Advancing In The Head
God’s glorious plan for each individual Christian is to grow up in conformity to the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-29). He works by the power of His Spirit to advance us in the faith pushing us forward to live more faithfully as we cast aside sin while learning to be obedient to His commandments. Corporately, the local church is the place where believers come together to encourage one another as they worship Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25). The goal of the church is not merely to coast along comfortably in this world, it is to strive after Christ together as they reach the lost with the Gospel and disciple one another. This growth mindset is anchored in the entire New Testament doctrine of the church. Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit says:
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” -Ephesians 4:15-16
The growth of the church in Christ is intimately tied to the bond of truth and love. Christ grows His people in the unstained truth of His Holy Word and they demonstrate love toward Him by obeying His commandments (John 14:15). Our Lord calls on us to love one another:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” -John 13:34-35
As we grow in the knowledge of the Lord we see the complete love we are called to show toward not only Him but also others. We are to love our neighbors and we are to love our brethren in the Lord. Yet, the book of Ephesians shows us that we are seeking “to grow up in every way into Him who is the head” referencing Christ Himself. Therefore, the benchmark for our love, our understanding of the truth, and our declaration of that truth is the Lord Jesus who is the very head of the church He purchased by His blood.
Always Advancing Together
Because Christ is the goal of our growth we will always be increasing as believers. That claim is not only true individually, it is true of the church united together and the local church specifically in the context of this post. No matter how much we advance in our faith and mature as the church, we can always love more for Christ’s love is perfect and ours is not. His knowledge is infinite and ours is very limited which means we shall always be pressing onward. Comprehending this reality matters because it keeps the church focused on growth instead of complacency. A congregation focused on simple numerical growth will likely become lackadaisical once reaching a certain benchmark in attendance. However, a church focused on spiritual maturity relative to one another could likewise become lazy resting only in their comfortable status of growth. Once we as the church begin to see that our benchmark for growth is the Lord Himself, then we will always be pursuing more maturity because we will always have further still to go.
This mindset promotes several concrete realities in the life of a congregation. If we are focused on pushing one another forward in Christ for His glory as the ultimate priority, then we will be much more active in spiritual conversations. For example, if someone new joins the congregation the church will not see the date of their uniting with the church as the end investment in that soul. Rather, they will see it as the marker of a blessed day where the journey deepens. It is easy for a church to sit back and relax once a new member has joined, but a congregation focused on constantly growing in one another will take steps to intentionally invest in that soul striving to mature both themselves and that new member in Christ. Phone calls to check in, seeking after prayer requests, opening up deeper spiritual conversations, and doing life together to the glory of God will be commonplace amongst such a group. All of this is because of what Ephesians 4:16 states:
“from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” -Ephesians 4:16
The body is called to work together with each joint, each member working as it is called so that it continues to build itself up. Consequently, when a new member joins that is a “joint” of the body which needs to be built up even as they seek to build the rest of the congregation more in Christ.
Applying This Congregational Mindset
How can local churches begin to instill the faithful call we see in Ephesians to continued growth in their service to Christ? It must start with the commitment of the pastor(s) and teachers of the church to pursue the Lord. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, this must be both taught and modeled. Pastors must constantly be pushing forward in their own walk with the Lord, seeking to learn from other faithful believers, while possessing the humility to realize their own need for Christ’s work. Furthermore, they must declare the truth of always striving further still in their sermons and Bible studies. Points like how to read the Bible, how to pray, and how to grow in sanctification must be unpacked robustly. A church leader will never reach a point of “arrival” where they must stop growing, instead, they will always be needing to grow because they have not yet reached glory!
Practically, as pastors are implementing these points, they should consider tangible ways to propel individuals forward. Encourage the saints to read the Scripture in their personal lives and together as families to mature one another. Ask the believers during prayer time to list not only requests but also how God has blessed them that week in order to help them awaken to seeing the providential hand of God in their life. Push an atmosphere where people openly check on one another and ask how they can be praying for one another throughout life. Perhaps you stop to let the congregation ask questions during Bible study, or maybe ask questions of them. The point is to begin to progressively learn to push one another in Christ on a regular basis as you pray for one another, disciple one another, and ultimately apply the entire Word of God to all of life together. As a local church applies this biblical principle of growth, they will mature in the Lord as He binds their hearts to Him and one another in deeper love while the body strengthens!