“Three Fruits of Christian Maturity” (Phil. 1:7-11 sermon)

Cheryl & I had to laugh three years ago, as we watched our son-in-law (who is probably about as mechanically inclined as I am, which isn’t saying very much!) try to put together a baby swing in the living room of our little condo in Oklahoma. At one point Josh stepped out for a minute and Cheryl looked over at me and said: “That doesn’t look anything like the picture on the box!” I think she feared for her first grandbaby’s life in that thing as it was! He finally did get it figured out; but it helps when you know what the finished product is supposed to look like.

Last week we that when God begins His work of salvation in us, He will continue that process until the day He calls us to heaven. We are not to be content to remain as we are, but should continue to grow and mature all through our Christian life. But how do we know if we are on the right track? What are we supposed to look like as we mature? Paul follows Philippians 1:6 with :7-11, which describe for us the fruit of Christian maturity — some of the qualities we should begin to demonstrate as we grow in Christ.

Verses 7-8 are a kind of background/introduction to Paul’s relationship with the Philippians; we’ll look at that in just a moment. Then in :9 he writes: “And this I pray.” This is important. WHAT was Paul praying for these people whom he loved, and who loved him so much? What did he want for them? We can learn from Paul’s prayer about what we should be praying for ourselves and for others as we grow spiritually — what we should look like as we mature spiritually. We see several fruits of spiritual growth in these verses: 

“And this I pray, that your LOVE may abound still more and more …” (:9)

:7-8 Paul writes of his love for the Philippians: “I have you in my heart”. The Philippian people were not just a “job” to Paul; he loved these people. He said here “I have you in my heart”. Then in :8 he says “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. Paul’s ministry to the Philippians was a ministry of love.
And we see that same thing was true of the Philippians toward Paul. Paul prayed :9 that their love would abound more and more. So they had already shown love towards him: he said they had stood with him in his imprisonment and in the defense of the gospel. So they already HAD love, but he wanted them to grow even MORE in it.

It is just like Peter wrote in I Peter 1:22, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.” He said you’ve already got a “brotherly love” for each other; that’s good — but now GROW to where you have a true, AGAPE, sacrificial love for each other.

In both Paul and in the Philippians, LOVE was a sign of their growth in spiritual maturity. And Paul says as you grow, I want you to abound “still more and more” in it — because love is the most important goal of spiritual growth. We see this taught through scripture:

— I Timothy 1:5 says: “the goal of our instruction is LOVE, from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
— I Corinthians 13 famously says that we can speak with tongues of men and of angels, and we can give everything we have to the poor, and we can have so much faith that we can move mountains, but if we do not have love, we are NOTHING.
— And that chapter ends with that climactic verse: “Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

We often get side-tracked into thinking that other things are the goal: that “going to church more” is goal; or knowing more Bible facts is the goal; or praying for an hour a day is the goal; or attracting more people is the goal, or raising our hands and getting emotional in worship is the goal, or getting a certain position or title is the goal; or that becoming popular is the goal. But God says NONE of these things is His goal for you. His goal is for you as you grow spiritually is for you to grow in LOVE. We are going to see in a couple of weeks in our John 3:16 study that God so LOVED the world that He sacrificed and gave His only begotten Son. We see throughout scripture that God wants you to grow to become like Him. If we are going to be like Him, then we must grow in sacrificial love. Love is the most important sign of Christian maturity.

Richard Feynman was one of the most brilliant physicists in the 20th century. Among other things, he worked on the Manhattan Project, helping to develop the atomic bomb during the Second World War. Feynman taught at Cal Tech for much of his later life, and he had a student who was just enamored with his teaching on physics. In fact, this student would go home and try to tell his mother about all the marvels of physics he was learning, but she just wasn’t interested. Her son invited her to come up to school and listen to Dr. Feynman, because then surely she would fall in love with physics just like he had. But all to no avail. Finally, this student went to Feynman, and he asked him to write a letter to his mother, and tell her how important it would be for her to learn physics. Feynman told him that he would indeed write his mother a note, and he did, and he gave it to him. The student opened it, and to his dismay the letter read: “Dear Mrs. ______; please ignore your son’s attempts to teach you physics. Physics is not the most important thing. Love is.”

The thing is: God has written basically this very same note to us, over and over in His word: The Great Commandment is to love God. Second to it is love your neighbor. “The goal of our instruction is love.” “The greatest of these is love.” How many times does God need to say it before we get it? If you want to know how mature you are spiritually, don’t just look at how much you are reading your Bible and praying — although these are important. But one of the reasons they are important is that reading your Bible helps you to know God better, so you will LOVE Him more. It is LOVE for Him that is the most important thing, not just “reading your Bible.” And one of the reasons prayer is important is that it will fill us with God’s Spirit so that we will LOVE people the way we should. But it’s LOVE that we are really shooting for.

It’s like a football team that sets out with the goal to win games. And they decide to do some things that they think will help them win: they want to do pushups to make themselves stronger, and run 100-yard sprints to get them in better condition, and memorize their plays so they know the play that is called on Friday night. Now it would be possible for that team to get all caught up in those disciplines, and say: “Wow, look: every member of our team can do 100 pushups; every member of our team can run 100 yard sprint in 10 seconds!; every member of our team has memorized every play in the book. We are a great team!” No! They’re not a great team because they do all those disciplines; they are a great team if they achieve the goal they were given: to WIN!

And it’s the same with Christians as we mature in the Christian life. We have been given some disciplines to help us grow: attending worship; reading God’s word, and praying, and memorizing scripture. Those things are good, and vital for our growth, as we have mentioned many times. But those things themselves are not the goal; they are the means of ACHIEVING the goal. The goal itself, God says, is love. Love for Him, and love for other people. And if you are maturing spiritually, you are not just growing in the spiritual disciplines, you are using the spiritual disciplines to help you grow in love.

If love is God’s goal for us as we grow in Christ, then would you ask yourself: am I growing in love with God, more and more each day? Do I love other people now, more than I ever have before? LOVE is the goal that God has set before us. Don’t get sidetracked and satisfied with anything less than growing in love.

I think that this Book of Philippians really applies to Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church in a lot of ways, and especially here. Like the church at Philippi, Pleasant Ridge is already a church that loves: I have seen you love God in worship; I have watched you love each other, and love people outside our church, in many ways. But I think God’s word to us is like it was to the Philippians: don’t be content where you are. Let “your love abound still more and more” and grow to even more Christian maturity, so that you are not just “fond” of each other, but really sacrificially love each other with your time, your money, in every way. It is that sacrificial, Christ-like love that will be the ultimate sign of our spiritual growth.

“in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent …” (:9)

What this is teaching us is that mature Christian love is not just about having good feelings about other people all the time. Scripture indicates here that God wants our love to also be characterized by “knowledge” and “discernment”. The word we translate “real knowledge” here (epignosis) does not mean to “know” something in your mind. It means to really “know”; to understand something. The Bible word “discernment” here means to “perceive”; to cut through the fog and be able to discern what is really there. Last week I shared how when we were up on Table Rock it was hard to see Morganton because of all the mist in the air. But if you could cut through that mist, you could have seen all the way to town from that mountain. That is something like what this word means: to “cut through the fog” and be able to see what is really there. Spiritually it means that you can see through the “fog” of Satan’s deception, through unBiblical religious ideas, to God’s truth about a situation.

God wants us to “see through the fog” of the many deceptions that exist in our world, to what is really Biblical: “So that you may approve the things that are excellent”. We need to mature in real knowledge, and godly discernment, so that we are not taken in by the many falsehoods around us.

And there ARE many deceptions around us. I John 4:1 clearly commands us: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because MANY false prophets have gone out into the world.” LOOK at that verse — and let it soak in well. I have found over the years that many of us as Christians are good-hearted people, and we want to believe the best about people, and we want to think that they mean well, and that they aren’t teaching heresy, and they aren’t trying to deceive us, and that every church and every pastor and every person who is trying to do something spiritual is from God — but folks, the fact is we are foolish and naive if we believe that. God CLEARLY commands us here: “DO NOT believe every spirit”. Do you get that? GOD clearly COMMANDS you NOT to believe everyone you hear! He says “MANY” false prophets have gone out into the world — not just “a few”, or “one every now and then” — but MANY!

This is one of the greatest weaknesses which characterize the 21st Century American church: most of us do not have a mature spirit of discernment like Paul is teaching here. People fall for any new “fad” or teaching, whether it is scriptural or not.

There are SO many modern examples: let me give you just a couple of the most recent I have come across:
— Andy Stanley is one of the most popular preachers and authors in America today. I saw a website post of the “Top 25” Christian podcasts and his was #2 in the country. And yet just the day before I had watched a video where he told Russell Moore that pastors and churches need to get our focus off the Bible and just on Jesus. But the problem with that is, what do we know about Jesus without the Bible? Without the Bible, Jesus is just whoever we want to picture Him to be — and that is exactly what people want these days: they want to design a god after their own understanding, a god of their own tastes and preferences, who allows them to do whatever they want to do and still feel good about it. Teaching like that is going to be very popular — but it is not Biblical, and it will eventually lead people to hell.
— The Bible says: “All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable”
— The Word of God says: “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures”
— Psalms teaches us: “Thy WORD is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
No, Andy Stanley, God tells us in His word that we must NOT “take our focus off the Bible”! We need MORE discernment that comes from the Bible, not less.

— And then millions upon millions of books are bought and read and enthusiastically promoted by Christian people, without using Biblical discernment about their content. One example is The Shack, which sold 20 million copies, and which I have heard and read many Christians praise. But in this story, the character who represents Jesus says:
“Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.” This “Jesus” says, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters”
Folks, that radical statement has absolutely NO foundation in the word of God, where the REAL Jesus proclaims: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Yet millions of these books are being sold, many of them to people sitting in the pews of our Christian churches. We have got to use discernment, and learn that just because a book is popular does not mean that it is Biblical and good.

And so many churches, and so many Christians, build their whole lives and ministries around whatever the next big “fad” is that gets promoted in the media — and the only thing they seem to care about is, is it “popular” and does it seem to “work” — never stopping to ask if it is Biblical! God says here in His word that He wants us to look past the next fad, past the popular preacher, past the “fog” of Satan’s deception, to grow in maturity and real Biblical knowledge, and learn to use discernment. We need to build our lives and our churches on the preaching and teaching of the word of God, not the next popular program! We need to stop looking for salvation in the next big “fad” and just look to the salvation and direction God has already given us in His word!

Listen Christian person:
— Just because they sell it at the bookstore (even the Christian bookstore) doesn’t mean you should read it.
— Just because they call it “Christian” doesn’t mean that you should buy it.
— Just because they call it a “church” doesn’t mean that you should go there
— Just because they call themselves a Bible teacher doesn’t mean that you need to be listening to them.
— Just because “all the other churches” are doing it, doesn’t mean that we should do it — especially in this age when we are seeing more and more moral and spiritual deterioration in our society.. There are going to be all kinds of things in the days ahead which are going to be “popular”, but they are not going to be Biblical. In fact, unless we have a revival in America, as our society deteriorates, you can be pretty sure if it IS popular, it will NOT be Biblical! And we as Christians are not called to be popular. We are called to be faithful to God’s word. And you can guarantee that we will be tested in this. There are going to be all kinds of things that are popular and which we are going to be tempted to participate in, but our first response to any of these things must NOT be does it “sound good” or “look good”, or is it “popular” or are a lot of churches doing it, but our first response must be: is this BIBLICAL?! We must learn to use discernment, and build our lives and our church on the consistent teaching of the word of God, and not the next “big thing” — and if we do not, we will soon find ourselves swept away in the rapids of the sewer that is carrying our country quickly away. As we become mature Christians we must grow in discernment.

“… in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ, having been filled with the fruit of righteousness …” (:9-10)

Here we find a couple of references to the fact that as we grow in spiritual maturity, we will also grow in holiness:
— First, Paul prays that he wants the Philippians to be “sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” By “blameless” he means that he doesn’t want any accusation to be able to made against them for their moral and ethical behavior.
— Second, he also prays that they will be “filled with the fruit of righteousness.” As we have studied before, “righteousness” is the state of being “right” with both God and man in everything that you were supposed to do towards them.

So Paul is saying, as you grow in Christ, you should learn to be right in your practices towards God, and other people, and to be “blameless” morally and spiritually. In other words, he prays that as they mature spiritually, that they will grow in HOLINESS. Now, we talked about this some last week. When God saves you in Jesus Christ, He forgives your sins, and sends His Holy Spirit in your heart, and He puts His seal of ownership on your life, and says “This one is Mine!” and from that moment on, you are headed for heaven and nothing can keep you out. But God does not want you to remain just like you were morally and spiritually. He wants you to grow. He has “declared” that you are His child in Jesus Christ; now He wants you to start living like it! As we saw last week, that doesn’t happen in a moment, all at once. But if you have really become His child, and His Holy Spirit is inside of you, then He WILL be helping you to make some changes in your life. You will NOT just stay like you were. As you grow in Christian maturity, you will grow in holiness.

Last year we had a guy who was in Cheryl’s class in high school and his wife, who are missionaries, come to stay at our house as they were traveling on their way across the country. We hadn’t seen him for years — really I guess since high school, though we’d chatted on Facebook some. But at one point as we were talking at our house that night, this guy looked at me and said: “You have changed since you were in high school.” I laughed and said “Yeah.” I was a Christian when I was in high school, but I hadn’t really learned to walk with God in His word & prayer every day. I had a big ego, and my life was all about how I could get in the spotlight, and I was pretty ugly to a lot of people at our school. In recent years I have very much regretted the way that I was in high school. But on the other hand, I was pretty grateful that this guy might look at me today and say: “You have changed since you were in high school.” I thank God that by His grace, I have changed — enough that someone might notice.

Can I ask you something: if you call yourself a Christian today, have you changed? Have you changed enough that people can see a difference in your life? Have you learned to walk with God daily and allowed Him to make changes in your life? Are there sins that used to be a part of your life that by God’s grace you no longer participate in? Listen: you aren’t saved because you clean your life up, and as we said last week, you will never be perfect until the day God calls you home — but if you are really saved, and if God’s Spirit is really in your life, you will not continue to be the same as you were. You will not continue living thoughtlessly and repeatedly in the same old sins. If you are growing spiritually and maturing in Christ, then one of the fruits you will see in your life is a growth in holiness. And if you are NOT seeing progress in your personal holiness, then you have every reason to doubt whether You have ever really been saved. Growing in holiness is one of the surest signs of a soul that has been genuinely converted, and is maturing in Christ.

So God gives us these three signs of a maturing Christian: growth in love; growth in discernment; and growth in holiness. But you’ve got to understand that you can’t have any of these unless you first have Jesus as your Lord & Savior. Paul said in :7 that the Philippians were “partakers of grace” with him; he wrote in :11 that they were “filled with the fruit of righteousness” — in other words, they had received the grace of God through salvation in Jesus; they had been made righteous with God through faith in Christ; and their love, their discernment, and their holiness, were the FRUIT of that conversion. But you can’t have the fruit unless there was something planted there in the first place.

Last week, Cheryl pulled a basket full of big red tomatoes and a bunch of green peppers out of her raised gardens in the back yard. And she made a bunch of jars of the best, spiciest home-made salsa out of it! But of course, all those things did not just “happen” to grow up there. Some months before she had planted seeds and small plants, and she watered them, and fertilized them, and weeded the beds — and over time those plants grew, and bore fruit. But they couldn’t have GROWN unless they had first been planted.

In the same way, we can talk about spiritual growth and Christian maturity — and that is what God wants to see in you. But just like Cheryl’s garden, you can’t GROW unless you have first been planted: you can’t GROW as a Christian unless you first ARE a Christian: unless the Spirit of God has come into your life, because you repented of your sin and trusted Jesus as your Lord & Savior. If you have never done it, then that is the first step that you need to take today. And if you DO have that “seed” of God’s Spirit in you, you need to get serious about growing, and becoming a mature Christian — and bearing the fruit that Paul writes about here: of love, and discernment, and holiness.

— As we bow our heads together, some of you here today realize that you really don’t have any fruit of salvation in your life. You live in the same old way, with the same old sins. You are not growing spiritually. And the reason you are not growing spiritually is that you have never really been saved. And today God is speaking to your heart about really following Jesus as your Lord & Savior …
— Others of us are Christians today; you know that — but you would also say that you have fallen short of growing the way you should have. You are not doing the things it takes to grow: being faithful in worship; spending time with God in His word & prayer; memorizing scriptures; getting involved in ministry. And God is convicting you to start growing spiritually. If you need help in this, I’d encourage you take my MasterLife class starting next Sunday night at 5:00, and talk to a pastor or Christian friend who can help you grow. (mark tear-off card and turn it in offering for DT classes …)
— Some of us need to talk with God during this time about the 3 signs of spiritual maturity:
— Are you growing more in love with God and other people?
— Are you growing in Biblical knowledge and discernment, or just going after every fad?
— Are you becoming more holy in your life? Is there a sin you are just remaining in, that God is convicting you today about turning away from? Ask Him to help you deal with that, and turn from it, today.
— There may be someone or some thing you want to come forward and pray for in a special way …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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