A Journey Thru Acts 14: Are You Growing & Maturing? (6:1-7)

We continue in this our 14th post digging into the book of Acts. We are trying to build on the 53 posts from 2016, our foundations series, where we dug into the Bible to understand what it means to truly elevate God, elevate Christian community, and elevate others (non Christians). So now we are digging into Acts to answer the question, “What do we do NOW? What is the LORD building on the foundation of this local church? What does the Bible say the church is supposed to be and do? Not what does the suburban American culture say, but what does the Bible say?”

Last week: Acts 5:41-42
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”

This week: Acts 6:1-7
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 

 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said,

“It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 

Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit & wisdom.

We will turn this responsibility over to them

and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

This proposal pleased the whole group.

They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; 

also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

So the word of God spread. 

The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, 

and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Wow. What a passage. I will only be able to begin to touch on this passage in this post—Lord willing, we will continue with it after Easter. But for this post, here is one of the main questions that this passage confronts us with:
Are you maturing and growing as a Christian?

Many just want to get saved, get forgiven, and then want to rest & chill. They don’t desire growth/maturity and certainly don’t want to put in the effort that comes with growing. Not that we make ourselves grow—only God can do that (1 Corinthians 3:6-7; Colossians 2:19). But we have a responsibility to put ourselves in a position to grow, to remain in the soil of God’s Word, in the Sonshine of the presence of Christ, to receive His Living Water, to endure the fertilizer (manure—trials!) that God uses so that He grows & matures us. We are to remain in the vine…and this remaining is not passive but active.

2 Peter 1:5-10: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election…”

Not add to your faith in order to be saved, but add to your faith because you are saved! At best the body of Christ in the United States today is anemic, is malnourished, is unhealthy, is stunted in our growth in character, holiness, spiritual fruit, Christ-likeness. When we think of our non-Christian and Christian friends, do we see much of a difference in how they act, what they believe, what they strive for, what they live for?

Do we know Christians who:

  • Chase/pursue God, run after Him HARD, hunger & thirst for Him?
  • Are heavenly-minded, who live in this world actively but seem to be part of another world?
  • Seem VERY out of step with the current cultural values & trends?
  • Have the aroma of Christ Jesus? Not the cultural jesus who only makes people smile, but the Biblical Jesus Who by the end of His life had made just about everyone angry because of His words and actions and mission? (“Beware when all men speak well of you…”)
  • Are learning to die to self & their dreams & live for the Lord Jesus & His commands?
  • Train their souls harder than they train their physical bodies?
  • Treat time & money as if it all belongs to God and none of it belongs to them?
  • Are learning to rejoice in & persevere through their sufferings & trials?
  • Are learning to take up their cross & follow Jesus instead of taking a seat in their chair & watching others follow Him?
  • Are characterized mainly by being full of the Holy Spirit, full of faith, full of wisdom?

Loved ones, I’m not asking if you know of Christians who have BECOME all of these things, who have graduated…

…but do you know of any Christians who are even in CLASS to learn these things, who are hitting the Book & being discipled by the Lord Jesus Christ to learn these things?

Are YOU?

One of the reason why many church-attenders have grown bored with Christ
is because they haven’t grown in Christ;

Christianity has become dull to many of us because we aren’t being sharpened.

  • Repeating the same grade in school eventually gets tedious & boring; same as a Christian.
  • The shallow end of a swimming pool is fun & appropriate for toddlers; not for teens/adults. Staying the shallow end (SAFE!) eventually leads to us wandering away from the pool.

Many Christians think maturing is icing on the cake; they simply want to get saved/forgiven and are satisfied to stay stagnant regarding maturity/growth.

  • Guess what happens to stagnant water in nature?
    It becomes polluted; no one can drink it.

Loved ones, many if not most of God’s people in the U.S. are stagnant.

I don’t mean that we aren’t busy—many of us ARE busy!

But we aren’t growing, we aren’t busy being discipled by King Jesus at His feet but like Martha are “worried and upset about many things” as we choose what is good instead of what is best (Luke 10:38-42).

  • I wasn’t lazy as a teenager; I was busy, but I was busy doing what I wanted; I was busy with video games and hanging out—I was dedicated to those things! I certainly wasn’t busy with academics and honoring my parents and submitting to the Lord Jesus.

With newborn babies, doctors constantly monitor their growth by OUNCES each week, tracking their growth/length/height/weight when compared to other newborns, with graphs and all. This isn’t legalism—it shows we CARE!

Why do we do the opposite with our spiritual growth? Why are we so utterly hands-off, why is dedication considered legalism, why are we so UN-accountable to other Christians in our spiritual growth, why do we think it will just happen as we go about doing other things, especially as we drink the spiritual coffee of the culture that serves to stunt our growth?

We would be concerned if a child continued to be held back in a grade because they weren’t increasing in knowledge and understanding—we would understand that something is wrong and needs to be corrected—we would give this priority!

Why are we content with remaining spiritual 1st or 5th graders then? I understand that many would like to go back to Kindergarten for the snacks, naps and legos, but spiritually this is not right…

Telling a doctor that you’ve lost your physical appetite for a week would be a cause for concern and would be monitored, would possibly require tests & medicine & an iv into your vein as your body began to get malnourished—the effects would be obvious over time.

And yet we have church attenders who can’t remember the last time they hungered for God, who haven’t thirsted for God’s Word & drank deeply from it in months or years…and we do nothing differently. We either think it’s normal or we drink the world’s saltwater (which never quenches!) or we turn to the soda of sin or we think it will get better on its own. It doesn’t, and it won’t.

We must wrestle with these questions, loved ones, on our own with the LORD AND with other Christians.

In two posts, if God is willing I want us to dig into Acts 6:1-7 more, as well as other passages in the Bible, to understand what Christian maturity looks like: my prayer is that you will be inspired by WHAT/WHO the LORD can transform us into, just as before & after photos are used by many companies to get people to buy their product.

In three posts, if God is willing, I want us to continue to dig into the Bible to also see HOW we can move toward that maturity: what the Lord Jesus means when He says that we are to “remain in the Vine—Him—so that we can bear much fruit”; what Paul means when he writes, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

But for the rest of this post, let’s dig into God’s Word to understand WHY we don’t grow, and WHY growing toward maturity is important:

Growing takes work, effort.

We must never underestimate our skill in being lazy, indifferent, distracted, drowsy. The spirit is willing, the body is weak—even the disciples fell asleep at the Lord’s deep hour of need.

Like children told to eat their vegetables—I’m still amazed at how good children are at cleverly doing the minimum:

  • After each bite they ask hopefully if they are done yet, they show their plate full of vegetables, though with one less veggie, as if they have just climbed Mt. Everest!
  • Or they cleverly move the veggies around the plate and spread them out—more plate is showing than when the vegetables are in a pile, and so it seems as if they ate a bunch. They don’t ask if they are done, they quickly show you the plate and say, “Done!” and run from the table unless you quickly call them to sit back down! Clever!

We do the same with God regarding growth/maturity, and He lovingly but firmly calls us back to the table to finish our veggies.

We confuse grace in justification with grace in sanctification.

“The necessity of holy living does not nullify grace.
[Maturing] is based squarely on the pardon of grace.
And [maturing] demonstrates the power of grace.

In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul said, “By the grace of God I am what I am [identity, new nature—justification], and his grace toward me was not in vain but I worked harder than any of them [sanctification]. Nevertheless it was not I but the grace of God which is with me.

Grace is not only the pardon that passes over our badness; it is also the power that produces our goodness. If God says that it’s necessary for grace to do that, it is not a nullifying of grace when we agree with him” (John Piper).

God STILL gets the credit when we grow, even though we are commanded to contribute work/effort toward our growth. Loved ones, the New Testament, the age of God’s grace, has MANY commands in it! The NT doesn’t just tell us what has happened regarding God’s grace & Truth in Jesus, it also tells us what TO DO once we have received God’s grace & Truth in Jesus! This shows that, though being born again is simply a gift to be received (not a list of things to do), maturing is a gift & tool to be used (many things to do!).

1 Corinthians 3:1-11: Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed,Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

Look at all the verbs & action words: Labor, build, plant, water, assigned a task by God, co-workers, service, lay a foundation, etc. All of this is still grace, and God still gets the credit, but we have work to do, a part to play in our growth/maturity.

1 Peter 1:1-2: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Part of the Holy Spirit’s work is to make you BE good, not nececssarily FEEL good.

We think He just gives us an experience, but He actually matures us to obedience.

3. God is glorified when we grow, His fame spreads, HE gets the credit/attention:

Isaiah 61:3: The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.”

God doesn’t plant oak trees fully grown but as tiny seeds; the tallest oak trees once started as the smallest seeds. When we reach our maturity in Christ we spread the splendor of God Himself—what better reason to be dedicated to growing!? But when we don’t grow…

John 15:1-8: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

All disciples of Jesus are believers in Jesus; not all believers are disciples.
We grow & glorify the Father when we SHOW that we are disciples of Jesus.

  • The fame/prestige of colleges/universities grows when its graduated students do great things, accomplish much. Same is true of God—His glory & fame spreads as His children mature and become more like Him!!! The angels rejoice: “LOOK at what the LORD is transforming him & her into! WOW God is amazing to make THAT into THAT!”

“The Bible doesn’t say that forgiveness makes holiness optional.
It doesn’t make it optional, it makes it possible” (John Piper).

The LORD says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” May we settle for nothing less…