The Essentials of Spiritual Growth - Part 3

Tom Pennington • Philippians 1:9-11

  • 2003-12-28 AM
  • Sermons


Well, we continue this morning in our study in the book of Philippians. It's been a rich time for me as I hope it has been for you. You get just sort of the overflow of the cup that the Lord fills up for me each week as I get to study this amazing book.

You already know, if you know a little bit about our family, that I grew up as the last of 10 children, the youngest of 10. And so my parents are really the age of many of my peers' grandparents. I always have thought of that as a great advantage and benefit, but there were a few little eccentricities. I sort of got a chance to see some of the previous generation's perspective on things. One of the ways that demonstrated itself was in medical, medical remedies, I suppose you could say. I grew up thinking that castor oil was a kind of all purpose digestive cleanser. There were other remedies and concoctions that I'm sure at the time made sense to someone. For example, there was cod liver oil, there was the ever present Milk of Magnesia, and my personal favorite at the time was cough syrup with codine. I don't know if it helped the cough, but you just didn't care.

But by far the worst idea of this kind that came into our home, I still hold Lawrence Welk to blame for, and that was Geritol. For those of you who are too young to remember, it was an awful black iron based liquid that was supposed to be good for whatever physical problems you had. It tasted a bit like used motor oil to me. To hide the taste my mom decided to mix it with orange juice, confident that the strong orange flavor would hide the taste. Instead, what I ended up with was this glass of dark brown liquid sitting in front of me that was almost impossible to gag down. I was so grateful when Geritol the fad, passed. But at the time it was billed as a sort of essential for human health.

Sadly, there are similar fads that come and go in the Christian world that are promoted as absolutely essential to your spiritual growth and that all promise to make profound and lasting changes in your character, in your condition: somebody's spiritual secret, guidelines for getting over your lasting basic youth conflicts, prayers for enlarging your boundaries, somebody's 40 day program for living a purposeful life. Many of these come from well intentioned people, but the flow of such solutions, faddish solutions, is endless. As Solomon said, "in the making and the writing of many books, there is no end."

Thankfully, we don't need to wonder what are the essentials for our spiritual growth and health. They are recorded for us in the all sufficient Word of God. No fads like Geritol for our spiritual health. Instead, we have what we know will provide the strength and growth that we need. In Philippians 1 Paul set out to pray for the Philippians. He told them that he prayed for them. And then when we come to verses 9 through 11 he lays out specifically the content of his prayer. We can assume that the apostle, the Apostle Paul, knew what was important for their spiritual growth and development. And so when we come to this prayer in verses 9 through 11 of Philippians 1, we have not only a pattern for our own prayer, but also a list of the essentials for spiritual growth. Excuse me.

Let's read together, Philippians 1:9-11. He writes,

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

We've already looked at five of these. Let me just remind you of what we discovered here. You'll notice, first of all, that the first essential for spiritual growth is, abound in love. He says, "this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more," your love for God and your love for others. If you're going to start growing in the Christian life then you have to come to that which Christ said was the most important command, to love God, and the second like unto it, to love your neighbor as yourself. If you want to exercise your spiritual muscles, then you start by exercising that of love. He says, "I pray, that your love may abound still more and more."

Then he says, "grow in knowledge and discernment," "grow in knowledge and discernment." Notice he says, "in real knowledge and all discernment." I want your love to abound but I don't want it to be this sort of sick sentimental love. I want instead to be a love that has its basis, its foundation, in a growing knowledge. The word knowledge is obviously translated as "real knowledge," has to do with the kind of knowledge that comes from experience, that comes from relationship, that comes from a solid foundation that's more than simply what you know in your head but it's that which you have embraced and trusted in and become confident in.

"And all discernment." Knowledge has to do with general principles, discernment has to do with the practical application of those principles to life. He says, I want your love to grow and abound, and as it grows I want it to grow deep in knowledge, your knowledge of God and your knowledge of the truth about God and your knowledge of what He expects of you. And then I want you to grow in the ability to use that knowledge in day to day life in a way that pleases Me.

Thirdly he said, delight in essentials, delight in essentials. Notice verse 10, "so that you may approve the things that are excellent." Literally, "so that you may identify and choose those things that are essential," those things that matter. We can become so distracted with the unimportant, but Paul says, I don't want you to be distracted by those things that are unimportant, those things that are less weighty; instead, I want you to give your life for things that are really important, things that matter.

The fourth thing that he prays for the Philippians is act in integrity, act in integrity. Notice again verse 10, "in order to be sincere." That word sincere simply means to be able to be judged in the light of the sun and found to be genuine, found to be what you seem to be. Paul says, if you're going to grow as a Christian, if you want to know what really is essential for your growth, then you need to add to these other things a heart that is free from hypocrisy, where you don't pretend to be something you aren't. Instead, you act like what God knows you to be. You act in integrity. You are exactly what you seem to be.

Today we come to the fifth essential for growth, the fifth key to growing as a Christian, and that is this, continue in obedience, continue in obedience. Notice verse 10, he says, I want you to grow in your love and in your knowledge, in your discernment, "so that you will approve those things that really matter, in order to be," and then he gives us three adjectives: sincere, blameless, and having been filled.

We've already looked at sincere, now we come to "blameless until the day of Jesus Christ." I want you to be "blameless until the day of Jesus Christ." The word translated blameless is not Paul's usual word for blameless. It's only used three times in the New Testament. It literally means to stumble or to cause someone else to stumble. It's used in the New Testament to describe someone actually stumbling over something in their path, but mostly it's used figuratively to refer to falling into sin or causing someone else to fall into sin. The image is of walking a path.

You see, in the ancient world the way most people traveled was by foot and there were paths that were cut out. But because lighting methods were very basic, at night there was a great deal of danger, even if you were in a path that had already been cut. And even during the day, because they didn't have earth moving equipment like we have and they didn't have the capacity to move every obstacle, even during the day there was some danger of being tripped up. Your path would be filled with potential obstacles that would trip you up.

So in Scripture the believer is pictured as walking on a path, specifically God's path, the way outlined in God's commands. But because we live in a fallen world there are many dangers. This Greek word is used in the Septuagint and in the New Testament to picture sin as an obstacle that either Satan or the world or our flesh puts in our path to trip us up, to make a sin. For example, the Septuagint uses this word in Hosea 14:9. Listen to what Hosea writes, "Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways," literally the paths, "of the Lord are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them." Stumbling or tripping is such a graphic image of falling into sin, isn't it?

Jon Krakauer, in his riveting book Into Thin Air, which was the description of that ill fated 1996 trek up the slopes of Mount Everest, records a very interesting event. It was during that one month period in 1996 that 12 climbers died on the face of Mount Everest. One of the tragic stories, there was a man on his satellite phone calling his wife just a few minutes before he slumped over in death, from the slopes of Mount Everest. But one man, Krakauer records, became disoriented because of the lack of oxygen at the height that they were climbing, and he became so disoriented that he literally stumbled over the edge of a sheer cliff and fell more than a thousand feet to his death. What a graphic picture of sin, to stumble over an obstacle in the path, to lose one's orientation, to become deprived of the oxygen of spiritual understanding, and simply to walk off into shear death and danger.

This Greek word, to stumble or to cause someone else to stumble, is used in two ways. First, it's used to refer to someone who doesn't stumble into sin himself. That doesn't mean they're perfect, it simply means that they're free from obvious spot, from obvious causes of stumbling. The second use of it is to refer to someone who doesn't cause others to stumble or to sin. It's used both of these ways in the New Testament. Paul intends, I think here, both aspects. His prayer for the Philippians is that they might not stumble into sin themselves and that they might not cause others to sin. In both cases he is in essence praying that the Philippians will continue in their obedience to Scripture.

You see, if in your heart you're seeking to obey the Scripture, then you're not stumbling in sin and you're not going to be putting stumbling blocks before others. That raises the question though in my mind, how is it that we can keep from stumbling into sin ourselves? Let me just give you a brief list. How can you keep from stumbling into sin, this graphic image? Well, first of all, you can pray for divine protection. That's what Paul is doing here in Philippians 1. He's saying, I'm praying for you Philippians that you would be blameless, I'm praying that you wouldn't stumble, and I'm praying that you wouldn't cause others to stumble. So start in your pursuit of not stumbling into sin by praying for God to protect you.

But you can't stop with prayer because God has given some other very specific commands. Turn to Matthew 18. If you don't want to stumble then you need to pray, but Matthew 18:8 says,

"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell."

What is he saying? That you should literally cut off a limb or pluck out an eye? No, unfortunately many in the history of Christianity have tried that only to discover that it's the heart issue that matters. What he's saying is this, take radical steps to deal with your sin. Whatever you have to do to deal with that which is going to cause you to stumble, avoid it, get it out of your life, do whatever you have to to remove yourself from it. Men, if you're tempted to sin with your eyes, take another route home, go a different way. If the Internet's a problem then unplug the Internet. If your T.V. causes you to stumble then remove it, even though there's nothing inherently wrong with it. The bottom line is, do whatever you have to do to deal with your sin, be radical in dealing with sin.

Thirdly, don't make provision for your sin, don't make provision for it. This is really the opposite side of the one we just looked at. Romans 14, excuse me, Romans 13:14, "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." If you want to keep from stumbling, pray for God's protection, take radical steps to deal with your sin, don't make provision for your sin, and fourthly, don't succumb to the negative influence of others.

Notice Matthew 16, there's really a powerful example in the life of our Lord, Matthew 16:23. You will remember, in verse 21 Christ began to show His disciples that He had to suffer and He had to be killed, and verse 22, "Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'God forbid it, Lord! This will never happen to You.'" Notice Christ's response in verse 23 of Matthew 16, "But He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's.'" You want to keep from stumbling? Then you have got to keep yourself from succumbing to the negative influence of others who want to take you away from the path that God has established.

Fifthly, learn from the experience of others, learn from the experience of others. First Corinthians 10, one of those powerful sections of Scripture reminding us about all that happened to Israel in the wilderness wanderings. And in verse 6 of 1 Corinthians 10 he says, "Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not create evil things as they also craved. Don't be idolaters, as some of them were." Verse 8,

Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

Verse 11, "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages has come." Learn from the example of others. It's like the second child, you watch what happens to the older child and you decide that's not the path you want to take. Learn from the example of others.

And finally, if you want to keep from stumbling in sin, delight in God's law, delight in God's law. Listen to Psalm 119:165, "Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble." If you find your delight in God's law and if your heart is there and you are meditating on God's Word, you are being transformed by God's Word, then nothing will cause you to stumble.

When Rachel Saint and the others began to translate the Bible for the Auca Indians, that tribe that had killed her brother Nate, they discovered that there was no word in the Auca language for written language. So when it came time to translate the Biblical phrase God's Word, they took from the Auca Indians the only written language they had. And that was, as the Indians would make their way down a trail, they would leave their marking on the little branches as they went so that they could find their way back home. Those were called their markings. And so they called God's Word, when they translated it into this language, they called it God's markings. The point was, if you walk and follow God's markings, then you stay on God's path. If you stay on God's carvings then you can avoid the pitfalls that come on other paths. That's what the psalmist is saying, you won't stumble if you stay on the path that God has set, if you follow His carvings, His markings.

A second question Paul raises in my mind when he says that we're to be blameless, that is, we're not to stumble or we're not cause others to stumble, is how can we avoid causing others to stumble? Those are a few ways we can keep from stumbling, but how do we keep others from stumbling? How do we keep from being the source of the sin of others? You see, it's the nature of sin to seek out company. What was the first thing Eve did after she ate? You find out in Genesis 3:6, she did what? "And she gave also to her husband to eat with her." Sin loves companionship.

How do we keep from causing others to follow in the path of our sin? Well, the Scripture speaks to this, several ways, let me just give them to you briefly. First, understand how serious it is to cause others to sin. Turn again to Matthew 18, really chilling words from our Lord, Matthew 18:6. He says, "'whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me,'" okay, it's a believer now, it's someone who believes, "'one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble,'" that is, to fall into sin, "'it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.'" Christ says, it's better to die a violent premature death than to cause another Christian to sin, a very serious matter with God.

Start by understanding how serious it is, secondly, hold your liberty in check, hold your liberty in check. If you want to keep others from stumbling, then you have got to be willing to reign in on your own personal liberty. Notice Romans 14:20, Romans 14:20,

Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is not good to eat meat or to drink wine or to do anything by which your brother is caused to sin, your brother is caused to stumble.

This isn't talking about offending somebody, making them upset with you, it's talking about doing something that is going to cause someone else to make a sinful choice, to do something that for them would be sin because it's a violation of their conscience. Hold your own liberty in check, and if you don't, you'll cause others to stumble.

Thirdly, and this is really related to that previous one, consider others and their spiritual needs more important than your own interests and desires, consider others as more important. Notice 1 Corinthians, the passage where Paul, in Corinthians where Paul is dealing with this Christian liberty. He says in 1 Corinthians 8:13, "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble," to sin, "I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble." You see, Paul says, I'm looking out for the interests of others, I'm more concerned about him than me, and if I have to stop eating meat to keep him from sinning, then I'll do whatever it takes because he's more important than I am; and what is to his spiritual benefit is more important than what I simply desire to do.

What's another way we can avoid causing others to stumble? Be committed to the kingdom, first and foremost. Notice 1 Corinthians 10, 1 Corinthians 10:32. Let's start at verse 31, that familiar verse,

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.

In other words, don't cause anybody to sin. Verse 33, "just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of many, so that they may be saved." Do you see what Paul is saying? He's saying, the way you keep from causing others to stumble is you rein in your liberty and you reign in your liberty because the most important thing to you isn't your own personal desires but it's the kingdom, it's the advance of the gospel, it's the spiritual growth of others.

He says it in a little different way in 2 Corinthians 6:3. He says, "giving no cause for offense in anything, [why Paul?] so that the ministry will not be discredited." You see, if the gospel ministry, the Word of God, if the advance of the kingdom of Christ is more important to you than food and drink and your own personal comfort, then you're going to be willing to give up whatever it takes to keep your brother from stumbling. You'll want to protect those Christ loves from sin.

Fifthly, if you're going to avoid causing others to stumble you must be aware that not stumbling and not causing others to stumble is a work of God. Remember the context, this is what Paul has been praying for these people, that God would cause them to be blameless, would cause them to be the kind of people who don't cause others to sin. You've got to be aware that ultimately only God can work this work in your heart. Jude ends his short epistle this way in Jude 24, "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all times, now and forever." "The God who is able to keep you from stumbling."

But sadly, no matter how much we try, and try we must, we will still stumble into sin in this life. So how do we respond when we do stumble? How do we respond when we do cause others to stumble? We confess it. We get up and we get back on the right path. And if there are things to be made right with a brother, we make them right, and we march ahead.

Paul wants the Philippians and us to continue to be blameless, that is, not stumbling ourselves and not causing others to stumble. Or we could say that Paul wants us to continue in obedience. He adds, "I want you to be blameless until the day of Jesus Christ," Philippians 1:10. "I want you to be blameless until the day of Jesus Christ," literally, "for the day of Christ." In other words, he says, I want you to be blameless with a view to Christ's return. I want you to view the day of Christ as your ultimate goal and I want you to live in light of that fact. I want you to live in light of the fact that Christ is going to return. First John 3:2, "everyone who has this hope," that is, the hope of Christ's appearing, "fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure." One way to be blameless is to keep the fact of Christ's return in front of your eyes. So one of the essentials of spiritual growth is to continue in obedience until Christ returns.

That brings us to the next essential in Paul's list here, verse 11, excel in good works, excel in good works, "having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ." You see, the man or the woman who is abounding in love and real knowledge and discernment, who is recognizing and choosing those things that really matter, will be sincere, he'll be blameless, and he'll be filled with the fruit of righteousness. Notice the text says, "having been filled." That doesn't refer to something that happened in the past. Instead Paul is looking ahead to the day of Christ, specifically the judgment seat of Christ, and he's saying, my prayer is that when you stand there before Christ, at the Judgment Seat of Christ, He will find you as having been filled with the fruit of righteousness. Fruit is a very common biblical image. Here Paul draws a sort of orchard setting in which Christians are pictured as trees loaded down with a full crop of good fruit, ready to be harvested.

When I was growing up we had some neighbors next door to us who had several pear trees and I still remember to this day, every season when the pears were growing, going out with my neighbors and making these long poles with crooks in the ends to prop up the branches because the tree hung so heavy with fruit that if we didn't do that the limbs would break. That's the picture here, "having been filled with the fruit of righteousness."

Now what is fruit in Scripture? Well, Scripture catalogues three kinds of fruit. First of all, spiritual attitudes. You remember Galatians 5, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace," so forth. That's some of the fruit that grows in Christians' lives. Secondly, the second category of spiritual fruit, not only spiritual attitudes but also righteous actions. You see that in Roman 6:22. The word for fruit, the Greek word for fruit is there, it's translated as benefit, but it's referring to righteous actions. Thirdly, fruit is used in the New Testament to refer to new converts, that is, people coming to faith in Christ. You see this in Roman 16:5 where "first convert" literally translates a Greek word that is "first fruits."

So, let's see which of those Paul has in mind in this context of Philippians 1. He uses the phrase, "the fruit of righteousness." Now, in Greek, and in English, the relationship of words in what's called, grammarians call, a genitive construction, that is, that of construction, is sometimes difficult to discover. What exactly does Paul mean? Well, a parallel passage I think makes it clear. Turn to Colossians 1. Remember that Colossians is one of the prison epistles, written around the same time, from Rome, just as Philippians was, and notice what he says in verse 10 of Colossians 1. He says, I'm praying for you "that you would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work."

So when we come back to Philippians 1, I think it's best to understand the fruit of righteousness as the fruit which consists of right behavior or good works, the fruit which consists of a right kind of conduct, specifically good works. You see there's a temptation for Christians to become pew potatoes, to sit and to soak in and to listen. There's also a tendency on the part of some Christians to become academically oriented. But Paul says, no, I want you to excel in good works, "having been filled with the fruit of righteousness."

Now it's important to understand, when we talk about good works, because this is so commonly misunderstood in our culture, that good works do not earn grace, merit, or favor of any kind with God. For a believer or not for a believer. Neither for believer nor unbeliever do good works merit anything with God. Notice Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; that not of yourselves, [what?] it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast."

You see it also in 2 Timothy, 2 Timothy 1:9, "God has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity." He makes the same point in Titus 3:5, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy," so good works merit nothing with God. But, and this is important, believers were designed by God to perform good works once they are in Christ. Paul makes this crystal clear in Ephesians 2:10 where he says, "For we are His workmanship," literally, His masterpiece, "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we should walk in them."

In eternity past, when God decided to save you, He created you in Christ for the purpose of good works. He prepared beforehand that you would walk in a lifestyle characterized by good works. Titus 2 makes the same point, verse 14, "Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." God's whole purpose, Christ's whole purpose in saving you, was to make you so that you would be zealous for good deeds. We should make this a priority. Titus drives this point home in Titus 3:1, he says, remind these people that you're ministering to Titus, "to be ready for every good deed," verse 8, for "This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds." He makes the same point in verse 14, "Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds." It can't be much clearer. This should be a priority of our lives, to engage in good works, in good deeds.

In fact, good works provide evidence that we are truly Christians. James makes this point very clear in James 2:14. He says, "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but has no works? Can that faith save him?" In other words, can a faith that produces nothing save him?

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says, "Oh, go in peace, be warmed, be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead.

It's not a real faith, it's not a genuine faith, if it's not accompanied by, followed by, works.

I think where Christ makes this point most clearly is in John 15, John 15. I'd like for you to turn there for a moment. It's in the extended metaphor of Christ as the true vine. What I want you to notice, we don't have time to go through this carefully, but I want you to notice something very important, in verse 2 and throughout, there are two kinds of branches in this extended metaphor. First of all, there's a branch that remains, that's what the Greek word abides means, a branch that remains in Christ and bears fruit, and secondly, there's a kind of branch that does not remain, does not bear fruit, and is taken away. And according to verse 6, it's thrown into the fire. It's thrown away, dries up, and is cast into the fire and burned.

Now, those two branches are clear and obvious, but the application is a little more challenging because there's one confusing element in this metaphor and that's in verse 2. Because he describes those branches that are going to be cast away as being "in Me," "in Me." That could, at first glance, lead us to conclude that this branch that's going to be cut off and thrown in the fire is a Christian. But I believe there are three reasons why they can't be Christians, these branches that are cut off and throw in the fire, three reasons.

First of all, the language of being thrown in the fire and burned is consistently the language of eternal judgment in the gospels. The word fire, for example, occurs 28 times in the gospels. Every one of those times it refers to either literal earthly fire, like you cook your food over or you warm yourself in front of, or eternal judgement. There are no exceptions. And there's no reason to see an exception here.

Secondly, a second reason I don't believe these branches that are thrown in the fire are Christians, is those who remain, that is, abide and bear fruit, notice verse 8, "prove to be genuine disciples." That means the opposite, those branches that don't remain and that don't bear fruit, prove to be what? Not genuine disciples or believers.

And the third reason they can't be Christians is that because John makes it clear in his epistle, the first epistle of John, that he has a special concern for those who say they are in Christ when they're not, those who argue that they are in fact true branches when in reality they are not. I won't take a lot of time here, but just hold your finger in John 15 and turn to 1 John very briefly. I want you to see this, verse 6 of chapter 1, "If we say," there's somebody saying they're in fellowship when they're not. Verse 8, "If we say we have no sin." Verse 10, "If we say that we have not sinned." Chapter 2 verse 4, "The one who says, 'I've come to know Him,' and doesn't keep His commandments, is a liar." Notice verse 9, "The one who says he's in the Light and hates his brother is in darkness."

Do you see John's concern? He's concerned about those who profess one thing, they profess to be in Him, they profess to be a branch, but in reality they are not. You see it very clearly in chapter 2 and verse 19. What about these branches that look like they were in Christ? "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained," there's our word, "with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they were not all of us."

So flip back to John 15, here's the point. The distinguishing characteristic of a true Christian, verse 8, is "that you bear fruit, and so prove to be My disciples," prove to be genuine. Otherwise, you may attach yourself to Christ, but you're not really a branch connected to Christ and you deserve only to be cut off, dry up, and be cast into the fire. So John means that all genuine disciples, all true followers will remain attached to Christ and they will bear fruit, including good works. So good works are an evidence of the fact that you're in Christ.

What exactly are good works? Well, I don't have time to go into this in detail, but let me give you just a few examples, you can look them up on your own, just listen. First Timothy 5:9-10, good works are called: bringing up children, showing hospitality to strangers, washing the saints' feet, assisting those in distress, devoting oneself to every good work. First Timothy 6:18, good works are called: being generous, being ready to share. Titus 3:14, good works are meeting pressing needs. Matthew 6, good works, or practicing righteousness, is identified as prayer, giving to the poor, and fasting. So you begin to get a picture of what good works includes. It includes all of those things, all of both spiritual exercises such as prayer, as well as doing for others in the name of Christ.

Now, how should you perform your good works? Well Matthew 6 makes it clear, let's turn there just briefly. Matthew 6:1, "Beware of practicing your righteousness," or doing your good deeds, "before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward." So how do you do them? Well, verse 3,

when you give, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that you give in secret.

Verse 6, "when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." You get the idea that we're to do our good works without calling attention to ourselves. We're to do them so God sees them.

What should your motive be for good works? Well, flip back to Matthew 5:16, he says, "'Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.'" Notice that others will see your good works, you can't keep every good work secret, but you're not to do them to be noticed by men, you're to do them so that God will be glorified.

Now, I don't know about you, but when I've studied this myself, and I was beginning to understand this concept and I thought about committing myself to good works, with the right motive, it certainly seems like a tall order, doesn't it? How can we consistently manifest good works? Well, Paul adds in Philippians 1:11, that this "fruit of righteousness," this fruit of righteous actions, of good works, "comes through Jesus Christ." You see, ultimately we can only do these things energized by the power of Christ. That's why in John 15, when he talks about bearing fruit, that's the context in which he says, "'apart from Me you can do [what?] nothing.'" It's in the context of good works, in the context of bearing fruit of every kind.

Also, the Word of God equips us to bear fruit of this kind, to do good works. You remember that famous verse in 2 Timothy 3, "All scripture is inspired and profitable, [why?] so that the man of God may be equipped for every good work." The Word of God will equip you for good works.

Also, we can encourage one another in good works. Do you remember in the book of Hebrews 10:24, we're told there we're

not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but instead all the more as we see the day approaching, we're to get together, [why?] to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.

We can stimulate one another to do those things that are good, by mutual encouragement, and Hebrews 12:11 tells us that discipline, God's discipline in our lives, "yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness." So if you want to continue to grow you have to excel in good works.

The final essential for spiritual growth, and I'm just going to touch on this briefly, our time is gone, but it's live for God's glory, live for God's glory, to the praise or "to the glory and praise of God." Remember that verses 9 through 11 are one sentence in the Greek text and that each phrase builds on the previous. So this is the capstone of the essentials of our spiritual growth, it's living our lives "to the praise and glory of God." We looked at this in great detail when I was here before and we looked at 1 Samuel 17; I encourage you, if you weren't here then, to get the tape because this is such a crucial issue to our lives.

You see, some people pursue love for what they can get out of it. Others pursue knowledge to boost their reputation. Still others want people to notice their good works and that's their sole motive. But Paul has no place for such petty personal pursuits; he says, no, he says, I want you to grow and I want you to grow in all of these ways, but I don't want you to do it for your sake or for mine, I want you to do it "to the praise and glory of God."

There they are, according to Paul these are the essentials for spiritual growth: abound in love, grow in knowledge and discernment, delight in essentials, act in integrity, continue in obedience, excel in good works, and live for God's glory. Let me just remind you where we started when we started several weeks ago looking at this text. God isn't going to zap you and make you these things, you have a responsibility to extend the maximum effort to pursue them in your daily life. And as you work and as you pray for God to change you, He will.

But let me urge you not simply to pray them for yourself. When was the last time you prayed this for your spouse? When was the last time you prayed these things for the people sitting around you, the members of this church? That's what Paul did, his prayer was for the Philippian church, that these things would be true of them. Oh, there's nothing wrong with praying for your health, or your mortgage, or your job; God wants us to bring all of our cares to Him. But for Paul, all of his prayers were centered in the gospel, in the advance of the kingdom.

I think D. A. Carson is right when he says, "The most important lesson in these verses is that we put the gospel, that we put the advance of the kingdom of Christ, at the center of our prayers." Paul said, "This is what I pray for you." And I want you to know that as I've studied this passage, this is what I prayed for all of us, and I encourage you to join me in praying that as a church these things would be true of us. Let's pray together.

Father, we feel so inadequate to address these things. I'm so grateful that Your Spirit can take Your truth and drive it home to every heart. And I pray that's exactly what you would do this morning, that You would build up Your people and that You would draw those who don't have any understanding of these things to Yourself. Help them to see. Help their eyes, their blind eyes, to be open to the truth. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.