Spiritual Growth Within the Community of Believers
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
November 7, 2010



A number of years ago a British publication held a contest and offered a prize for the best definition of what a friend is. And they received thousands of submissions. I’ll tell you what some of them were, but first what are some of your definitions?

PARTICIPATION

Some of the submissions were:

•    One who understands our silence.
•    A volume of sympathy bound in cloth.
•    A watch that beats true for all time and never runs down.
•    And the winning definition: A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.

Some good definitions there… not just of friendship, but of family… of church… of community.

This morning we're going to talk about the importance of the Church in our spiritual growth. What is spiritual growth, anyway? Spiritual growth is about becoming more like Jesus. A lot of people have the misconception that being spiritually mature means that you start acting all religious, you act like you’re better than everyone else, you start speaking in some strange language known as Christianese, and you become so preoccupied with spiritual things that you become disconnected from reality.

My mother used to have a saying, “You’re so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” Well, for a lot of people, that’s what it means to be a mature Christian.

But that’s not really what spiritual growth is about. It’s not what spiritual maturity is about. It’s about becoming more like Jesus. It’s about becoming more compassionate, more in touch with the world around us, more interested in helping other people and investing our lives in them, it’s about expressing the love of God in practical ways, it’s about standing up for the rights of others, it’s about being gracious and understanding as we interact with others…

Basically, it comes down to this: Spiritual growth has more to do with who you are than what you do. Do you understand that? It’s more about who you are than what you do.

And so even when we talk about practices of spiritual growth and things you can do to spur on spiritual growth, what we’re really driving at is life transformation… being changed from the inside out through the work and power of God’s Holy Spirit. Whether you want to call it holiness or sanctification or spiritual maturity… I don’t really care what you call it. It’s simply becoming more like Jesus in your character, in your values, in priorities, and in your love and compassion for others. That’s what spiritual growth means.

Now, a lot of spiritual growth happens in our lives as individuals. You’re experiencing something in your life that results in your faith growing, you’re practicing spiritual habits or disciplines that prepare the way for the Holy Spirit to work in your life, and it’s a personal thing.

But other times, growth happens in your life as you participate in the life of a community of believers, the Body of Christ, the Church. And we all end up kind growing and surging forth together. God works within us a community and we all experience spiritual growth as a result.

So this morning, we’re going to talk for just a few minutes about becoming a strong, healthy, Biblically functioning community of believers. A community where God is free to speak and to move, where He’s welcome to work in our lives, where we’re seeking Him and worshipping Him, where we’re encouraging growth in each other, where we bring out the best in each other, tearing down walls and making ourselves available to the work and leadership of the Holy Spirit.


To Be a Growing Community of Believers, We Must…

1.    Be Loyal to Each Other

I love to read about the early Church… the very first days of the Church. Jesus had died, He had risen from the dead, He had appeared to hundreds of people, and then He ascended into Heaven right in front of His followers. His followers went back to Jerusalem, they continued to meet together… kind of in seclusion in an upper room in one of the houses. While they were meeting there, the Holy Spirit descended on them, they were filled, inspired and empowered, by Him, and then they went out into the streets telling everyone they met about Jesus. And literally thousands of people heard what they had to say, responded to their message, and became believers in Jesus. That was the birthday of the Church.

That’s all in Acts chapter 2. And then we get to the end of that chapter where it describes how this newly formed community of believers functioned. We looked at these verses just a couple weeks ago… Take another look…

Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.

I love that passage, because it so clearly shows how devoted this community of believers was to each other. They hung out together, they ate together, they learned together, they worshipped together, they experienced life together. They were loyal to one another.

Proverbs 17:17 (NLT)
A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.

That certainly describes how we are to be within the Church. We need to be loyal to each other. That means we believe in each other, we refuse to gossip and backstab each other, we defend each other, we’re there to help each other out. We’re loyal to each other. And because of that loyalty, we experience an environment of safety and vulnerability where we’re free to be honest about who we are, our strengths and weaknesses, and we can open ourselves up to all that God has in store for us.

Along with that, a strong community or a strong church needs to also…


2.    Possess a Sense of Team

Anybody been following the Miami Heat this year? For those of you who don’t follow basketball, the Miami Heat made headlines this past summer when they signed three superstars to their roster, including possibly the best player in the game, LeBron James. Of course, fans of the Toronto Raptors weren’t very happy about that because they also signed Chris Bosh who has been Toronto’s best player for the past few years. And the third superstar on the team is Duane Wade, who was already part of the Heat so no change of address for him.

Anyway, it was big news when the Heat made these free agency signings, and people started to immediately talk them being a dream team. I think a lot of people were willing then and there to hand the championship to them… no need to play through the regular season and playoffs. Plan the parade already. Just give it to them now.

And maybe that will happen. Maybe they will win it all. They certainly have the talent for it. But what remains to be seen is whether or not they are able to play as a team. These three superstars are all used to being “the guy” on their team. Can they actually play together? They’re going to need to if they’re going to win. One of my favorite Michael Jordan quotes is this…

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
~ Michael Jordan

You know what? When God’s people have that sense of team… when we’re unified… then there’s no limit to what God can do through us. When there are divisions, that’s when we face serious problems. That’s why I think we really need to heed what Paul said…

Philippians 2:2 (NLT)
Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Players on a team know that they rely on each other. They can depend on each other. It’s not a one-man-show; everyone participates. They can work together to accomplish their goals.

Same thing with the Church. We need to learn to rely on each other. We need to depend on others, and we need to be dependable ourselves. We need to work together with one heart and purpose. Oh, we may play different positions. We may contribute to the team or the Church in different ways. But we’re still unified. We’re still one.

Romans 12:4-5 (NLT)
Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.


3.    Encourage Growth in One Another

You know, it’s good to be loyal to each other and to have a sense of team. But that doesn’t mean that we never challenge each other. It doesn’t mean that we don’t encourage or expect each other to grow. In fact, quite the opposite. If we’re going to be a strong, healthy, Biblically functioning community of believers, then we’ve got to be growing spiritually. We’ve got to be pursuing our own spiritual growth while encouraging it in others.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

Hebrews 10:24 (NLT)
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.

You know, it’s easy to become stagnant. I mean, everything can be going along fine and you can be growing and learning and developing, but then things change. Maybe something happens and you lose momentum. Maybe a crisis hits you as an individual or hits us as a church and we end up getting fixated on the problem. You get locked into crisis mode and even when the crisis is past you refuse to let go of it. That will stunt your growth and will stunt our growth. Or maybe you just get tired or distracted and you start to let things slip.

And I’m not just talking about your spiritual growth here. This happens to people with work, with school, with diets, with exercise… things can be going along great and then, for one reason or another, you just stop. That’s why you can find a support group for just about anything. Because we all need encouragement from time to time.

I love the way that verse starts… “Let us think of ways to motivate one another…” Isn’t that one of the greatest benefits of belonging to a group like this? We can motivate each other. We can encourage each other. We can inspire each other to press on.

I heard a story this week about a man named Jack. Jack was a very negative man who criticized just about everything. One day he went with his wife to a local art exhibit, and even as he was entering into the front space of the exhibit he saw a frame and he immediately began to comment out loud, “Oh, what a horrible piece of art. I’ve never seen anything so awful, so miserable…” At which point his wife nudged him, “Jack, that’s not a picture you’re looking at. You forgot to wear your glasses; you’re standing in front of a mirror.”

Do you know people like that? I expect you probably do. I think we all do. Let me say this… I believe that kind of negativity is one of the weapons in Satan’s arsenal. Because every time I have some momentum and I see God working and I’m excited about what He’s doing in and through me, I inevitably encounter some kind of negativity that completely demotivates me.

So let me ask you, do you encourage other people? Do you motivate them to bigger and better things? Or do you drag them down? Are you constantly focusing on the negatives? Do you encourage growth or do you sap away any momentum a person might have? If we’re going to grow as individuals and as a church, we need to be encouraging each other and not discouraging each other.


4.    Offer Mutual Love and Support

A mark of a strong community is that we love and support each other. We can lean on each other. You offer love and support when someone else needs it, and you receive it when you need it.

Romans 12:15-16 (NLT)
Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other.

In other words, we’re there for each other. We experience life with each other. We enrich each other.

Romans 12:10 (NLT)
Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

I was listening to a message by Arun Andrews this week, and on that podcast he talked about people who are only interested in what they can receive; never what they can give. He was talking about people who even attend Church but never seek to offer any love or support for other people. They only want to be loved and supported themselves. Arun said…

“Many people receive blessings, and like the Dead Sea that only receives water… they become so dead in themselves. People say, ‘Keep giving me all I need. Bless me please’… Like the man who prayed, ‘Lord, bless me, my son, my wife, my dog, we four and no more,’ we seem to live in that world of selfishness.”
~ Arun Andrews

So let me ask you this: Why are you here? Why do you come to church? What are you looking for? Are you looking only for what’s in it for you? Or are you looking for ways you can get involved and invest in the lives of others. Because let me tell you, the more you invest in others the more you will grow yourself. It’s one of those amazing rules of the kingdom of God – the more you give the more you gain. So are you a consumer or are you an investor? 

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2010 SunriseOnline.ca