core.  The church is meant by God to be the testing ground for the saints to learn how to be bond slaves.

            How can we learn to obey God when we cannot even obey our leaders?  And how can we learn to be bond slaves when we don’t even know how to serve the church, which is the body of Christ?  How does your pastor and the leaders view you - the served or the servant?  How do you discern the body of Christ?

A DIFFERENT PURPOSE IN LIFE

             We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom living in a foreign land - ambassadors of God in a foreign country.  Our real home is heaven and we are servants of God.  Our purpose in life is different from the rest of the world.  We live to serve while others live to be served.  Wherever we live is only temporary and our short life on earth is as a drop of water compared to the ocean.  Our real life will go on and on through eternity.  What we are going through now is the testing ground that will determine where we will live for the rest of eternity - on the throne of almighty God or at the bottom levels of heaven.  Some may even end up somewhere else.  No matter what we suffer while on earth, it will end soon enough and then eternity.  We have only one chance to serve the Lord on earth, and then the judgment.

            King David’s life was marked by a burning desire to obey God and to have a heart like God’s  It became the purpose of his life from the time he was a shepherd boy, unknown and ignored.  He was a nobody that even his father and brothers disregarded when Samuel, the prophet, came to anoint one of the family as the next king of Judah. “Oh yeah, we have one more son.  I forgot.”  But God knew David and loved him more than anyone else.  He knew that David had a true servant’s heart and would obey and fulfill all of God’s will.  While King Saul wanted the world to serve him, David just wanted to serve and obey God.

            A couple of years ago, while returning to Santa Rosa from Batangas, all the passengers were asleep.  I was looking back on the day’s activities when I heard a voice saying, “Give Me the glory!”  God then spoke right into my spirit and said among other things, “All I am looking for is one man who will obey Me!”  God is looking for people who will obey the Master - people who are true bond slaves to Jesus.

            The very first verse in the Book of Revelation (Amplified Bible version) says, “[This is] the revelation of Jesus Christ [His unveiling of the divine mysteries], God gave it to Him to disclose and make known to His bond servants certain things which must shortly and speedily come to pass in their entirety.  And He sent and communicated it through His angel (messenger) to His bond servant John.”  Isn’t it interesting that the Book of Revelation was written specifically for His bond servants and meant to be disclosed and made known to His bond servants and no others?  Perhaps that is why many churches feel that the Book of Revelation is irrelevant.  Only a select few will understand it because it is for God’s true bond servants that the Book of Revelation was written.  I pray that you become a true bond servant - a spiritually mature saint, the elect of God.  Then you will no doubt make it through these perilous times and receive a great reward in heaven.


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