Featured Article from Living Water Magazine

GROWING UP TO HIM

2 Peter 3:18
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Acts 20:7-12
1 Kings 10:1-13


I desire, with the Lord’s help, to say a few words about Christian growth It is a normal thing for a Christian to want to grow. Some people might say, I’m saved and that is sufficient. But the Bible was written to encourage those who trusted in the Lord, that we might grow.

I am not speaking of salvation. We cannot add to our salvation, the Lord’s work is complete. There is nothing we can add to that in any way at all. We are absolutely secure for time and eternity as having trusted in Him and His precious work. I speak about growth.

The Lord, when He told the parable of the sower, talked about growth.  Plants grew up and bore fruit (see Matthew 13:8) and there are other references in the scriptures. Paul spoke much about growth; writing to the Ephesians he says, “that we may grow up to him in all things” (Ephesians 4:15). There is much written in the epistles so that we might grow as Christians. When Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he said, “I have not shrunk from announcing to you all the counsel of God”. He did that so that they would grow, so that they would have a greater appreciation of the things of God.

When I speak of growth I do not mean that we just know more of the Bible. It is a good thing to know the Bible but Peter writes of growing “in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.  What can I say about Jesus now that I could not say a year or two years ago? Has He become more precious to me? How do the experiences of life lead me to a greater appreciation of the Lord? Can I can speak with certainty about knowing Him as a Saviour and a Friend and as a wonderful intercessor for us? 

It is important that we grow. I trust that all will be concerned to think about it and to consider, ‘What can I say about the Lord Jesus and what He means to me?’ In what aspect of my life is there growth?’ The verse just before where we read speaks about falling away and it is there as a warning. If I am not growing, I might be in danger of falling away.

So, Peter says, “grow in grace”. Peter himself grew and you can see that in the scripture. When he started out he did not know very much at all. You see through the gospels that sometimes Peter said things that were wrong. At one point Peter was so wrong that the Lord had to say, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23). But when you read his 2nd. epistle you see the words of a father, the words of someone who loved the Lord Jesus and had grown in his appreciation as he looked back at the wonderful things he was privileged to see. He was privileged to see Jesus in His glory. He says we were, “eyewitnesses of his majesty”. He looked back and that wonderful moment had grown in his mind. It had stayed with him for thirty years. So what can you or I say about the Lord Jesus Christ? Peter spoke from his own experience when he exhorted believers to “grow in grace”.

Grace is a vast thought. I seek just to say a few words tonight about three aspects of it:

  • First we should see the humility that should mark a Christian. We see an example of it with the apostle Paul. As he came to see what a terrible, shocking sinner he was he realised how much God had loved him and how far He has reached out in order to save him; as a result his appreciation grew;

  • Then I seek just to say a few words about love and affection, being tender-hearted towards others; growing in our feelings towards those around us that we might show the love of Jesus to others as demonstrated in Acts 20;

  • Then, in the last scripture we see the Queen of Sheba who had heard about Solomon but found that he was actually greater and more wonderful than she had ever been led to believe. So her appreciation increased.

May our appreciation of the Lord Jesus – where He is, His glory and His Person – grow in our hearts so we might find that the half has not been told us. So we might be able to express our appreciation of Him to others - to Him first, then to others.

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So I turn first of all to the epistle to Timothy. We can have various thoughts about the apostle Paul. We can think what a great preacher he was, what marvellous expositions he had of God’s thoughts towards men and women, what wonderful revelations he had and how blessed it must have been to see the Lord in the glory. Yet with all that, Paul never lost the sense of what he had been before the Lord found him. He speaks about it to Timothy. It is not that we should glory in our sins but rather as we appreciate more of the holiness of God we realise what an enormous debt of sin we have incurred and how wonderfully God has reached out toward us.

Sometimes we see people who do grotesque and terrible things and we may say, ‘How shocking!’ Then we realise what is in our own heart. You look at the perfection of Jesus and you realise that if we are to grow as Christians we also need to grow in humility. Peter says at the end of his first epistle, “and all of you bind on humility towards one another; for God sets himself against the proud, but to the humble gives grace” (1 Peter 5:5). You cannot pretend to be humble but you can, as a believer, realise how holy God is and how worthless you are.

Recently in Warley we have been reading the book of Exodus.  It contains a detailed account of the tabernacle system and it made me wonder why we are given this in such detail? Why is it so important?  Well, I think it is to impress us with the holiness of God. So we have a greater sense of God’s holiness, it makes us realise how great a sinner we each are and how awful sin must be in His sight. It makes you value the work of Jesus more. It makes you realise just how much God loves you that He has reached out to save you and that will cause your soul to grow in appreciation of God’s love. It helps us to fill out our place here as Christians that we might be able to lift our eyes towards heaven and worship and honour the God who has loved us so much and sent His Son for us.

Paul was a shocking man before he was brought to Christ. He was a blasphemer and a persecutor. Blasphemer: - one who dishonoured God’s name, a man who took Christians and compelled them to blaspheme as well. He dishonoured God’s name thinking he was doing the right thing but he was on wrong lines completely. Then he was an insolent and overbearing man. His relationship with God was wrong and his relationship with men and women was wrong as well.  Everything was wrong.

So in writing to Timothy he says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first”. What a shocking man Saul was before the Lord Jesus found him. And he does not forget it. You find in the scripture the account of his conversion and then there are five other accounts, too, throughout scripture – three of them are in the Acts: the one in Acts 9 when we are told about the event and then Paul’s own accounts of it are repeated twice. Then in the epistles he alludes to his conversion three times. What we read in Timothy is one of them. He tells us what he was like before and as he thought about it, it deepens his desire is to honour God and glorify His name.

Now we must each take it for ourselves. How do I think about my sins? Not in any way to glory in them or to be ground down in misery but to realise how holy God is and how far short I fall. Not a day can go past in my life when I do not sin. I might not do anything obviously wrong but how often we may have wrong thoughts or motives!

I believe that as a Christian grows the desire is that they might grow more like Jesus; that they might be given help not to sin and that they might be more sensitive about sin. I think when we are first saved we are just glad of relief that you are not facing God’s judgment: at least, that is how I was. I was saved as a young child and I was so relieved that I was not going to face God’s wrath. Then as we go on in the Christian way there are things that we thought were all right and then you realise that actually the Bible tells you they are not all right. It is not just what we do but what we think. As we grow as believers we see what is due to God and that God wants us to live our lives honouring Him that we might be a testimony in the world.

The world’s culture is pervasive. Every day the world laughs at sin; it makes a joke of it so that we might think it is not quite so bad. I would desire that I should not laugh with the world, that I should see sin for what it is – utterly offensive to God. Paul realised that God had rescued him from what he was as a sinner and brought him into a new order of life altogether and he wanted to tell others.  He writes, “Faithful is the word, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. Jesus did not come to save the righteous, He came to save sinners. And I am one of them. Praise be His name, He saved me! He saved most, if not all, in this company today, how wonderful that is.

Paul goes on to say, “Now to the King of the ages, the incorruptible, invisible, only God, honour and glory to the ages of ages. Amen”. It is wonderful that in just a few verses he goes from speaking of what he was as a sinner, to glorifying God. That is the transformation brought about by the gospel.

Every time we take the Lord’s Supper, when we come together to remember Him, the loaf and the cup help us to remember what He has done, the cost of it, and His wonderful love. It leads to our being wonderfully liberated to see Him and praise Him where He now is.

Then when we read the Bible it will tell us what God’s standard is. I am not talking about the commandments, I am speaking of the New Testament where we find the apostles Paul, Peter, James and John all telling us about what is expected of a believer. You and I might feel challenged by that but the Lord speaks to us not to grind us down and make us feel miserable and unworthy but to lift us up and to set us on our way and cause us to be concerned that we might serve and honour Him now.

The answer and the outcome of this is that we glorify God. I do think that if all down the ages believers had been more concerned about growing in humility and remembering their own unworthiness, they would have been preserved from much error and harm. There is always a tendency to start thinking something of ourselves. Think about the Lord Jesus. In Philippians it speaks of Him as making Himself of no reputation (Philippians 2:7). Not ‘some’ reputation, not a small reputation – no reputation! Think about that: the Son of God, the Lord of lords; the One who Hebrews tells us, “made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:2), made Himself of no reputation.

   

 As we think about how far He has reached out to us it will give us a greater appreciation of His love and we will grow. As we appreciate His love more we will want to serve Him and to honour Him. May we be encouraged in that.

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Now I turn to Acts. This is a very interesting scripture. Believers were gathered together on the first day of the week. I just encourage us all to ask ourselves, ‘Why do we do things? Why do we break bread on the first day of the week?’ Well, we find it in the Scriptures.  It is important to base what we do on the Scriptures. Believers were gathered together here and Paul spoke. Now I have wondered why no one was worried about Eutychus’ To be perched on the window ledge on the third floor of a building was not the most secure place to be. I would encourage us all to be concerned about the young. The world is a very, very dangerous place. There is violence, all those things; but there is also what is attractive. Eutychus was in a position of great danger: he was half in and half out, as it were.

I do not speak to those who are young lightly. When I was young I remember a brother speaking and being quite offended that he spoke about those who are young. I thought, ‘Why are you having a go at those who are young?’ But as I get older I realise the dangers are so great, the dangers of social media, for instance. The ability to communicate with others has blessings. You can speak to people in other parts of the world; you can communicate with your family and other Christians. Well, it is a blessing. But like most inventions of man these things also can be used for great evil. That is just an example where you can be drawn into things in a world of self-occupation, a world full of what other people are doing and so waste hours of your life. These things may draw us away when we are older too.

I would encourage you, especially if you are young, to be wholehearted about your Christianity. Do not have a dabble in the world, socialise with your friends, and then tidy yourself up for a Sunday. It will not do, you will be caught out. You will be tested and found wanting. Commit yourself to the Lord’s things. Commit yourself wholeheartedly and the Lord will honour it. He will bless it. He will reward you in yourself. He will give you joy that you will not find in the world.  The world has pleasures. The Bible calls them, “the temporary pleasure of sin” (Hebrews 11:25). I am not saying they are not pleasures. But they are temporary and they will leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Eutychus was in the window opening three floors up. I am not saying that Eutychus was a wrong person but he became overpowered by sleep and he fell out. Imagine the distress! The apostle Paul descended. He was not there in all his dignity. He descended. He was marked by compassion. Some translations speak about it as tender-heartedness.

You will find this sort of compassion in John’s, Paul’s and Peter’s writings. It is something you can grow in. It does not matter how old you are or how young you are. You can grow in affection for others. It is a feature of the Lord Jesus. The Lord was marked by compassion. He had compassion on the crowd (see Mark 8:2) and He felt for the individual. Yet it was more than just feelings, He acted on them.  It is not enough just to feel sorry about a situation, the Lord acted on it. He did not just feel sorry for the crowd, He made sure they were fed. He did not just feel sorry for the leper: He healed him (see Mark 1:44). Now, we cannot do the things that Jesus did but we can act. It is no good saying, ‘Oh, is so sad, someone has fallen into trouble’ – Paul descended. Paul acted in the way the Saviour would have acted.

I would just encourage us to act in that way; to grow in compassion and affection for others. It is a wonderful feature of the Christian to think beyond ourselves. Paul enfolded Eutychus. How affectionate that was. He did not have some pronouncement or wonderful words. He enfolded him and said, “Be not troubled, for his life is in him”. Look for life, do not glory in the failure of others but look for life.

We read of Jesus, that: “smoking flax shall he not quench”. Even with the smallest amount of smoke there is some heat, there is some love for the Lord there. He will not quench it. The “bruised reed shall he not break” (Matthew 12:20, quoting Isaiah 42:3). Think of the bruised reed, probably a reference to an instrument like a pipe.  If it is bruised it will make an uncertain noise. “A bruised reed shall he not break”, He will not throw it away, He will restore it to life and vitality.

Paul said, “Be not troubled, for his life is in him. And having gone up, and having broken the bread, and eaten, and having long spoken until daybreak, so he went away".  A situation arises and we wonder how to act.  Perhaps we get afraid that what we do will be misconstrued. Seek the Lord’s help. Have the right desire. If you have the desire you might stumble a few times but you will soon learn and you will be helped to be a blessing to others. It is a feature of growing in grace.  The Bible tells us, “they brought away the boy alive, and were no little comforted”. Imagine the feeling of that boy’s parents. I speak as a father – imagine their feelings.

I can say that I have seen others act in this way. I have experienced others acting in this way towards me. It is a wonderful blessing. It is a wonderful thing to feel the warmth of the love of Jesus as expressed through others. So let us encourage each other to act in this way. It does not matter how old you are. An elderly sister has been a great encouragement to me recently. She is of good age and it would not be possible for her to literally embrace someone lying on the ground but she can in her heart and in her praise to God. I seek to encourage all to be marked by growth in our feelings towards others and not be hard.

The world is a hard, unfeeling place. People get discarded. People get used to death and destruction; they get callous about lives. Each life that is lost in the world in disasters is precious in the sight of God. God gave life. Let us care about the Lord’s people and have a desire to bring in life and encouragement that we might sustain what is here for Him. And then let us rejoice when it can be said, “they brought away the boy alive”. How wonderful it  is when God’s work comes to light and we can rejoice in it. Then let us not forget to be thankful when we see life amongst us and life amongst the Lord’s people. It is not something to be taken for granted.

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I just wanted to say a few words about the Queen of Sheba. The Lord says that she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon (see Mathew 12:42).  To the people that the Lord spoke to it must have seemed an incomprehensible distance that she travelled to see Solomon. Some writers think that she came from Yemen, over 1000 mile away. I have been a number of times to the Middle East on business. I go outside and go 100 yards and am so glad to get back into air-conditioned space.

The Queen of Sheba travelled over 1000 miles to see Solomon. Then she brought some enormous gifts with her. It seems she brought over 4 tons of gold. Imagine camels carrying that through miles of hot, dusty desert. It cannot just have been to see his glory. She went because she had heard of his wisdom.  She had heard of him and she desired to find out for herself. The question for us is: we have heard about the Lord Jesus, we hear wonderful things about Him but how much do you or I desire to find out more about Him for ourselves? What are we prepared to do to find out more?

When the Queen of Sheba got to Solomon she had a lot of difficult questions to ask. The Bible calls them “enigmas” and Solomon was able to answer them all.  We often have difficult questions, things we would like the Lord to explain to us. We do not always understand what we pass through. I suppose every Christian has, many times in their life, said, ‘Why?’ Some answers, I am sure, wait until heaven. We are not going to get an answer now. We see only a little part of a big puzzle.

She came with questions and “she spoke to him of all that was in her heart”. That is a good thing as a Christian, to tell the Lord everything that is in your heart. If there is something you are holding back – maybe you have a bad conscience about it – do not be afraid, tell the Lord.  We might not understand our situation but it is a great relief just to cast it before the Lord and know that He hears and that His wisdom is infinite.

Then what the queen saw was so beyond her expectations that the scripture says, “there was no more spirit in her”. One translation renders it, ‘Left her breathless’. It was beyond anything she had thought. She had made a long journey to Solomon but  she was not in the least disappointed.

As Christians, we have heard about Jesus. You and I have heard others speak about His glory. Have you have found out something for yourself, something that is your own impression of Him and His glory? Lots of hymns express that kind of experience. The Queen of Sheba saw everything - not just the magnificence of things but how happy everyone was. There is nothing disorderly in the Lord’s things.

His wisdom is a wonderful thing. “The half was not told me” she says. I wonder if we can say that we have found the Lord in a new way even in the past year. That we have discovered things about Him which we knew as doctrine – because they are in the Bible – but we have found deep down in our heart that they are true and wonderful. I can say that for myself in a small way. Sometimes through the circumstances of life we prove the Lord in a new way and find afresh the faithfulness of His unchanging love.

So at the end the Queen of Sheba gave Solomon what she had brought. We are not asked to give gold or silver or spices or anything of that sort. But we can give the Lord the affection of our heart. We can seek to serve Him and honour Him and to look for His return. Above all I long to see His face, the face of the One who has loved me whom I cannot really see today. The scripture tells us, “we see now through a dim window obscurely” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In this hall in Defford there is obscured glass. You can make out some things behind it but you cannot make out the detail of it. Well, the brilliance of the glory to come will be wonderful. As we wait for that time the question is do we find that, as King Solomon gave the Queen of Sheba ‘of his bounty’, so the Lord Jesus satisfies our hearts in the present time. Are we growing in our appreciation and love for Him? Are we growing in our desire to serve Him and serve His people and be a blessing to those who do not know Him?

Then His coming for His own leads on to something else that I long to see – Christ exalted in the world which has rejected Him. I look forward, as Peter did, to the kingdom wherein dwells righteousness (see 2 Peter 3:13).  All the disorder in the world in which we live and the effects of Satan’s activity, that is so manifest today, will be done away.

I have sought in a simple way to bring the grace of God before us that we might grow in grace. That it might shine out through us as we grow in our knowledge of the Saviour. I do not mean knowing about Jesus - lots of people know about Him, they can give you lots of facts and information – but to know Him for yourself. As we grow in our appreciation we find that He not only satisfies our heart but our desire is to honour Him more and in that God is glorified.

May we all be encouraged.

Simon Burr
An Address at Defford, 23 September 2017

Extracted from LW151