Wednesday, September 25, 2013
MAXIMIZE: YOUR GROWTH- Grow Up!
At this time of year, many people are already preparing for their spring gardens and lawns by aerating soil, sowing seed, etc. to make sure their yard looks supreme when the weather gets warm again. When it comes to growing beautiful flowers and lush foliage, anything goes. After doing a bit of research on my own, I found some pretty surprising tips that people say maximize their plant growth: adding tea bags to the soil, eggs to the potting mix, and even rusty nails in fertilizer! Though all kinds of unusual techniques may be used to plant flowers, does anything go when it comes to spiritual growth or are their principles to live by that will foster our development in the Lord Jesus Christ? Today we are going to wrap up our Maximize series by looking at the concept of spiritual growth. Though everything we have covered up to this point (our faith, prayer, giving, involvement, and witness) contribute to spiritual growth in some way, Ephesians 5:15-21 give three general tips for godly growth in the church. Let us take a look at these tips in order that this church may grow to its fullest potential.
I. TIP #1: WALK RIGHTLY-5:15-16
This passage comes after a long series of instructions and prohibitions designed to encourage a lifestyle that imitates God (5:1-14). “Therefore” these are the tips design to help the church grow more into the likeness of God Himself. The first of three tips given in verses 15-21 involves walking rightly, “…be careful how you walk.” Literally translated, this phrase would read, “be considering how you are behaving.” With this, Paul calls to mind the lifestyle of his audience and asks everyone in the church to reflect on their daily walk, being careful that it is consistent with wisdom.
Those who consider how they are behaving will be able to discern whether or not they are living as wise or unwise. No doubt, Paul had the Old Testament wisdom passages from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in mind when he gave this encouragement. Paul states that those who consider how they are behaving will be able to live a life that is consistent with the wisdom that is demonstrated in God’s revelation. To maximize one’s growth, one needs to make a conscious decision, after considering their behavior, to choose wisdom over all other endeavors. But once achieved, what does this look like?
Those who walk rightly by living wisely redeem their time well. In other words, Paul encourages the church to make the most of their lives. This not only involves understanding what to do, but it also is committed to doing it!
This has become more and more difficult because, as Paul reminds here, “the days are evil” (5:16). In an evil world where everything is trying to steal our attention and rob us of precious time, it is increasingly difficult to walk rightly. Instead of progressing forward in the will of God, we stop along the way, distracted by the things around us. These kinds of pit-stops stifle growth in the Christian life.
II. TIP #2: DISCERN CORRECTLY-5:17
Paul’s second tip is a stark prohibition, “do not be foolish” (5:17). This familiar word “pertains to not employing one’s understanding, particularly in practical matters.” In other words, Paul says to the church, do not be someone who knows what to do and does not do it. To grow, one must act on what they know, employing their understanding toward godliness. But, how do I know what to do?
The opposite of foolishness is understanding and executing the Lord’s will (5:17). What is the Lord’s will? Though many look for God’s will in signs and wonders or wait hear an audible voice in the stillness, God’s will has already been made available in His word! His will is understandable because it has been presented to us in clear-cut directions: (adapted from Found: God's Will by John Macarthur)
1. It is God’s will for men to be saved (1 Peter 3:1-10)
2. It is God’s will for you to be Spirit filled (Ephesian 5:15-18)
3. It is God’s will for you to be sanctified (1 Thess. 4:3-7)
4. It is God’s will for you to submit to authority (1 Peter 2:13-15)
5. It is God’s will for you to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29)
God’s will has been made absolutely clear. Any question you could ask or decisions you have to make should be informed by these principles from God’s Word. Someone who is living under the influence of these principles is living in the will of God and is free to act on the desires of his or her heart. Their desires have become God’s desires.
Psalm 37:4-Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.
In order to maximize your growth for the Lord, you must understand what God has made clear in His Word concerning His will for your life. Those who do not do this are foolish.
III. TIP #3: LIVE SOBERLY-5:18-21
The final tip found in this passage is to live soberly. Paul introduces this by saying, “and do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation…” (5:18). However, was drunkenness really a big deal in the church in Ephesus?
Wine and drunkenness were central features of the worship of Dionysus (a popular pagan deity in Ephesus). In the frenzied and ecstatic rituals of this pagan trend, intoxication with wine was seen as being filled with the spirit of this false god. Therefore, it may be inferred that some of the new believers in this region were assimilating this form of worship with their association of wine and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Paul repudiates this and denounces drunkenness as both a spiritual and societal problem.
The connection between drunkenness and spiritual misdirection is not without its implications. Inebriation places the body under the control of something other than God and is therefore “dissipation” or “recklessness.” Though drinkable means of drunkenness was a significant problem in the context of Ephesus, different controlling substances lead to dissipation in the church today as they maintain control over the individual. Greed, lust, success, prestige, prominence, selfishness, pride, etc. can all be abused as any controlled substance, leaving the believer in a reckless stupor. These “spirits” must be avoided in order to anyone to maximize their growth for the Lord.
Instead of being controlled by these worldly things, the growing believer is filled with the Spirit—that is the Spirit par excellence. Though the Holy Spirit is constantly present with believers, Paul urges a regular appropriation of the Spirit’s power. To be filled with the Spirit means to live under his control and in the manifestation of His power. Living under the influence of lesser spirits leads to recklessness. Living under the Holy Spirit leads to growth and manifests itself in several ways.
First, a life controlled by the Spirit results in praise expressed in all kinds of ways, “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (5:19). All three of these words for songs occur in the Old Testament book of Psalms. Though they might carry some discreetly different nuances, it is inappropriate, given this context, to conclude that Paul is primarily concerned about different worship styles. This is especially true when one considers that the final word, “spiritual songs” (wdh) is a generic term for any kind of song. Therefore, Paul is ultimately saying that a life controlled by the spirit is a life filled with praise. People who are growing in Christ are those who are full of praise.
More to Paul’s point is what he shares as verse 19 continues, “singing and making melody with your heart to
the Lord” (5:19b). Once again, Paul does not seem to be prescribing music styles as much as he is a lifestyle that is characterized by the sweet harmonies found in healthy Christian fellowship. As with most of the New Testament, God is more concerned about the heart than He is the way things look or sound. When the people in the church grow under the control of the Holy Spirit, it is music to God’s ears.
The second result of Godly growth is thanksgiving. Though many in the church may have believed this to be an easy thing to force or fake, “always giving thanks for all things” tends to carry more weight when one considers the “alls” involved. In fact, only those who are controlled by the Spirit are able to live in a constant state of gratitude to the Lord. They are those who never forget to thank God for all that they have been given. Also, only those under the Spirit’s control are able to thank God for “all things,” including the difficulties, heartaches, disappointments, etc. They are those who understand that God is about a bigger plan and all things work together for those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
Another result of godly growth through sober living is submission “to one another in the fear of Christ” (5:21). Those who are living soberly recognize submission as a godly trait. First, we are commanded of God to submit out of reverence for Christ and God. Also, subordinating ourselves to one another is in keeping with Christ’s example on the earth (John 4:24; Phil. 2;6; Luke 2:51). Therefore, those who are living soberly are not only those full of praise and thanksgiving, they are those who are submit themselves gladly to one another.
Does this personality profile of those under the Spirit’s control match your current life and walk? Are you full of praise or are you full of disdain? Are you thankful to God or are you a complainer? Are you given to submission to other Godly influences in your life or do you always want to be in control, calling the shots?
This passage has revealed that in order to grow in the best possible way, the believer must walk rightly, discern correctly, and live soberly. These habits are the sunlight, water, and fertile soil in which the believer develops into a beautiful bloom for the glory of God. As God walks around His garden, are you a shriveled up eyesore the needs to be pulled out or are you one of His prized roses? Remember, a beautiful garden is not a reflection of the individual flowers as much as it is a testament to the gardener who organized, planted, and took care of the plants. In the same way, our spiritual growth does not exist for our own self glory, but for the glory of the God who made us, saved us, and is sanctifying us. Are you giving God every reason to be proud of what He has accomplished in you? Today the application is simple. Straighten out your walk wherever it is unwise. Understand the will of the Lord as expressed in God’s word and act on it. Give up whatever may control you that is not the Holy Spirit of God and submit to His leadership. Then, and only then, will you grow as intended.