Growth is important. It is a sign of life - when we stop growing we begin to die! The strong focus of this session is on the factors that feed God's life within us and enable us to become strong, healthy and fruitful.
Once again acknowledgement is made of the five-fold pattern used in following up a commitment made through the Evangelism Explosion process. It is not suggested that this represents exhaustively the means by which the Spirit of God enables us to grow.
As mentioned last week, growth is a function of life. What is alive has an urge to grow. So our first priority has been to ensure that class members have responded to and received God's gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Our second priority is to establish a pattern of spiritual principles that will provide an environment in which growth will continue to take place.
Try to be aware of where each class member is spiritually and arrange time out of class to give individual help where this is required.
Keep the introduction short. The review of It's a Great Life! will provide the strong link between last week's and this week's sessions.
□ Reviewing the Week
#1 What was the biggest discovery in the readings of the week?
□ Spend up to fifteen minutes reviewing class members' responses to Week 1 in It's a Great Life! Depending on the size of the group, it will be hardly possible to have everyone tell everything written down - if it is possible, you may need to do some encouragement to a greater time allocation for their own sake and for the group too! Have class members scan what they have recorded and note down their "biggest discovery of the week". Share these around the group and encourage members to record alongside their own discoveries the discoveries of others. This embodies an important principle of Christian fellowship. Check too on any questions that arose in the course of the readings, and consider these as a group.
□ Growing on the Basis of Grace
In the section "Thinking about the Gift" at the end of Week 1 (p.9), they will (hopefully) have included in their own words the basic elements of the Christian gospel as outlined last week. The remainder of that section is a fuller exposition of those elements.
I believe it is important for us all to grasp clearly the relationship between these five elements and our continuing Christian growth. There are many things we need to learn, and a number of misunderstandings to overcome. But these five are never superseded - they are keys to growth. Because of this, note carefully the material printed out for class members.
□ Grace. The whole background to Galatians emphasises the continuing importance of grace within the life of the believer. It is important to grasp the ministry of the Holy Spirit in applying the grace of God within our lives. This ministry is closely related to the person and work of the Son of God for us and in us.
□ Man (m/f). An important part of our growth in grace is going to be related to the overcoming of what we are (sinful) and making us what we were always meant to be (in the image of God). And that includes the matter of our loving relationship with our heavenly Father.
□ God. We continue to need to understand the nature and character of God. Part of the "Family Prayer" is a request that the Father's name will be kept holy. There has tended to be an under emphasis on the holiness of God and on the quality of holiness which ought to be found in his children.
□ Christ. The Christian life flows from the work of Christ for us and the enabling of the Spirit within us. It is not just a matter of "salvation accepted" but "salvation applied".
□ Faith. Faith is the continuing principle of the Christian life. Throughout our lives in this world, we are never released from the necessity to live, not by sight, but by faith -trusting in and depending on God. Faith leads us out into action and obedience.
□ Important Factors for Growth
Note that these factors are highlighted again in the third week's readings in It's a Great Life!
□ Bible. More will be said about the Bible next week as the authority for what we believe. That understanding is certainly the background to what we say here about the Bible and growth. It is important, however, to establish that reading the Bible is not simply an intellectual activity. We do not, of course, read with our intellect in suspense. As we read we gather information and understanding that will challenge and shape our whole world-view and way of life. On the other side we do not read as passive recipients - our minds are active to question, probe and enter into dialogue with what we read.
It is important for us to understand that God has spoken (Heb. 1. 1-3). While there are things that faith deduces from what theology calls general revelation the evidence in the creation around us - we can ultimately only come to know God as a Person through special revelation.
Because the reason for revelation is relationship, the key to understanding its message is in recognising its testimony to Jesus (Jn.5.36-40). A number of years ago there was available a book called The Bible designed to be read as Literature where the editor selected and presented the material purely in literary form. There are many reasons why a person may read the Bible, but those who desire to grow spiritually need to read it as the Word of God and as testimony to Christ in whom is life.
Another helpful reference here is 2 Tim.3.10-17. This helps to spell out the purpose of the Bible. Notice how the words of Paul here are grounded in what he himself has experienced (vv. 10-11), the possibility of a real life or a deception (vv. 12-13) and the importance of the truths learned in the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (vv. 14-15). These are the important background to the often-quoted vv. 16-17 with their emphasis on the inspiration, usefulness and ultimate goal of the Scriptures.
□ Prayer. The design of It's a Great Life! has consciously been to give practical helps to the life of prayer rather than a series of prayers to copy. The key to prayer is relationship with God rather than a set of formulae.
Note the importance Jesus placed on faith when talking about the practice of prayer (Mt.21.21-22). Faith is a relationship of dependence and trust. It is not faith in praying, but faith in God.
This is highlighted further in Jn. 16.23-24 when Jesus teaches that we are to ask In his Name - in other words as his people and according to his will.
In Mt.6.7-15 we have another important part of Jesus' teaching on prayer. In it he places strong emphasis on the importance of our relationship to God our Father who loves us and to others who may wrong us. The Lord's Prayer which he gave here was not intended as a meaningless repetition, but essentially as a model for our praying. It is very helpful from time to time to pray through this model prayer slowly and reflectively. When we have used it in this way in private to stimulate, focus and broaden our prayer life, we will also find it meaningful to share with other Christians as a family prayer.
□ Worship. We have been made to relate to God, and that proper relationship is worship.
The main words for "worship" in the Old and New Testaments alike express on the one hand service (literally the labour of slaves or hired servants - so it's not as if we are doing God a favour or a good turn!). On the other hand, to offer this worship to God is to prostrate ourselves - to acknowledge God's infinite superiority to us in majesty, power, wisdom, holiness and love, and to offer our lives to him for his will. The English word "worship" comes from worth-ship recognition of God's worth or worthiness.
This "worship" needs principally to be our constant attitude and relationship with God (note Jn.4.24). Rut it also needs to find expression in congregational worship. To be a Christian is to be part of a Body, a Family - we need one another, and we regularly need to express our worship together (note Heb. 10. 19-25).
□ Fellowship. The Greek word (koinonia) begins with what we have in common, joint participation, sharing together, community, communion... Very often our English use of the word is very limited. In fact, it sometimes bears little relation to the Biblical sense.
Notice the emphasis on fellowship in 1 John 1. Our fellowship is first of all with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ - sharing in his love and redemptive activity. But if we say we are sharing together in him and yet live in darkness, our life is a lie. On the other hand, as we live in his light, we have real fellowship with one another and his redemptive activity is at work within us.
Paul has a great deal to say about the Church as Christ's Body - a helpful beginning point may be Rom. 12.1-8. Together we share in the redemption, but then we also share in the diverse gifts he gives us as parts of his Body. It is not simply that it is good and encouraging to be with other Christians - we are incomplete without one another!
□ Witness. A witness is a person who gives the evidence he knows in a particular case. Christian witness is giving the evidence about Jesus to those who are not believers so that they will come to the right verdict about Jesus and put their trust in him.
The demon-possessed man was healed and directed by Jesus to "go back home and tell what God has done for you" (Lk.8.39). The evidence of this man was not simply the facts about Jesus (though this was undoubtedly part of what he said), but the evidence in his life of what Jesus had done. The witness was in personality as well as word.
In his Great Commission to his followers (Mt.28.18-20), Jesus emphasised that they were to go everywhere to make people his disciples. Part of what they were to do was to "teach them to obey all my commandments" - including this last one! And the early Christians got the point (see Acts 8.1,4). Learning to gossip our faith brings strength. However, don't forget - it's not a matter of "doing witnessing", but of "being a witness". This surely begins with being a friend. Remember - God began his work in us with love (Jn.3.16)!
□ In summary, the key to a healthy, growing Christian life is in relationships - our relationship with God (hence, the importance of prayer) and our relationship with others within his family (fellowship).
□ Are You Sure?
□ Now is the time to give encouragement with the second week's readings in It's a Great Life! With the focus on assurance they are very important. Emphasise that "Lack of assurance is one of the major hindrances in Christian growth and service - it is one of the works of Satan."
Remind class members that there will be opportunity again next week for sharing some of the things we discover in the course of our reading.
© Peter J Blackburn 1995, 1999