LEARNING TO FUNCTION WITHIN THE BODY

    Every Christian has a personal responsibility to grow and mature in the faith. An important element of spiritual growth has to do with how we conduct ourselves within the church, that is, the body of Christ. The Bible describes the church as a body, His body (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). According to 1 Corinthians 12:13, we have been baptized into that body. This is how we become members of the church (Acts 2:47).
    In his letter to the brethren in Corinth, Paul uses the analogy of the human body for explaining how unity provides healthy functionality (12:12-31). This concept is not difficult for us to to understand. For example, we recognize that sophisticated machines function properly when all the parts work together, meaning, all of its components function in the way in which they were designed. If a part fails to do its job, then the machine breaks down, which can cause severe damage and stop it from working altogether. Our bodies function in the same way. Every part has its purpose, contributing to the overall performance. This is what Paul is emphasizing.
    Satan, on the other hand, wants to see the church fail. Because of this, division is a constant danger lurking among the membership. Disunity and conflict threaten the survival of the church and it can appear from many sources, such as the abuse of power, erroneous doctrine, or improper conduct. A glaring example of this is seen in the divisive nature of the church of Christ in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). This is why Paul was using the analogy of the human body in chapter 12! Learning how to function properly within the church requires one to have an attitude that constantly strives for unity.
    To help us better understand the importance of unity, read Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and consider the specific details Paul accentuates. You should be able to deduce that the body does not exist only to serve the eyes, for example. But when the eye is hurt, different parts of the body will help it so that it may become useful again. We understand the hand does not take from the body for its own use nor does any one member demand something from the body for its own benefit. Yet sadly, there are brethren in the church who do not understand this concept. Their perception of the church is to get all they can from the body, or that the body exists only to serve them. All they do is take away from the church; they never give of themselves (2 Corinthians 8:5). It is truly sad that some members of the Lord’s church behave as if they are the only reason the body exists. What a shame!
   There are three main points Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 12 that we should learn from the passage. First, there is only one body, not many. Second, the body consists of many members and each member has a special role in the body. Third, God united the human body, and He also united the church. With that in mind, what connection does this passage have to Ephesians 4:1-6?
    As Paul described so very well, each part of the body must do its own work to supplement the body, not strip from it! Just as the human body provides life to all its parts, so does the body of Christ. The disciple must submit himself to the authority of Christ and serve Him because of his love for Jesus. Therefore, we must never approach the Lord’s body with the purpose to obtain selfish gain. Instead, we should approach His body with a desire to give of ourselves. By doing so, we will receive the greater reward. As Jesus said to the rich young man: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21). He did not say: “Take what you want and do what you want”. Our Lord also prayed for unity among the disciples and that there would be no division among them (John 17:21). Let us all pray and strive for unity!


ADDING TO YOUR FAITH (Part 2)

    We are continuing our discussion and study concerning the question, “What does God expect of me after baptism?” Seeking the answer to this question in the Bible, we began looking at some specific and necessary life components, such as those presented in 2 Peter 1:5-11. These are needed in order to build up one’s faith. We’ve previously discussed the first two attributes Virtue and Knowledge. Let’s now continue with the next item in the list.
    SELF-CONTROL. It is interesting that this quality is mentioned often in the Bible. It was one of the topics we considered earlier when looking at the Fruit of the Holy Spirit (in a past article – July 28, 2019). It is a word intended to promotes moderation and sobriety. Self-control implies restraint of actions, controlling outbursts of emotions, constraining our temper, bridling the tongue, and curbing or desire for money and power. Consider the order of words presented here and how we are to keep “adding” these qualities to our faith. Looking at it from that perspective, this passage teaches us that knowledge is useless if we don’t link it to, or associate it with self-control. Through knowledge, we learn to control our character and resist temptation. Linking knowledge and self control helps us more quickly recognize that it is always right to do right, and it’s always wrong to do wrong. It is never right to do wrong, and it is never wrong to do right. Learn more about the Biblical concept of self-control by reading these passages: 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Timothy 1:7; and Proverbs 29:11.
    Peter goes on to teach that we need to add PERSEVERANCE also. (The KJV, ASV says patience and ESV has steadfastness). What is perseverance? It is a word that means, “steadfastness, constancy, endurance.” Thayer’s Dictionary says, “In the New Testament, it is the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” This does not mean that it is a passive resignation regarding current circumstances, but an active resistance under the weight of affliction, sorrow, and grief. We must keep the focus of our service to God despite the difficulties we will face (2 Timothy 2:3; James 1:2-3). We need to recognize that perseverance is built through God’s word! That is how Jesus was able to withstand the devil! He combated him with “It is written!” (Luke 4:4,8; Ephesians 6:17)
    GODLINESS. This is a reverence, respect, and piety towards God. It is a religious fervor and compassion for the spiritual. But, it means that we must take ourselves off the throne of our own heart and place the Lord upon it – making Him the center of our lives in submission to Him. Read 1 Timothy 4:7-8 and discern what the Bible instructs about the importance of godliness.
    BROTHERLY KINDNESS (love). The Anglicized, transliteration of this word is philadelphia(just like the city with the same name). It is a compound word meaning “fraternal affection.” It has to do with the genuine concern for fellow Christians. It is not the strongest word in the Bible for “love”, but it is very close. Think about how can we demonstrate brotherly love in our lives. What does Romans 12:9-10 expect of us in regard to this attribute?
    LOVE. This is the final “ingredient” to add to our faith. The word “love” in this verse is the Greek word agape. It certainly differs from brotherly love because it is a stronger and deeper love! It is that love we have discussed before which is something we do with our mind and will, not just with our emotions. This love desires the good for others and is not obtained because someone has done something good for us or treated us with kindness. Have you noticed that the Bible speaks a lot about love? Even in this passage here, notice that Peter begins with faith and ends with love! That teaches us that faith and love are connected, necessary, and essential in being a true disciple of Jesus.
    Now, in conclusion, why is it important to develop these virtues in our lives? Look at the answer Peter gives us in verses 10 and 11. We will not be judged according to how much money we have, by the degree we’ve obtained, nor any other measure of human success. We will be judged according to obedience, love, and compassion. These attributes are another form of godly, spiritual fruit. Since this is the will of God, then shouldn’t we make this a priority to do as Peter instructs and add these to our faith? Why don’t you sit down and pray that God will help you develop these qualities in your life today? You’ll be glad you did! – TS


ADDING TO YOUR FAITH (Part 1)

    The basic question we have been dealing with in this series of articles is, “What does God expect of a Christian after his/her conversion?” Since we’ve now talked about our personal responsibility to grow spiritually, and part of that growth is to produce fruit in our lives, then we must now ask the question, “What happens if we sin after being baptized?” To properly respond to the question, we must again turn to the Bible and identify the will of God concerning the subject.
    First, read Proverbs 6:16-19 and consider how much our sins hurt God. Secondly, consider the price God paid to redeem us from our sins (1 Peter 1:17-19). We can quickly conclude that sin is a very serious problem – even for a born-again Christian! Yet, God also knows that we are going to stumble from time to time because we are human. He knows this because He also knows the devil is going to continue to attack us. But there is hope! What does 1 John 1:7-10; 2:3-5 teach us? The implication is that even as Christians, we may sin. Yet, if we do sin, then we need to repent! Back to our main question, “What does God expect?” He expects us to remain faithful (Revelation 2:10) and to avoid all forms of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). So, how can we do that? How can we strengthen ourselves to withstand the attacks of the devil? How can we avoid falling into temptation? God has given us the answer: we need to strengthen our faith (2 Peter 1:5-11), we need to fortify our defenses against the devil (Ephesians 6:11), and we need to lean on Him to help us (Psalm 56:11)!

Strengthening Our Faith

    Let’s take a deeper look at the passage of the first point, strengthening our faith – 2 Peter 1:5-11. Read the passage and identify the seven “ingredients” or elements that Peter says we are to add to our faith. Now, think about it this way, to make a cake, we need a recipe, right? We add some ingredients together and the result is something appetizing. Or perhaps, think of it as bricklaying. As we add one upon another it builds up into something useful and solid. Our faith functions in a similar way. We have a recipe in the Bible with the basic components for Christian, spiritual maturity. These components help us to strengthen our faith in God, which helps us defend ourselves.
    What are the various Christian “ingredients”? The first is VIRTUE. What is that? It is sometimes translated as “moral excellence”. In this passage it is used to mean “value, worth, courage”. What this implies is, we must confess our faith, not hide it nor be ashamed of it! Read Matthew 5:16; 10:32 and Romans 1:16-17. When faced with obstacles while striving to walk in the light, we need this attribute in order to keep our faith. We need courage!
    The second element listed is KNOWLEDGE. What kind of knowledge are we talking about here? Spiritual knowledge. The kind that only comes through studying the Bible, the only way to know the will of God. Go to John 8:31-32 and fill in the blanks, “If you abide in My _____, you are My _____ indeed; and you shall know the _____, and the ______ shall make you _____” . Knowledge is so very important! What more does the Bible say about knowledge in 1 Timothy 2:4; Proverbs 1:7 and 10:14?
    Can we obtain knowledge of mathematics, science, or language without regular study? Absolutely not! The same applies to the Bible; we must study it if we want to grow spiritually. Here are some practical advice points for studying the Bible:
1). Set a regular time everyday. Pray before, during, and after studying the Bible.
2). Have the right attitude and humility in the study of the Word of God.
3). Memorize Scripture regularly (Psalm 119:11).
4). Consider all that the Scriptures teach about each subject (Psalm 119:160).
5). Let the Bible explain itself. The Bible is its own best commentary!
6). If possible, use more than one translation of the Bible.
7). Study the context, and don’t take a passage out of its context. The context includes the verse itself, the verses before and after, the book, and the rest of the Bible that deals with the subject.
8). Recognize figures of speech, The whole Bible was not written to be interpreted literally. Some parts are figurative or symbolic. (cf. Revelation 1:1,19-20).
   Peter goes on to add more elements on top of knowledge, but let’s focus on these two first! Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is one’s faith. Next week, we’ll focus on adding a few more elements to our spiritual defenses. God bless! – TS


BEARING FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT (Part 3)

    Let’s now look at the last three traits of the Fruit of the Spirit. These three graces are directed more toward us, the individual Christian. The Lord expects His disciples to learn and develop these in their own spirituality.
    FAITHFULNESS -(written just as “Faith” in the KJV). Jesus told His disciples to, “Have faith in God,” (Mark 11:22). It is a word that means “loyal in affection; constant; reliable, trusted, or believed.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary states that it is “a firm persuasion, a conviction based upon hearing,” (Vol. 2, Pg. 71). Read how it’s described in Hebrews 11:1. The same chapter of Hebrews lists many wonderful Old Testament examples of faithfulness (11:7-40). But, look at what is said about faith in verse 6, just before that passage. How important is faith? The truth is, every child of God should be faithful to Him (1 Corinthians 4:2). Not because a preacher says so, but because of a love for the Lord.
    You can develop faithfulness in your spiritual walk by first praying about it. Ask God to help you increase your faith (Luke 17:5). Since the Bible says, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17), you should study and learn God’s word daily in order to increase your faith. Consider also what John says in John 20:30,31. Strive to walk in the Light! (1 John 1:7) Notice the order of words in Galatians 5:16. Paul says walking in the Spirit comes first, then the fruit comes. This is because without the Spirit, you’ll never be able to say “no” to the lusts of the flesh!
    GENTLENESS – (the KJV and the ASV render this word as “Meekness”) Don’t confuse this word with how some translations use “gentleness” in verse 22 for “kindness”! It’s a word most often translated as “meekness.” It means a “mildness of disposition; a gentleness of spirit.” We might describe it also as submissiveness, peacefulness, or mildness. Thayer’s Dictionary says gentleness is a “mildness of disposition; a gentleness of spirit; meekness.” It is something that is exercised “outward” because it is a condition of the heart and the mind.
    Read Titus 3:1-2; James 3:13. How is a meek person described in those verses? The assumption of the world is that a gentle (meek) person is defenseless, or cannot help themselves. However, meekness is not weakness! It is a fruit of power. Moses is described as “very meek” in Numbers. 12:3, yet no one would consider him to be weak. The Lord was gentle, but He certainly was not weak — as He had infinite divine resources available to Him (Matt. 11:29). Meekness equates to restraint. It is described as “power under control.” In other words, a meek Christian, who may wield great power, does not throw his weight around.
    In order to develop meekness in your spiritual walk, start by praying. Read your Bible and study the examples of meekness. Samson, for example, had a lack thereof, but Elijah, David, Jesus, and others are great examples of meekness. Put it into practice by learning to restrain the tongue, (James 3:2-12) and restraining your actions, (Colossians 3:17).
    SELF-CONTROL – (the KJV uses “Temperance”). The final grace of the Fruit of the Spirit that a Christian should have is self-control. This is something that is exercised “inward.” It is the “virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites,” (Thayer). Self-control involves controlling our actions, our outburst of feelings, our temper, our tongue, and the desire for money and power. Paul reasoned with the Roman governor, Felix , about this trait, (Acts 24:25)
    Notice that the lusts of the world are called “the works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21). Such things keep us from entering heaven, or having access to eternal life. We have the power within us to refuse participating in worldly affairs, (1 Thess. 5:22). It’s an attitude of submitting to the will of God. It is the opposite of how the majority live their lives. But, a child of God is commanded to render his life as a living sacrifice, (Rom. 12:1-2). This requires self-control!
    Developing Self-control in your spiritual life, again, begins with prayer. Did you happen to notice that each started with prayer? It is because these are fruit of the SPIRIT, not of our own willpower. Of course, all are followed by, “Read your Bible!” This is because being able to combat temptation with “It is written” (Luke 4:4,8,12), requires knowing the Word of God well. In addition, you can develop self-control by not putting yourself in situations to sin, by avoiding temptation triggers.


BEARING THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT (Part 2)

    Continuing our discussion, the following characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit are a result of obtaining the previous virtues: love, joy, and peace. It is not really possible to produce the following six virtues without having the first three. We should also note that love, joy, and peace direct our attention toward God. These next three direct our attention toward our fellow man.
   PATIENCE – (NIV says “Forbearance” and the KJV, NKJV, ASV render the word as “Longsuffering.”) How we could all use a little more patience! This is a word that means one is willing to accept and bear injury (Matt. 18:21-35; Luke 17:3-5; Eph. 4:32). Literally, it means being “long-tempered” (the opposite of short-tempered)! Vine’s Dictionary states that “Longsuffering is that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish. It is the opposite of anger and is associated with mercy, and is used of God.” We must remember that God is, and has been, extremely patient toward us. Without His divine grace we would not have salvation – it came from His patience! What is the purpose of God’s longsuffering toward us according to 2 Peter 3:7-9, 15? Also, what does the apostle Paul say that patience will lead to in Romans 2:4?
    The best way to begin developing longsuffering in your spiritual walk is through love and prayer. But, don’t ask for patience if you are not ready! This is because the best way to “get” patience is to be put in those situations that require it. That is how you develop patience! Perhaps, try serving more at church, in your community, and any way you can find – it will always require patience.
    KINDNESS – (the KJV renders it as Gentleness) This attribute implies that one is mild, or pleasant. It also means being virtuous (moral goodness) and benevolent. It is a quality of a person who is friendly. It is a sweetness of attitude, as in someone who is easy to get along with and easy to please. This grace comes to one who is not constantly complaining, but instead, to one who is ever kind and pleasant. Gentleness is merely the attitude of kindness.1 Corinthians 13:4 speaks of a love that is “kind.” Jesus is described as one who appeared because of God’s kindness (Titus 3:4). Wouldn’t it be nice if this personality trait were more prevalent in people of our society today?
    In order to develop kindness in your spiritual walk, you must, again, begin with prayer. Then, just determine within your heart to be kind (Ephesians 4:32). How hard is it to be kind and gentle to others? Seriously? One can easily note the kindness of someone in their speech. So, remember, words can deeply affect and seriously hurt a sensitive person (James 3:2-8).
   GOODNESS – Closely connected with kindness. This word means “uprightness of heart and life,” (Thayer). The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says this word “indicates the quality which a man has who is ‘agathos’ [good] and therefore moral excellence as well as goodness.” It is “the state or quality of being good; kindly feeling; kindness; generosity; excellence of quality; the best part of anything; essence; strength.” (Dictionary.com)Some think that goodnessis the practical manifestation of kindness. It implies that one has an interest in others and sharing in order to help those in need. It is shown in one’s speech, their generosity, and their willingness to forgive offenses (Proverbs 15:1; Philippians 2:4; Matthew 7:12). Producing the fruit of goodness in your life means there is always a disposition to do good and help others, (1 John 3:18; James 2:15-16). This is Christian love in action!
    How might you develop goodness in your spiritual walk? Start with prayer (have you noticed that each of these start with prayer?) This is because we must never forget that the Fruit of the Spirit is God’s work! It is not ours! Read Galatians 6:10 and figure out how this might apply to you. Seek out ways to do something good for others. Perhaps, you could just do random acts of goodness, be generous, or something that allows others to see your love for Jesus. Talking is okay but practice makes perfect!Next week, we will consider the remaining three graces of the Fruit of the Spirit. – TS


BEARING THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT (Part 1)

     Previously, we mentioned that we must change our mentality. We do this by studying God’s word (2 Timothy 2:15) and by imitating Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1). This means we must stop doing things contrary to the will of God, that is to say, to no longer live our lives according to the ways of the world (Romans 12:2). Rather, we should strive to live according to God’s will as He has given it to us in the Bible. This results in a Christian “bearing fruit.” A Christian must produce fruit in order to be pleasing to God according to John 15:8. But what, exactly, is the “fruit” a Christian must produce? There are several passages that we will look at in order to answer that question, but let’s begin with the most obvious, Galatians 5:22-24.
    Here, we have a list of nine things, or “fruit” that is pleasing to God. Underline these in your Bible, write them down somewhere so that you can be reminded of them, or try to memorize each one. Notice that the collective group is called “the fruit of the Spirit” in a singular sense, but then the inspired writer presents a plurality of traits. These components only come from having a right relationship with God. Every one of these traits are part of His character. Christians must add this “fruit of the Spirit” to their daily lives. They are:
    LOVE– Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; and 1 John 3:18, 4:18. This kind of love means a love without borders or limits. It is unconditional. Regardless of the actions of others, you have complete control of this kind/type of love. That is how one can “love their enemies” as Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, because it is in your control. It is quite interesting that the people of Jesus’ day spoke and wrote in Greek. That language had four words to describe love: Eros- this is the intimate love in a marriage (this word is not found in the Bible); Storge- is the paternal, familial love, like that between a mother and her child (it is not found in the Bible, but you see the idea in Mark 7:10); Phileo- is the love between friends, or brotherly kindness (John 11:36); and Agape- this is true love, it is looking out for the best interest of others (Philippians 2:4). The trait that is listed here in this passage is agape love. This is the same word used to describe God (1 John 4:8). Just how important is this kind of love, according to Jesus in John 13:34,35?
    JOY– Read John 15:11; Romans 14:17, 15:13; and James 1:2. This is not just happiness, but something deeper, more holy, and pure. Joy is much different than happiness. Happiness depends on the circumstances of health, good friends, a pleasing environment, and/or security. Joy goes beyond all those things and draws its energy from one’s relationship with God. One comment I read said this, “… the Joy of the Lord is complete and there is no human circumstance that can take it away except when the Christian himself allows Satan in to steal it away.” This teaches us that it is only God who can provide this characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit and its focus goes far beyond anything in the present.Think about this, happiness and sadness cannot coexist in the same moment. But, joy can coexist with sadness, because they come from two completely different sources. Look at what brought joy to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:19 and to John in 3 John 4.
    PEACE – Read Romans 5:1-2 and Philippians 4:7. When we think of peace, we often associate it with the absence of war, or violence. The peace mentioned here is broader than human peace. Some of the synonyms for this peace might be: “serenity, satisfaction, stability, certainty, security, happiness, and prosperity”. Biblical peace is not an ordinary or common fruit; it is unique and precious. For the Christian, peace is an inner tranquility that comes through hope and trust due to receiving forgiveness of sins through salvation (reconciliation with God). How might we obtain this peace from God according to the apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:2)?
    Next week, we will cover the remaining six attributes, or traits of the fruit of the Spirit. In the meantime, focus on and study these first three: love, joy, and peace. Ask God to help you in instilling these in your faith. Pray that these will abound and multiply in your daily life for His glory. Your life will be truly blessed if you do! – TS


A CHRISTIAN MUST BEAR FRUIT

    We have been focusing on spiritual maturity. We identified and explained some of the highlighted characteristics of what a mature Christian looks like according to the Bible. Now the question we need to ask ourselves is this: “How do we accomplish this in our own lives?”
    First, we must keep in mind what Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformedto this world, but be transformedby the renewing of your minds, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” According to the context, Paul was speaking to his fellow Christians; so by implication, this includes us. Notice the words Paul uses. It is clear that we must make changes in our mentality. In other words, we cannot continue living our lives according to the world, but rather we should live our lives according to the Word of God. The Bible gives us everything we need in order to change and grow as Christians while living according to the commandments of God (read 2 Peter 1:3). We are all capable of changing and improving our lives in order to be pleasing to God!

Agricultural Metaphors and Growth Analogies

    When we come across the concept of spiritual growth in the Bible, we should see a noticeable pattern. The teachings of Jesus and the inspired writers often compare the growth of a disciple to that of a plant. We find this same metaphor used frequently in the Old Testament, as well. The comparison is simple: just like a plant grows and produces fruit, Christians must grow and produce fruit. Let’s look at some the analogies the Bible utilizes.
    Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. Considering what Paul calls Christians in verse 1, what can we deduce from his analogy in verse 6? We should be able to see that just as a child grows by nourishment of food (3:2), a plant grows by nourishment of water. In both cases, what is the source of the increase (3:6)? It is God. It our Creator who put this law into motion when He created the world. All growth comes from His power, none from our own.
    Now, let’s consider John 15:1-8. This is a powerful passage full of divine wisdom! Notice how God and Jesus are identified in the passage (15:1). What are His disciples called? (15:5) The analogy is simple, just as the vine, or trunk, supplies what is necessary for the branches to produce fruit, Jesus does the same for us. In fact, He says, “without Me you can do nothing.”
    In the original Greek language of the New Testament, there are several words for “branch.” The word used here refers to a “tender offshoot, or vine sprout,” (according to Thayer). We might call it a twig. A twig, or vine sprout is rather insignificant when compared to the branch of a large tree. A twig is small, carries no real strength, and dries out faster than a tree branch. A good-sized branch off of a tree is still useful as wood, even after it dies. For example, one could make furniture, tools, or some other functional thing with it. But when a twig dies and then dries out, it is not really useful for anything. Thus, it is gathered up and thrown into the fire. What does that imply about us? It implies that we have no other greater purpose in life than to bring glory and honor to God. Isn’t that the point Jesus is making in verse 5?
    We should also note that Jesus said, “a tree is known by its fruit.” (Matthew 12:33). This means that we can be identified by what we “produce,” that is to say, by our actions. We know what an apple tree is because of its fruit. We can identify an avocado tree easily because of its fruit, and so forth. How can people identify us as Christians if we do not demonstrate our faith through our actions? Can others see Jesus in you by what you say and do?
   This is what God desires from us. It is what is meant by “bearing fruit.” We are to behave in a specific way, make certain actions, specifically those actions that bring glory to God. Our actions are extremely important! (Consider Matthew 5:16; James 1:22). We are to produce fruit that honors and exalts our God above all else. This concept harmonizes perfectly with passages such as, Ecclesiastes 12:13. According to the passage what is the “conclusion of the whole matter”?
    So, a Christian is to bear fruit in order to be pleasing to God. But the question still remains, “What, exactly, is the “fruit” (or the actions) that we must produce?” What are these specific actions mentioned? Look in Galatians 5:22-24 to find some answers. Next week, we will examine these individual fruits in detail to see how we can apply them in our daily lives.


CHARACTERISTICS OF A MATURE CHRISTIAN (Part 2)

    As a continuation from our previous article about the characteristics of a mature Christian, we mentioned that several are emphasized in the Bible. Of those, we have chosen ten attributes to highlight in this series. Let’s now add the other five marks of a mature Christian to our preceding ones. They are: teaching; service; hope; suffering; and perseverance.
    TEACHING – A mature Christian not only knows the Bible through personal study, but is also capable of teaching it to others. Read Matthew 28:19-20 (compare Mark 16:16). This is known as the Great Commission. This involves teaching new people about Jesus (verse 19), and what is meant by the word evangelizing. It is the command to carry the Gospel, (which means, “Good News”) and proclaim it to others in order to save more precious souls. According to Romans 1:16, where does the power of salvation lie? In addition, this also sometimes involves teachingour fellow disciples (verse 20). How does Paul describe this kind of teaching in Ephesians 4:12? Consider also what the Bible says in Acts 6:7, 8:4; and 1 Corinthians 9:16.
    SERVICE – The true character of mature Christian is seen in their service to others.Look at the event that took place in John 13:3-15. Afterward, Jesus finished by telling His disciples that He had left them an example to follow (verse 15). Considering the passage, what was the example? Add to this the words Jesus stated in Mark 10:45, regarding His purpose for coming to earth. We can deduce that a mature Christian is to serve others and to do so by following the example of Jesus. We should also follow the example of giving of ourselves to the Lord, according to 2 Corinthians 8:5. How often does Paul suggest we should serve others in Galatians 6:10? A mature Christian always remembers that everything is to be done by the authority of Christ and for God’s glory (Colossians 3:17; Matthew 5:16). Read also Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Corinthians 10:31; and 1 Timothy 6: 6-10.
    HOPE – A key element to spiritual maturity is hope. Peter describes a Christian’s hope as a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) Read Romans 8:24-25 and fill in the blanks, ”For we were _______ in this hope, but hope that is __________ is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he ________? But if we hope for what we do not _______ , we eagerly wait for it with _______________ .” Hope is not an easy word to define, but Paul certainly addresses it well in his letter. Here’s an important point, according to Colossians 1:5, where is our hope laid up? A disciple must have hope.
    SUFFERING – Jesus taught that His disciples would suffer (John 15:20). This equally applies to us today, because it is certain that suffering will come in some form or another (2 Timothy 3:12). Nobody really wants to suffer. But, there are many things that result from our suffering. For one, when we are faced with trials, non-Christians will be watching carefully to see how we will respond to our circumstance. How we handle adversity can be a testimony to our faith. Secondly, read how Paul describes the benefits of suffering (Romans 5:3,4). Then, to better understand, read Romans 8:18; and 1 Peter 4:12-14.
    PERSEVERANCE – Jesus said, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life,” (Revelation 2:10). Those are very comforting and encouraging words! The apostle Peter also taught that we are to add perseverance of our faith (2 Peter 1:6). Oxford’s Online Dictionary defines perseverance as, “Persistence in doing something despite difficulty …” That can certainly describes a Christian’s life! Hebrews 12:1 encourages us with these words, “… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, …” The word for enduranceis one that means steadfastness, constancy, and patience. Here are some more encouraging passages regarding perseverance: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 2:14-16; Colossians 1:23; 1 Timothy 4:16; James 1:12    
    CONCLUSION
    Each of these characteristics are effectuated by faith and are also that which produces faith. A stronger faith produces spiritual maturity. An old preacher once said, “We have a faith, which is called ‘The Faith,’ that produces faith.” That is so true! Let’s make application of these ten attributes. When someone actively seeks to be (1) obedient to God, by (2) worshiping and (3) praying to Him, (4) learning His will and (5) serving in His kingdom by (6) teaching others through (7) love, while (8) persevering because of the (9) hope within, despite (10) persecution or suffering  … that is, indeed, true FAITH!
    So, how is one able to recognize a mature Christian? Or, when is a Christian considered mature? The question is not an easy one to answer and certainly cannot be measured with precision. Everyone is different. However, the things we have presented here are some of the main characteristics that can certainly be observed and identified within a spiritually mature Christian, according to the Bible. Every disciple of Jesus has the ability to develop each one of these attributes in their own lives. This will lead to being spiritually mature. Why not make a commitment to develop these characteristics in your own life?


CHARACTERISTICS OF A MATURE CHRISTIAN (PART 1)

    A few years ago, while serving as a missionary in South America, I was studying with a young lady about the fundamentals of the faith. I explained to her that as a new convert, she “must grow unto spiritual maturity.” At first, she became a bit confused and then asked a pertinent question, “Well, what exactly does a mature Christian look like?” She reasoned that if she could see what it was that she needed to attain to, she could more easily arrive there. What a great attitude to have!
    So, what does a mature Christian look like? Let’s take a look at how the Bible describes that person. In doing so, we will identify ten different attributes that are emphasized frequently within the Scriptures. A Christian, who is striving to obtain spiritual maturity (whether new to the faith, or with many years) should have a life marked with the following characteristics:
 
LOVE – First and foremost, a mature Christian is characterized by love. There is nothing more important in the life of a Christian than love! Jesus exemplified love for us in every aspect of His life. Think about how one might identify you as a Christian? We are identified by what Jesus says in John 13:35.
    The Bible tells us we are to love: God (Mark 12:30); Jesus (John 14:15, 23-24); one another (John 15:12); our mother and father (Matthew 19:19); and even our enemies (Matthew 5: 44-48). This kind of love is not some “warm, and fuzzy feeling inside”! It is an unselfish love that is exhibited in our actions. This type of love is called “agape.” Remember, out of a long list of spiritual qualities, the Bible says, “the greatest of these is love,” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-13; John 3: 16-18)
 
PRAYER – A mature Christian must have a life of prayer. Without it, we can’t be pleasing to God. The Creator wants to hear from His creation, therefore, we must pray! In fact, we have such a great privilege to be able talk directly to Him! Contemplate Hebrews 4:16. Think about this also, if Jesus Christ is our example (John 13:15) and He was a man of prayer (Mark 1:35; John 17:9), then we certainly must be engaged in prayer, frequently. What are we encouraged to do, according to 1 Timothy 2:8? Consider also the manner in which Paul says we should pray in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Prayer is such an important characteristic in the life of a mature Christian. Here’s a good thing to remember, it is hard to stumble when one is upon their knees in prayer!
 
OBEDIENCE – A simple reality: One cannot be a true Christian without being obedient! Obedience that is demonstrated in every behavioral aspect of a disciple’s life is a clear sign of a mature Christian. The prophet Samuel admonished Saul saying, “Obedience is better than sacrifice,” (1 Samuel 15:22). Again, our example, Jesus, was obedient (Philippians 2:8), even unto death on the cross. What does He teach His disciples in John 14:15? Look also at what obedience provides for us in 1 John 1:7 and 2:3,4. It is only through obedience that God will allow us to enter into heaven (Matthew 7:21; Revelation 22:14).
 
WORSHIP – How can one become a mature Christian if worshiping with the church is not a high priority in their lives?! Worship is so important because it is what we are made to do. Some animals were made to run, the sun was made to shine, and man was made to worship. We have a personal responsibility to worship, (Hebrews 10:25). Think about this, if you do not like going to the worship assembly to be with your brethren, then what do you think you are going to do in heaven?
    The Scriptures give us a specific manner in which to worship, (John 4:24). To worship “in spirit” means having the right attitude and focus while engaged in worship. What can we infer from Mark 7:6 regarding our manner of worship? To worship in “truth” means to do so according to His doctrine (found only in the Bible). According to Matthew 4:10 and Exodus 34:14, what does God expect from our worship? We should always remember that God is to be the focus of our worship and not us. Worship is to give glory, honor, praise and gratitude to our Father in heaven; it is never to be for our own entertainment.
 
STUDY – We must read and study the Bible (1 Timothy 4:13; Hebrews 5:12-6:1). It is the only way to truly discern what the will of God is. It is also the only way to learn how to mature in the faith. Jesus was a man of the Scriptures. How many times did He say, “It is written,” or, “Have you not read,” (Matthew 4:4 and 12:3)? In 2 Timothy 2:15, what did Paul encourage Timothy to do? Consider also Peter’s instructions in 1 Peter 3:15. It is impossible to do what Peter says if we never study our Bibles. Therefore, let us follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:11, because the word of God cannot get into you if you do not first get into the word!
 
….. to be continued in next week’s bulletin – TS


EVERY CHRISTIAN HAS A RESPONSIBILITY

    No one is obligated to be a Christian, nor can one be forced to become a disciple of Jesus. Someone cannot make you do the things necessary to be saved, or coerce you against your will to obey God’s commands. You must make that decision for yourself. While it is true the Bible teaches we must admonish those who do not obey the commandments of God (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15), He still gives us free will to decide to obey or not (Proverbs 16:9; Joshua 24:15). You have a choice in the matter. Either submit to God, or don’t. One of the first principles every human being must come to realize is each one of us has a personal responsibility toward God.That responsibility involves the salvation of the soul. Quite frankly, there is nothing more important on this earth. If you want to go to heaven, you must do what God has commanded. It is that simple. This means that you bear the sole responsibility for your own soul! It is your choice to obey God and yours alone.
    That word responsibilityis a “big” word, not because of its number of letters, but because of the meaning it carries. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word as, “The state or fact of being accountable … A moral obligation to behave correctly towards, or in respect of.” Do you see a spiritual application in there? Since Jesus paid the debt of our sins by dying on the cross (Romans 3:23-26, 5:8), then we must be faithful to Him and serve Him. It implies that we have a moral obligation to behave correctly in respect to what He has done for us. In addition, we will, indeed, be held accountable for our actions (Revelation 20:12).
    Keep the above points in mind as you read and consider Hebrews 5:12. This verse teaches us a key responsibility we have toward God, it is to grow into spiritual maturity! There are certain characteristics that God desires for us to develop and produce in our lives. Just as any infant must grow, Christians too, must grow. We cannot remain “babes in Christ” forever (1 Corinthians 3:1). No one should be baptized, added to the church (Acts 2:38,40,47) and then just remain stagnant. We must show love and gratitude to God by making our best effort to grow.
    Therefore, Christian responsibility extends beyond our obedience to the Gospel call. One does not stop obeying God’s commands once they have been saved, because salvation is not fully complete until we get to heaven (1 Corinthians 15:24). But again, no one is going to force you to obey His commands, nor coerce you into growing in your spirituality, or maturing in the faith. This is something you must do for yourself! It is a personal duty and it should be the most important goal of every Christian. Each Christian bears that responsibility themselves.
     Fortunately, spiritual growth can be measured. The scriptures clearly outline what the characteristics of a mature Christian look like. Having such characteristics distinguishes you from the world and establish you as a follower of Jesus. Read John 13:15. Consider the context of that passage and see if you can determine what the goal of every Christian should be. I’ll give you a hint. Paul teaches the same principle in 1 Corinthians 11:1 and Philippians 3:17. Consider also what is said in 3 John 11. Do you see what a Christian’s responsibility is by reading these verses?
    New Christians (or even a long-time Christians, for that matter) should read 1 John 2:15-17. Here we learn that we are not to love the world, nor the things in the world. This clearly indicates that we are to leave behind our former behaviors and focus more on spiritual, heavenly things. The bottom line is this, we cannot be baptized and then do absolutely nothing! If you do not put forth your best effort to be pleasing to God, then what does it really matter that you were baptized? “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only,” (James 1:22). The Bible teaches we have a responsibility to not only obey God’s commands, but by doing so, we may also develop into mature Christians. This is God’s will and it is pleasing to Him. Accepting our responsibility toward God causes us to be that shining light and example to others He desires us to be, which brings glory to Him (Matthew 5:16). – TS