As a follower of Jesus, you will never stand still. You either go forward or gradually slip backward. You are either growing or dying. God wants His people to constantly be moving forward and growing. He wants you to become a mature and deep believer. Throughout His Word, God tells us over and over again to push forward in our spiritual growth.
- Hebrews 6:1 says, “Let us go on… and become mature in our understanding” (NLT). You haven’t grown enough yet, keep growing. Keep going. Keep learning. Keep growing.
- Ephesians 1:17, “I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God” (NLT). I need to pray for your growth and you need to pray for mine.
- Ephesians 4:15, “We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (NLT). As I do my part in this church family, I help you grow. As you do your part you help me and others grow.
- Philippians 1:9, “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding” (NLT). God wants you to overflow and to keep on growing.
- 1 Thessalonians 3:12, “And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows” (NLT). God wants you to grow. He wants your love to keep increasing for others.
- 1 Peter 2:2 says, “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation” (NLT). If you want to experience more and more of the salvation God has given you, then you must grow spiritually.
- 1 Timothy 4:15 says, “Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress.16 Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching” (NLT). God wants others to see your spiritual progress and development.
- 1 Timothy 6:11, “Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” (NLT). God wants you to pursue it, chase after it, hunt it down, and overtake it.
What is fascinating to me about spiritual growth and maturity is that one of the major marks of spiritual maturity is thankfulness. That attitude of gratitude is evidence that you are growing spiritually. Take a look at Colossians 2:1,
I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. 2 I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. 3 In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments. 5 For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong. 6 And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. 7 Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (NLT)
From that we see two things: first, we see the need for your spiritual growth and second, we see the nature of your spiritual growth and we will connect this to the attitude of thanksgiving.
The Need for Growth
Why do you need to grow spiritually? Because, Satan is deceptive. He wants to lead you away from God, away from His wisdom, away from His truth, away from His will. He wants to steal, kill, and destroy everything good in your life and everything that has God’s mark on it. He wants to keep you down and feeling defeated.
One of the ways Satan attempts to destroy you is through deception. Paul says in verse 4, “I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments” (NLT). The phrase “well-crafted arguments” comes from the law schools of that time. Satan is a lawyer who lies and knows he lies (John 8:44). The devil will use whatever means possible to convince you that you are no good, God does not like you, there is no hope, you are a complete failure, and that life cannot go on. He will lie to you about you, about God, about God’s Word, about your marriage, about your kids, about your future, about your past, about heaven, about hell and a host of other important things in your life.
These lies that Satan will tell you are “well-crafted arguments.” They sound good. They sound like the truth. They are a little bit of truth and little bit of lies. They make sense. They are easily believable. Once you start believing them you will become ungrateful, unthankful, and cynical. When you start believing the devil’s “well-crafted arguments” you will appreciate less, stop counting your blessing, and begin to see yourself as a victim.
However, God’s plan for you is for you to become this person who is overflowing with thankfulness, who appreciates both the big things and the little things. God wants you to become that person who is thankful for the sun and the rain, the sunrises and the sunsets, the good times and the bad times. God wants you to be thankful in all circumstances. One of your weapons against the devil’s schemes against you is the attitude of gratitude.
But how do you get there? How do you go from being a person who complains, whines, and grips about your spouse, your kids, your health, your job, your church, your finances, or your country to being thankful and grateful? How do you grow to become grateful. This takes us to the nature of your spiritual growth.
The Nature of Growth
To help us understand our spiritual growth and the power of gratitude, Paul used several vivid pictures to illustrate spiritual growth and progress.
The first image is a soldier. In verse 5 Paul says, For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong. The phrase “living as you should” and the word “strong” are military words in the Greek. The original readers would have recognized this immediately.
- The phrase “living as you should” carries the idea of doing something in order or in an orderly manner. It also has the idea of discipline. The idea of “order” describes an army in ranks, with each soldier in his proper place ready for battle. The soldier is where he should be doing what he should be doing. Paul is saying, “I rejoice that your life is in order and you are ready for battle against the enemy. Your mind is in order and disciplined and your emotions are in order to fight the good fight. You are prepared and ready. You are living as you should. The enemy will not take you by surprise.”
- He also says that their “faith in Christ is strong.” The word “strong” refers to being stable or firm. Paul is using a military term that pictures soldiers in battle formation, presenting a solid front to the enemy. You have dug in and planted your feet. As a believer your shield of faith is up and you are ready for whatever the enemy throws at you. Your faith in Christ is strong.
When you recognize you are in a spiritual battle and you are positioning yourself to fight and win you are giving indications that you are making spiritual progress. You are growing.
Not only does Paul use the image of a soldier, but he also uses the picture of a traveler to help us understand spiritual growth. God’s Word says in verse 6, And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. When Paul says “you must continue to follow him” he is using the image of someone traveling by walking. It’s the image of a pilgrim on a journey. What Paul is saying is, you accepted Christ Jesus as Lord by faith, so continue to follow him by faith. You trusted Jesus for salvation, now trust Jesus to guide you, give you insight, wisdom, and discernment as you walk through this life. Follow Him and do life His way. As you walk through life treat your spouse the way He wants you to, love your children the way He wants you to, and bless your enemies the way He wants you to, and manage your life the way He would want you to manage it. Follow Him. Trust Him. Depend on Him. Obey Him as you go through life. Walk in Him. Obey Him. Follow Him.
Another image that Paul uses to help us understand spiritual growth is a tree. Paul says in verse 7, Let your roots grow down into him…. This pictures a tree that is firmly rooted in the ground. This is an agricultural term. As a Christian, you are to be firmly rooted in Jesus. By the way, do you know what causes roots of a tree to grow down deep? A drought. When there is a drought the tree’s roots will go deeper looking for water. The same is true for you. During those seasons of your life where it is tuff and you feel like you are in a personal drought, that’s when your roots have an opportunity to grow down into him. Let the droughts in life drive you to the Lord of life. Deepening roots indicating a growing life.[i]
Another image that Paul uses to help us understand spiritual growth is a building. Paul says in verse 7, and let your lives be built on him. This is an architectural term. It’s in the present tense. It literally means being built up. When you trust Jesus to save you, you are placed on the right foundation. From then on, God begins to work on you and build you up into the man or woman of God He wants you to be.
The idea is a building that is being built on the foundation one block at a time, one room at a time, one floor at a time. God is building you up. To your faith God is adding a block of moral excellence, another block of knowledge, another block of patience, godliness, and concern and compassion for others (2 Peter 1:5-9). He is adding a room of joy and another room of peace and another room of gentleness (Galatians 5). Your life is being built on Jesus.
Another picture that Paul uses to help us understand spiritual growth is a student. Paul says in verse 7, Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught…. That is educational language. You are not born with truth. From the moment you are born the devil uses the world to try to teach you lies about you, others, and God. These lies sound like truth, but they are deceiving. When you place your faith in Christ you grow strong as you learn God’s truth and that truth must be taught to you. This is why it is important to read and study God’s Word on a regular basis and to faithfully attend a church that teaches God’s Word. An indication of spiritual growth is your increase in truth that strengthens your faith in Christ.
Finally, Paul uses one more image to help us understand spiritual growth and that is a river. Paul says in verse 7, and you will overflow with thankfulness. You will abound with gratitude. You will be more and more thankful. What Paul is saying is that one evidence of spiritual growth is thankfulness, gratitude, and appreciation for the people and things God provides in your life.
The image Paul is using is a river that is overflowing. Because of what God is pouring into your life and investing into your life you overflowing with thankfulness. Because of the blessings He has given to you, you are grateful. When you discover how much of a sinner you really are and how gracious God really is, you get thankful. When you realize how rebellious and stubborn toward God you have been, and how merciful He is you are grateful.
As you grow as a believer you begin to overflow with thanksgiving.
- You not only are thankful for the big things in life, but also the little things.
- You begin to thank God for the sunrises and the sunsets.
- You start thanking God for the people who bring you joy and the people who challenge and irritate you. You start overflowing with thanksgiving!
- You learn how to thank God in all circumstances. When you have plenty and when you have very little. When you feel good and when you feel bad. When things are going the way you want and when things seem to be going wrong. You start overflowing with thanksgiving!
- You begin to thank God for what you have rather than complaining about what you don’t have. You may be getting old, but you thank God for all the years He has blessed you with. You may not be able to bless someone with $100, but you are able to bless them with $5 and you thank God for it. You start overflowing with thanksgiving!
- Even when you look at all the hurt and pain that others may have caused in your life; instead of becoming bitter and angry, you thank God for what you learned and are able to pass it on to others who are going through a similar pain. You start overflowing with thanksgiving!
- You find yourself saying things like, “God, I may not have the job I wanted but I have a job that provides and pays the bills. Thank you for it. I may not be able to communicate well like some, but I thank you for the ability to tell others about you. I may not be the prettiest, the strongest, the most popular, or the sharpest tack in the toolbox but I thank you that you have made me and given me a life to live for you.” You start overflowing with thankfulness.
- You find yourself telling people how thankful you are for them. You say things like, “I thank God for you everyday!” or “I am so thankful that God brought you into my life.” You start saying things like, “I have I told how much I appreciate you lately?” You are start overflowing with thanksgiving!
That’s what spiritual growth does. It causes you to be thankful to God and to others. The devil is going to attack you and try to make you be ungrateful, unthankful, and unappreciative of what God has done, is doing, and will do in your life. The devil wants you to be dissatisfied and discontent with every good thing in your life.
- But like a soldier you are going to be ready for that battle.
- Like a traveler who is walking with Jesus you are going to grow and develop and mature in your trust in Him.
- Like a tree your roots will go down deep into Him.
- Like a student you will learn God’s truth, renewing your mind and be able to see things more clearly and accurately from a divine perspective.
- Like a building you will be built up in Jesus able to withstand any winds or storms the devil may try to bring your way.
- As a result of your spiritual growth you will be like a river that overflows with thankfulness.
God is telling you today to be thankful, be grateful, and appreciate what you have. When people come to the banks of your life they should smell, hear, and taste thankfulness overflowing from your life.
[i] When you are deep into Jesus your soul can now have peace in the midst of the storm, can shed light in the middle of darkness, and discover hope when all seems lost. As a tree, there are going to be times in your life that the winds will blow, but because of your deep roots you will stand. There are going to be seasons when your leaves fall and you will look dead but because your roots are deep in Jesus you are more alive that you appear.