From where does growth come? It is product of God, the Spirit bearing fruit in our lives (Gal. 5:22). As the branch must be attached to the base and roots in order to bear fruit, we have to be attached to our Lord (John 15:4-5). Without Him, we can do nothing.
Nevertheless, our efforts matter. Paul described the Christians he was growing as “our letter”:
- You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, recognized and read by everyone. It is clear that you are Christ’s letter, produced by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God—not on stone tablets but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. We have this kind of confidence toward God through Christ. ⌊It is⌋ not that we are competent in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our competence is from God. (2 Corinthians 3:2-5)
After declaring them “our letter,” Paul then insisted that they are “Christ’s letter, produced by us” and written by the Spirit. Well which is it? Does growth come from Paul or from the Spirit? Both! But it is the Spirit working through Paul. Paul therefore confessed that he could do nothing on his own:
- But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective. However, I worked more than any of them, yet not I, but God’s grace that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
Paul confessed that even his strenuous efforts were the work of grace. Consequently, he could not take credit even for his labors! Instead, it was a matter of God working in him to produce His fruit (Phil. 2:13).
The Spirit uses certain means, foremost of which is the Word:
- Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for ⌊your⌋ salvation. (1 Peter 2:2; also Rom. 12:1; Acts 20:32; 2 Peter 1:2-3; Psalm 1)
Paul understood that the Word of God was the tool of the Spirit. Therefore, he entrusted the Church to this Word:
- “And now I commit you to God and to the message of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)
But this work of the Spirit does not preclude our obedience, our responsibilities. We must pray (James 4:1-3) and meditate on His Word if we want to receive (Psalm 1). Nevertheless, we thank God for nourishing our heart to accomplish these responsibilities:
- [Jesus] the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, develops with growth from God. (Colossians 2:19)
What are these “ligaments and tendons” through which God grants growth? That’s us – the Body of Christ. In order to maximize growth, we need to be connected. How?
- But speaking the truth [of Scripture] in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
If our muscles are to receive their nutrients, they must be connected to the blood vessels, and the blood vessels to the heart, and the heart to the lungs and stomach. These pull in nutrients from the outside. As the Body does its job, it channels the grace of God (the growth nutrients) to the rest of the Body. Foremost among the nutrients is the “speaking the truth in love.” Why love? If the truth is spoken in the context of love, it is better understood and received. How can we receive the message of truth when we are entrapped by bitterness! However, when we are experiencing the love of the Body, our mouths and ears are open to the next morsel of food.
Why are we not open to the brethren? Why does the food of the Word not find fertile soil among us? Perhaps we are too full.
Imagine being hunted down by ISIS and the only comfort we can find is among our brethren. How different would things be! Thank God for the trials!