Saturday, January 12, 2013

Spiritual Maturity

Spiritual Maturity

 

“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly,[a] not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;  and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” – 1 Peter 5:1-4

The term “elder” is often misunderstood because the word used throughout the Bible can have two different meanings.  One use is in the title of an office of the church, and one describes those who are spiritually mature.  Since the office of elder is also to be held by one who is spiritually mature, the difference is slight, but important to note none the less.  In 1 Peter 5, the term is used in contrast to youth, referring to spiritual maturity.
You can be a spiritual elder and be in your teens, middle-aged, or even in your senior years.  Spiritual maturity is not bound by the number of years you’ve walked this earth.  And unfortunately, neither is spiritual youth.  You can be young in the faith and be even in the final years of a long life.  Which of these you are, elder or youth, depends somewhat on the company of believers you keep.  In some churches you may be an elder, more established in your faith and walk with God than the majority.  In others, where the membership is strong in its faith and running the course of sanctification, you might find yourself a youth. 

Peter speaks first to the spiritual elders and commands them to “shepherd the flock of God”.  Because you have been given much (wisdom, knowledge of God’s word, faith, grace, etc…), more is required of you (Luke 12:48).  But the manner in which you lead is to be as Christ led.  Peter says it should not be “by compulsion, but willingly”, meaning you don’t proclaim yourself lord over the weaker Christian’s life, and condemn every wrong deed with chastisement.  You live in such a way that your mere presence would compel them to walk closer to Christ.  Oliver Goldsmith once said “You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.” Lead by example.
Peter also says that spiritual leadership by the elders should not be done for “dishonest gain”.  There are many ways in which “dishonest gain” can be interpreted, but two come to mind. 

First, there are those that minister as a profession, namely pastors, music directors, and other church leadership positions.  Some will move from church to church for greater wages.  Frankly, these folks are not worshiping God as much as they are worshipping George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, the money in their pockets. Their leadership can be toxic to the growth of a Christian, being based on “what can you do for me” rather than “what can I do for Christ”.
The second dishonest gain is a tricky one, self-pride.  It’s tricky because as a leader, you want the respect and following of your flock.  You want their admiration, and you enjoy their accolades of your leadership and your knowledge of God’s word and God’s will.  This is when self-pride can then enter.  Though this may be seen as gain while it is being received, in fact, it is loss.  It is the loss of grace, because God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).  We need God’s grace much more than we need the approval of our flock.

Humility is such a welcoming spirit, and pride is so offending.  To be able to lead by example, there should be no pride involved.  Be so very careful as to whom your flock worships, continually directing them to love God with all their heart, mind, and soul.  When your flock grows closer to you than to God, you are no longer leading in the right manner.  Satan sets you up for a fall, and when you fall, the flock stumbles with you.  Humble yourself before God. Share the chinks in your armor openly, lest you be put on the throne of their hearts.
To those that are spiritually mature and do perform acts of leadership as elders, Peter says in 1 Peter 5:4 that when Christ returns, “you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”  All service to God is rewarded either here or eternally, and pride is its own reward (Matthew 6:1-4).

Peter goes on to talk to the youth, the lessor in spiritual maturity.  He instructs us to “submit to your elders” and to be “clothed in humility” so that we can receive the grace of God which is given to the humble.  He tells us to “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” Humbling yourself under God’s hand is accepting His plan for your life.
Life as a Christian should not be a tug-of-war contest between your will and God’s will.  How far does either one holding the rope advance when in a tug-of-war contest? Not at all until someone gives in!  Well, guess what! God is not going to give in!  He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). You may stand your unholy ground for a great long time, as the writer did, but eventually, you will lose (which is gain), and God will reign over your life.  The sooner you give in, the faster the inner struggle you feel will leave, and the faster the elder in you will arise.

There is an unseen battle for the Christian to fight.  It is the battle for your life, and the way you live it.  Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8 of your adversary that “devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour”.  Make no mistake – seen or unseen – he is after you!  In those times when the temptation is in front of you and no one is watching…he whispers in your ear “no one will know”.  In those times when Sunday morning is damp and cold, and your bed so warm and cozy, he whispers “you can stay home”.  In those moments when all hell has broken lose in your life he shouts at your very core “Give up! God is not on your side!”  But be very sure that as easy as it seems to give in to the smallest temptation, that is where “devour” begins.  Little by little, you lose ground in your pursuit of holiness through sanctification.  You turn, and run away from the goal.  Saved you may be, but your sanctification causes Satan great problems in that you advance in rank in the spiritual war he wages.  He is after YOU.
In “The Art of War”, Chinese warrior Sun Tzu says that the first thing an officer must do before going into battle is to know the enemy, and second is to know yourself.  He says that “if you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."  But he warns, "If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat." 

It’s not enough to understand our own weaknesses and where the chinks in our spiritual armor lie.  We also must understand Satan, as our enemy, and know the power we have over him.  Understanding the ways in which the enemy choses to defeat you becomes the source of battle plans.  Yes…plans.  A goal is not a goal without a plan.  Without a plan, a goal is merely a wish.  Satan has crafted a battle plan for you.  You must create a plan of attack for him. Don’t wait for the attack – move forward, advance!
Establish yourself in Christ by reading God’s word.  Eat the bread of life daily, and strengthen yourself in Him.  When Jesus, our example of all Holiness, did battle with Satan on the mountain, He used one weapon: God’s Word (Matthew 4:1-11).  Satan, the father of lies, can stand no ground when presented with God’s Truth.  If you want to win your battles, you must be armed with the weapon that the enemy cannot overcome.

Yes, it all sounds like Christian rhetoric!  Lest you believe it is all hype and fancy words, consider some examples from the life of the writer, given with sincere praise to God. 
When faced with breast cancer in December of 2007, diagnosed with a lump, and appointments made with a surgeon, one word of God reigned supreme over the situation: “by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).  As the blood of Christ covers me for righteousness, so His stripes have healed me.  Isaiah 58:6-9 explains the power of fasting over sickness, and says “your healing shall spring forth speedily”.  James 5:14-15 says “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.“  The scheduled appointment with the surgeon was not kept because the lump disappeared.  The mammogram showed nothing.  The lump was gone.  No x-ray was needed.  God’s promises are true, and He gave victory for the sole purpose of bringing glory to Himself.  Every time I comb my hair, I have to thank Him for ending that battle.

After years of taking a pill for depression, a Christian elder was placed in my path that had overcome the same drug, simply put them down, and walked away in the power of God.  Romans 2: 11 says, For there is no respect of persons with God.” What He will do for one of His children - He will do for all.  Claiming that and fighting the battle that Satan surely waged with situations that should have overwhelmed me, I’ve not taken those pills in over 3 years now, and I never will again.  The joy of my salvation is more than a happy pill can afford me. 
Years ago after an encounter with one of Satan’s own in a violent mugging, I was plagued with fear that crippled my life.  I didn’t go where I pleased, would tremble at the thought of walking through a parking lot.  I would often have to have someone enter my house before me so that I could go in.  I would wake in the night and lay awake in fear for hours at the smallest sound. I carried a gun everywhere I went for over 4 years fearing that it would happen again.  God gave me His righteous right hand through that battle with Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” I no longer tremble in fear, unless He gives me fear as a warning.  If God is for us, who can be against us?  Did He not create the evil as well as the good?  All answer to Him, and He protects His children with a great army.

His righteous right hand is there for you too.  Whatever battle you face, whatever enemy lurks for you, God has given you a weapon fashioned specifically for that battle in His Word.  Eat it daily, for it is you DAILY bread.  It is portioned out to you for each day.  Each meal is sweeter than the last, and each day you will find strength in it.  You will gain victory in every battle when you use the weapon the enemy cannot overcome. 
Small victories.  That’s how we grow spiritually mature.  We don’t grow overnight after having read God’s word cover to cover.  We grow step by step, one battle at a time.  We live in the example of our elders.  We submit to God’s will for our life.  We take in God’s word.  We apply it to our lives and our faith.  We fight until the battle is won.

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