Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.

Titus 1:1-3

Paul was very certain about what he was about and why he was doing it. He knew that he was a servant and that he was such a person because God, Himself, had called him out of his former life and had commissioned him to speak forth, to preach, the truth about redemption through Christ, salvation granted by grace alone, and the promise of eternity that was given by God to humanity during the earliest days of creation. This is that good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, that transforms death into life and that brings people into the center of God’s will, which is the outworking of the Lord’s desire to see all of creation returned to relationship with its Creator. Through acceptance of Christ, we, ourselves, become holy and acceptable in God’s presence, and we also are filled with the Spirit of Christ so that we can consider and respond to all aspects of life from God’s righteous and true perspective.

This same certainty is something that any of us that know Christ can obtain and can grow to understand as we travel through life with Him. For the Spirit implores us to seek after the same sort of wisdom and truth that Paul was driven to grasp and to comprehend. We have the additional aid of the full scope of God’s Word to study as we participate with the Spirit in developing into mature followers of Christ. Paul certainly did listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as he continually developed and grew into ever greater maturity as an apostle of Jesus Christ. The man that was prepared and ready to instruct the church in the handling of complex and deeply troubling issues and situations in his later years was a different person than the more impulsive and hard-edged new convert that he had once been. This later Paul was a man that was focused on the long process of building up the church of Jesus Christ so that it could withstand the turmoil, trouble, and challenges that were to come its way over the years ahead.

So, as we operate out of the certainty of the gospel of Christ, yield our hearts and our minds to the counsel and instruction of the Spirit, and diligently seek after the Lord’s will for the ways that we can serve God’s Kingdom, we are living out the pattern that Paul set forth for us for dwelling on earth as a committed follower of Christ in our world. There will always be more for us to know about God’s love, grace, and truth, and we are going to continually be a work in progress when it comes to our responses to serving God’s will with the totality of our lives. With certainty I say that neither I nor you will write additional words of eternal truth such as these that Paul set forth for us to read, ponder, and be instructed by their content. It is with the same certainty that I hold that each of us, in Christ, will be called out of the life that we have lived previously and into service to the Lord in ways that are wonderful, powerful, and valuable in the growth of God’s holy and eternal body, His church.      

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For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Romans 12: 4, 5

There is something strangely wonderful in the wide range of type, form, and personality that is found among people on this earth. We are truly a diverse collection; yet, all of the variability of humanity, according to God’s Word, constitutes something equating to the image of God. None of us are that image in ourselves; so, all of us together take us closer to the full picture. We humans make up many if not most of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that when completed would grant the viewer the full view of the majesty and the glory that is the Lord. Yet, each of us has been established by that same Creator God as a singular example of His handiwork, and we have all been formed in a manner such that we provide this world and especially Christ’s body, the church, with all of the human resource that it needs to fulfill its calling.

To me, this says that the individuality of the people around me is something that I need to consider from the perspective of the gift that God has given to the church. It also means that even the quirkiness and the peculiarity of some individuals is designed by God to have purpose and reason in His well-developed plan for the function of His community of faith. In this divinely inspired economy, each and every person has a purpose to fulfill, everyone has something to contribute to the whole, and all of us when working together constitute something close to a fully fleshed out organism. Thus, we can look at our neighbor and get to know that person well in the simple hope of knowing not only that person but of also knowing God more fully in the process. As we grow closer to those around us in the church, we should also develop a deeper and a fuller comprehension of God’s mission and calling for us and for the body that we participate within.

In Christ, these diverse and often seemingly disparate people who we dwell with and travel through life in close proximity to are, in fact, so closely related to us as to be a part of the same functioning entity, body, as we are ourselves. Just as Christ brings each of us close to God, so too Christ bridges the gulf that the brokenness of this world has carved between people. We need each other in order to live fully within Christ’s will for us and for His church. This is a need that exists at the deepest levels of our souls and in the most basic and fundamental of aspects of our functionality as Christ’s body in this world. As we care about and for each other and also as we open up our own needs to the ministry of others, we are growing in our knowledge and understanding of the way that God loves and cares for all of His creation. When we love each other and receive the love of those same others within the church, we are demonstrating the love that Christ has for everyone on earth to the rest of the world, and this outpouring of love and care is the calling and the function of Christ’s holy church.   

But grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity, Amen.

2 Peter 3: 18

 

We all know that plants and animals grow. They each start out as something that is a young, underdeveloped version of what they will be when full maturity is reached. The process of getting to that fullest expression of the genetic potential that was given to the organism by its Creator is something that we call development, maturation, and growth. We study plants and animals in order to discover and determine how to best care for them, feed them, and what environment suits them best so that the final result will be greater yields, more usable weight at slaughter, or a sort of perfected beauty for our eyes to enjoy. People also grow, and most parents take great and loving care of their children so that they too mature into the best and the fullest expressions of the person that God intends them to be.

 

Although there are many similarities in the growth processes for plants and other animals with those that people undergo, there are also some very important differences. People develop and grow in intellectual, emotional, and spiritual ways that far exceed even the most capable of other animals, and despite the conversations that you may be having with your favorite house plants, this same idea is even more applicable to them. Another interesting aspect of the way that God designed humans is that we never stop growing in the depth of our being until the end of most of our lives. One of the most significant differences between us and plants and the rest of the animals is found in our ability to choose to grow and in our capacity to determine the nature and the quantity of the nutrients that we take in.

 

God provides us with a rich environment in which we can engage with this growth process. He also grants to us the gift of His own presence and the availability of wisdom and understanding that come from the foundation of all that is true and real. In turn, we are invited to come to the Lord’s ongoing banquet of life and to feast on Him so that our minds, hearts, and spirits are being continually nourished by the best of all possible input. When we choose to take in knowledge and understanding of God and of His character and will through regular reading of His Word, discussion of its meaning and His intent, prayerful engagement with all aspects of life, and active involvement in His body, the church, we grow. I know that my life has been littered with missteps and with times of deliberate disobedience; yet, as I travel through these hard roads with Christ, His grace flows over me and my understanding of it and ability to apply it to others does grow so that my knowledge of the wonder, the might, and the righteous glory of God is also developed and expanded within me. I pray that this growth process will never cease until I meet Christ in Heaven.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

James 2: 1

 

We are born showing partiality, and there is much to commend about this fact. Babies are partial to their mothers from the moment of first breath. They rapidly learn to seek out and to favor the people who provide their primary care, too. As we develop we tend to be drawn to certain foods, colors, activities, and interests. These are among the things that define our individuality and that also gather people into groups of like-minded individuals so that various forms of community are formed. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of this. Yet, there is partiality that causes separation and that leads us away from God’s desire for the way that humanity should function.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that God desires for people to live and to function in various forms of in-gathering that we reference as community. Some of these are civil in structure, others are governmental, and some are based in interests or for common good. Yet, the ones that God cares the most about are the ones that are organized around commonality of faith and the beliefs that come out of that faith. It is in this setting that we best learn to function in a manner that begins to imitate the way that God calls upon His people to live. Communities of faith, what we often call the church, are that human expression of Christ that operates within our various cultures. This is the organic place where we learn to grow in our knowledge and our understanding of Christ, and this is a platform from which He can be demonstrated to our world.

 

So, as Jesus was absolutely impartial in His treatment of people, we must also be impartial. This is true for followers of Christ individually, and it is even more so true for His church. Although there exists structures of authority and order within God’s plan and design for our earthly community, even those authority constructs should not establish superiority, power, or dominion over others. Although James spoke specifically about wealth and social status in this letter, the implication of the concept expressed is clearly much broader than that. In our world we can include such things as manner of dress, education, intellectual capacity and even the currently hot topics of sexual orientation and national origin or beliefs within the areas where people who follow Christ cannot discriminate. We must be open to caring about and for all who come our way. We cannot act out of partiality to any greater degree than did Jesus, Himself. God calls upon His church to be a place where love and grace pour out into a world where these are precious commodities that lead straight to the glory of the Lord.

Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Colossians 1: 28

 

Paul makes a very widely inclusive statement here. In the body of Christ there are no greater and lesser people, no more and less worthy, no important and insignificant members. All are in need of both warning and teaching. All of us are also capable and qualified to be the voice of the truths that God has imparted to us. Everyone who is in Christ has His Spirit within, and the Spirit provides wisdom and insight and speaks the eternal truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ to our hearts and minds. All of this has both a goal and a purpose that are integral to God’s plan for the redemption of creation.

 

God works through people as He engages in relationship with us. That is a part of why He has granted to us the gifts of His Word and of the presence of His Spirit. God’s Word informs and instructs, it convicts and it encourages, and it leads us into a deeper relationship with the Lord as He speaks to us through it. The Holy Spirit is at the center of all of God’s revelation and is the agent who works the transformation that comes about as we mature in Christ. In all of this God calls His people into active engagement with our world and with other people in particular. Our faith is to be lived out in public and with real transparency.

 

As Christ leads, so we must follow. This includes being honest and real within our fellowships of believers. We all struggle, and everyone exists in a status that is far short of full maturity in Christ. We each lack wisdom, fail to love well, and falter in our faith and trust. On the other hand, Christ does answer our weakness with His strength, and He often does so through the love, concern, and words of correction and of encouragement that come from others in the body of Christ. Each of us has the privilege and the responsibility of entering into the lives of others for the sake of allowing Christ to grow them up toward maturity. In the process of doing this, the Lord also works within us to grow us toward the same goal.