Healthy living things grow to maturity. This is as true in the spiritual as in the natural realm. The Bible speaks often of the need of individuals to grow to spiritual maturity. Jesus tells us that we must be like good soil so that we will mature to the point of bearing spiritual fruit: "The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance." (Luke 8:14-15) The Psalmist says, "The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him." (Psalm 92:12-15) We see here that a purpose of spiritual maturity is that one gladly recommends the Lord to others with credibility based on experience and integrity.
But how do we grow spiritually? Of course, we need to grow in our knowledge of the Lord and our experience of His grace: "You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:17-18a) This requires that we feed on the word of God: "Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord." (1 Peter 2:1-3) Reading, studying, memorizing and meditating upon Holy Scripture is needed to grow spiritually. Regular worship and waiting upon God in prayer is also needed: "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously [better: expectantly] for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life." (Jude 20-22)
Yes, these are all necessary means to spiritual growth. But there is one more crucial ingredient to spiritual growth without which we will not attain to maturity. We must give. If all we do is take in knowledge of God and His love for us but give little or nothing of this knowledge to others, we may grow very knowledgeable (and proud of it!) but we will not grow "to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." Jesus knew His heavenly Father perfectly but He did not just sit around enjoying that knowledge. He went forth into the world, proclaiming the good news, making disciples and helping those in need. If we are to become like Him, and that is truly the goal God has for us (see Romans 8:29), then we must do as He did. Yes, He read Scripture and attended worship (Luke 4:16). He also prayed much (Mark 5:16; 6:12). But He then went forth to share with others what He had gained from Scripture and His fellowship with the Father. It was He who said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35)
So let's take a closer look at what Jesus did for others. First, He shared the good news with others. The simple summary of His message is found in Mark - "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (1:15) The "gospel" means the good news, the good news that the kingdom of God has arrived because the King has come! When Jesus stood up to read in the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth, He read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah and the advent of His amazing work of saving poor, captive, blind and oppressed humanity. He then said these electrifying words: "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (see Luke 4:16-21) We also are called to share the good news that the Messiah has come and that the door to the kingdom of God is opened to all who are willing to enter it. Paul says that the essence of that kingdom is "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). While we have no righteousness of our own, we are freely offered both the imputed and the imparted righteousness of Christ that makes us right with God. Having this righteousness we have "peace with God" (Romans 5:1) and experience the love of God poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. (5:5) This consciousness of God's love fills us with "joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8). What better news could anyone have to share with another?! Yet if we neglect to share it with others, it soon ceases to be a blessing to us. That is the reason so many Christians are stale and stagnant in their spirits. If we do not give what we have received we will lose it. We must give to grow!
Jesus not only proclaimed the good news, He also taught people. He taught the crowds but especially, He taught His disciples. What He told the crowd in parables, He explained to His disciples privately. (Mark 4:33, 34b) Now, Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to observe all that He has commanded us. (Matthew 28:18-20) The Bible does seem a bit confusing on this because in one place it says, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." (James 3:1) Yet in another place it says, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God…" (Hebrews 5:12) The answer is James is discouraging people who want to teach but are not yet ready to do so, such as new converts whereas in Hebrews the author is saying that the Christians he is writing to should have become mature enough by now to become teachers. We all ought to become disciple makers and teach those disciples the basics of Christian faith and life. Not all are called to address crowds but every disciple is called to make other disciples and teach them, just as Jesus did.
Finally, Jesus helped people in physical or social need. He healed people, delivered them from demons, fed them and showed love and compassion to people who were avoided by the "best" people: the poor, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, Samaritans (even a Samaritan woman!) and Gentiles (non-Jews). Yes, He used miracles to accomplish many of these works of mercy but even if we don't have the gift of miracles (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) we are called to help people in need for that is what He commanded us to do (see Luke 12:33).
As we give in these ways, so shall we grow. Have you shared the good news of Jesus and His kingdom with anyone recently? Ever? Have you led a soul to faith in Christ and then taught him or her? Or have you ever found a new or backslidden Christian, taken them under your wing and grounded them in the basics of following Christ? Have you made helping people in need a regular part of your life? These are good questions to ask ourselves. If the answer is "no" to any of these, then is it any wonder if we seem to be "stuck" in spiritual immaturity? God wants us to grow so He tells us to give. Let's search our hearts and see why it is we are reluctant to do this and, with God's help, become free to really grow through giving to others.