Many of you have probably heard of a life philosophy that goes something like this, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” The origin of this quote is said to be William S. Burroughs, a major postmodernist author who wrote eighteen novels and novellas.
These days it is usually applied to businesses and economies, suggesting that the purpose of every national economy and every corporation is to grow at all costs. Some economists, a small minority it should be noted, are coming to the view that this is destructive and damaging to our society and our planet. Mr Burroughs probably didn’t intend his words to be used as a rule for economics, and he certainly didn’t apply it to Christianity. Mr Burroughs had strong and strange views against both science and Christianity, and was instead a dedicated practitioner of magic and the occult.
Perhaps you’ve always thought that it’s right to be forever seeking ways to grow, advance, improve or develop yourself. And maybe you think that the purpose of governments is to pursue the same goals of continuous material progress for the people.
Let’s have a look then at what the New Testament says about growth?
2 Peter 3:18 – “You must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.”
1 Timothy 4:15 – “Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress.”
1 Peter 2:2 – “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment.”
Scripture clearly says we should grow, and it tells us in what ways we should grow and why. It’s not to grow in wealth or any other of the things that the world measures people by. Peter says we should grow in grace. Are you growing in grace, so that everyday you have more grace to pour out that the day before? Peter also says we should grow in our knowledge of Jesus, our Messiah.
I’m sure you all know that in the Bible knowledge usually isn’t an intellectual thing to do with gathering facts. Peter isn’t calling on disciples to research all of the details of Jesus life so that we can discover his favourite food or what games he played as a child. Knowledge in the Bible usually refers to love and to deepening a bond between two people. Peter says also that we should grow into a full experience of salvation.
What is this “pure spiritual milk” that Peter says we need to crave? The word ‘pure’ simply means undiluted or uncontaminated. The word used to describe this milk in the original Greek is logikon, which could also mean ‘rational’ or ‘reasonable’. More importantly, it shares a root with logos, ‘the word’. This phrase is sometimes translated as “pure milk of the word.” The word, or the word of God, can refer both to God’s revealed word in Scripture, including the message of the gospel, and to Jesus himself, the Word made flesh (John 1:14).
Peter is commanding us to learn to crave the undiluted word of God, just as a newborn craves a mother’s pure milk. By drinking this milk, and thus taking in God’s word, we will be drawing closer to Christ and we will continue to grow up in our salvation.
To grow well and be healthy, it’s obvious that we must eat a healthy diet. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” (John 6:35) The food you need to grow is to be found in a relationship with Jesus, so we need to go to him to get fed a healthy diet. The bread you need is Jesus. You also need to drink and, alongside pure milk, water is the best thing to drink for a healthy life.
Where can you find the water you need for a healthy spirit? Why it’s Jesus of course and he said, “Anyone who believes in me may come and drink!” (John 7:38) Jesus said that to get the living water that will nourish your spirit, the living water that is the Holy Spirit, you need to believe in him and go to him.
‘The Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’ (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him.)’ (John 7:38,39)
The Bible says we should grow and growing is necessary, but how do we know that we are growing? How do you measure your spiritual growth? Do you have a spiritual tape measure or spiritual scales that tell you how much you have changed in the last month?
When we read Ephesians 4:13–16 we find the answer. We are measured by God against his standard of perfection. It says that we “will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord.”
You can see by your unity with brothers and sisters in this room how far you have grown and how far you need to still grow. You can look at yourself and see how well you know God’s son. Then we will have an idea of how mature we are in the Lord, “measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.”
How different we are from Jesus is a measure of how much more growing we need to do. Paul, the author of Ephesians, says that as we grow we will become more resistant to the lies of the devil. He says, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ.”
As we become more like Christ, who is fitting us together with each other in perfect harmony like parts of a healthy body, we will “help the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”
This is the kind of growing God desires for individuals and for groups, to grow in love and harmony. To grow in helping and supporting each other to grow through life. Instead we see individuals and groups trying to grow in wealth and competing with each other for resources. It’s the wrong kind of growth being pursued in the wrong way.
We cannot grow without pursuing a deeper relationship with Jesus, because he is the source of all we need for growth and the measure of what a mature person is like.
This Good News about growth is setting people free from the chains of darkness and lies all over the world. In today’s reading we heard Paul say,
“It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.” (Colossians 1:6)
Growth results in fruit, and that happens when you allow God to change your life. You allow the Holy Spirit in and you reject the darkness. As people of the light we cannot hide in the darkness and expect to grow. You cannot be a shy Christian hiding in your room. You have to get out and go to Jesus and make an effort to develop your relationship with him.
God the father has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.
When you understand this, and apply it, something amazing will happen in your life.
“Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.” (Colossians 1:10)
This is what God wants for you, to grow to be like Jesus. This is what will happen to you as you get to know God better and better.
Growth is good and beautiful and exciting when it is growth in your relationship with Jesus, and you are looking more like Jesus every day.