|The Challenge Of Christian Growth|
|The Challenge Of Christian Growth||112||"I Propose To Choose The Colour"||117|
|"Life Is Just The 'Stuff' To Try The Soul's Strength On!"||113||Pearls Are The Product Of Pain!||118|
|Why Rejoice In Sufferings?||114||Limitless Growth In Love||119|
|Patience Turns Tragedy Into Triumph!||115||Discussion Questions||120|
|His Prison Became His Pulpit!||116||Discussion Questions (continued)||121|
The Challenge Of Christian Growth
Have you ever noticed that one who is writing a love letter, repeats the name of his lover over and over again in the love letter? He seems never to be tired of mentioning the name of his lover. He loves the sound of his name.
Have you noticed how often the name 'our Lord Jesus Christ' is mentioned in the first four chapters of Romans? After naming the name of Jesus repeatedly in the first four chapters, why does Paul begin to talk of 'our Lord Jesus Christ' in Romans 5:17 ? Because all hope is based on Jesus' character and power and person, all of which is represented of Jesus (by the name of 'our Lord Jesus Christ') that man finds 'peace with God'. Only through Jesus can one find a standing and a status and a position before God. To find peace with God is to find an entry and an access and an audience with God! And it is through 'our Lord Jesus Christ' that this is made possible!
'Peace with God' (Romans 5:1) speaks of God's grace producing conversion and reconciliation of the sinner to God. 'Peace of God' speaks of the subjective experience of the believer when he learns to overcome anxiety and fear and worry. One cannot experience the 'peace of God' until he has first experienced 'peace with God'. One must be 'born of God' before he can 'grow in God'. One must become a 'member of God's family' before he can enjoy the 'benefits of God's family'.
There is no way to experience Christian growth before one has experienced Christian conversion. Whether that conversion is dramatic and dated or undramatic and undated, it is the result of God's grace and of man's faith in Jesus Christ. One must be introduced to grace before he can become well acquainted with the workings of grace in his life. Birth is always the prerequisite to Growth.
The Grace of God which produces justification (right standing with God–conversion– Romans 5:1-2 ) is the same Grace which produces growth and Christlike maturity.
In the first four chapters of Romans, Paul details the dynamics of justification. In detail he shows that all men are sinners–Jews (Romans 2 chapter 2) as well as Gentiles (chapter 1). He declares that all men can be saved, even though all men are sinners (chapter 3), and he describes God's grace-initiative and man's faith response. He spends much time in developing his theme that men are justified by faith alone (chapters 3-4). Now in the opening verses of chapter 5, Paul concisely describes the dynamics of growth in the Christian life.
"O God, there is no name more precious to me than the name of our 'Lord Jesus Christ'. There is none other name under heaven whereby I can be saved! That name both convicts me and comforts me. Responding to His convicting power, I find 'peace with God'. Responding to His comforting presence, I find the 'peace of God'. Glory!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Because I have 'peace with God', I have a right to enjoy the 'peace of God'. Isn't a 'worry-worn Christian' a contradiction in terms?
"Life Is Just The 'Stuff' To Try The Soul's Strength On!"
Having described the glorious entrance into the presence of the King of Kings and entrance to the haven of God's grace (Romans:5:1-2), Paul immediately shows what being and growing as a believer involves. (Romans 5:3-5)
As a realist, Paul quickly shows that in his life Christians are often-times 'up against it'.
Becoming a Christian does not resolve all problems. In some cases it may cause problems. Jesus is not only the great Uniter of people, giving peace where there had been disharmony. But Jesus is also the great Divider. Said Jesus, "Don't imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth. No, rather, a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, and daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in- law–a man's worst enemies will be right in his own home". (Matthew 10:35-36 Living Bible)
Paul declares that there are many things which press in upon the Christian–troubles, trials, problems. But Paul triumphantly declares, in the face of all problems, that the challenge of Christian growth is meant to be a joyous experience. Joy amidst suffering–that is the great Christian paradox. "We also rejoice in our sufferings." '(Romans 5:3) Why? Because the stumbling blocks are meant to be used as stepping stones to further growth and to produce greater maturity in the life of the believer! Every problem is meant to become a project of divine grace!
Christian growth does not involve an escape from life's problems, but rather a creative use of life's problems. Not running from problems, but facing and conquering the problems. Yes, even transforming the problems into possibilities and projects!
The challenge of Christian growth means using all of life's experiences as the raw material from which to create Christlike character. Remember: Heat applied to cold, raw cake ingredients produces a tasty, flavorable cake. Life's trials can produce a Christian life with flavor and texture!
"The place of disciples is in the company of those strong souls who, in every age, have borne the buffetings of circumstance with fortitude and cheerfulness, and who say with Browning:
'I count life just a stuff To try the soul's strength on, educe the man'." (Sangster's Daily Readings, p. 168)
"Master of life, enable me to live masterfully! Help me to use all of life's experiences as the raw materials from which I make a Christlike life! Help me to see that my happiness does not depend upon my happenings; but upon my reaction to my happenings!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: It is not what happens to me that matters. It is what I do with what happens to me that makes the difference!
2 Corinthians 11:23-30
Why Rejoice In Sufferings?
Paul outlines the steps in the process of Christian growth. The five steps are outlined in Romans 5:3-5 : "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience; patience, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us".
Here are the steps to Christian growth: (1) Trials Encountered; (2) Patience Developed; (3) Character Perfected; (4) Hope Produced; (5) Love Experienced.
First, Trials Encountered. Paul was no stranger to troubles. He recounts his trials in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30. (Have you read it?) Paul spoke of glorying his weaknesses and in his infirmities and troubles. He saw his troubles, not as obstacles to defeat, but as opportunities for growth. He saw temptation, not as the penalty of being a man, but as the glory of being a man.
He never saw God as the author of suffering, but he knew God allowed suffering for redemptive purposes. Out of every mess, Paul salvaged a message. Out of every tragedy, Paul salvaged a triumph.
Paul believed that God was never aloof during human suffering and human perplexities. He saw Jesus as a man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief, and yet he saw Jesus transforming the cross of torture into a symbol of victory. God is with us during our suffering, and the power that vanquished death is the same power that conquers man's unconquerable problems.
The believer encounters a variety of problems and trials. In fact, a vital faith may give birth to bitter persecutions. The heroes of the faith were not exempt from problems: "Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment… they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated–of whom the world was not worthy–wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth". (Hebrews 11:36-38)
Why rejoice in sufferings? "We can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. These very things will give us patient endurance." (Romans 5:3) "Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow." (James 1:2, Living Bible) "I do not like crisis", said Lord Reith, "but I do like the opportunities they provide." (quoted by William Barclay, Daily Study Bible, Romans, p. 74)
"Father, my natural tendency is to run from my problems. Help me, instead, to face my problems with You. Help me to conquer my problems through the power of your all-sufficient grace! Through Your Almighty Name! Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I am committed to save, not to waste, my life. God will enable me to salvage good out of all my life's experiences!
James 1:2-4, James 1:12
Patience Turns Tragedy Into Triumph!
Second, Patience Developed. Trials properly encountered can result in the development of patience and endurance and fortitude. The Greek word that is translated 'Patience' is a very important word (Hupomone). It means more than 'mere endurance'. "It means the spirit which can overcome the world; it means the spirit which does not passively endure, but which actively overcomes the trials and tribulations of life." (Daily Study Bible, Romans, William Barclay, p. 73)
"It is the spirit which can bear things, not simply with resignation, but with blazing hope; it is not the spirit which sits statically enduring in the one place, but the spirit which bears things because it knows that these things are leading to a goal of glory; it is not the patience which grimly waits for the end, but the patience which radiantly hopes for the dawn… It is the virtue which can transmute the hardest trial into glory because beyond the pain it sees the goal." (New Testament Words, William Barclay, p. 144-145)
What is the Christian answer to the problem of suffering? It is NOT to explain suffering. That is the way of Philosophy, and this way leaves many unanswered questions and many embittered souls. It is NOT to explain away suffering. This is the way of Christian Science, and this produces minds which are 'disillusioned' and bodies which are suffering needlessly.
The Christian answer to suffering is not to explain it or to explain it away, but to allow God to redemptively use suffering. It is possible to take broken pieces of colored glass and shape a beautiful colored cathedral window. It is possible for God to take the broken pieces of a man's life–his broken dreams, disappointments, tragedies, losses–and produce a beautiful life.
"Christianity teaches that suffering can be USED; that even while a full understanding of origins and purposes eludes our mind, the brave and the bold (by the help of God) can turn the disaster into triumph and force the loss to yield a gain… Tragedy is often fruitful of good. Lighthouses are built by drowned sailors. Roads are widened by mangled corpses. Frustration and testing have had a major part in the higher triumphs of our race. And if anybody inquires how Christians came to believe that tragedy can be USED, the short answer is that they learned it at Calvary. In Christ upon the cross they see God meeting sin with love; wresting earth's worst to heaven's best." (William Sangster, Daily Readings, p. 87)
"Help me to know Your love in all dimensions. Make me to realize that the pains of love, as well as the pleasures of love, are for my benefit. May the blows of life not destroy my life, but instead shapen my character. In Jesus' name. Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I cannot always explain my sufferings, nor dare I explain away my sufferings. With God's help, I will learn to USE my sufferings!
His Prison Became His Pulpit!
God is able to transform tragedy into triumph, to change a Dark Friday into a Good Friday, to make a Death produce Life, to turn a despised Cross into a cherished symbol. Through the fearful death of crucifixion, God cleansed away fear and brought life. "Forasmuch then as the children (human beings) are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver to them, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." (Hebrews 2:14-15)
The believer must train himself to ask, when facing problems: "What good does God intend for me to salvage out of this problem and trouble? How is this problem to be used for the development of my character?"
Paul used his prison experience in Rome for his good and for God's glory. "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly." (Philippians 1:12-14)
Be thankful, along with Paul, that God providently watches over you, and can use you to witness regardless of your circumstances. Paul's imprisonment became Paul's opportunity for unprecedented witnessing to unlikely persons–Roman guards! His prison became his pulpit! His captive audience was Roman soldiers–the 'cream of the crop'–who were chained to Paul's wrists all day long! Paul recognized that God providently allowed him to be in Roman custody in order that he might boldly preach the Gospel to Gentile pagans!
His preaching in prison resulted in advancing the Gospel (Philippians 1:12) and in inspiring timid believers to witness (Philippians 1:13-14)!
Be thankful that God can use any of your experiences–good or bad–to advance the cause of Christ and to encourage the lives of other Christians! Be thankful that God can enable you to get the best out of the worst! If Paul's prison experience resulted in Roman pagans being converted, in timid Christians being encouraged, and in the Gospel message being spread, what do you suppose your 'prison' experiences could result in? Look up and be thankful for God's providence during trials!
"God, I am beginning to learn that it takes both sunshine and rain to produce 'fruit'–the fruit of a Christlike life. Help me to know that the best fruit is produced in the 'valleys'!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: God's grace will enable me both to enjoy my 'mountain-top' experiences, and to learn from my 'valley' experiences!
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
"I Propose To Choose The Colour"
John Bunyan was imprisoned for several years because of his religious beliefs, but he patiently endured, that is, he used his prison experience for the glory of God and for the good of men. He wrote 'Pilgrim's Progress' while he was in prison! This classic has been cherished more than any other book, second only to the Bible!
'Patience' (Hupomone ) refuses to give up even when circumstances are hard and obstacles are great. Thomas Edison was never discouraged. He had an endurance that was amazing! It is reported that when about 10,000 experiments with a storage battery failed to produce results, a friend tried to console him. "Why, I have not failed", Edison said, "I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." That is the spirit that is determined to be the 'master of circumstances'.
"When Beethoven was threatened with deafness, that most terrible of troubles for a musician, he said: 'I will take life by the throat'. That is hupomone. George Matheson, who was stricken in blindness and disappointed in love, wrote a prayer in which he pleads that he might accept God's will, 'not with dumb resignation, but with holy joy; not only with absence of murmur, but with a song of praise'. Only hupomone can enable a man to do that." (Daily Study Bible, Romans, William Barclay, p. 73-74)
Someone once said to a gallant soul who was undergoing a great sorrow: 'Sorrow fairly colours life, doesn't it?' Back came the reply: 'Yes, and I propose to choose the colour'. That is hupomone.
When William Booth, the great founder of the Salvation Army was told by his son that he would lose his eye sight, William Booth was first sober and quiet, and then said to his son, "Are you telling me that I shall soon be blind and will never see your face again". "That is what the doctors are saying", replied his son. Replied William Booth, "I have served God for many years with my eyesight. I shall now serve God without my eyesight." This is hupomone–patience, fortitude, perseverance!
"Hupomone is not the spirit which lies down and lets the floods go over it; it is the spirit which meets things breastforward and overcomes them," (Daily Study Bible, Romans, William Barclay, p. 74)
Hupomone (perseverance and patience) is not a passive endurance, but it is a creative use of bad experiences to serve the higher purpose of good. Hupomone refuses to allow circumstances to master the soul; instead it uses and masters the circumstances.
Give me the courage to accept what I cannot change. Give me the power to Change what must be changed. Give me the humility to accept my positive blessings without pride and to learn from my negative experiences without bitterness. In Jesus' name. Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: When life hands me a 'lemon', I will learn to turn it into 'lemonade'!
1 Peter 1:3-9
Pearls Are The Product Of Pain!
We are looking at the steps to Christian growth, as outlined in Romans 5:3-5. We have seen that trials properly encountered results in patience developed. Paul further says that patience (fortitude, perseverance) produces character.
Third, Character Perfected. The Greek word that is translated 'Character' is the word that is "used of metal which has been passed through the fire so that everything base has been purged out of it. It is used of coinage as we use the word 'sterling'. When affliction is met with fortitude, out of the battle a man emerges stronger, and purer, and better, and nearer God'". (Daily Study Bible, Romans, William Barclay, p. 74)
Think of the most beautiful and lovely and tender-hearted people you have known. Have they not usually been persons who have gone through difficult trials and tests and sorrows, and have emerged victoriously? Have they not been the persons who, as a result of life's trials, have become understanding, gentle, stable, caring?
Problems and suffering, successfully met, can perfect character. Great spiritual vision of God is oftentimes the product of great sorrow. Someone said, "The vision of God can be seen more clearly through a tear". Trouble and sorrow and suffering can cause one to depend more fully on God's power. God's strength is made perfect through human weakness. God's power is only available to the one who knows that he is weak and powerless.
In the world of nature, pearls are the product of pain. A pearl "is a symbol of stress; it is a healed wound; it is the enduring token of a tiny creature's struggle to preserve its life… If there had been no wound there could have been no pearl". (Sangster's Daily Readings, p. 94) Beautiful character may be the product of suffering!
"There is something unheeding and harsh in a man who has known nothing of pain… Suffering, in a disciple, can often be wrested to service. It is Christlike work to soothe and sympathize, and only those who have drunk the cup of sorrow are fully equipped to do it." (Ibid, p. 48) Suffering can develop the tender heart. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5) Someone said that when certain sorrowing people needed a comforter, that they would go to a certain woman who was known for her gentle eyes. Those gentle eyes came from a gentle heart, made tender through much sorrow.
Fourth, Hope Produced. "Character produces hope." Trials successfully met produces stronger character, and inspires greater hope for progress towards the realization of final maturity in Christ. Hope is an anchor of the soul while going through trials and problems.
"Father, during my 'fiery trials', let me hear you whisper your comforting words to me (as expressed by the hymn writer):
'When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.'
What a loving God!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: God will 'bottle up my tears' (Psalms:56:8), and use them to cleanse my soul!
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Limitless Growth In Love
Fifth, Love Experienced. The goal of Christian growth is supreme love for God, sincere love for others, and subordinate love for oneself. Growth in the Christian life is measured by growth in love. Love is the essence of maturity. The believer's hope is not illusionary. Hope is founded upon the foundation of God's eternal love. "Hope does not prove an illusion, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given unto us." (Romans 5:5, Barclay)
Maturity is both a present condition and a progressive process. He whose life is guided by love is, Scripturally-speaking, a mature person. However, while one may be fully loving at anyone moment and therefore be considered mature, the increase in love's capacity in a believer's life is limitless. Therefore growth in maturity is limitless.
Love is dynamic and limitless in its capacity to grow because the love activity of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life is limitless, dynamic, and continuous. (The Greek 'perfect tense' of Romans 5:5 is well described by Kenneth Wuest in his translation.) "The love of God has been poured out in our hearts and still floods them through the agency of the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:5, Wuest)
One is only mature to the extent that he is mature in love, and love can only be measured in terms of one's capacity for fellowship. "Without this maturity based on fellowship, there is simply no maturity at all. For maturity is a capacity for fellowship. The immature person has retreated in on himself, has withdrawn his relationships, and has become self-preoccupied, and hence by that very fact immature. Your capacity for fellowship gauges your maturity. You are mature to the degree, and only to the degree, that you can fellowship with God, with others, and with yourself." (Christian Maturity, E. Stanley Jones, p. 66)
"So maturity is not a matter of age but of attitudes. And these Changed attitudes can be sudden and lasting. But they may also be gradual… But in either case you become mature to the degree that you relate yourself to God, respond to His grace, and work it out in life. Receptivity to grace is the secret of maturity." (Ibid, p. xi)
"But it is a maturity that keeps us on the stretch for more receptivity. For we are always seeing more things in God to receive. The finite will infinitely approach the Infinite, but will never arrive. In that eternal growth will be our eternal happiness." (Ibid, p. 356)
"O God, help me to make a deeper surrender of my life, in order that I may experience a deeper appropriation of Thy love. The depth of Your love in my life will be manifested by the breadth of my love for Your children. Pour out Your love into my heart!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I am forever satisfied with God's love, but forever dissatisfied with the smallness of my capacity for His love!
Discussion Questions On 'The Challenge Of Christian Growth'
After naming the name of Jesus repeatedly in the first four chapters of Romans, why does Paul again talk of 'our Lord Jesus Christ' in Romans 5:1?
Give your interpretation of the following statement: "One cannot experience the 'peace of God' until he has first experienced 'peace with God'".
Because a believer has 'peace with God', he has a right to enjoy the 'peace of God'. Isn't a 'worry-worn Christian' a contradiction in terms?
Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statements: "Becoming a Christian does not resolve all problems. In some cases it may cause problems. Jesus is not only the great Uniter of people, giving peace where there had been disharmony. But Jesus is also the great Divider!" (Note Matthew 10:35-36)
With what attitude can a believer approach human problems and perplexities? (Note Romans 5:3) Why can a believer experience Joy in spite of sufferings?
From your own life or from observing the lives of other believers, can you illustrate the truth of the following statements: "Christian growth does not involve an escape from life's problems, but rather a creative use of life's problems. The challenge of Christian growth means using all of life's experiences as the raw material from which to create Christlike character".
As revealed in Romans 5:3-5, list the five steps to Christian Growth.
If God is not the author of suffering, then why does God allow believers to suffer?
Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statement: "God is with us and in us during our suffering, and the power that vanquished death is the same power that conquers man's unconquerable problems". (If you agree with this statement, can you illustrate its truth from your own experience?)
Give a Biblical definition and description of 'patience' as it is used especially in Romans 5:3.
What are non-Christian answers to the problem of suffering, and what is the only adequate and Christian answer to human suffering? What is the most unusual example in history of God turning a seeming tragedy into a glorious victory?
What important questions should a believer train himself to ask, when he is facing problems or trouble?
Discussion Questions On 'The Challenge Of Christian Growth' (continued)
In what ways did God use Paul's prison experience in Rome for Paul's own good, for the good of others, and for God's glory? (Note Philippians 1:12-14) Can you think of times in your own life when God used what seemed to you as a 'prison experience' to bring glory to God and good to others or to yourself? (Meditate on the following statement: "When life hands me a 'lemon', I will learn to turn it into 'lemonade'".)
Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statement: "It is Christlike work to sooth and sympathize, and only those who have drunk the cup of sorrow are fully equipped to do it".
What word picture is behind the Biblical concept of 'Character'?
What is the ultimate goal of Christian growth?
Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Growth in the Christian life is measured by growth in love. Love is the essence of maturity".
What is meant by the statement: "Spiritual maturity is both a present condition and a progressive process".
Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statements: "One is only mature to the extent that he is mature in love, and love can only be measured in terms of one's capacity for fellowship. The immature person has retreated in on himself, has withdrawn his relationships, and has become self-preoccupied, and hence by that very fact immature".
Meditate on the following statement: "I am forever satisfied with God's love (Romans 5:5), but forever dissatisfied with the smallness of my capacity for His love". What can you personally do to help increase your spiritual capacities to receive more of His love?