TOGETHER WE GROW STRONGER
EPHESIANS 4:15 & 16
Today we are in our third week of our TOGETHER series. We are looking at what it means to be the church TOGETHER. Togetherness is a vital dynamic for the church.
So far we have looked at how we can find peace together and how we can experience love together. Today we are going to look at how we can grow stronger together.
Located on the southwest bank of Fish Lake in Utah is the biggest grouping of Aspen trees ever identified. This grouping of trees is known as Pando. Pando covers over 100 acres. Here is a picture. Take a look:
SLIDE- PICTURE OF PANDO
Over a 100 acres of trees, yet there is one single root system uniting this entire forest as one. Individual trees but they are kept alive by one massive root system. Pando stands tall as a testimony to strength through unity.
Today we are going to look at how, by being together as one in the church, we can grow stronger. We will each grow stronger as individual Christians and our church will grow stronger.
EPHESIANS 4:15-16 (using the New Living Translation)
The first thing to look at when we are speaking about growing stronger together is…..
V. 15 says- that we will be “growing”. That is God’s expectation for each of us. Are you growing in your faith? The Bible speaks to the Christian who never matures in their faith:
“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” -Hebrews 5:12
The writer of Hebrews was addressing Christians who had been Christians for a number of years. They should have been able to teach others about the faith, but they were still learning the basic ABC principles of the Christian faith.
Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen to us. Growth is a sign of health. That’s true physically. If a child is healthy, their body will grow.
The same is true spiritually. A healthy Christian is a Christian who is growing spiritually.
Now, there are a couple of obstacles to our spiritual growth that we’ll have to overcome. One is Pride. The pretense that you have it all together. If you think you have arrived spiritually, you won’t make the effort to become more spiritually mature. But no one ever gets to the point where they are so spiritually mature that they no longer need to grow in their faith.
The apostle Paul was the greatest Christian who ever lived. If there ever was a person who was mature in his/her faith, it was Paul. He wrote over half of the NT. Yet, listen to his testimony about where he was on the spiritual growth chart as he neared the end of his life:
“I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. Christ wants me to do that, which is the reason he made me his.” – Philippians 3:12
Paul testified that he hadn’t arrived spiritually. Paul admitted that there was room for spiritual improvement where his faith and life were concerned. He was near the end of his life, but he was still striving to grow in his faith.
If Paul needed to keep on growing, surely you and I do too. We need to be humble and teachable. We need to ask the Lord: how can I be a better Christian….a better person….a better husband/wife….a better friend?
The second obstacle to spiritual growth is our aversion to change. None of us like change. But spiritual growth demands change on our part. The NT letters were written to instruct us on the changes that need to take place in our lives. Paul wrote that we need to put off our old self and to put on the new self.
We’ll need to get a handle on our anger. We’ll have to learn to and be willing to forgive. We’ll need to take the focus off ourselves and make time to minister to others. We’ll need to be people who are kind, compassionate and thankful.
Change is hard. But change is good for us and it goes hand in hand with growth. If we are going to grow as a Christians, it means that we can’t stay the way we are.
So we have to be willing to change. The very first question I ask some one who comes to me for counseling is, “are you willing to change?” Because if they are not, all the counsel in the world is not going to help. A willingness to change is the first step to making the changes in our lives.
Now the goal of growth is Christ-likeness. V. 15 states that we should be growing in every way MORE AND MORE LIKE CHRIST. That is God’s goal for us. Romans 8:29 tells us that:
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” – Romans 8:29
It’s like Max Lucado says: God’s goal is not just to get you into heaven. He also wants to get heaven into you. And God does that by transforming us, little by little, day by day, so that we will be more like Jesus.
Now growth is a process. It is sometimes slow. At times you may feel like you aren’t making any progress. You may feel like you are taking 3 steps forward and 2 steps backwards. But even then you’ve moved forward.
Spiritual maturity doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t microwave your faith. You just have to keep moving forward day by day. And even when you fail, learn to fail forward by falling into God’s arms of grace, learning from your failure and move on.
God will work on us our entire lives. Spiritual growth is a process. And it takes effort on our part. Paul wrote:
“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.” – Philippians 2:13
What does it mean for you and I to work out our salvation? Well one thing it doesn’t mean is to think you have to keep working for it after you become a Christian. The Bible says we are saved by grace. Not by works. And this verse doesn’t even say that we are to work FOR our salvation. It says that we need to work OUT our salvation. It means that we need to make sure that our salvation works its way out into our lives. How does that happen?
By making the effort to grow spiritually. Peter wrote that we need to add to our faith….goodness…knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Then Peter said that we should possess these qualities in increasing measure.
We need to always be growing in our faith. And before I am finished this morning, we’ll look at some things that will facilitate growth in us and in the church, but before we move on to that, let’s look at a dynamic principle about spiritual growth. It centers around this principle of togetherness we’re looking at. The principle is…..
Have you ever visited or seen pictures of the headwaters of the greatest rivers in our nation? The Mighty Mississippi, the Colorado River or the Rio Grande? When these large & powerful rivers start, they are merely drops of snowmelt finding their way downhill to a place where the drops become trickles, the trickles become channels, the channels become streams and the streams become rivers. They go from mere individual drops of water to becoming raging forces of nature that can carve out the likes of the Grand Canyon. How does that happen? Simple: the water comes together. As the sources of water combine, the river gains strength.
The same is true in the church. We need togetherness. Our passage for today emphasizes the principle of togetherness as Paul stated that Jesus will fit us TOGETHER perfectly in the church.
The early church knew the value of togetherness for the Scripture says about them:
“All the believers were together and had everything in common.” -Acts 2:44
We are stronger together. The book of Ecclesiastes states this when it says:
“Two are better than one…” – Ecclesiastes 4:9
As we build a sense of community in the church, we become stronger, individually as Christians and collectively as the church. One way to do this is to encourage each other. Paul wrote:
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Encouragement will build each of us up. And we so need encouragement. Companies spend billions of dollars each year on ads to convince us that we are chubby, we smell bad and that our wardrobe is out-of-style. One time my daughter and I were watching tv together when an ad for Grecian formula came on. Gillian said to me, “Dad, you need that!” Everywhere we turn, our world is telling us that we are inadequate; that we don’t measure up.
We all desperately need a daily dose of encouragement. We need to be reminded that we are made in God’s image; that we are chosen and loved by him.
So the Bible tells us that we need to encourage one another. I encourage you and you encourage me and we each encourage someone else.
Encouragement is a pre-meditated resolve that I am going to say or do something for someone that will lift their spirits. How?
You can start by simply listening intentionally & intently. Some people just need someone to talk to. Ask someone to tell you his/her story. And take the time to listen. Give the rarest of gifts: your full attention.
Next, praise abundantly. We all receive our share of criticism. I once read/heard that it takes 10 positive comments to offset one negative remark. We all need a cheerleader in our lives. Cheer someone else on.
And then, if you want to encourage someone, call out the best in them. Jesus encouraged Peter in this way. Peter was prone to speak too soon and boast too much. Yet Jesus saw something in the heart of that crusty fisherman worth calling out. When Jesus said his followers, “who do you say I am?” it was Peter and only Peter who spoke up and declared his faith- “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus all but jumped for joy at Peter’s confession. He even changed Peter’s name. Up to that point, Peter was known as Simon. But Simon would now be called Peter, a name that means rock. Simon, the man who expressed rock-solid faith, needed a rock-solid name. So Jesus named him Peter. It was Jesus’ way of declaring about Peter that he was Rock-solid, strong, dependable.
Jesus did for Peter what encouragers do. He saw the potential in Peter and summoned the best out of Peter. He built Peter up.
You and I can do the same for someone else. We can call out the best in them. We can tell them that we can see their uniqueness and that we see the potential in them. We can speak confidence into their hearts.
And encourage others when they do something in service to God. Give them an atta boy/atta girl. Tell them how much you appreciate what they are doing instead of criticizing their efforts. We all have our critics in our lives. What we need are cheerleaders.
So encourage someone today…this week. Speak to them after church. Call them on the phone, mail a card, send an e-mail or text. However you choose to communicate, speak words of encouragement into someone’s heart.
Encouragement builds us up. It makes us strong. Encourage someone else and you will find that someone will encourage you. God will see to that.
God places a premium on encouragement. God himself is called the God of encouragement. Give the gift to others that God loves to give to you, the gift of encouragement.
There is strength in numbers. We grow stronger in Christ as we grow stronger together. Finally this morning….let’s look at the process of growth & see when and how growth happens:
That’s what verse 15 says. God’s Word, the Bible, is truth. So the truth of God’s Word will bring about spiritual growth in each of us.
Speaking the truth means that the truth of God’s Word must be taught & shared. All of it. Both the parts that comfort us and those that challenge us. Paul said that all Scripture is for our benefit.
And we have to speak the truth in LOVE. It has to be done in a loving way. Not in a critical, condemning or judgmental way. Some speak the truth in a harsh manner, with an angry tone. We are to speak the truth in love, gently, kindly.
Now if the truth is spoken, that means it must be heard. Now as we listen to the truth of God’s Word, we must accept it and apply it to our lives. James wrote that we should not merely listen to the Word & so deceive ourselves. We need to do what it says.
And I want to encourage you to hear the Word of God at home. Colossians 3:16 directs us to…
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” – Colossians 3:16
If the word of Christ is going to dwell in us; we have dwell in or get into the Bible. Take some time to study it. Just 15 minutes a day. I spoke about encouragement earlier. The Scriptures will encourage us. Romans 15:4 says that it is through the encouragement of the Scriptures that we have hope. If you want a daily dose of encouragement and hope, pick up your Bible and start reading.
Growth also happens when…..
B. WE DEMONSTRATE LOVE
Our text for this morning talks about the church being full of love. We need to express love for each other. Expressions of love are beneficial.
Studies have shown that people who give hugs are happier and healthier. Research has shown that hugs have these 6 health benefits:
1. Hugs increase a person’s self-esteem
2. Hugs enhance relationships
3. Hugs lower stress
4. Hugs lowers the risk of heart disease
5. Hugs boosts our immune system
6. Hugs lower our blood pressure
So give someone a hug before you leave today. 1 Cor. 8:2 says that love builds up. Love will make each of us stronger & love will make the church stronger.
Growth also happens when….
C. WE EACH DO OUR PART
Our passage says that the church is healthy and growing when every member does his/her part. That’s how God designed the church to work. God never intended that a few do the work of the many. God’s design is that every member is to be a minister, serving in the ministry of the church.,
The church will be stronger for it and you will be a stronger Christian for it. If you really want to grow in your faith, exercise your faith through Christian service.
I Corinthians 12:7 has this to say about everyone’s involvement in the work of the church:
“A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” – 1 Corinthians 12:7
God has given you a spiritual gift for the express purpose of ministering to others in the church. It’s all about partnership. The church needs your participation and by serving you will find a real sense of purpose & fulfillment.
Invitation time- if you aren’t a member, we would love for you to come together with us in the church. Accept Christ & be baptized or place your membership.