Three Dimensions of Spiritual Growth

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring (NIV).

Fellowship or sharing life with one another in Christ involves many practical and spiritual actions. Two of these are praying for and giving thanks for each other to God our Father. Too often we forget to think of ourselves part of a holy priesthood that serves in the temple of living stones (1 Peter 2:5). Think on this glorious position and privilege. We can lift up holy hands and praise God for his work of saving grace, in which he delivers us from sin and sets us free to live together for his glory. When we think of other believers in Jesus, it is a fitting occasion to thank God for our brothers and sisters. In our text, the apostle models how to do this part of priestly service.

  • We can thank God because your faith is growing more and more. Here is the dimension toward God. As we have seen in a recent post on the Holy Spirit, faith is a gift of God. Our faith is nourished and increases as we remain in Christ’s love and draw fresh supplies of grace from him (cf. John 15 about the Vine and the branches). In the life of faith, we have continual occasions to see more grace, so that our confidence in the Lord rises. Notice carefully that God is the source of this intensification of trust. We cannot somehow make faith surge on our own. This is the reason God is praised for the growth of faith. We should also see that growth ought to be constant. Others ought to notice the progress of our faith.
  • We can thank God because the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Here is the dimension toward each other. As with faith, so with love. God works in us and among us to make us love one another more than we have previously loved. The good news is that growth in love can occur in a gathering of believers even after years of neglect. God can restore the years that the locusts have eaten (see Joel). When we are ready to become serious in the practice of love in our small and big groups, we will see the Holy Spirit at work, changing minds and hearts. The Spirit can open the hearts of one believer for another, as we add brotherly affection to our faith. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love (2 Peter 1:5-7 HCSB).
  • We can boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. Here is the dimension of our life together in the world. This boasting has a good quality, because it rejoices in the work of God in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can often see other believers slapped around by the problems of life. Sometimes I cry out in prayer, “Lord, why are you making those people who love you experience so many trials? They seem to get out of one hole, only to be pushed into another! And we do pray for them and strive to help them. But there always seems to be another trial in their journey.” We should think of our brothers and sisters in severe persecution in the world. We ought to feel anguish of heart for them. When we hear of those suffering persecution and trials living by faith, it is a reason to give thanks for the grace active in them.

So then, let us act boldly in this spiritual service to God. Look around in your group. Who can you give thanks to God for the grace of God that is evident in them? Praise God for your brothers and sisters.

Grace and peace, David

Good Desires (Part One)

dscn08032 Chronicles 17:1-19

Today we start a series of articles about “When Desires Clash”. We can see a serious clash of desires in the life of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Jehoshaphat was one of the better kings of the southern kingdom of Judah. (There were no godly kings in the northern kingdom of Israel.) He did many things that were pleasing to the Lord, because he loved the Lord. His good actions came from a good heart, since all our words and actions spring from the inner person of our hearts. But his life was also marred by various failures that occurred when he gave in to evil desires. In other words, Jehoshaphat was a lot like you and me. At times I imagine what it would be like if churches advertised that they were not perfect. The slogan could be: “Welcome to Messy Community Church, where it’s okay to admit that you are having spiritual and personal problems. But here by God’s grace, we also want you to see real change – to become increasingly like the Lord Jesus.”

All of us have desires. We have good, God-given desires, such as hunger, thirst, sex, dominion, safety, and comfort. We also have desires such as longings for wealth, prestige, and so forth. All our desires seek satisfaction, and our lives are formed very much by what wants we pursue. In the story of Jehoshaphat, we encounter a good man, who struggled with evil desires, like we all do. Most of his life, he gave himself to the good desire to love the Lord God. But there were other times, when evil desires worked against the ruling desire of his heart. In other words, his life was messy, and we can learn from the messiness of his life.

The Chronicler records the story of Jehoshaphat more extensively than the writer of Kings, and he presents it in four parts: his early reforms, his near fatal alliance with Ahab, his correction and recommitment, and his leadership in a time of national crisis. May God give us grace to really learn and change, as we read about God’s work in Jehoshaphat’s life. Today we will look at one of Jehoshaphat’s good desires. He had a good desire to strengthen his kingdom (17:1-2, 12-19).

Jehoshaphat understood his situation and what needed to be done. His kingdom had weakened during the later years of his father Asa, while the northern kingdom of Israel had been strengthening under Omri and Ahab. He made best use of his resources to counteract the growing threat from Ahab. As a national leader, he had to use do this by building up his military.

In a similar way, what do you do in spiritual warfare (cf. Ephesians 6:11; 1 Peter 2:11)? Fleshly means are ineffectual and misconstrue the enemy. Yet the problem of the American church for forty years has been that of trying to win a spiritual struggle with this-worldly methods. The result has been a poor imitation of the world that hasn’t helped but seriously complicated the crisis. We need to return to the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16-17).

Jehoshaphat continued with his plan, as the Lord prospered it. When we read history in the Bible, we must maintain a proper sense of time. From a literary perspective, time is compressed to present key points. But in actual life, what Jehoshaphat did occurred over many years. He could not build a strong military force with adequate defensive capabilities in weeks or months. It was a long-term program.

In our culture, we expect and demand instant results. If something doesn’t work quickly, we wrongly assume that it will not work at all. Oh, someone might tritely say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” But the attitude of perseverance to accomplish spiritual goals is strangely lacking. Christ’s plan is clearly, concisely stated in places like Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:44-47. We need to persevere in his plan. There is no other way to build a local church, and it requires huge investments of our time into the lives of people in order for them to become followers of Christ. Only rarely do we see anyone turn from sin to trust in Christ quickly, and even in those times, God was already at work in their lives. Jesus has sent us into the world, so we ought to seek to make disciples where he has placed us. You and I must maintain a constant missional perspective. Let’s pray and reach out to people that they might become fully committed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Something to Hold Tightly

DSCN0507Hebrews 10:23

The writer gives a command in regard to our confession—“let us hold it unswervingly”. First of all, consider the importance of hope (firm anticipation). Hope in the Biblical sense is not uncertain or a mere wish, but a confident expectation of what will be ours. Some examples are:

  • We look forward to seeing Christ return in glory (Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7).
  • We eagerly wait to be with Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
  • We anticipate that we will be changed to be like Christ (1 Corinthians 15:51-55).

We are to hold our profession of hope firmly; that is, to hold it firmly and not let it go. Perhaps you’ve taken a young child to a zoo or an amusement park. What do you do? You hold their hand tightly. You don’t want them to wander away.

In an age where the prevailing trend is constant change, we need to be reminded of what is absolute and unchanging. Human thought varies like the wind, but God and his truth remains the same forever! Or to change the illustration, it can shift like the tide. May God give you grace to keep you from the numerous deadly riptides that can destroy you. The gospel of grace that gave people good hope when first preached still gives that same hope by God’s controlling grace. How we need to pray that God would raise men up to preach the good news of grace in Jesus Christ. “You can be right with God by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!” And let us pray that God would bless his truth for the salvation of souls. And pray for the young men that are already in the gospel ministry. Preach God’s word, not human opinion.

This confession must be steady. We live in a day in which Christianity has been reduced to merely claiming to be a Christian. Someone says a prayer or “makes a decision” and he or she is counted as a follower of Christ. However, saying a prayer or making a decision does not save you. You are saved when you repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You then start to follow Christ, and to make other followers of Christ. And a true saving faith in Christ is one that continues or perseveres (Hebrews 10:39; Colossians 1:23; John 10:27; 1 John 2:19).

As we take care to keep our love for the Lord constant (Revelation 2:4f), so we must keep our hope unvarying. Do not waver like the incessantly changing Philadelphia weather forecasts. We may not allow our hope to lessen because of the pressures that seek to consume it.

However, too often, something like the following happens. “It was a day of great trembling, but of great joy, when first we avowed our faith in Jesus! What we said we meant. We salted our words with our tears; but oh! we felt it such an honor to be numbered with the people of God! If we had been promised a seat on the floor, or had been allowed only to hear the gospel in the draughtiest corner of the building, we should then have been fully content. We sang and meant it: ‘Might I enjoy the meanest place, Within thy house, O God of grace! Not tents of ease, nor thrones of power, Should tempt my feet to leave thy door.’ We want soft cushions now; we cannot stand to hear a sermon now, nor yet travel very far, especially in damp weather. It is very strange that we should have become so delicate; but it is so. How many miles we could walk when first we knew the Lord: the miles have grown much longer lately, or else our love has grown much shorter! Those were blessed days—changeful, showery, with little more that the dusk of dawn about them; but still there was a morning freshness about them upon which we look back with supreme delight, and somewhat of regret. Then was it a time of love, a season of buds and flowers, and song-birds and overflowing life and hope. [Spurgeon, “Holding Fast our Profession”, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 32, p. 233]

So then we ask, How unswerving is your hold? Do you change like the phases of the moon? Do you truly have a hope to hold fast? You can’t hold something that you do not have!

Grace and peace, David

How the Servant of the Lord Served


Isaiah 42:3c-4a

He served faithfully. The Hebrew word used here presents the idea of certainty and dependability. It is used of God’s nature (Exodus 34:6), God’s words (Psalm 119:142), and his rescue and protection of his people (Psalm 91:40). Here it points out that Jesus the Servant of the Lord is faithful to the mission that God the Father gave him. At the end of his earthly ministry he could say that he had completed the work that the Father had given him to do (John 17:4). He faithfully obeyed God by always doing what pleased him, and by being the perfect and final sacrifice for sin. In the same way, Christ will be faithful to his people (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

He endured in the work God gave him to do. He provided his strength for the neediness of the people. The words translated “grow weak” and be “discouraged” in verse four pick up words that are translated “bruised” and “smoldering” in verse three. Though the Servant would have to face the same pressures as his people, he triumphed where we fail. We can see this at various points in the Gospels. Jesus sleeps in the boat while his disciples are filled with fear (Mark 4:38). Jesus has compassion on the crowds when the disciples wanted to send them away (Mark 6:34, 36). Jesus cast out a demon when the disciples couldn’t (Mark 9:25-29). Jesus welcomed the children when the disciples wouldn’t (Mark 10:13-16). Jesus prayed while the disciples slept (Mark 14:32-41). And he conquered the devil and temptation while we often fail (Hebrews 4:15).

He persisted in the face of difficulties. One of the biggest failings all of us have is to become discouraged, depressed, and to quit or want to quit in the face of hardship and opposition. Jesus kept on when the people of his hometown tried to throw him down a cliff (Luke 4:29), when the Jewish religious leaders became critical (Luke 5:21-26), and when all the people of an area asked him to leave (Luke 8:37). Jesus would not quit when people laughed at him (Luke 8:53), when the Samaritans wouldn’t welcome him (Luke 9:53), and when Jerusalem rejected him as king (Luke 13:34). He persevered when only one man said thank you (Luke 17:17), when a prospective convert walked away (Luke 18:23), and when he saw his Father’s house turned into a den of robbers (Luke 19:46). Most of all he endured while he was mocked, beaten, spit on, scourged, crucified, and forsaken by all. Praise God, the Lord Jesus did not grow weak or become discouraged! His love and obedience were so great that he endured all to save us!

This is an excellent time to bow and to ask the victorious Jesus to save you. If you are saved, say “Thank you, Jesus!” We have a strong Savior who sticks with us and who will carry out his work in us (Philippians 1:6). Approach your life situation today with faith in him. Make Christ’s way of serving the Lord part of the way in which you look at your life. “Yes, this ____________ is happening to me, but the Lord Jesus is faithful, endures, and persists in his grace to me.”

Grace and peace, David