Growing in Christ

By Stephen Terry


Commentary for the November 3, 2012 Sabbath School Lesson


“He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.’” Mark 4:26-28, NIV

Jesus had much to say about sowing grain. He spoke about sowing it on different soils and the hazards associated with those soils that might prevent a successful crop from growing. (Matthew 13:1-23) These hazards included hard ground, stones and thorns as opposed to good soil. He also spoke of weeds sown in a good crop. While there is good counsel that can be readily understood in all of these stories about grain, there is one aspect of growing grain that is still a mystery to farmers today, just as it was two thousand years ago. What makes the grain grow?

The farmer puts a dried up seed in the ground and with water and warmth, the seed usually sprouts. Why? We don’t know. Somehow the seed has the spark of life in it. We cannot put it there. If a seed fails to sprout, we cannot endow it with the life it needs to do so. Each time a farmer plants a crop, it is an act of faith. The seed germinates or it doesn’t, and the future of the farm depends on it doing what it needs to do. You may not find many farmers that are atheists. They know that some things that we do not understand simply work if you have faith in them. Perhaps somewhere in the organic chemicals composing the amino acids of the DNA strands there is that spark of life. If we could isolate it, maybe we could reconstruct it from those chemicals and then have the power of creating life. However, it has so far eluded our understanding. As we peer deeper and deeper into the mystery we speculate that maybe it exists at the sub-atomic level, but when we attempt to understand particle physics we discover that things are often not very predictable. Sometimes chaotic behavior becomes the new norm as we descend into the quantum universe. If anything, the mysteries seem to multiply, defying attempts at resolution into some coherency that will provide answers. While we may know volumes about the composition of the seed and its DNA, we are no closer to answering how it does what it does today.

Jesus used these stories about farming to illustrate vital principles associated with the Kingdom of God. Perhaps He meant us to understand that just as we cannot discern how the seed grows in the ground, so we cannot discover how the Kingdom of God grows in our hearts. It is a kingdom of the Spirit. Just as Jesus is able to give life (John 11:38-43) because as God, He possesses life underived (John 10:17-18), so the Spirit also possesses life underived. (Romans 8:10) Jesus spoke to Nicodemus one night about how difficult it is to perceive the workings of the Spirit. He said “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8, NIV But why is this important to understand about growing in Christ?

Perhaps growth in Christ is every bit as hidden from our understanding as the germination and growth of the seed is. True, we can see evidence of growth as the passage in Mark 4 tells us. We see the stalk, the leaves, and the seed head so we know that growth is taking place, but we cannot say exactly how it happens. So it would seem to be with the Christian. We see outward evidence of growth in Christ, but we cannot discover exactly what the Spirit is doing from moment to moment. Perhaps the Spirit is working on a pernicious tobacco smoking problem, or maybe He is working on a swearing habit. We simply don’t know what the Spirit is addressing in the Christian’s life at any given point. Often the Christian does not know either. Maybe like Abram leaving Ur, we are to simply go forward trusting God that He has a plan and is in control and that everything will work out according to that plan as long as we don’t interfere with its unfolding.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to try to push God’s plan forward. It would be like the farmer going out into his field each day and giving each seedling a tug to try to help it grow. Eventually this would pull the roots from the ground, and the plant would die. Yet, too many do just that with their lives and with those of fellow Christians. They perceive that their brother or sister is not progressing in their Christian walk as should be happening, so they go over and give a tug in what they feel is the right direction. Sometimes this is about dress, diet or music. Recently some have felt the need to do this about Halloween, and soon some will begin to do this about Christmas. They may protest that they do this out of love for their brother or sister. However, no matter how loving the farmer is about it, tugging on the seedlings to help them grow is not the right thing to do.

This tugging will surely proceed to uproot the plant if continued, but even that is not the worst thing that can be done. Some, citing Isaiah 58:1, proclaim themselves to be doing the work of the prophets and hurl bombs of scripture and Spirit of Prophecy quotations at their brothers and sisters. Never mind what the Spirit might already be doing in the hearts of these individuals, it is not happening fast enough for these self-avowed discerners of all that is right and wrong. For these the slight tug is not enough, they would happily grab on with both hands and heave to get their fellow believers to where they want them.

Sadly, whether they are tuggers or heavers, all demonstrate the same thing. They do not believe the Spirit is able to do a complete work in the lives of the saints. Perhaps it is precisely because they cannot discern what the Spirit is doing at any given moment that they feel they must do something. It may be like when a good conversation reaches a silent resting place and some feel that they must say something to break the silence. They fail to appreciate the good advice of Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” NIV

We can be sure that the Holy Spirit is working in the life of every saint according to their need and God’s grace and compassion. Peter told us that everyone receives the Holy Spirit if they repent and are baptized. (Acts 2:38) No one has a monopoly on this gift so that they need to present the wishes of the Holy Spirit to the other saints. The Spirit will move each heart as they are ready. Some will need to heal a great deal before they are ready to take a step that others might easily handle. Our attempts to remove the evil from someone else’s life with our limited skills might result in a double amputation (Mark 9:43,45), whereas the Great Surgeon might have been able to save every limb.

Most doctors work hard to make sure their patients experience the best possible outcome. Healing is an art that requires building up the health of the individual with patience, compassion and supportive therapies. Jesus pointed out the need for compassion to Peter when he told him he should forgive his brother “unto seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22) Mysteriously, some find it far easier to forgive some great wrong than to forgive the singing of a Christmas carol or the eating of a hamburger. Others may claim to forgive someone while making sure everyone knows exactly what sin they forgave the other person for. They do not realize that these behaviors also are tugging the shoots out of the ground.

While I have used the word “they” and written this from a third person perspective, I feel it is important that we realize that “they” is “us.” We all tend to indulge in these behaviors because we are all sinners, saved by grace, and struggling to surrender to the moving of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives. We are sometimes just as unsatisfied with the problems in our own lives as we are with those we see in others. We have the unique ability to pull ourselves out of the kingdom in the same way we tug others out. When we do not see the immediate working of the Holy Spirit in our lives in some area, we do not need to hurry the work along. We need only remember to step out of the way, and God will work continuously in all of us, both willing and doing. (Philippians 2:13)



This Commentary is a Service of Still Waters Ministry


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