Signs of Spiritual Growth
We continue in our sermon series, Grow Up, and our goal is to grow up to become more like Christ in everything we do and say. Our text this morning is Philippians 4:4-9.
The ministers schedule a planning retreat after Labor Day each year. This is a time to get away to pray, reflect, evaluate, review upcoming holiday events, and plan for the coming year.
September 9-10 were the dates for our planning retreat this year. We stayed overnight at the Williams Guest Home on the north shore, which we have done several times and are always grateful for their hospitality. An agenda and traveling schedule were completed, including meals. One of my favorite meals during this time away is Faye’s breakfast casserole. This is a cheese and sausage dish which I enjoy. Faye is always so agreeable, but it requires her to do a little extra work because she has to shop and prepare breakfast.
The weekend before the planning retreat, Faye and I discussed her shopping list, and she suggested buying some fruit and possibly baking some cookies during the Saints game. You remember the Saints first regular-season game was on Monday Night Football September 9. I thought that was a good idea and did not think twice about it.
The morning of the retreat, ministers met at the church and departed for the north shore. When we arrived at the Williams Guest Home, I jumped out of the minibus to unlock the door and disarm the alarm system. Right behind me was the rest of the group unloading the vehicle with the cooler full of Faye’s groceries. As items were loaded in the refrigerator, I saw Taylor grab and open the container of cookie dough. He picked up a spoon from the silverware drawer, dipped a large spoonful of raw cookie dough, and began to eat it. To my amazement, the entire group got in line to get their spoon full of raw cookie dough. I stood there with my mouth open and asked, “What are you doing?” Taylor replied, “eating cookie dough.” I replied that it is raw cookie dough. Faye asked, “Bob, have you never had raw cookie dough? It will change your life.” With caution, I took the spoon and got a small scoop, and to my amazement, it was delicious. I had to try at least two more scoops to make sure.
We quickly put everything away and began our afternoon prayer time and planning. We went to an early dinner to insure we would be back for the game. Late in the second quarter, Taylor got a plate full of raw cookie dough before Faye could bake the cookies. At halftime, I stopped by the refrigerator to get a large scoop of the delicious raw cookie dough and walked outside to call my wife, Janice. After our greeting and exchanging comments about the first half of the Saints game, I asked her, “Why don’t we eat raw cookie dough?” I still remember the long awkward pause and her question with an accusing tone, “Are you eating raw cookie dough?” At that moment, I knew I was busted and concerned that I had started some conflict. I did not know there are strong differences of opinion about eating raw cookie dough. Some people are worried about the risk of salmonella from raw eggs. And no, I have not had any raw cookie dough since that day.
As we look at our text this morning in Philippians 4, Paul addresses a conflict in the church of Philippi between Eudoia and Syntche. I do not know if this conflict began when one of the ladies brought raw cookie dough to the Philippi church-wide covered dish meal—the text does not include details, just that it was a conflict.
Growing up together spiritually includes handling conflicts properly. I think it is interesting how Paul addresses this situation. He addressed the church as family and true partners and to help these women who have helped Paul in the faith. They were coworkers whose names are in the book of life. Paul did not provide instructions on how to help these ladies but immediately commands the church to rejoice.
I want us to see three signs of Christian maturity. Our sermon bump includes speaking the truth in love. We are to grow up to become like Christ in everything. A question for us this morning is how are we growing spiritually.
First, growing up spiritually helps us to rejoice and not to fight.
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near." — Phillippians 4:4-5
Rejoice comes from the word joy, which is one the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Paul told the Philippian church to rejoice right after he calls two women out for fighting. Can you imagine the blessing of your name written in Scripture? We have some important people identified in Scripture—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Peter, James, and John. Eudoia and Syntche are recognized in God’s Word, and it is over church a fight.
Paul follows a similar pattern of rejoicing with problems. In chapter 3, Paul wrote, Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. We cannot get away from problems. If you are waiting on a season in your life without problems, you will be waiting for the rest of your life. As long as we are on this earth, we will experience problems.
We have all heard the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is circumstantial and can change quickly. Happiness is determined by what is happening around us at the time.
Joy is internal and comes from Christ through the Holy Spirit and is not affected by the circumstances around us.
When we truly rejoice, people will see it. Paul said, Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The New American Standard translates this verse, Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. Have you ever thought how joy or rejoicing calms your spirit? To have a gentle spirit, you have to have a calm and peaceful demeanor. I also like how the New Living Translation translates this verse let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. When you have the joy of the Lord, you treat others in a Christ-like way, and they see a difference in you.
Would you rather be with a person rejoicing in the Lord that encourages you or an individual that is always negative and complaining? We want to be around people who are rejoicing in the Lord. Have you heard the statement rejoice is a choice? It is the decision to rejoice. It is the decision to rejoice and not complain to others, or to focus on problems. It is the choice to rejoice and not be angry or sad. After thinking about this statement, I disagree. Deciding at the beginning of the day does not work. I have started my day making the choice to rejoice. Then just 5 minutes on the road, my rejoicing is transformed to either anger or fear toward my fellow drivers in Orleans parish. That early morning commitment to choose to rejoice goes out the window.
Instead, I have to make hundreds of choices to rejoice through the day. Charles Spurgeon wrote that rejoicing is obedience to Christ. The word rejoice is not only joy once, but it is joy over and over again. We are to re-joy throughout our day.
Let’s commit to make choices to rejoice every day, every hour, and for some of us every minute. Rejoicing is a sign that we are growing up spiritually in Christ. And when that happens, not only does it promote spiritual growth, it is a good witness and encourages others.
Second, growing up spiritually causes us to pray and not worry.
"Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." — Phillippians 4:6
If anyone had an excuse worry, it was the Apostle Paul. His beloved friends in Philippi disagreed with one another, and he was not there to help them. Added to his stress was the possibility of his death. He was in a filthy Roman jail for preaching the gospel. Paul had an excuse to worry, but instead, he is encouraging others and reminding them not to worry. The word worry is a picture of being pulled in many different directions. Our hope pulls us in one direction, and fears pulls us in a different direction.
As much as we enjoy and love our city, we can easily find reasons to worry. This summer, many of us worried about afternoon thundershowers and the possibility of local flooding. I cannot imagine the frustration of the business owners that had their business flooded, and some businesses flooded more than once. And then to everyone’s amazement, the Sewerage and Water Board found a car in the drainage system. And on top of that, now we have to worry about Drew Brees’ right thumb healing completely before we go to the Super Bowl.
The old English root word for worry gives us a different word picture—it means to strangle. If you have ever really worried, you know how it strangles a person. It causes a type of paralysis, and the person cannot function as he or she should. Worry causes stress. We have all heard about the research on how stress can harm our body from headaches to neck pains and ulcers.
From a spiritual point of view, worry is wrong thinking (involves our mind) and wrong feeling (involves our heart) about circumstances, people, and situations around us. Worry is a joy killer. Worry strangles all our hope, and peace. It prevents us from looking up to our Savior and forces us to look down around us. We have all seen movies of someone crossing a narrow bridge over a deep canyon. Their fear grips them and causes them to hesitate or slip. What does the audience think when this happens? Don’t look down! We must remember to always look up to our Lord during times of stress and uncertainty and not to look down and focus on our problems.
Oswald Chambers calls worry unconscious blasphemy.
If we are growing in Christ, we will pray more—6but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. How would your life change if you prayed instead of worrying? For some of us, we would pray all the time. Is that what Paul meant when he wrote pray without ceasing in 1 Thessalonians 5:17?
We should pray about everything. Prayer is that general word for making our requests known to God. It carries the idea of devotion and worship. Our first words of prayer should be words of worship and honor. In our prayers, we need to see the majesty of God and realize He is bigger than our circumstances and problems.
Petitions in our prayers are presenting our needs and problems to God. It includes the confidence and trust that God can supply all our needs.
Our prayers should include thanksgiving. Our Heavenly Father enjoys hearing His children say thank you. In Luke 17, Jesus healed the ten lepers; only one of the ten returned to give thanks. I wonder what the percentage of grateful hearts is today. Did you notice that our rejoicing influences our prayers? Paul said to rejoice with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in verse 6, our prayers should include thanksgiving. Can we rejoice without being thankful? Can we truly be thankful without rejoicing? When we live a lifestyle of rejoicing, we cannot help but include thanksgiving in our prayers. When we live a life of rejoicing, our prayers will confirm it.
Some of you know, my father is a retired pastor. He is 88 years old. He no longer preaches and is not able to teach his Sunday School class, but he stills prays. He is not as strong as he used to be, and sometimes a little forgetful, but his prayers are still effective and strong prayers.
In August, Janice and I went to Alabama for the funeral of a good friend. She was my father’s secretary when he pastored a church in Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1970s. The daughter wanted my father to do the funeral, but he was unable, so I had the honor of conducting the funeral for Edwina Stephens. I knew my parents would attend the funeral, so I asked my father to help me with the graveside service. With family and friends surrounding the grave, I made some comments, read some scripture, but the most impressive part about that graveside service was my father’s prayer about the hope and peace we have in Christ and thanking God for our dear friend.
We all know people who are strong prayers. Their rejoicing and thanksgiving are always included in their prayers. My father also pastored a church in Mississippi, for which I am very grateful because I met my bride in that church. After the invitation at the end of each worship service, my father would call on someone in the congregation to dismiss the service in prayer. There was an older deacon in that church named Drew Goodwin. And when Mr. Goodwin prayed, it was like eavesdropping on his friendly conversation with God. Aren’t our prayers supposed to be conversations with God, which include our worship, thanksgiving, gratitude, and daily needs?
Growing up in Christ increases our joy, decreases our worry, and improves our prayer life, and growing up gives us peace. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Peace is mentioned throughout the Bible. The Bible mentions world peace. Isaiah prophesied of this peace in chapter 9, Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
There is another type of peace that comes when our sins are forgiven, Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1.
What is the peace that Paul is talking about here? It’s not world peace or the peace at salvation, but a peace in your heart that only the mature Christian experiences. It is a peace that guards our hearts in the toughest of times. It is the kind of peace that is unexplainable. This word guard is the same word used in 1 Peter 1:5, which is a military term which means to protect by guarding. You are being guarded by God’s power through faith.
Some of you have experienced that type of peace that surpasses understanding. That peace from God that was unexplainable. It was not world peace because everything around you was uncertain; it was not the peace that you experienced at your salvation because that happened a long time ago. This is the kind of peace that only a mature Christian can experience, whether it is in a hospital room, funeral home, or a difficult situation at home or work. You could not explain it but felt the presence of the Holy Spirit calm your spirit and fill you with loving peace.
It is the assurance that God will never leave you or forsake you. It is the quiet confidence that you are safe with God because you are growing up spiritually.
Third, growing up spiritually changes our thoughts and motivates us to lead others.
"Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. " — Phillipians 4:8-9
Paul challenges the church of Philippi with six goals regarding our thoughts and meditation throughout the day. Whatever is true—meaning the opposite of dishonest or unreliable. Whatever is honorable—meaning dignified and worthy of respect. Whatever is just—meaning to conform to God’s standards. Whatever is pure—meaning what is wholesome and not mixed with moral impurity. Whatever is lovely—means to promote peace rather than conflict. Whatever is commendable—relating to what is positive and constructive rather than negative and destructive. Paul ends his instructions of right-thinking by dwelling on or meditating on moral excellence and anything praiseworthy.
A Christian cannot separate outward action and an inward attitude. We might fool some people, but that inward turmoil causes unrest in our spirit. Then Paul balances four actions—learned and received and heard and seen. It is one thing to learn a truth, but another to receive it and apply to our lives. Facts in our head are not enough; we must also believe and live by God’s truth.
Paul not only taught the Word of God, but he lived it so that his listeners could see the truth in his life. Paul’s practice should be our practice. What is the result? The God of peace will be with you. This is the second time Paul mentions the peace of God. First, God’s peace guards and protects our hearts, and now Paul said that the God of peace Himself goes with us.
God’s peace is one test of whether or not we are in God’s will. I like Colossians 3:15, And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts.
What is in your heart this morning? Does the peace of God rule and fill your heart this morning? Are the world’s burdens and stresses pulling in you in different directions? Do your thoughts honor God? Can you follow Paul’s example in verse 9, which may be for me the most challenging verse in our text this morning? "Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me."
Only a Christian that is growing up in Christ, maturing in their faith, can say that. We need to be careful about what we say and what we do. I know some of us are hurt, frustrated, and possibly a little confused during this season in our church. I am concerned that some of us believe we are in a crisis, but we are not. Our church is in a transitional period, but not in a crisis. We are a loving and strong church family.
Let’s remember to rejoice, pray, and trust God, so we all mature spiritually together. And remember the promise that our God of peace will be with us.