Harold Bullock: One of the challenges that you face in life is trying to figure out if you’re successful or not. Are you successful? Have you been successful? Over lunch you can worry about that. It’s something we all struggle with; we have different ideas of what success is at different points in life. If you’re more like 16 or 17, it tends to be in terms of the fun you’ve had. If you’re more like 37 or 38, you wish you had fun, but there are other things that are really on your mind. Through life, our ideas tend to change. Churches struggle with the same issue. When are we being successful?
The measures that we have on the frame up here, the vision frame, have to do with determining when we’re successful. So, when is a church successful? Is it when they have large numbers of people attending? Maybe when they have very large budgets or lots of property? How do you determine if you’re successful? In history, there have been numbers of churches that have been very large, large amounts of people; very rich with lots of property who have really destroyed people, led them down paths of wrong doctrine. When are you successful? When is Hope successful? There’s nothing wrong with a large budget. There’s nothing wrong with lots of people; there’s nothing wrong with property. The question is “When, actually, are we successful?”
For us that has involved a look into Scripture in terms of what Scripture says about what we ought to be calling success. I have a couple of verses for you that are not on your handout. You may want to jot them down. A couple that will help us launch into this... “If we say we live in God, we must live like Jesus lived.” Hmmm, that’s the Easy to Read Version of the Bible. If we say we live in God, we say we’re following Christ; we ought to live like He lived. That doesn’t mean you wear sandals or a robe. It’s talking about your way of life. Here’s another one. This is Ephesians 4, and it mentions the idea of maturity. It says, “Then…” ...looking into the future… “...we will no longer be like babies...We will grow to be like Christ in every way…” Very interesting...babies and then growing to be like Christ.
We have taken as our measures some indicators of spiritual maturity. The Lord is very interested in this in Scripture, so we talked about our strategy last week. Brian showed you a slide a few moments ago with the different components of our strategy on it. If we are being successful with our strategy, then we should see people’s lives changing over time. Maturity in Scripture, this idea of babies and then growing like Christ in every way, maturity is a relative thing. You’re more mature or less mature, spiritual maturity. The real comparison of truly spiritually mature is not with people around you; you don’t look at them to see if you’re more mature or less mature. It’s actually with Christ Jesus. I realized as I was trying to get moving on, walking with Christ, as a young man, it’s very easy for me to sort of look around and see people who seem to be less mature...a little bit shorter spiritually. You love to stand by those people, so you look better. You look taller; you look more mature. That verse we read talking about growing up in every way to be like Christ...what that means is there are babies in the faith, but the real measure of maturity is not my brothers and sisters. It’s the full stature of Jesus Christ. If I really want to measure myself, I need to stand by my elder Brother, as Scripture calls Him.
Short of being fully like Christ, there still is relative maturity, and Scripture uses the idea of spiritual maturity. We’re going to take a look at it. Your level of spiritual maturity is actually shown by your priorities. Let me show you a picture. I showed you this a couple of weeks ago as we were looking at values. We all have a values scale. Everyone of us does, and we have a lot of things on the scale. There are some things that are just not important to us. If you’re younger, there are probably things that are important to your parents that are just not that important to you, and maybe you have conflict over it. If you're married, there may be things that are important to you that aren’t important to the other person that are important. We all have this scale.
Not important to some things that are a little bit important and then things that are pretty important and then things that are very important and then things that are most important. These things guide our choices in life. We always do what’s most important to us. All of us have a kind of values system like this, and it just sort of floats in there. We don’t think much about it, but it’s the things that are most important to us that begin to indicate spiritual maturity. A level of spiritual maturity can be measured by priorities, what we value the most. Therefore, in Hope our goal has been… our aim is to grow people toward the values that are most important to the Lord. He has what’s most important to Him, and we’ve been trying to help people develop in that direction. The values that are most important to God, as reflected in the Scriptures, according to what the Bible says. We’d love to build a church whose culture is a place where Kingdom values are embedded. Kingdom ways--things that are important--are just really important to us. We’d love to do that so that as people come to Christ and they step into our fellowship, they’re drawn toward the things that are really important toward God...to God Himself...toward the right things.
To grow spiritually--If you want to grow spiritually, you have to take intentional steps to grow. You have to actually do things. We’ve talked about that as we’ve talked about our strategy. If you intentionally take steps, you’re probably going to actually transform. Your life will be different over time. As I began to learn how to walk with the Lord, long, long ago, as a young man, my life started changing. I’d tried to get close to Christ; He would show me His kindness, but then He’d also point out something in my life that needed to change. You start changing; you begin to develop. Over time, though, the most accurate indicator of maturity is your values. The most accurate indicator of your values is your behavior. Psychologists will tell you that the only adequate measure of values is what we do. We do what makes sense to us, and what makes sense to us is to always pick the most important thing. We always do what’s most important in a situation.
We might be in a situation where there’s someone present, and we’re not going to do what we really want to do because we want to make a good impression on them. At that point, we’re still doing what’s most important to us. It’s more important to us to make a good impression on them than to do what we want to. We always operate this way. We do what’s most important. What we do is the big difference between the spiritually immature and the mature. The immature behave like the world.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3 talks about this. This was a church that had grown fairly large, started by the apostle Paul, and in a city that was incredibly wicked. People had come out of all kinds of backgrounds, and God was transforming them. But, it was a church full of squabbles, and so Paul wrote a letter to them to try to help them get straightened out. He says this to them, “...I couldn’t talk to you as spiritual people but as worldly people…” I had to talk to you like worldly people. “...as babies, so far as experience with the Messiah is concerned.” They’re very immature. “...I gave you milk, not solid food, because you were not yet ready for it.” ...solid food, the deeper stuff... “But you aren’t ready for it now either!” You’re still babies. “For you are still worldly! Isn’t it obvious from all the jealousy and quarreling among you that you are worldly and living by merely human standards?” What dictates behavior? Human standards.
The society we’ve come out of--For me, as I was getting straightened out with the Lord years ago, my mindset, my interests, what I chose, were very, very much like the society around me. I’d grown up in it, and that was just it. Christ began to challenge those things and began to start calling for moves, moves toward Him. For the immature, we act just like the society around us, and we can defend it. We have all kinds of reasons why that’s what we ought to do, but God has different reasons and different things. He calls us forward.
The mature actually discern and do what’s right. They do rightly. They can see it; they can detect it, and they do it. This is out of the Wuest translation. He was a Greek scholar who translated the New Testament, so as to bring out certain things that the Greek does that’s not obvious in the English language. The New Testament was originally written in Greek. “...at this time you are under moral obligation to be teachers…” You ought to be teachers; it’s just right because you’ve been around so long. “..by reason of the extent of time...again you need...the rudimentary things of the very beginning in the oracles of God…” One paraphrase of the New Testament says, “You need the ABC’s all over again. They ought to be teachers. They ought to be professors.” They still don’t know the alphabet. “...and you have need of milk…” Here’s the milk thing again. “...not of solid food. For everyone whose sole diet is milk, is inexperienced in a message which is righteous in quality…”
It’s about doing right. God does accept us before we do right, but a life with Him is about doing what’s right. “...righteous in quality, for he is a (spiritually) immature person.” The inexperienced in this, we call you to experience the ways of God, discover and experience. These inexperienced, he’s a spiritually immature person. “...solid food belongs to those who are (spiritually) mature, to those who on account of long usage…” That is, they have been working on this over time. “...long usage have their powers of perception exercised…” They’ve been pumping iron, learning the ways of God. “...to the point where they are able to discriminate between both that which is good in character and that which is evil.” Because of this trying to walk with Christ over time, they’ve developed a kind of radar that allows them to detect what is right and then to do it. The immature, they don’t have the radar; they’re just doing what makes sense, which is just like the world.
You know, if you give a child...if you have a two year old and you...if I were to write on paper for you, 2 + 2 = ?, you would probably write 4 because you have been exercised on this. If I gave that to a two year old, “2 + 2 = ?,” on a piece of paper, the child might take the pen and scribble on the paper, but they wouldn’t know what to write there. Why? Well, they’re just a baby. They’re immature. They just have not been taught; they have not exercised to that point...in time, maybe.
This is the way it is spiritually. Spiritual maturity is not about my ability to sound Biblical; it’s not about all the great doctrines I know. It’s not about all my information. Spiritual maturity is about being able to see, discern what’s right and what’s wrong, and then do the right. God calls us actually to love others by what we do, not just what we say but by what we do. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” This is John, the disciple who was closest to the Lord. It’s our actions, so we have adopted as measures of maturity, some patterns of life that are more like the Lord, patterns that He calls us to.
Spiritual transformation is demonstrated in the way I… We have four statements, and we are going to look at one today in the time we have remaining. ...in the way I relate to others (how I treat other people). Four things are of interest to us. These are patterns of life; if these exist as a pattern, then probably this person is more mature. If you’ve been around Hope for a while and you’ve heard of the Heart Attitudes or practiced them, they fit in right here. Here’s the first one...patterns of life...to put the goals and interests of others above my own. That’s one of the marks of maturity.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit…” Both of those are really easy for us. We get conceited or we want something, and we’re going to step on other people to get it. “...but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” I like that statement, by the way. It doesn’t say that others are better than yourself, but you ought to think of them that way. It’s hard for us to think of anybody as better than ourselves, but you can consider this anyway. You can move this direction. “...in humility consider others better than yourselves…” ...more important... “...Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
We’re actually to look to the interests of other people. Our own interests are important to us. You have responsibilities. You have goals, and those are not wrong, necessarily. But, we always hit points where our interests and someone else’s conflict. It’s at those points that you need to rightly, not wrongly but rightly, put the interests of others ahead of your own. It might be in your marriage; it might be in your friendships. It might be in your family life; it might be in your work, but especially in the Kingdom. We put the interests of others above our own. This verse says to “look to the interests of others” not just your own, but 1 John 3:16 takes it actually another step: “This is how we know what love is…” You want to know what love really is? We’re to love other people. “...Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” You give up what’s important to you, again, not wrongly. We do this; we put the goals and interests of others above our own. This is a pattern of life. It does not mean I neglect my responsibilities. I need to pursue them, but there are so many points at which it’s not really that important what I want. I just need to be helpful here.
Here’s the second indicator of the right relationships, to live an honest, open life. Ephesians 4:25 says, “...each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” The thought is that by what Christ has done He has connected us in a way that’s not obvious, and it’s damaging for us to put lies or untruth into our relationships with one another. So, we live an honest, open life. For all of us, lies are just really convenient. You tell lies; we call them different names. Well, that was just a little fib. Actually, it was untruth. We all do this; when you do it, you clean it up. You make things right, but we’re to move away from this as a pattern of life. We’re to move toward what’s truthful.
For us as a congregation, what we’re looking for here is the person I am on the inside and the one I’m presenting on the outside reasonably match up. I’m not deceiving people. I’m telling truth, and I’m being honest, then open--an honest, open life. There are always private areas of life, and we respect that. But even in private areas, questions can be asked if they need to be. We don’t deceive one another, so as people move into a pattern of living an honest, open life, there’s greater maturity going on here.
A third one--to give and receive Scriptural correction. Correction is really hard for any of us to take, and for a lot of us it’s hard to give. Now for some of us, it’s really easy to give; we don’t mind correcting people at all. It’s a difficult area. The Bible says this, Hebrews, the book of Hebrews, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” Can that happen to a Christ follower? Oh, yeah, and that thing can grow, particularly if you get hurt. It can grow in you, so you watch out for this. It could happen, leading you to fall away. “...But exhort one another every day…” If you want to avoid this happening to you, then there’s something that’s really important. You have to exhort one another everyday. “...as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
The thought in the passage is that doing wrong gets to be attractive. If you keep focusing on it, it gets more and more attractive. Actually from some of the Greek words that are used here, the idea is that as you begin to entertain the idea of doing wrong it sort of dances in front of your eyes like a mirage pulling you toward it. This hardened by the deceitfulness of sin...the deceitfulness is that dancing in front of your eyes...that attraction. The hardening comes this way in the way the passage is written sort of like clay mud under the hot sun bakes hard. As we continue to entertain sin, we get deafer and deafer; we get harder and harder of hearing before the Lord. We grow deaf to His voice. We get hardened, and so we get very easily pulled into this thing.
Now the way that you avoid that is you exhort one another everyday. Exhort one another--the thought is, the Greek words used here have the idea of calling you forward. Come on, let’s move on; let’s go forward. If I’m dabbling with sin, my brother says to me, “Come on, let that stuff alone. Let’s move on. Let’s do what Christ wants.” It has an encouraging edge to it, not just a corrective, but an encouraging edge. We’re to do that with each other; we’re to call each other forward. Everyday, it says.
Sometimes people go out of bounds Scripturally, and we could make a mistake like that in church life. So, everyone in Hope, who’s a member in Hope, you all have an out-of-bounds whistle, a referee’s whistle. If we do anything as a church that’s out of bounds, then you need to blow the whistle. You need to listen when the whistle’s blown. It needs to be Scripturally based, but if I’m out of bounds Scripturally, then someone needs to let me know. We need to be willing to receive correction. Actually, you need to be willing for it to happen with your children. If they see mom and dad doing something that’s just not right Scripturally, kids need to be able to identify that and speak to you.
Many years ago I had one of those experiences when one of my children told me, “You were being harsh with Mama, Daddy.” I said, “I don’t think so, but let me pray about it.” I prayed about it. I said, “Father, if I’ve been harsh, please let me know.” It was like the Lord said in my head, “Oh, yeah. Yeah, you were really harsh.” So, I told my child, “Well, I will clear things up with Mother.” I need to be correctable even to my children. Not to silly things, but if this is a matter of right and wrong then we need to be correctable. We need to do that with each other. We don’t need to be mean to each other, but we need to call each other forward. When the whistle is blown, we need to listen. There may be situations where you see stuff happening and know you need to call someone forward; go ahead and do it. We all need this; we all struggle with this stuff. If this becomes a pattern of life, to give and receive correction, then that person is moving toward maturity.
Clear up relationships. We all are human beings, and human beings get things crossways with each other. Sometimes we offend people. Sometimes people misunderstand what we’ve done, and things get messed up. If so, then we need to get them cleared up. Jesus spoke about this in Matthew 5. He’s talking about life among His followers: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you…” Not you have something against him, but he has something against you. “...leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
What He is saying here is that this offering your gift was an act of worship. What He’s saying here is that actually peace between you and others is prior to worship. It’s that important to God, so we make things right. I have never done this and found it easy. You always get sweaty palms and that weird feeling in your stomach, but this is the way to what’s right and good. So, we clear up relationships, and we clear up because as human beings we mess up. This is hard, but as it becomes a way of life, you know a lot of joy you didn’t know other ways. As it becomes a way of life, it’s more like Christ; it’s a part of maturity.
These are four things that we look at for measures for our spiritual maturity. If we’re really being faithful with people and helping people to do what God wants, then people are going to be growing. They’ll be becoming like 1 John said; they’ll be becoming to walk, to live like Christ. We all have things that are more important to us. Remember the picture? This is just us. We come to Christ, move out of the culture into the realm of Christ, and we come packed with all the stuff we used to admire. He begins to work with us on changing what’s most important to us. He’s very kind; He does it over time, but He will call us forward to change and to grow.
After a time, you need to be growing. There’s a point at which you ought to be a professor. You need to keep on growing. Make sure you get the ABC’s, learn how to walk with Him, and keep on maturing. As a church, we’re successful if we help people do this. God has things that are most important to Him; the spiritually mature are those who reflect His priorities more in their lives, especially in how they relate to others. Spiritual maturity is also indicated by how we team together, and we’re going to talk about that next week.