The Bible instructs us to be content, Heb. 13. 5; 1 Tim. 6. 8, as a content heart is a thankful heart that can enjoy satisfaction and happy fellowship with the Lord, Phil. 4. 11.
However, the Bible also warns us about becoming content with our spiritual state. The closing exhortation of Peter is to, ‘grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’, 2 Pet. 3. 18. We all know natural and biological growth. For this kind of development, we need good and healthy food, water, exercise and immediate attention to signs of abnormalities. Growing spiritually is not much different; we need spiritual food and drink and to exercise ourselves unto godliness, 1 Tim. 4. 7.
But there are also differences between biological and spiritual growth. Bodily growth will stop at a certain stage but spiritual growth should continue until we meet the Lord face-to-face, 2 Cor. 4. 16; Eph. 4. 13. The Bible states more about spiritual growth than bodily growth because it is easier to miss the signs of slow or diminishing spiritual growth. When our bodies need nourishment, we feel hungry and thirsty. Spiritual things are not as clear to everyone. Early signs of slow spiritual growth are not easy to notice; later on, the situation could be devastating, Heb. 5. 12-14.
Let us try to diagnose the factors that can hinder and even stop our spiritual growth, based on the scriptures.
Philippians chapter 3 is a good place to start. In verses 1 to 7, Paul warns of the danger of having confidence in the flesh. In verses 8 to 10, Paul tells us of his desire, above all things, to know the Lord Jesus Christ. When Paul wrote this Epistle, his knowledge pertaining to the Lord Jesus was considerable, but he knew that there was much more to learn of Christ, ‘in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’, Col. 2. 3. In verses 11 to 13, Paul is not occupied with the achievements and failures of the past. There is a starting point in every believer’s journey with Christ, but our eyes should be looking towards the finishing point. Our best example is our Saviour; He was always looking beyond current events, ‘for the joy that was set before him’, Heb. 12. 2. In verse 14, Paul says more about the finishing point, ‘I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’. Paul mentions the calling of God ten times in his Epistles.11
Sometimes we reduce the calling of God to two major events, salvation and eternity with Him, but forget about what we’ve been called to between the start and finish. For what is God calling each of us during our life on earth? We need to seek enlightenment from God to see His wonderful and glorious plan, Eph. 1. 17-19.
In Hebrews chapter 6, all are encouraged to ‘leave the principles’ and ‘go on unto perfection’. There is a lot of wisdom and knowledge hid in Christ. He will reveal all to us if we have the desire to study His word and diligently seek these treasures.
In John chapter 14 verse 21, the Lord Jesus said, ‘He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me … and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him’. Obviously, and from the sequence of events in the verse, the Lord is not talking about salvation. This is a promise given to a believer who has the Lord’s commandments, is keeping them and is loving the Lord. The Lord will fulfil the desire of such a believer’s heart, that he may know him, Phil. 3. 10.
A student in any educational institution cannot advance by just reviewing the principles he knows. Learning new things is essential and requires the right attitude, desire, effort and time. Whilst it might seem restful to stay where we are, that comes with many dangers, Deut. 1. 6; 2. 3.
Equally, teachers of the word of God might be tempted to review principles, which may be helpful, but there is always much more to learn. Paul exhorts Timothy and us to, ‘Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things’, 2 Tim. 2. 7. As all knowledge is by the grace of God, Peter instructs us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
New believers, as ‘newborn babes’, are instructed to ‘desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby’, 1 Pet. 2. 2. This is the starting point. Believers should not remain at that stage, Heb. 5. 12, 13. Earthly parents become very concerned when their children are not showing signs of normal growth. Our heavenly Father has no joy in seeing His children stationary and missing the many blessings that He has for them.
What then are the vital elements of spiritual growth? We believe they are sincere desires to set aside sufficient time to diligently study God’s word and to persevere in prayer. Finally, to make note of what you have learned and seek to put it into practice.
May the Lord help us all to press on with a desire to enjoy all the Lord has for us and preserve us from spiritual complacency.<
Rom. 11. 29; 1 Cor. 1. 26; 7. 20; Eph. 1. 18; 4. 4; Phil. 4. 14; 2 Thess. 1. 11; 2 Tim. 1. 9; Heb. 3. 1. This assumes that Paul wrote Hebrews. Peter also mentioned ‘your calling’, 2 Pet. 1. 10.