Milking Spiritual Authority: II. Growing Outward

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:1–3; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image by Dimitri Wittmann from Pixabay

In Mark 7, we read an episode where the religious leaders challenged Jesus because His disciples did not wash their hands according to rabbinic rules before eating.

“And {Jesus} said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person’” (Mark 7:20–23).

This follows a popular verse. One verse earlier (verse 19), Jesus declared all foods clean. (Yes! You, O child of God, may freely eat BACON!) However, we overlook Jesus’ main point: The evil thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors He listed are the things that really corrupt us, not food. We keep filling our minds and thoughts with garbage, and we spew garbage from our hearts, minds, and mouths through sin. As long as we keep spewing spiritual uncleanness, we cannot think of ourselves as spiritually mature. No bacon double cheeseburger can compensate for that.

Instead of these impurities, our hearts and lives should flow with the true marks of a mature follower of Christ:

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23).

As I shared previously, a maturing faith should have an outward focus. Newborn infants need to be fed. Before long, the parents can place food in front of the baby and let him try to feed himself. Eventually, a school-aged child may go to the kitchen and grab his own food. Teenagers might go to a convenience store and buy their own soda and snacks. Eventually, an adult may have children of his or her own and have to feed them. If an adult still needs to be fed, something is wrong.

As Christians, we follow a similar journey. The newborn believer needs to be taught the basics of the faith. Eventually, a growing Christian will read the Bible during private devotions; we do not stop going to church or Bible study, but we “spiritually feed” ourselves. As we grow in Christ, we should eventually feed others spiritually. This may not necessarily be teaching or preaching, but in some way, we should impart God’s blessings to others. Instead of merely sucking in everything others have, we share the strength and hope God gives us with others.

Let us grow up spiritually. Our faith should mature as we spend time with the Lord. The old inner sinful attitudes should decrease and disappear. The fruit of the Spirit should grow. We should move from selfishness to self-giving.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:11–13).

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Milking Spiritual Maturity: I. All or Nothing

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:1–3; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

What does spiritual maturity look like? This term appears frequently in some corners of the church, and this blog has occasionally addressed it. A search on this site’s homepage currently lists 11 articles, including this, this, and this.

Spiritual maturity can be easily misunderstood. Some think a spiritually mature person attends church often, reads the Bible every day, prays a lot, and listens to Christian music. However, Peter associates maturity—“growing up into salvation”—with a lack of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. It is related with what flows from your heart and mind, radiating the love of God, not religious activity.

Peter told his readers to long for pure spiritual milk. Picture a baby at its mother’s breast. For the first few months of his or her life, a baby will live on nothing but milk, which provided complete nutrition until the baby is old enough to eat and drink more complex things. Eventually, the baby can eat soft foods, then meat, and so on.

Elsewhere in Scripture, we read that the milk is the word of God:

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12–14; emphasis added).

The pure spiritual milk Peter speaks of is the basic principles of the oracles of God, the essentials of salvation. Peter does not trivialize this, and neither should we: He addresses his instruction to all of his readers, drawing no distinction between church leaders and the people who were baptized one week earlier. All of us should drink the pure spiritual milk every now and then.

However, our faith should look different after 10 or 20 years of walking with Christ. As we abide in Christ and His Word, we grow to maturity. After a while, we should look different. We should train our powers of discernment to distinguish good from evil. We should move beyond spiritual milk to spiritual meat, solid food, the word of righteousness.

However, many of us are eager to master the “deeper truths” without first allowing the Word of God to master our hearts. We want to become experts in Bible trivia, biblical studies, and systematic theology without having purified hearts. We think right doctrine or Scripture memorization are the marks of a mature Christian. Yet, as we see above, this is not the case.

Christian maturity is revealed by the nature of Christ in our lives and a thorough renewal of the mind that rejects sins of the heart. Peter tells us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” He says all several times. What part of “all” do we not understand?

Put away all malice. This includes people from the opposing political party, Muslims, illegal immigrants, or homosexuals. We may disagree with them. We may think they are wrong, deceived, or misguided. But we should put away all malice—even against “those people.”

Put away all slander. For some reason, many Christians think God does not see or care about the internet or social media. We see a meme or link to an online article that justifies our opinion and accuses our “enemies” or horrible things, so we share it. We do not check to see if it is true. (I am not endorsing Snopes; most of us do not even do a simple web search to see if the post can be verified by independent, trustworthy, at-least-partially-fair-and-balanced sources.) Many people do not care whether an online post is true or false. If we want it to be true, we share it. We are willing to justify our hatred, malice, gossip, slander, deceit, etc., in the name of a religious, political, or social agenda. In this regard, many Christians are as guilty (or even more so) than non-believers.

Since Scripture says that we should put away “all” such sin, the presence or absence of such sins of the heart and mind are the true indications of our degree of spiritual maturity or immaturity. Sinful attitudes are destructive to our souls.

As long as any sinful attitudes remain, let us continue to seek spiritual growth. Let us not become satisfied with a little sin, a little righteousness, and a little bit of God’s presence in our lives.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Divine Flashlight

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalms 119:105; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

Having grown up just outside New York City, I never realized how little I knew about “darkness” until I was in my mid-20s. Even when I thought it was dark out, there was a source of light close by. I could walk outside almost any time, because even in the middle of the night there was a light source nearby: street lights, light from nearby homes, cars, etc.

I had to move away from New York to learn about darkness. While I was in seminary, and for a few years thereafter, I delivered pizza in Springfield, MO. Unlike New York, though, once you left the Springfield city limits you could find yourself in the middle of nowhere. If you drive a mile or two north of the city onto a farm road and shut off your engine and headlights, you might see nothing. The house you just pulled up in front of would disappear into the darkness. Some of your surroundings might appear as shadows, but you might not know if you are walking towards a person, an animal, or a tree. You might not know whether you are walking down a clear path to the front door, into a ditch, or into the bushes. In some areas, there were no street lights, houses were far apart, and there was limited outdoor activity after dark. Since I have never had the best night vision to begin with, this could be challenging.

Image by KMJ at German Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D

I learned very early that I had to keep a flashlight in my car, especially for these errands. With a flashlight handy, I could shut off my engine, aim a beam of light on the path ahead of me, and quickly and safely find my way to the customer’s door.

As we travel through life, we need light. Jesus tells us that He is the light of the world (John 8:12). His light will guide us. His Word lights our path through life.

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalms 119:11).

When we store up God’s Word in our hearts, we are able to keep it with us. Spiritual darkness will not catch us unawares.

A flashlight helps us see pitfalls and obstacles in our paths so that we can walk safely. God’s Word will show us where temptation lurks. The person who keeps God’s Word secure in his heart recognizes the lies of Satan. He is not easily deceived.

A flashlight shows us the path we should walk on. God’s Word shows us the path to follow if we want to walk with Him. Jesus said He is the light of the world. He also said that He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). If we wish to stay on God’s path, we will walk with Jesus, because He Himself is the path! God’s Word will show us Jesus and guide us to follow Him.

A flashlight can help us see the destination we want to reach. God’s Word shows us the destination we are seeking. It tells us the destiny of believers. It shows us how to get there. It gives us a glimpse of heaven.

God’s Word is a lamp for your feet and a light for your path. Keep it with you. Keep it in you. Its light will defeat the thickest darkness.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Hungering and Thirsting for Righteousness

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Photo by Len Rizzi, National Cancer Institute, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Why do I still struggle with this sin?” “Maybe you are not hungry enough to be set free.”

“Why can’t I find time to read the Bible and pray?” “Maybe you are not hungry enough to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.’”

“Why do I always find time for TV or the internet or music, but never find time to worship God?” “Perhaps those are the things you really crave.”

One factor which will determine how you grow in your relationship with God is your desire. Are you hungry for God? Do you want to know Him better and live in such a way that you bring glory to Him? Perhaps many of us live defeated lives because we are not hungry enough to serve Him. God desires it: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). God wants you to have a close relationship with Him. Do you want it?

Hunger and thirst are two very strong natural desires, which explains why Jesus used these words to describe a believer’s spiritual desire for righteousness. They are necessary for survival. As I am writing this article, the temperature outside is over 90 degrees. The “real-feel” temperature was over 100 degrees most of the day. I have spent most of the day with water or Pepsi close by. My body keeps telling me, “We need more water!”

I do not eat only because I like food (although taste all too frequently affects my dietary decisions). I eat because, without proper nutrition, I will die. The human body can survive only a few weeks without food. It survives only about three days without water. Under normal circumstances, your body will keep sending you signals if it does not receive the nutrients it needed.

Likewise, Christians should expect the Holy Spirit to produce a craving for the things of God in our lives. He draws us. He produces a desire within us, and then He equips us to seek satisfaction. Without filling that craving for God’s presence in our lives, we will starve spiritually.

While we may hunger and thirst for righteousness, we may not be filled immediately. As with many things in life, satisfaction often takes time. A few years ago, my pastor laid out the following four steps on a men’s retreat:

  1. Desire—We recognize a goal that we want to achieve.
  2. Decision—Some people never get beyond the desire stage. They may say, “I should pray more,” but it does not happen. We must make a decision that we will do what we need to do to achieve that goal. This usually includes figuring out a plan for pursuing that goal.
  3. Discipline—This is the hard part. After making a decision and forging a plan, we have to take the time and make the effort to pursue that goal. It might take years of doing your part. This is where most people fail in anything they try to achieve.
  4. Delight—If you are faithful in your discipline, you get to delight in achieving your goals.
Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

Here is a natural example. You go to the doctor for an annual checkup. He tells you, “You are 40 pounds overweight. You have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. You are at high risk for a heart attack.” You desire to be healthy. Some people stop there. “I want to be healthy, but I do not want to exercise and Big Macs are delicious.” Perhaps your desire leads you to make a decision to make a few lifestyle changes; you will cut a few unhealthy foods from your diet, replace most junk food with raw vegetables and fruit, and work out at a gym three times per week. This will require discipline; it will only work if you stick with it. Most people fall back into old habits within a few weeks of the decision, because they lack the discipline necessary to achieve their goals; perhaps the desire was not strong enough. However, if you stick with your lifestyle changes for one year, you will most likely enjoy the delight: At your next physical, the doctor reports that you lost 25 pounds, you cholesterol levels are going down, and your blood pressure is normal. The desire alone did not do the trick. Making a decision and remaining disciplined brought the delight.

Now, let’s apply this to the growing Christian. Maybe you say, “I desire to know the Bible better.” That is a great first step. Is it a real hunger, though? If it is a hunger, make a decision to read and study it. Find a good Bible-reading plan and stick with it. Join a Bible study group. You will not turn into a Bible scholar overnight. In fact, you may find some discouragement early on as you come across passages that make no sense to you. Do not lose hope; keep going; remain disciplined. After a few months, you will begin to notice that Scripture verses pop into your mind when you face a certain problem, or you might start noticing how the passage you read today reminds you of something you read a few months ago. Delight will come.

So, if you are not growing spiritually, what do you really desire? What are you willing to discipline yourself to do? Does your desire to know Jesus better exceed your desire to play video games, surf the internet, or watch television? Are you really hungry and thirsty for the things of God, or would you rather munch on some emotional junk food?

The choice is yours. God is hungry and thirsty to draw close to you. Do you hunger and thirst for Him and His righteousness?

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Rooting Out Pride and Cultivating Humility

To follow up on my recent post about pride and humility, I would like to offer a few biblical suggestions for rooting out pride and cultivating humility. This is not an exhaustive list. The Bible has a lot to say about pride: the word appears about 50 times, depending on which version you are reading. This does not count synonyms (“haughtiness,” “arrogance”) or related vices like self-righteousness or hypocrisy. I guess I should study all of those verses; I had to look up how many times the word appears, so I have a lot to learn!

Prayer: James writes, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2-3; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated). Prayer prevents pride in two ways. First, it forces us to acknowledge that we need God’s help. Many of my prayers involve situations that are completely out of my control. I cannot control other people’s actions; sometimes I can barely control my own! When I pray for a situation that is beyond my control and the situation turns out okay, I am reminded that Someone greater than me is in control.

Second, when done properly, prayer forces us to face our motives. The Book of Common Prayer contains four daily sessions of prayer known as the “Daily Office.” Three of those include confession of sin near the beginning. Whether you follow a structured form of prayer like the Daily Office or a more freestyle approach, make certain to set aside time at the very beginning for confession of your sins.

Confession sets the tone for our prayers. As we pray, we have to look at ourselves honestly. Where have I fallen short? Where do I continue to fall short? What are the odds that I am going to give in to my weaknesses before I get to the Old Testament reading for this evening? That can set the tone for a related spiritual discipline.

Scripture reading: If I have been forced to focus on my motives during prayer, I am ready to ask myself the hard questions while reading the Bible. What can I learn from this? What is this saying to me? How am I like the person who sinned in this passage? How am I not like Jesus? How am I failing to live by what He said? How can I be more like Jesus, or at least a little bit more like some of the other heroes of the Bible?

If you read a particular passage of Scripture and cannot find a way that you are falling short, thank God for His grace. He is working on you. If you read a passage and can find excuses why you do not have to follow it, admit it for what it is: pride.

Fellowship: Few things will tear down our pride like other people. Fellowship with other believers is a key part of overcoming pride. Other people will annoy you. They will reveal where you lack patience. They will expose your weak spots. Sometimes, this is unintentional; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and they will grind your gears in the process. Sometimes, it is intentional and mean-spirited. Jesus calls us to forgive. This will take humility. Sometimes, it is intentional, but with the best of intentions. When somebody lovingly points out your shortcomings or misguided motives, it is an opportunity to learn, repent, and grow.

Over the years, I have known numerous church-hoppers. They do not remain members of a particular church for a long time, but will move on to a new congregation when they feel like “I am not being fed here anymore.” I have also known several people who stopped going to church, even though they say they are still disciples of Jesus. In both cases, they usually leave when a person or teaching attacks their pride. Rather than learn humility, they run. Don’t run; God is working on you. He is just using people to do it.

Shut up and listen: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). You can always learn something. Do not try to show off that you are your Bible study group’s resident theologian or should be the next pastor. Take some time to listen. Understand why people believe what they believe. See if they have some insight that you need. You will probably learn something and grow closer to the Lord as a result.

Finally, measure yourself against God’s standard: Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” God, who has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ, is our standard. I have sinned because I have not lived up to God’s standard. Whether I am better or worse than another person is not the issue. Even though I have not killed as many people as Hitler did, I still need God’s forgiveness. “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12). You still have room to grow, and that is okay. It is part of being human. God becomes our standard, so we have eternity to learn and grow.

Somebody has said that humility is an elusive quality: As soon as you think you have it, you lose it. However, rooting out pride and cultivating humility is not a one-time event. You cannot schedule it on Google Calendar and seriously hope to complete the task by January 1. It is a crucial part of our lifetime journey of walking with Jesus and growing in grace.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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