Monday, December 28, 2015

WHAT IS THE SIZE OF YOUR ROBE?

A NEW ROBE FOR A NEW YEAR

The story of Hannah is found in the Old Testament of the Bible. I will not repeat the entire story here (the account can be read in the first two chapters of 1 Samuel), but I would like to use an element of the story to speak of something that is often missing in the lives of Christians.

Hannah had dedicated her son Samuel to serve in the temple since the time when he was a small boy. During all of those years, Hannah seemingly saw her son only one time per year, that at the time of the yearly sacrifice. Every year, when Hannah went up to the temple, she made a robe for her son.

It is the making of that annual robe that I would like to use as an illustration to speak of something that is very often missing in the lives of Christians today.

ANTICIPATING GROWTH

When Hannah made the new robe for Samuel every year, she tried to anticipate how he would grow during that year. Perhaps some years, the child did not grow as much as she thought that he might and she made the robe too large for him. However, in other years she may have made it too small. Samuel had grown more rapidly than she had expected.

But presumably, every year Samuel grew. Imagine how disappointed – no, how worried Hanna would have been if she returned at the end of one of the years and saw that Samuel had not grown at all during that year. This would have been extremely upsetting to her.

We expect children to grow. That is what they do. If they do not grow, then we know that something is wrong.

THE SAME ROBE, YEAR AFTER YEAR

Why is it then, that so many Christians do not grow in their spiritual lives? And possibly even more disconcerting, why is it that we do not even think that this is unusual? I do not have any statistics to back up my impressions, but it seems to me that the great majority of Christians in the United States, as well as in other countries where I have lived, never do grow very much in their spiritual lives.

If they are truly Christians, they have learned what it means to believe in the work of Jesus on our behalf for the forgiveness of sins. A new birth has begun.

But then they stop. They do not grow. Their understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ never increases; it never develops, and never matures. It stays in an infant stage.
 
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For far too many Christians, their faith means that they go to church a few times in the year, and…well, that is about it. They never study the primary text of the Christian faith, and they never put themselves under the teaching of greater understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

They remain infants. They wear the same robe year after year because they do not grow. Then, because they wear the same old robe, they complain that it is beginning to smell stale. They complain that the Christian life is musty and archaic. For excitement in their lives, they instead look to the world. They are not growing in their Christian lives, so they become more interested in growing in the ways of the world.

INNOCENCE IN THE WAYS OF THE WORLD

This was not the Apostle Paul’s advice. He said that we are rather to be blameless and innocent in the ways of the world, and that we be above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. We are to be as lights to a world that needs spiritual guidance (Philippians 3:15).

Being innocent in the ways of the world does not mean that we remain unaware and naïve in this life, but rather innocent in the sense that we remain blameless despite what the present culture of the world is. This type of innocence does not happen by remaining spiritual infants, but can only come about by growth in our understanding.

Paul said, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

That is also what Jesus meant when he told his disciples that when they minister in the world, they would be as sheep in the midst of wolves. “Therefore be shrewd as serpents, but as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). He did not mean that we should be innocent in the sense of being naïve or gullible, only that we should remain blameless.

ARE YOU WAITING FOR COMMUNICABLE VIRTUE?

This maturity comes from effort and from study. It can only come in that way. We cannot catch it from another person as if it were a cold or the flu. Have you ever noticed that it is only the bad things in life that we catch from other people – never the good things? There are communicable diseases, but not communicable virtues. The positive things in life can only be attained by work and dedication.

We have to work to grow in spiritual understanding. If we do not apply ourselves to growth, we find that we are wearing the same old robe, year after year. We never allow ourselves to grow, and then we complain that our relationship with God has become stale, like an old smelly garment.

In the Christmas season, we usually think of Jesus as an infant. As a newborn, Jesus was totally dependent upon his mother for all of his needs. In his humanity, Jesus was not unlike any other baby in the sense of being dependent, even though he was also God incarnate. But of course, Jesus did not stay and infant.

In the gospel of Luke, we read about the time when Jesus was twelve years of age. The family had been in Jerusalem, and when they were on their way home to their own village of Nazareth, Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus had gone missing. They returned to Jerusalem to look for him, and after frantically searching for him, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers. He had been there the entire time, “both listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).

Jesus did not stay an infant, but as we read, “The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40 NAS).

A LIFE THAT GROWS

All life stagnates if it is not nourished. If we learn anything about our natural environment, it must be this. It is for this reason we give food to our animals and nutrients to our gardens. It is for this reason we ourselves eat. If we did not, we would languish and die.

Yet somehow, despite all of the obvious examples around us, we expect our spiritual lives to thrive, even though we do nothing to nourish it. Our lives will never grow in this way; they will never mature. We will remain spiritual infants, having never grown in our understanding, and never increasing in wisdom.

Paul once complained to some of the people to whom he was writing, “Brothers, I could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it” (1 Corinthians 3:2).

This is not how the Christian life is to be lived. It is not how your life is to be lived. A life like that becomes stale and languishes. Rather than that, “We are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15)
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“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18)

 

 

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