What Does It Mean? Pt. 9
Study Guide – July 31, 2016
Pastor Clay Olsen
I came across some interesting things this week…not very useful, but interesting. Did you know that a baby can cost parents 750 hours of sleep the first year? Most parents already knew that, right? But babies are worth it, of course. How about, did you know that before 1954 stop signs were yellow? What about, where did the word ‘duffel’ in duffel bags come from? It came from the city of Duffel, Belgium, where the cloth was originally made. And then, did you know there’s actually a word to describe the act of stretching and yawning? It’s the word: Pandiculation…it’s what people sometimes do during my sermons…One more…How about this…the first web-cam was used by researchers at Cambridge to monitor the coffee situation in the break room without having to get up from their desks to check on it.1
My point is that there’s often much more connected to many things we often think we already know about or assume we know about, like for our study today on the concept of ‘Maturity’ or ‘Spiritual Maturity’. Most of us have grown up in this very individualistic culture of America, where independence and self sufficiency is pushed to the max. And so we tend to think about our lives and do life very independently, even when it comes to ‘doing discipleship’. Now as we often stress to Christians, it’s true, no one else can do your discipleship for you. You have to do your discipleship yourself. However, what often gets overlooked, because of our independent lenses through which we look at life, is the fact that in order to do our own discipleship we have to work interdependently with other disciples, not independently apart from other disciples.
Certainly, independence and self sufficiency have their place in productive living. It’s just that they are not intended to take the place of working interdependently through the joint sufficiency that’s required to develop and live out your discipleship. Let’s take a closer look at what we mean about this concept of ‘maturity’. Eph 4:11-16- “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” NASU
What we see here is the call for us independent believers to commit to working interdependently in order to develop disciples who understand that part of their spiritual maturity involves assisting other disciples in their spiritual maturity as well. Maturity is not a solo venture; it’s a ‘joint venture’: Notice – “being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies”. Mark it down: Spiritual maturity is ‘a joint venture’.
We need to start looking at our fellow brothers and sisters more in terms of the ‘body of Christ’, of which both they and we are a part. Which means that somehow my spiritual maturity is dependent upon my efforts toward assisting other believers in their spiritual maturity, and somehow their spiritual maturity is dependent upon their efforts at assisting me in my spiritual maturity. Another way to say that is: My spiritual growth depends upon helping others spiritually grow and also receiving from them whatever I need for my spiritual growth. Why?, because part of my growth and part of their growth is dependent upon what is being supplied through these connective spiritual joints between us as the body of Christ.
Part of the reason for the stagnation of spiritual growth in many individual believer’s lives is because their focus and their efforts have been on their own spiritual growth, rather than on turning their focus off of themselves with the purpose of doing whatever they can whenever they can for whoever they can assist in their spiritual growth.
To give you an example of just how entrenched this independent American mindset is in the church, you can especially see it at work in Christian seminars of one kind or another. Now, Praise God for all of the wonderfully helpful Biblical seminars that God is using to bless and assist His people. Many of us have benefited greatly from them. But the strange thing is though, is what so many Christians do after they receive such helpful information from the seminars. What often happens is that, at the seminar or class, believers start identifying some problem or issue in their life that needs attention, and so off they go, fixated on trying to fix this or that problem on their own, expecting that spiritual growth or maturity is sure to follow. However, in their fixation on their problem they have forgotten who they are and how things get fixed in the various parts of the body of Christ. Notice carefully what God informs us about how followers of Christ, or how us ‘body parts’ of Christ are to function and thrive.
1 Cor 12:12-26- “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” NLT
So what we see here is that in reality, you and I are body parts that together, make up the body of Christ. Which explains one reason why we so often feel like we don’t have everything together. It’s because we don’t. We are a part, a body part; therefore we are not the whole body in and of ourselves. So let’s get real obvious about it. What happens when you get something in your eye? Your hand comes up to help remove whatever just got into your eye. Now, your eye doesn’t say to your hand… “No thanks, Eye got this”… Of course not, the eye receives help from the hand and says, “Thank you very much, and I want you to know that I’ll keep a lookout for helping you, too”…or something like that, you get the point. But the other point is that just like the whole earthly body is designed to work that way, so the whole spiritual body of Christ is designed to work that way. But instead, we have spiritual body parts that think that they can do life independently from other body parts and still be spiritually whole and mature. But not only does it not work that way in the earthly body, it doesn’t work that way in the spiritual body of Christ either!
The Apostle James speaks about confessing your sins to one another that you may be healed. And although it does speak directly to identifying and rooting out specific sins in order to allow for healing, be it spiritual or physical, still, it also indirectly speaks to the principle of interdependence in the process of spiritual maturity or spiritual transformation. If we go back to the eye and the hand illustration, as the eye confesses or alerts the hand to it’s problem, the hand then helps or ministers to the eye. And in the process both are helped or both are edified or built up in this service. If the hand is in need of knowing how to avoid some danger, the eye sees it and alerts the hand. And in the process both are helped or both are edified or built up in this service.
Again, that’s a rather simple illustration, but what we’re getting at is that once we stop trying to independently mature on our own, including handling our faults or failings or our problems on our own, kind of like ‘that eye saying to the hand, “I don’t need you” or the head saying to the feet, “I don’t need you”, and instead we start thinking of the other parts of the body as exactly what we need in order to grow and mature in Christ, then we will turn the focus off of ourselves and start seeing our brothers and sisters for who they really are: they are the body part or parts that God has placed in my life to help bring spiritual maturity into my experience and I to them. Just like the functioning of the body itself, the need in one part is to be supplied by what another part will contribute to it, because God has made it so that His people are “being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies”.
In fact, it will change even how we identify and think about our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We will begin identifying them for who God says they are: fellow body parts with whom God has connected us into being the body of Christ. And we will look at our Brothers and Sisters in Christ as those whom we need in order for us to spiritually grow. As in, there is something in you as a hand or foot or eye or ear, and so on, that I need in order to grow and mature and transform more and more as a disciple of our one Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
But do you know what this also means? It means that this new level of identification of who your brothers and sisters really are will require a new circulation with who your brothers and sisters really are…because just like the circulation that’s needed between the joints and body parts in the human body, without circulation in the spiritual body the joints can’t get or receive what God is trying to supply to them unless there is good circulation between them.
But now, note this: circulation in the body requires initiation from the body parts. What do we mean? Well,let’s go back to the James principle. Circulation implies a circuit, like the circuit of prayer. When I realize part of my maturity or spiritual transformation is dependent upon the prayers of another body part, it requires me to initiate this prayer process. So I tell my brother or sister in Christ of some need of mine, or fault or problem and such, and request his or her prayers about that on my behalf. And I offer to do the same for them. Or as I realize that part of my maturity or spiritual growth depends upon the insights or counsel of another brother or sister in Christ it means that I ask them to share what they have learned so far on their spiritual journey about this issue or that problem. There’s a great Proverb about that that says, “Though good advice lies deep within the heart, a person with understanding will draw it out.” Prov 20:5 NLT We are to try to develop the art of drawing out the counsel and advice and whatever helpful things our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ have come to learn and know on their journey of discipleship. Each Christian is a well, and we are to carry our buckets to them, seeking to draw out whatever God would have us glean or learn from them.
And why? Because for one thing, when you realize that what they have in their ‘well of knowledge or experience’ may be just what you need in order to go further on in your spiritual maturity, you will then be motivated to ‘draw it out of them’. And conversely, through the exercise of doing that with them, perhaps what you have learned or experienced on your journey is just what they need or have needed. And through this process of mutual maturity God supplies what is needed in order for further spiritual growth by way of this circulation between the various parts of His body.
Again, much of the spiritual stagnation in believer’s lives is due to the lack of spiritual circulation by believers in the lives of their fellow brothers and sisters. Without circulation in the body, the strongest body part will become weakened. Cut off the circulation to your arm and the strength in your arm soon begins to wane. Strength turns to weakness simply because it’s not receiving nutrients or nourishment from the rest of the body.
Part of the disruption in spiritual growth is not so much faulty information as it is faulty identification…particularly about ourselves. Until we see ourselves as having been born again into a connected body to which we are each accountable for serving and for mutually maturing, then of course we will face spiritual atrophy or weakening instead of spiritual development and strengthening. So remember: One of the most productive ways to work on yourself or your own spiritual growth is to work on assisting others in their spiritual growth; because that is what opens up the joints and let’s circulation flow into our own lives as well… “being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
We are going to continue this study because it would be helpful to have something of a plan or a procedure we could follow in practicing this ministry of ‘mutual maturity’ between us ‘body parts’ of the body of Christ. So we’re going to develop a ‘Body Life Plan for Mutual Spiritual Maturity’. And it will consist of steps you can follow or take in helping you in your ministry of helping others in their spiritual maturity and in the process, maturing more and more yourself, just like in how a body is supposed to function interdependently. So, we’ll get that together soon.
Actually, many here at the Chapel have already been practicing this ministry of mutual maturity through the years. And that’s a major reason for the health and strength and refreshing spirit that we have here at the Chapel. So what we want to do is to just clarify and organize some of these steps for spiritual maturity that we can all take in practicing Biblical ‘body life’, and then receiving the blessings and the spiritual transformation that comes from it.
So just remember: Your spiritual growth depends upon helping others spiritually grow and then receiving from them whatever you need for your spiritual growth as well. That’s just how ‘bodies’ work!
1. Amazing facts from mentalfloss.com