TEXT: 1 Peter 2:1-3; Hebrews 5:11-14; Psalm 1:1-3
Today we are beginning a fall series organized around the church’s vision priorities of GROW, SERVE, CARE, and STEWARD. These priorities were the basis of reorganizing our session and ministry teams two years ago and help us focus all we do on these core areas of faith and ministry. I want to root this vision in scripture, so am going to preach on each of the themes several times over the next 12 weeks or so.
Just so you can see it in one place, here are the four vision priorities and the way our elders, deacons, and ministries are organized around them. So the STEWARD Team’s big event for the year is the upcoming yard sale. As Mark will tell you, the vision areas are inter-related. He realized last time around that the Yard Sale wasn’t just a fund-raising “steward” opportunity, but also an outreach and connectional GROW event that raises money in SERVICE for our Christmas Shoppe. We don’t want to do things for the sake of doing them, but always want to ask how we can better grow, serve, care, and steward with everything we do.
And those priorities are rooted in scripture! So today I want to look at one of them: GROW. This makes sense on our “Rally Day” when we kick off a new semester of Bible studies and Sunday school classes. We are going to look at the importance of studying God’s word that we might be nourished to GROW.
I want to look at three scripture passages to consider three different examples of why God’s Word is so important.
GROW WITH RESPECT TO SALVATION (1 Peter 2)
The first passage is 1 Peter 2. In this letter Peter writes to those scattered throughout the Mediterranean. He progresses through several themes, but begins with the basics in chapter one, writing about salvation and being “born again” through faith in Jesus Christ. As he begins chapter two he talks about putting aside destructive talk and behavior, like hypocrisy, envy, and slander. And then he says this about scripture: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation…” (v.2)
When someone first comes to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, they are born again. That language comes from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. It’s a new start, so complete that it’s a rebirth. And Peter builds on that imagery to say that spiritual newborns need God’s Word like a baby needs its mother’s milk. We need it for survival and to grow. In the case of God’s Word it is that we might grow “in respect to salvation.” Salvation is not just being saved or rescued FROM something (it is that); it also being saved or rescued FOR something. And God’s Word teaches us how to grow into that purpose.
This comparison is especially important if you are new to faith or spiritually young. Note that this doesn’t necessarily correspond to biological age! I’ve known elementary and middle school aged children who are spiritually wise beyond their years. And I’ve known people in their later years who are just coming to faith for the first time. But this is the answer to the question, “I’ve believed in Jesus, what now?” Go be nourished on God’s Word – it is essential for spiritual health and growth!
Specifically what and how? There is no one right answer to that, but I like to point people to the words and actions of Jesus. You can find those in the first part of the New Testament, in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Pick one and read it through. See what Jesus said and did. That’s what we do with the middle-schoolers in Confirmation and it’s always a good place to start learning about faith, salvation, and what it means to follow Jesus.
Our Sunday school classes, whether for adults or youth, are geared in this direction this Fall, particularly the youth class and the adult class that will be watching “The Chosen.” You are warmly invited to come to those and they are appropriate for bringing friends, especially if they are new to the faith or simply inquisitive. The other adult class on Philippians and the women’s Bible study would also be good, but are probably better fits for the next passage I want to look at.
TRAINED FOR WHAT IS RIGHT (Hebrews 5)
Hebrews 5 also compares the study of God’s Word to milk, but for a different reason. This chapter is focused on people of faith whose interest or practice of faith has waned. They already know the basics, but have become disinterested and “dulled” to the Good News. Verse 12 notes that “by this time you ought to be teachers” but “you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles…of God.” As opposed to being spiritual newborns in need of milk, these are folks who have regressed in faith, who haven’t exercised or nurtured their faith. They once again need “milk” and not solid food. This is not a good thing! And yet I think it is easy for this to happen if we are not actively engaged in fruit-bearing ministry, whether individually or as a church.
If that describes you – and I realize that is a hard thing to acknowledge – by all means dig in an re-acquaint yourself with the basic story of faith. The “Chosen” class might well be a good option because it presents the familiar stories in a fresh way that might re-awaken and rekindle wonder.
But don’t stay there! Notice what SHOULD be in these verses: “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for they are an infant.” (v.13) We are not supposed to stay in spiritual infancy (or regress to that point). What God desires for us is that we grow up spiritually and take in the Word as “solid food.” That means digging in to the deeper themes and teachings beyond basic salvation and “God so loved the world.” Those truths will always be important and relevant, but there is more that trains us to “discern good and evil.” (v.14) This is what is mean by the “Word of righteousness” in verse 13 – God’s Word teaches and trains us HOW to live in the world.
Our Philippians class and women’s Bible study are probably more geared for this kind of spiritual growth. High schoolers that want to dig deep have the opportunity to meet one on one with Christy or another adult. Younger youth and children will have the opportunity to go deep as the year progresses.
You also have the opportunity and privilege of studying God’s Word for yourself. Learn to read in paragraphs or read whole books of the Bible to see the arc of God’s story and teaching. Move beyond pulling favorite verses out here and there and experience what it means to be trained in righteousness. If you need some tools for that, I am happy to provide them and I will be more intentional about sharing some of those in the newsletter and on the website.
Finally, let’s look at one more passage.
BEARING FRUIT (Psalm 1)
Our call to worship paints a word-picture of spiritual maturity rooted in God’s Word. In the word picture the mature believer is literally rooted because he or she is portrayed as a tree planted by streams of water. This is the person “whose delight is in the Law [or the Word] of the Lord.” And in this Word the rooted person “meditates day and night.” That’s sounds like daily contact with God’s Word to me… daily, intentional contact. Christy mentioned not just holding on to a Bible, but reading it. The image of the rooted, mature person is that of opening, reading, pondering, wrestling with (if need be), and incorporating God’s Word into daily life.
And here’s the outcome of that. It’s not just year after year of Sunday school and Bible studies. It’s in verse 3: that tree, that rooted person, “yields its fruit in its season.” I said that God didn’t just save us FROM something, but FOR something. And it is this, that we bear fruit out of a faith nurtured and sustained by God’s Word and Spirit.
This is why I try to remind you as often as I can that God’s mission for us is beyond these walls. It’s all the more pressing after 15 months of COVID isolation and distancing. It is time to once again bear fruit with our neighbors and community. And we can’t serve effectively in this way unless we grow in God’s Word. We also won’t effectively grow in numbers if we aren’t prioritizing growth in faith and spiritual health.
So grab hold of these new opportunities to be in God’s Word this Fall. God sustains us, strengthens us, and equips us for service through His Word. Commit to Sunday morning; commit to personal study of the Bible; ask God what kind of fruit you are to bear. I believe God will honor and bless those commitments and prayers and I join you in making them! Amen.
Some Music Used
- Speak, O Lord
- Every Promise of Your Word
- Thy Word (Rick Bean, piano)
- Break Thou the Bread of Life/Come Feed (arr. Youngblood)
- Ancient Words
- How Firm a Foundation