What Christian Growth Looks Like

What Christian Growth Looks Like May 18, 2020

What Christian Growth Looks Like

What Christian Growth Looks Like

Philippians 1:9-11

When you look at a person, you can estimate the biological age. A baby crawls and cries dada, mama, gaga, googoo. A child walks and speaks innocently. A teenager has grown in height and with more vocabulary and slang. An adult is fully formed. As an adult age, there are other characteristics that show their age. The hair grows a different color or falls out. Wrinkles and age spots develop. Eyesight diminishes and hearing loss starts to happen. So you can discern the biological age, even though technology has advanced where one can mask the effects of aging for a time.

You can even create an avatar on Facebook. You create the face, the hair, clothes, and anything else you want for other people to notice. Yet, you can’t really see how a person really is.

However, you can’t look at a person and determine their spiritual age. Here, Paul outlines in his prayer the spiritual aging process. It is all defined by Christian love. A Christian grows in the love of Jesus. In other words, a Christian grows in proportion to the growth of their love for Jesus. Paul lists seven markers of effective Christian growth.1


1. Love to grow

And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment,” (Philippians 1:9, CSB)

Christian growth is built upon the foundation of God’s love. This love is the sacrificial love that God showed when He gave His Son. It is the same love Jesus showed when He went to the cross. It is the same love that God tells husbands to use when they give to their wives. Christian love is not a sexual love, it is not emotional love. It is sacrificial and giving love. Christian can only grow by demonstrating love. These marks of maturity are ways that a Christian exhibits the love that God called us to share with others.

This is a prayer for maturity, and Paul begins with love. After all, if our Christian love is what it ought to be, everything else should follow. He prays that they might experience abounding love and discerning love. Christian love is not blind! The heart and mind work together so that we have discerning love and loving discernment. Paul wants his friends to grow in discernment, in being able to “distinguish the things that differ.”

The ability to distinguish is a mark of maturity. When a baby learns to speak, it may call every four-legged animal a “bow-wow.” But then the child discovers that there are cats, white mice, cows, and other four-legged creatures. To a little child, one automobile is just like another, but not to a car-crazy teenager! He can spot the differences between models faster than his parents can even name the cars! One of the sure marks of maturity is discerning love.2

2. Accompanied with full knowledge and moral insight

And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment,” (Philippians 1:9, CSB)

Knowledge is spiritual wisdom found in Scripture. Insight is the application of this spiritual wisdom to practical living. Christian love must be rooted in wisdom from God’s Word if we are to love both God and man in greater ways.3

Every spring, 35 million Americans get hay fever. Springtime allergies occur when the body’s immune system incorrectly identifies pollen as bacteria or viruses and releases antibodies to fight against it. This releases chemicals called histamines, which trigger allergy symptoms like runny noses and itchy eyes.

It isn’t enough to combat irritants; we must have the discernment to recognize what is dangerous and what is harmless.4 5

Discernment is kind of like x-ray vision, to be able to look into situations and to size up people and to know what their real needs are, and how to reach out and love them. It is one thing to have the desire to love another person. It is something else completely to know how to best come alongside of them, and to give that love to them. This word “discernment” means, “powers of mental judgment.” It means, “a practical understanding of people and situations.” And the word “all,” “all discernment,” means all types of situations and all kinds of people. And so, the idea is, in this context, Paul is praying for the Philippians to have spiritual eyes to see with spiritual insight into the lives of people around them regarding how they were to apply God’s love.

Knowledge and discernment must be kept in balance.

Both are equally important. Grow in too much knowledge and a Christian’s love becomes too hard, unteachable, and legalistic. Grow in too much discernment by the Spirit, and a Christian’s love becomes too loose, too easily able to accept the whims of false teaching. Yet, when a Christian learns from both the head and the heart, the Word and the Spirit, then the Christian has balanced growth.

3. Approve the things that matter (Excellence)

so that you may approve the things that are superior…” (Philippians 1:10, CSB)

Excellent” means “to differ.” Believers need the ability to distinguish those things that are truly important so they can establish the right priorities. sincere and blameless.

This excellence is like a balanced meal. When a person eats a balanced meal that contains meat, milk, vegetables, fruit, and grains, the body grows in a healthy way. However, when the meals are unbalanced with too much sugar, or starches, or anything unhealthy, proper growth does not occur. If a person doesn’t eat, then they become anorexic. When a person doesn’t eat properly, they become obese. A balanced diet is key to proper nutrition for the physical body. Proper spiritual nutrition is necessary for the Christian. The Word and the Spirit must be consumed in correct portions and in balance.

4. Be pure and blameless (Integrity)

may be pure and blameless…,” (Philippians 1:10, CSB)

Sincere” means “genuine,” and may have originally meant “tested by sunlight.” In the ancient world, dishonest pottery dealers filled cracks in their inferior products with wax before glazing and painting them, making worthless pots difficult to distinguish from expensive ones. The only way to avoid being defrauded was to hold the pot to the sun, making the wax-filled cracks obvious. Dealers marked their fine pottery that could withstand “sun testing” as sine cera—”without wax.” “Blameless” can be translated “without offense,” referring to relational integrity. 6

5. Do Good Works – “fruit of righteousness

filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ….” (Philippians 1:11, CSB)

We don’t do good works to get God’s approval. We do good works because God has approved us. Good works is the natural outflow of a Christian. This fruit of righteousness is the result of right living. Jesus said it this way:

I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me.” (John 15:5, CSB)

One can picture the essentials to pursue a Christian life like a fruit that grows on the vine. There is the root, then the vine, then the branches and then the fruit. A farmer spends time nourishing the plant so that the fruit will grow. The farmer provides the right environment and the fruit grows naturally.

6. Effected by Jesus

that comes through Jesus Christ….” (Philippians 1:11, CSB)

Jesus is the beginning of my salvation and He the end of my salvation. He brings about my salvation by His work on the cross. Jesus keeps me saved until I am with Him forever in Heaven.

I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, CSB)

7. Brings glory to God – “to the glory of God”

to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:11, CSB)

The difference between spiritual fruit and human “religious activity” is that the fruit brings glory to Jesus Christ. Whenever we do anything in our own strength, we have a tendency to boast about it. True spiritual fruit is so beautiful and wonderful that no man can claim credit for it; the glory must go to God alone.7

And I pray this: that your love…” (Philippians 1:9, CSB)

John MacArthur notes the following about prayer:

There is no truer indicator of a Christian’s level of spiritual maturity than his prayer life. Paul’s prayer life reveals more of his true spirituality than all of his preaching, teaching, and miracles—marvelous and divinely blessed as those were. He was compelled to pray by the continual and powerful working of God’s Spirit in his heart.8

One of the fruits of righteousness is praying for others. Paul shows his maturity by sharing a prayer for his church. He wants them to experience the same wonderful spiritual growth that he himself experienced.

The best way to apply this message to your lives this week by partnering with another believer. The best way to show Christian maturity is to pray for another person. As you pray, pray their love will increase, pray they will receive wisdom, and pray their lives will produce fruit.9

1 Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 96.

2 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 66.

3 Max Anders, Galatians-Colossians, vol. 8, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 208.

5 Jim L. Wilson and Yuet S. Flavia Wong, “Allergies Are a Failure in the Body’s Ability to Discern,” in 300 Illustrations for Preachers, ed. Elliot Ritzema (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).

6 John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Php 1:10.

7 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 66.

8 John F. MacArthur Jr., Philippians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 38.

9 Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook, 2005 Edition. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, n.d.), 129.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Other Posts:

The Right Conditions for Balanced Christian Growth

Growing Closer to God Through the Storms of Life

How to Pray for Someone’s Spiritual Growth



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