Christians could stand to here the same thing.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:11-16)The passage talks both about the body of Christ – the unified church – and also about us as individuals. This means that spiritual growth is both corporate and individual. As Christians we are responsible to God to grow in the knowledge of Him.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil. 2:12-13)
We’ll come back to the “fear and trembling” part in a minute! But it’s clear that we are to grow up from being spiritual babies.
At the same time the church is responsible for helping its people grow through the gifts of “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” as Eph. 4:11 says. None of us are lone wolves, that’s not how God’s kingdom works. And note that as we grow through the spiritual gifts of the teachers and prophets, we ourselves are given spiritual gifts to help others to grow up in the Body of Christ!
But let’s go back and look at the “fear and trembling” part of the Phil. passage. Because that doesn’t sound like the loving God we serve, so what’s the deal? Paul certainly did not teach that we should be afraid of God. All through his letters he insists on the love and sacrifice of God on our behalf. Part of the deal is our translation from the Greek. The Greek vocabulary uses the same word for “fear” in this context as it does for “reverence.” When an angel appears, or when God shows Himself in power like Jesus sometimes did, God’s people were afraid but not because of the presence of threat or evil, but because of overwhelming emotional and physical reaction in the presence of holy power. By translating the word as simply as “reverence” we don’t get the full meaning of our reaction to God’s presence: awe, wonder, fall-on-your-knees physical reaction.
And the “trembling” part isn’t only used in terms of our reaction to God; it also applies to our doing God’s will, knowing we are entirely inadequate to do it, and trusting that God will give us the strength and wisdom that we need. Paul described his visit to the Corinthian church in the same way: “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.” (1 Corinthians 2:3)
Now let’s talk about the “work out” part of the Phil. verse. The fuller meaning of the Greek verb “work out” is “to continually work to bring something to completion or fruition.” We do this by working at our growth in Christ. This is the process of sanctification by the way, which is the theological term for growth in Christ. Sanctification happens when we obey God in our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual choices.
• Physical: We keep our bodies pure from sexual sin, negligence, physical addiction.
• Mental: We learn about God from the Bible, from other Christian writings, from sermons.
• Emotional: We forgive, we are loving, we are encouraging.
• Spiritual: We pray and worship God, we grow in faith.
• How have you grown as a Christian in the last year?
• In the last five years?
• Sometimes we feel like we’re taking two steps forward and two steps back. Sometimes that feeling is a lie from the evil one and you really have grown, and sometimes you honestly struggle to grow in certain areas. What tends to stop your growth?
• What helps you grow?