Babies are wonderful, aren’t they? We all love to ooh and aah at a baby. Big smiles and burps and smelly nappies and more giggles and songs. Oh, and then there is the sleepless nights and the puke and…ooh…aren’t babies wonderful! Of course, there is something very special about the bond we have with our parents…we are dependent on them for everything in those first years and then the baby moves on to become more able to provide for itself.
The Apostle Paul, a spiritual father to the church at Corinth is writing to his spiritual children. By his estimations, the time for apron strings has gone….or should be gone. But in spite of the years of investment of teaching and contact that Paul has invested in the church at Corinth, they have a problem. You may remember the Appollo 13 craft and its mission to the moon…they soon discovered that they didn’t have enough fuel to propel them back to earth. Then came the world’s most underestimated announcement: Houston we have a problem. They now had a life or death situation that demanded a great deal of skill maturity and ingenuity on behalf of the crew because there was little that ground control could really do.
Friends, in both our spiritual lives and our life together as the church we have the same problem. One is linked to the other. You see, Paul tells the people that he can’t address them as spiritual but as people who are still thinking, moving and acting in ways that are not becoming of people dependant on the spirit of God. When he writes this letter, they had become encamped. There was a group gathered around Paul’s teaching, a group gathered around Apollos’ teaching and some claiming to be just focused on Jesus and really, a whole mess ensued. They were bickering and complaining and divided….you in your small corner and I in mine. There is also more to following Jesus than a faith which stops at ‘Jesus loves me’. That’s the beginning, but only the launch pad to deeper life in Christ.
What does Paul do? Does he come and pat people on the head and gently encourage them to play nicely with the other children? No, he comes and tells them to grow up…quite literally. He says, “Look, all these divisions of opinion and weird goings on in your fellowship are because you quite simply lack the spiritual depth to deal with these things like people reliant on God. And so you fight, take sides that no-one wants you to take. You’re drinking milk like a baby. If you were maturing in Jesus, these problems wouldn’t be here.”
Later in the rest of 1 Corinthians, Paul continues to deal with these baby issues all the while providing the incentive and the challenge to see to their spiritual lives. In his second letter to them, he writes:
5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 6 And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.
On a very practical level, Paul said there is a sure way to move on in spiritual life in God. Test yourself, see if you are in the faith. In the passage we read, he has already said that the growth that we experience as Christians should be organic…it should be natural if we allow God to develop faith in us. Our challenge is to ask where am I really at? Is my faith firm, secure? Am I growing in faith? Is God more real to me today than he was yesterday? Is the life of Jesus in me vital and alive? …or am I just, as Paul said, a baby out of his depth. Am I just a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal because I have no love? (1 Cor 13).
To paraphrase a 20th century preacher: “The bible says that ‘If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.’ But if love leaks out we shall lose our crown, we shall have a name to live and yet be dead. We may still house the homeless, dole out food to the hungry, punctiliously perform our routine work, but the mighty ministry of the Spirit will no longer be our glory. Our musicians will play meticulously, our choirs will revel in the artistry of song that tickles the ear, but leaves the heart cold and hard. Our ministers will make broad their phylacteries and hob-nob with mayors and councilmen and be greeted in the market-place, but God will not be among us if the love leaks out”
How do we check our love? How do we ask if we are in the faith? The key may just lie in something you might have learned at school. You see, the biologists tell us that there are principles of growth common to all living things. This shouldn’t surprise us, because Paul tells us in this passage that although others may plant and have input into our lives, its God who makes the growth happen.
Meet MRS GREN:
If you remember Biology lessons at school, you may remember MRS GREN: an acronym which has taught us there are seven characteristics that identify all living organisms. Let’s look at each one very briefly and discover spiritual truth about growth. They are on the back of your life at Trinity.
Movement: show you are not dead – Movement is a response to stimuli, we see it in the animal world all the time. If out in the open, an animal will move to safety when a predator is discovered. Animals move when stimulated by an outer (danger) or inner (hunger) force. The Old Testament is full of patriarch, prophets and people on the move. At the Red Sea the people stopped moving. How easy is it to stand still in what we know, regardless of how unfulfilling, than to move into the great unknown. Moses tells them to stand firm while God tells them to move on. God uses many ways to stimulate His people; His Word, His Spirit, persecution.
Respiration: breathing God’s breath – Breathing is not necessarily respiration. The process is dependent upon oxygen being released into the body so it can function properly. The process is natural for most organisms, but not all. Some have bad breathing due to illness, lack of exercise, pollution, a tantrum of holding your breath. God’s breathing releases His power in our lives. Inhale His Spirit and exhale His will.
Sensitivity: the pentagon at work – The body is a unit working together. Sensitivity plays a vital role in our receptiveness to stimuli around us. The church needs people who are sensitive to the pains of others (pastor); sensitive to sight, foresight given by God (prophets); sensitive to the needs and hurts of others in hearing, listening, instructing (teachers); sensitive to speech, sharing the good news (evangelists); sensitive to sniffing out staleness and knowing when to move out into new areas (apostles). We too need to be sensitive to the promptings of the holy spirit.
Growth: the result of a healthy life – Growth is an expression of life; all living things grow. If the church stops growing it will die, the same with a Christian. No growth is a sign of decay and death. The lesson of the semi-circle is to prune branches, to cause more growth. Are there areas in your life that need pruning?
Reproduction: creating the future – This is different from growth in that it is a multiplication of an organism. In our spiritual life God takes our words (the gospel) and fuses them with one who has a heart open to this good news to make a new spirit. Reproduction; one Christian became two. These will gather together in small groupings called a church. Reproduction is a sign of life. Unhealthy specimens generally don’t multiply, it is the healthy ones that carry on the species. In Europe children, teens and young adults no longer attend church because Christians in Europe have forsaken the reproduction of themselves into the next generation. Are you multiplying faith to infect others?
Excretion: a cleansed life – Every heart builds up a collection of junk that needs to be emptied through the process of repentance and discipline. If we don’t, it is the same as a body not ridding itself of waste it has accumulated; it will bring discomfort, disease and eventually death. The toxins are called the root of bitterness, according to the writer of Hebrews. Sometimes the church must expel an unrepentant brother; giving the opportunity to come back into the faith and the fellowship. We must not embrace wickedness but excrete it to remain healthy. For ourselves, we must reduce the toxic sin and pollution from our lives often.
Nutrition: the obedience diet – Living things must take in nutrients or they will die. Jesus is the bread of life, so to live we must dine on His words. Jesus said that His food was to do the will of the Father (John 4).
So, what shall we say? Sure, we can go through those aspects in our own time and ask if we can see these signs of life in our faith in the Lord. I commend that to you. But you know, often God meets us in our simple desire to be more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit can put a hunger and thirst in our hearts to live deep lives in Christ. He will come at our invitation to lead us deeper into Jesus. When we are deeper into Christ, when our faith is mature, clean hands and pure hearts, the grace of God enables us to live lives of love wherever he places us.