Growth by Proxy?!

By Johnny O. Trail — Spiritual growth has always been a problem in the Lord’s church. The New Testament has several passages where the inspired writer addresses that very issue. Sadly, immaturity still plagues the church today. Immaturity can rear its head in varied ways but generally stems from ignorance of God’s word.

Some immature brethren would have others to believe growth is obtained when they are “spoon fed” from God’s word. The simple fact of the matter is one cannot be forced to grow by proxy. If a fully grown person is being fed by another individual, we naturally assume that there is a developmental problem. Typically, a person reaches a developmental point where they are able to feed themselves. We should arrive at this juncture in regards to spiritual matters as well. That is, we must assume responsibility for our own growth.

Along these lines, J.W. Shepherd has something interesting to say about the growth and spread of New Testament Christianity. He avers,

One could no more worship and do the work in the church by proxy and grow spiritually thereby than he could eat and take exercise by proxy and his body grows thereby. The well-being of every member demanded that he should take active part in worship, the well-being of the church demanded the help of every member that it “may grow up in all things unto him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, making the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4.15-16). The point emphasized here is that every member had his work to do, his office to fill, and by this harmonious working of all the parts the body grew into the well-proportioned body of Christ—the church. The welfare and development of the whole was dependent upon the proper workings of each and every member.[1]

Members of the body of Christ should be growing so as to strengthen the church. Given the aforementioned comments, some interesting truths might be discussed.

When one is not growing spiritually, it is not necessarily someone else’s problem. In times past, the preacher has been accused of not offering messages that stimulate growth. A steady message of “fluff” from the pulpit results in spiritual truth decay. To avoid this problem, preachers and Bible class teachers should strive to present solid, bible based messages to their audiences. Sadly, some have mistaken sermons devoid of scripture and filled with entertaining vignettes as material suitable for spiritual growth. Our messages should point people to Christ and encourage them to conform to His image. This cannot be done without the Word.

If Bible studies and sermons are lacking in scriptural content, the ones who are complaining might have a point. If the messages are filled with sound doctrine, then the complaints reflect one who remains an immature babe in Christ. This is understandable for one who is newly converted but for a person who has “been a member” for many years this sort of response raises concerns.

A new babe in Christ needs to have milk before they are weaned to meat. 1 Peter 2:2 says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby.” Even milk is important for the development process. Nonetheless, growth requires one to eat solid food at some point in the maturation progression. Sadly, there are people who have been in the church for many years who are still “babes” in Christ when they should be spiritually mature.

Picture this for a moment. A forty-year-old man comes into his home to eat lunch. He is perfectly normal physically and mentally speaking. He sits at the table and his wife proceeds to place a bib around his neck, cut up his food, and spoon feed it to him. This is a ridiculous scene to picture, but many Christians who should be mature enough to consume solid meat expect to be fed and grown by proxy. That is, with others doing the study and application of God’s word for them! The Hebrew writer expresses thoughts that are similar to these. Hebrews 5:12-14 says, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

In true form of one not spiritually mature, it is very easy to blame others for shortcomings rather than engaging in an honest self-examination to see if our behavior meshes with true Christianity. People blame leaders first. The elders are to blame, or the preacher is to blame, or the deacons are to blame. Be sure that no person is perfect, but the first place to determine where problems might begin is in the mirror. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”

So many works in the church are hindered by immature people. One hallmark of immaturity expresses itself through an unwillingness to be engaged in the work of the church. Programs of work, benevolence, and evangelism languish, because congregations struggle to find people willing to serve the Lord and thereby their fellow man. Mature people step up and take responsibility in an effort to serve Christ.

Consequently, spiritually immature people present struggles for those attempting to lead the church. Moses continually contended with murmuring and complaining. Exodus 16:2 says And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (cf. Exodus 15.24;17.3; Numbers 14.2; 16.41). In essence, their murmuring was against God who was the true leader and king of the people. For their murmuring, the vast majority of them perished in the wilderness wanderings (cf. Numbers 14.29; I Corinthians 10.10). It is impossible to be a leader when people are unwilling to follow. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

To thwart spiritual immaturity, we must have a steady diet of consuming God’s word. This can be done in the assembly of the church or in private Bible studies. After this, our words must be coupled with action. James 1:22 tells us, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” As Christians, we must strive for greater maturity in Christ.

[1] Shepherd, J.W. (1929). The Church, the Falling Away, and the Restoration. Gospel Advocate Company, Nashville.

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