Saturday, October 1, 2011

Personal Growth is a Group Activity

The beautiful weather that we enjoy in Fall is a irresistible invitation to be out in our Lord’s glorious creation.  One of my favorite cool-weather activities is biking.  The colorful trees, the dashing squirrels, the crisp air, and the crunch of leaves under my tires all make the experience exhilarating.  That said, biking does require effort on my part, and I admit that I often pedal harder than necessary at times so that I can “coast” a bit later. 
If the truth be known, I would like to coast in my spiritual life as well.  But try as I might, I cannot find any Biblical justification for it.  On the contrary, Scripture continually reminds me that the spiritual life is not one of sitting still.  The author of Hebrews spends a significant portion of his epistle exhorting his readers to grow, to “press on to maturity.”  My observations lead me to believe, though, that we don’t really know how to do that well.  Yes, we enjoy worship and listen attentively to sermons.  We can read our Bible regularly and keep a commitment to daily prayer.  All of these activities are good and necessary, but I believe that Scripture teaches that they are not sufficient.
Please consider Ephesians Chapter Four.  The Apostle Paul is imploring his readers to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which they have been called.  He becomes more specific in his exhortation, and it becomes very clear that pursuing personal holiness is a corporate activity.  Stretching toward spiritual maturity is an exercise of the body, each using his/her God-given gifts to build one another up so that no one will be swayed by false teaching.
Paul’s message to the Ephesians—and to us—can be rather disconcerting.  Our American culture prides itself on rugged individualism.  We have inherited from Eve the desire to “do it ourselves.”  Pursuing spiritual growth in the context of the body can be pretty threatening.  After all, we may make mistakes.  Worse, our sin and selfishness may leak out.  I am afraid that this is at the heart of Paul’s point.  It is only as we get close to one another that our more subtle sins will be exposed.  Only then will we be brought to the point of confession and repentance.  Only then will we have the opportunity to experience the incredible power of forgiveness and of being known and loved.  And only then will we be able to demonstrate the love that our neighbors in the world are longing to find.