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Growing Down to Grow Up (Updated)
It was a real pleasure to host this year’s women’s retreat with Living Grace. It was entitled, “Rightly Rooted.” And when I heard this title, I remember years ago when pastoring Living Grace, which at that time was called, “Hallelujah Christian Fellowship,” as pastors we went and spent a day up in Mount Charleston to seek the Lord as to some things He wanted us to move into.
It was at this time that one of our pastors, “Lynnie Clark,” was given a Scripture verse that started a discipleship emphasis at the church. It was from the Isaiah 37:31. And we’ll look at it in just a moment.
As I thought about this, I remember how as parents we would have a paper ruler hung next to our children’s bedroom door, or we would mark on the wall our children’s height every year and at different stages of their life.
Unfortunately, this is how most of us judge a person’s maturity and age, and that is what can be physically seen and marked.
But when it comes to our spiritual development, it really isn’t that easy. First, our spiritual growth doesn’t begin when the other growth factors begin. You see, we begin our physical, mental, emotional, and social growth at the time of conception. But our spiritual growth begins not at conception, but at conversion. That is, at that point that we turn to Jesus Christ, making Him both our Savior and Lord.
And what I have found is just because someone has been a Christian for many years, doesn’t make them mature. In many ways they are still a child, although their age and church attendance should indicate otherwise.
We see the writer of Hebrews addressing this same issue when He says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (Hebrews 5:12 NKJV)
You see, they should be grown up in the Lord, but instead they haven’t grown a bit. And that’s the point I see the Bible making about spiritual maturity, and that is growth isn’t measured in upward movement; rather it is measured downward.
Now, this may sound a little odd, especially in our culture where we encourage people to grow up. We tell our children how much they’ve grown saying, “Look how big your getting,” or “Your getting to be such a big boy or girl.” And once a person is grown up and acting like a child, we tell them to grow up.
And this is how we speak about our spiritual lives. We talk about growing up spiritually. But the reality is that our spirituality has nothing to do with our growing up, rather it has everything to do with our growing down.
Let me now share with you the verse that the Lord shared with us about discipleship and spiritual maturity.
“And the remnant who have escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward.” (Isaiah 37:31 NKJV)
To understand what the prophet is saying let’s take a look at what was going on at the time. It was during the reign of King Hezekiah, around 700 B.C., when the Assyrian army had invaded Judah and had conquered almost all their fortified cities.
Sennacherib was the Assyrian king, and he sent his field commander to encourage Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to surrender. And so, in the hearing of everyone in Jerusalem, the commander presented some pretty compelling arguments.
First, he said that Egypt, whom Jerusalem was hoping to come to their aide, was in no position to help them.
Second, he said that thinking the Lord would deliver them would be no good because Hezekiah had destroyed most of the high places where they considered God was to be worshipped, but further, since none of the other gods of the other nations were able to deliver them, why did the Jews think that the Lord God would save them.
Hearing these words and reading the demands presented, Hezekiah humbled himself, and went into the temple to pray and seek God’s answer. He also sent for the prophet Isaiah. Now, in response to his prayer, God answered and revealed the outcome. And then to assure Hezekiah of its accuracy, He gave Hezekiah a sign.
First, that for the next two years God would provide for all their needs, and that there would be enough food. And second, God promised that the remnant that escaped would come back and take root downward and bear fruit upward, that is, they will again be established in the land and the land would be fruitful.
And so, the progression we see is first downward and then upward . This is the same progression seen in what Paul wrote to the Colossian church.
“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7 NKJV)
In the desert we’re used to tumbleweeds. It’s interesting to see how fast they grow. But, when they get big and the heat of the summer comes, they die. And when the first big windstorm comes, they are easily uprooted, rolling across roads, and all over town.
But how do they grow so big, and why do they die so quickly and get uprooted. The answer is that they only have one large thick root that supplies the nutrient the plant needs. And in the beginning, it grows really fast, but then it grows bigger than what the root can support, and as a result it dies.
To the Colossians, Paul tells them they needed to be rooted and built up in Christ Jesus. When writing this Paul may have remembered the imagery found in Psalm 1, where the psalmist likens a righteous man to that of a tree planted by rivers of waters.
“He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:3 NKJV)
A tree needs to have it’s roots go deep and wide in order to tap into the resources it needed to grow and remain vibrant and fruitful. With trees the general rule is that its visible height and the spread of its branches is roughly equal to its invisible depth and spread of its roots. The deeper and more spread out the roots are, the greater shade, fruit, and beauty the tree will provide.
The same then goes for Christians. We need to be rooted deep and wide into the soil of Jesus Christ and God’s word. We need to spread wide our roots to tap into the Holy Spirit which the Bible describes as that river of living water. It is here that the resources from God are available to keep us vibrant and fruitful. And the deeper we go, and the wider we spread ourselves in God and His word, then the greater comfort, help, and mercy we will provide and extend to others.
So, being properly rooted in Christ is important. And to be rooted we need to dig deep and grow downward into God’s word. Now, the Bible, I believe, shows us several areas where we need to grow deeper as Christians.
In our Knowledge of God
Jesus taught many biblical truths through the parables. One of the most recognizable parables is known as the Parable of the Soils. In this parable Jesus describes a farmer who goes out to plant seed for the upcoming season. However, in the process, seed lands on four different types of soil.
Jesus in explaining this parable says that the soil represents the heart of man, and the seed is God’s word. But what I’d like us to pay attention to is the second and fourth type of soil.
Concerning the seed that falls on the stony ground Jesus said, “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” (Matthew 13:20-21 NKJV)
This is the fate of every Christian who doesn’t continue to grow deeper in their knowledge of God. And the unfortunate truth is that this is where most Christians are today. They are what some describe as a mile wide but only and inch deep. They grow quickly in the beginning due to the newness and freshness of their decision, but because there is no depth, they are just as quickly blown away. That is, here today and gone tomorrow.
But then of the seed that falls on the ground that is fertile, Jesus says, “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit.” (Matthew 13:23a NKJV)
And this is what the writer of Hebrews was trying to get across that we looked at a moment ago.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12 NKJV)
The writer of Hebrews is showing how Jesus is a better High Priest than Aaron and his descendants. For Jesus was a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. But the writer knows that this analogy and truth will not be understood due to their loss of appetite for the word of God.
“Of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14 NKJV)
Notice he says that they had become dull of hearing. This word means that they’ve become sluggish. In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), this word means slothful. It describes then a Christian with a “I couldn’t care less” attitude when it comes to the study of God’s word. They mistakenly thought that maybe that could get God’s word through some type of osmosis, but not through the diligent study of the word.
Thus, they became ineffective as Christians. What the writer of Hebrews said is that they remained babies when they ought to have become adults. They still had not mastered the ABCs of the faith. They forgot that to grow upthey first had to grow down.
What happens in the end is that they start to drift into a lower standard of Christianity because they simply feel that instruction and the discipline of God’s word is unnecessary.
The second area where we as Christians need to grow downward is in our relationship with others.
In our Relationship With Others
In speaking of His creation of humanity, the Lord said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Genesis 2:18 NKJV)
When God saw Adam alone, He realized that it was not a good thing, and so He made Eve. You see, the truth is that we need relationships with others to be fully what God has called for us to be. The writer of Hebrews again expands on this theme in our need to come together in what is known as church.
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NKJV)
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination, said, “The Bible knows nothing of a solitary religion.”
Also notice the writer of Hebrews says, “As is the manner of some.” You see, even back then distractions were present keeping believers away from gathering. And what the writer is bringing out is that gathering as a community of believers is an important aspect of the Christian life, one that shouldn’t be ignored or overlooked.
So, instead of being absent from fellowship, we need to come together and encourage one another and build each other up in the Lord, especially seeing that the Day of the Lord isn’t far away.
The third area that we need it grow deeper in is in Humility.
In our Humility Before God
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10 NKJV)
There is another spiritual law at work here in our passage that James brings out, that the unbowed soul receives no benefits from God’s grace while those who humble themselves before God is immersed in God’s grace.
In fact, the entire passage from verse 8 through 10 has a lot to say, I’d like to pay attention to what is says in verse 9.
“Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (James 4:9 NKJV)
James is bringing a scathing rebuke upon the church, because it seems they were really insensitive and superficial and were actually laughing and mocking their sinful condition. They were double minded, where one part of their minds was on the heavenly things, while the other side was on the things of this world.
So, what James tells them is to stop laughing about it, instead they should be lamenting their sinful condition.
Today we see this as people literally laugh off their sins saying, “Oh, its no big deal,” or “Opps, I got caught.” And in the end, they all say the same thing, “Yeah I know what I am doing is wrong, but God will forgive me anyway.”
Here’s the question, “Have any of us wept over our sins lately?” Have we as a church wept over the sinful condition that the church as fallen into.
And so, James tells us of our need to humble ourselves before God so that the Lord can lift us up. In other words, we need to grow deeper in our humility before God. How does this look?
It begins with the mindset of John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NKJV)
To grow up we must first grow down. In the Latin, the word, “humility,” means “low.” So, to grow greater, we must get smaller in our own eyes and let God be magnified. But humility isn’t about groveling as it is about facing our frailties, failures, and sins, and acknowledging our complete dependence on God. That is true humility.
I believe Jesus brings this out best in the His first beatitude.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NKJV)
What does it mean to be “poor in spirit?” Basically, it is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty and that we are spiritually bankrupt before God. It is to understand that we are sinners saved by grace, and who deserve God’s wrath instead of God’s grace.
A prime example of those who ignored this beatitude was the Laodicean church. They said to God, “I’m rich and have become wealthy, and we have need of nothing.” To which Jesus replied, “Yeah, but what you don’t know is that in truth you are miserable, wretched, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3: 17 paraphrased)
This is the tragedy of the church today. It doesn’t admit its spiritual poverty. This idea is then taken up in the next beatitude where Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4 NKJV)
This word “mourn,” in the Greek, means a continual state of mourning. And in context with the preceding beatitude, what it is saying is that we should be in a continual state of mourning over our spiritual poverty. It is only then that we will be comforted.
In our spiritual life we need to constantly be growing downward into humility, if not, then we will be like the Laodiceans, swelling up in our own self-righteousness, which God will in the end spit us out.
Dr. Donald Barnhouse, a great Bible commentator, said, “Up is down, and down is up.” What he was communicating what we have been saying, and that is God exalts the humble and debases the proud.
Jesus said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14 NKJV)
And so, if we want to grow up and be strong in the Lord, then the first thing we need to do is start growing down. If we desire to grow spiritually, then we need to start growing our roots down into Jesus Christ and into His word. Then we’ll see the growth we desire, and the Lord will see the fruitfulness that He desires.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study