A Journey Thru Acts 16: Growing & Maturing 3 (6:1-7)

We continue to dig into the book of Acts passage by passage, verse by verse. Why? Why not do sermons on topics like relationships, finances, parenting, common questions, etc.? Like a chiropractor focuses on getting your spine aligned properly—that often cures or gets rid of pain/problems in other parts of the body…so let’s submit to God’s Word & His Holy Spirit as He aligns our souls with Himself: knowing HIM, having peace with HIM, focusing on HIM first and not even on ourselves and the legitimate challenges we face…correct vertical alignment with God leads to horizontal health in every other area of our lives…

And so we are continuing in Acts 6:1-7 for the third post, with a specific focus on the main characteristic of those chosen to pass out food to Jewish & Gentile Christian widows: these chosen men were known to be “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom and faith.” This was their reputation, this was the first thing that came to mind when the early Church thought about these particular men.

How did they get that way? How can we grow & mature like that? What aren’t we?

We’ve invested two posts digging into God’s Word to look at why maturing & growing is important and why it is difficult. There is and has been an anemia in the American Church for decades: a carelessness toward growing & maturing, and even worse, often a lack of desire to do so.

  • What would happen if doctors, nurses, mid-wives & parents high-fived each other at the birth of a child and then walked out to celebrate, leaving the child alone? It would be criminal to only give attention to the nine months in the womb & the birth & give no attention to all the growth that is meant to happen afterwards. It is equally criminal and dishonoring to the LORD when we don’t give attention to our spiritual growth & maturity: the church becomes a sprawling nursery of potted plants–a mile wide & an inch deep–instead of a giant forest of mature redwoods & sequoias with deep roots and tall/thick branches. It must also be noted that small potted plants, though alive, don’t nearly contribute the rich life-giving oxygen to the surrounding environment that mature trees do. If we truly want to impact the culture & world for Christ, we will focus on Him growing & maturing us.

This post we will begin to look at one of the main ways that we grow: remaining in the Vine, remaining in Jesus Christ, not just dipping our toes into Christ but immersing ourselves in Him AND STAYING in Him—not just praying a prayer for salvation at one point in our lives but following Him, taking up our cross, growing, maturing, finishing our race well. Remember what He said, “You will be hated because of Me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13).

  • Hebrews 3:12-14: “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.”

John 15:1-17:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.

[There are false vines making big promises: get results in life without having to repent of sin & submit to Jesus as Savior & Lord! But there is only one True Vine—the Biblical Jesus—and His Father the Gardener who doesn’t cushion us to make us happy, He cuts us to make us holy]

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes 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.

[You have heard the Gospel, the Word, that shows you your sinfulness & separation from God and you have agreed with such a painful but necessary diagnosis.

You have also heard the Gospel, the Word, that shows you the cure: the Word that reveals that Jesus is Lord & King and God in the flesh, not just a wise/kind man. And you have agreed with this Word and, by faith alone through grace alone, have received Jesus as Lord & King in repentance and trust. You are therefore clean (your legal record), spiritually alive for the first time, attached to the Vine so that His life flows in and through you. You rejoice at the Good News of the Gospel though at first the diagnosis felt like bad news]

“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.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 

13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

So much to say here! Let’s focus on what it means to remain in Christ—He gives descriptions in this very passage:

  1. Have His words remain in you; without realizing it when we attend church and hear God’s Word we often treat it as mouthwash—swish it around a bit, clean our breath in a temporary way, and then spit it out when we walk out of the building, going back to our own ways of living & believing. But having His Word remain in us is not just swishing it in our mouths but drinking it down into our depths so that our opinions and beliefs and way of looking at life changes radically over time.
    True cause of chronic bad breath is not in the mouth but in the stomach and bowels—deep inside us, not a surface/external issue, requires more than a 30 second swish & spit. But to remain in Christ & to have His Word remain in us deeply, we will grow & mature: We should almost not recognize ourselves if we met ourselves from 1, 5, 10 or 20 years earlier. We are becoming more Biblical, seeing things from God’s perspective not our own or the culture’s. When we leave the building, are we thermometers reflecting the culture around us or are we thermostats changing the culture around us? Do so we stand out, or blend in with everyone else and are approved by them in what we believe and do? This will tell us if His words are remaining in us or not.
  2. Not living “apart from Him”—His wisdom, His power, following Him. Not doing life your way on your own strength. If we aren’t relying on Christ’s promises each day we are trying to live apart from Him—we’re relying on SOMETHING! (we do this unconsciously—that’s how “good” we are at sinning!). If we are chasing the culture’s definition of success, we’re living apart from Him. If we’re living by the culture’s values/beliefs, we’re living apart from Him. We’re going where He isn’t leading. We’re always following someone-but here we aren’t following theLordJesus.
  3. Keep His commands: “The obedience that comes from faith for His name’s sake” (Romans 1:5)
  4. Remain in His love: don’t dip your toes in; immerse yourself & remain in Christ to the end.
    But why WOULDN’T we remain in His love? Why does He say this? More below…
  5. Be committed to putting other Christians ahead of ourselves: 1 John 3:10,16-18: “This is how we know who the children of God are & who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother & sister…16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. & we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers & sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions & sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions & in truth.”

We must pause and take a moment to define “love” in this passage. Many would point to this passage and agree with it, as long as we define love according to the world’s definition: love is primarily a pleasant feeling that we cause others to have. If I do something that makes someone feel pleasant/nice, then they feel loved. If I do something that makes someone feel guilty/bad/unhappy, then they don’t feel loved. I love what one pastor wrote: “Without realizing it, much of the time when we tell someone that we love them, what we really mean is, ‘I love how you are making me feel right now.” That is culture love—pleasant feelings I give you, & the pleasant feelings I get from you. That isn’t what God is talking about in the Bible. God’s love is more a decision/commitment than a feeling.

John 3:16: God so loved the world…this does not mean that God received pleasant feelings from us! He certainly did NOT get anything from us, at least nothing pleasant: In Noah’s day, the sin of humans was so great—it was even their THOUGHTS that were constantly evil all the time, their hearts were inclined toward evil as they followed their hearts & dreams!—God was deeply grieved that He had ever made humans.
GRIEF—that is what our sinfulness does to the LORD; not grief as in, “Aww they sold out of the product I wanted that was on clearance. I’m kinda bummed.” But grief, deep pain and sadness—grief, heart-wrenching anguish. But He made the decision to put our need for salvation and forgiveness and new life ahead of His own comfort and safety. He didn’t fluff our pillows and tuck us into our sinfulness and just say, “There there I just want you to feel nice, but try not to do that as much…” or even worse, God’s love certainly doesn’t say, “There there don’t worry about not doing that sin just be yourself, it isn’t that big of a deal anyway.” That is NOT the love of God.
Do you know what it’s called when a doctor stops treating your disease & just makes you as comfortable as possible? That’s hospice. That’s for the dying. God doesn’t do hospice—He does HEALING & new life. He doesn’t comfortably usher into death, He uncomfortably rebirths sinners into new life in Christ. He sent His Holy Spirit to convict us of our sinfulness, to humble us & show us our need to repent & be saved & forgiven & made new completely. Then He sent His Son to die and rise again to make all that happen. He made a decision, a painful decision for Him & painful for us—by showing us His commitment to us through the cross He also showed us how bad our sinfulness is. He was dedicated & committed at all costs to saving & forgiving anyone who will fall at His feet in repentance & faith. Feelings are not a primary part of John 3:16, and if they are, our feelings of joy at God’s awesome grace & Truth must come after the feelings of repentance from our awful sin & rebellion against the LORD.

The culture’s definition of love is not God’s & the Bible’s definition of love. Agape love is less of a feeling and more of a decision/commitment to putting the needs of someone else ahead of our own needs—not making them feel a certain way. Thus, when the Lord Jesus says, “Remain in my love,” He is saying,

“Remain in My decision, remain in My commitment, remain in My dedication to saving you & growing/maturing you—focus on the fact that I Jesus am the Author AND Perfector of your faith: I started it and I will finish it. Guaranteed. I am committed, no matter what it costs Me OR YOU, to finishing the good work that I began in your soul, even though such finishing will be painful and excruciating at times for you. I will comfort your bruises…and cut out your tumors of sinful beliefs and actions. I was committed to suffering the worst pain to make you reborn; and so I am committed to putting you through whatever pain it takes to make you mature and FULL OF JOY.
Remain in THIS love—the love that hurts temporarily in order to heal for eternity—because you will be tempted to jump out of this love when it stops feeling pleasant and easy, you will be tempted to reach out to sinful love/love from idols/an easier path that promise all the pleasure and none of the pain. Don’t run after other false gods or a false version of Me that isn’t really Me. The last days will have many false messiahs claiming to be Me; not all these false ones are people; some are false IDEAS of Me that are equally as dangerous & destructive.
At times I will be the gentlest cashmere, at other times I will be the finest sandpaper scraping and refinishing & sealing you with the lacquer of my holiness. At times I will be a cool breeze across your face, at other times I will be a crisp and brisk breeze in your face, keeping you from sin or urging you to keep going against sin when you want to lie down and give up. At times I will be the pleasant heat of a 75 degree day on the beach, at other times I will be the excruciating 2000 degree heat of a furnace needed to turn clay into fine china.

You will need to let Me prune away even your deepest sinful habits, and by allowing Me to cut them out, by starving them and refusing to give in to them each day & by repenting & confessing—not justifying—when you do give in to them, you will feel like you are dying as you lay upon My altar the sin that seems so essential to who you are. But remember that those who lose their lives for Me & for Gospel will save it.

So remain in My commitment to you—My commitment to saving you AND to making you holy—by being committed to Me: committed to learning to obey Me & submit to Me in your beliefs & actions, no matter what others say, no matter how angry they get & what names they call you, committed to the unchanging/unshakable rock of My Word & not the ever-changing winds of the world’s opinions. I am the Sun & you are the moon: you have no light in yourself apart from Me, so reflect My commitment to you by being committed back to Me in obedience—the obedience that comes from faith [saving faith in Me is always first!], obedience in carrying your cross because I was obedient in being nailed TO the cross in your place.”

May the LORD change our definition of love to match up with His definition of this all-important word…

That is how we grow, loved ones—that is a picture of what it means to remain in the Vine.

In any discussion of growing & maturing as Christians, we must focus on Romans 12:1-3:

“In view of God’s mercy,
offer yourselves as living sacrifices.
This is your spiritual act of worship.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world
But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Truly worshiping the LORD is sacrificing time & energy & dreams & even our bodies so that He grows & matures us. As important as song-singing is, bearing spiritual fruit as a Christian is such sweeter worship to the LORD than singing words & notes. But as we grow there are dangers as well: we must NEVER forget the cross, how undeserving we are to be grown by God and to be forgiven/adopted by God. This is necessary for our growth—eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus and His cross & empty tomb, remembering that He didn’t just teach us to make us better people—He died & rose again to make us alive people when we were dead in our sins. This will not only enable us to grow but will enable us to stay humble as we grow.

The devil wants to stop people from being saved; since he can’t ultimately stop that he wants to stop us from growing; if he can’t stop that he wants to stop us from being humble as we grow—he wants us to start admiring our own fruit instead of the Vince & Gardener who make the fruit possible.

“You will love Christ & commit to Him (GROWTH!)
to the degree you see the depth of your own sin
& the application of the cross to that sin being final” (Tim Keller).

Please reflect on this now, loved ones—it is one of the keys to growing: looking at the cross as a picture of the awfulness of our sin and the awesomeness of our Savior.

Closing Challenge

And so I must remind us again over & over—we don’t strive to grow & mature in order to save ourselves, in order to BECOME a Christian…we strive to stay in the Vine (Jesus) and stay in step with the Holy Spirit because we already ARE Christians by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone–we are already clean because of our repentant acceptance of the Word the Lord Jesus has spoken to us. This maturing & growing only truly happens AFTER we’re saved, after we surrender to the Lord Jesus in repentance & faith, after we’re made new.

  • A bird doesn’t EARN wings—the bird is given wings as a gift by the Creator! But once the bird HAS wings, it learns to use them, to flap them in the gentlest breezes and the fiercest winds—it learns to fly and to soar!
  • The butterfly started as a lowly slimy crawling caterpillar—that’s us without Jesus! But then as a free gift the butterfly is transformed into a completely different animal—the butterfly—and is able to soar instead of crawl! (that’s new life in Christ!)

Please don’t be overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible task of maturing in Christ in such a spiritually desolate world: The LORD equips us with everything we need to do what He’s decreed:

Exodus 31:6: Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you.”

  • The LORD asked a seemingly impossible thing of Bezalel: he & his people were used to making bricks for four hundred years in Egypt, backbreaking labor that would have created arthritic hands, unfit detailed craftmanship; there is no record of them being skilled in precise artisan tasks like ornate woodworking and embroidery. And yet the LORD gave Bezalel and other a specific/intricate task in the building of the LORD’s tabernacle. They didn’t have these skills/gifts in themselves, but as the LORD filled them with His Holy Spirit He sovereignly gave them the abilities they would need to do what He commanded them to do. Same with us and maturing!!!

Ephesians 1:3: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Birds have wings, fish have gills, we have Him!

But even though we have a part to play, our growth is ultimately the responsibility of God. We don’t have to STRESS over our growth, even tho we are to STRIVE in Christ to grow.

He PROMISES to present His people before Himself holy and blameless and pure and spotless and free from accusation and free from wrinkle, stain or blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27; Colossians 1:21-23). That is HIS guarantee! So let’s rest in those amazing promises and run the race of maturity & obedience and growth that He has marked out for us:

Philippians 2:12-13: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

God is the One Who works in us to change both our desires & our actions—our growth & maturity is on His shoulders! But as He does this our growth & maturity will show itself by us desiring heavenly things & making obedient choices—obedience is shown IN & THRU our shoulders. We have a part to play. So let’s play that part, loved ones, let’s grow in Christ Jesus to spread the fame & glory of Christ Jesus…