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December 28 2014

Maturity

 

Scripture reading: Philippians 3:12-16. 

 

Roy Robertson was a soldier at Pearl Harbor in 1941: "My ship, the West Virginia, docked at Pearl Harbor on the evening of December 6, 1941. A couple of the fellows and I left the ship that night and attended a Bible study. About fifteen sailors sat in a circle on the floor. The leader asked us to each recite our favorite Scripture verse. In turn each sailor shared a verse and briefly commented on it.

I sat there in terror. I couldn't recall a single verse. I grew up in a Christian home, went to church three times a week, but I sat there terrified. I couldn't recall a single verse. Finally, I remembered one verse - John 3:16. I silently rehearsed it in my mind. The spotlight of attention grew closer as each sailor took his turn. It was up to the fellow next to me. He recited John 3:16. He took my verse! As he commented on it I sat there in stunned humiliation. In a few moments everyone would know that I could not recall from memory even a single verse. Later that night I went to bed thinking, 'Robertson, you're a fake.'

At 7:55 the next morning I was awakened by the ship alarm ordering us to battle stations. 360 planes of the Japanese Imperial Fleet were attacking our ship and the other military installations. My crew and I raced to our machine gun emplacement, but all we had was practice ammunition. So for the first fifteen minutes of the two-hour battle, we only fired blanks hoping to scare the Japanese airplanes.

As I stood there firing fake ammunition I thought, 'Robertson, this is how your whole life has been - firing blanks for Christ.' I made up my mind as Japanese bullets slammed into our ship, "If I escape with my life, I will get serious about following Jesus." Roy Robertson did get serious. He became the first missionary of "The Navigators" and did a lot of work with Billy Graham as well.

Are you growing mature in the Lord or are you firing blanks for Christ?

 

Paul’s goal was to attain to the resurrection from the dead. At the time he wrote this letter to the Philippian church, he had not yet obtained it. Meaning not that he had risen, but that he was not yet assured that he would take part in the first resurrection.

 

He was “pressing on” to make it his own. He had not yet made it his own. But there was one thing that he did (verse 13). This phrase, “one thing,” does not of course mean that this was literally the only thing that Paul did. It means it was the thing that transfixed him. It occupied him above all other things.

 

Have you ever had that experience? Maybe the first time you fell in love. All you could do was think about that person.  You planned on winning them over if they did not feel the same way or if you were not sure that they did. Maybe it was when you got involved in a hobby or a sport and you found yourself so completely taken by it that you skipped meals and had a hard time thinking about other things.

 

Being completely taken up with an object or a desire can be an imbalance in your life. It can take away your peace. It can even be destructive. But this matter that Paul was taken up with, this “one thing” that he did was a good thing. It is a “thing” that we should all be preoccupied with. It should transfix us. It should occupy us above all other things.

 

It is to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. It is to press on towards a goal. That goal is the prize (verse 14). It is glory that awaits the overcomers according to the promise of God. This glory is a prize, a reward, for faithfulness.

 

This preoccupation is not for everyone. It is for the mature. In verse 15 Paul says that “let those who are mature think this way.” Those who are mature set their minds on the goal, the prize, that which lies ahead after this life. Those who are immature set their minds on earthly things: their jobs, their tummy, and their entertainment.

 

A new year is almost upon us. We have a choice. We can remain immature or we can become like Paul: a mature disciple of the Lord who was taken up by one vision and lived for that.

 

Would you like to begin the year with a new vision? Then this message is for you.

 

In order to be mature we must go beyond just believing. We must be a disciple of Christ. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ entails at least three things. I wish to focus on just one of those things today.

 

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,

(John 8:31 ESV)

Notice that some Jews had already believed in what he was saying. But Jesus takes this further. He says that if you abide in my word, then you are really my disciples.

 

[1] We must abide in his word because this is what will identify us as being a disciple.

 

To abide means to live in, to dwell in, you are not just passing through, you are abiding. It means you spend time in the word. You make the time.

   To “abide in” also means that you understand what that word is. The disciples who walked with Jesus didn’t always understand what he taught at first.  One time, after Jesus was teaching, he asked them, “Have you understood all these things?” (Matthew 13:51). They answered, “Yes.” Their affirmative answer did not mean that they fully grasped what he had been teaching. Their answer might be parallel to a ten-year old boy who sat in with the Adult Bible Study group because his mom was there. After the study the teacher asked him if he understood what was said. He replied, “I understand everything . I just don’t know what it means.”

   The disciples were like that. They understood some of what Jesus said, but Jesus would often explain things to them again. But they didn’t give up. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t understand everything the first time or the second time. Jesus will show you what he means if you persevere.

   Once, when he offended people, they stopped following him. A true disciple continues to abide in the word of Jesus even when it is difficult to understand or if it is offensive.

   Abiding in the word is similar to a fish living in the water. In order for a fish to live he must abide in the water and draw out oxygen. If a fish is removed from the water he will die. Similarly, if a disciple ceases to abide in the word he will die spiritually.

 

[2] We must abide in his word in order to have life. Do you think that analogy of a fish out of water is too strong? Let’s consider it in light of scripture. In John chapter 6 we read:

            As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

            When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

           

(John 6:57-63 ESV)

 

What did Jesus mean when he said, “he who feeds on me he will also live…”? This offended his hearers because they were thinking that he meant to feed on his body. But Jesus meant to feed on his spirit. How do we feed on his spirit? Through his words! His words are spirit and they are life. If we neglect his words we spiritually die. There is no such thing as a stagnant disciple. You are either progressing in the faith or you are going backwards. The extent to which you abide in His word is the extent to which you live. There is power in the words of Jesus to change us, to enliven us, to draw us to his bosom.

 

[3] We must abide in his word to resist temptation. Every passage of Scripture is important, otherwise the Lord would not have included it in the Bible to begin with. But not every passage of Scripture is of equal importance. Some are more important than others. Matthew 4 is one of those passages that is of high importance. The whole chapter is so very relevant, but especially the temptation of our Lord by the Devil. Let us read that once again. READ 4:1-11.

 

How did our Lord resist temptation? Ans: By quoting Scripture. In order to quote

Scripture what must one do? Ans: He or she must memorize Scripture. I am going to be bold here. I’m going to go out on a limb and say what God reveals in His word: memorizing Scripture is not an option. In order to be a mature Christian you must memorize Scripture. Jesus did. Paul did. Peter did. James did. We can see that our Lord did right here. How do we know that Peter, Paul, and James did? Ans: because when they preached (Not when they wrote. That happened later and one can always look up verses when writing.)…when they preached they quoted passages of Scripture.

 

In order to quote Scripture what must one do? Ans: He or she must memorize Scripture.

 

Author O.S. Hawkins relates his experience of how when he was 17 years old he was transformed by surrendering to Christ as Lord and Savior. The very first week he was a Christian someone handed him a slip of paper with I Cor 10:13 written on it and then looking at him squarely in the face said, “You’d better memorize this because you will need it!” That verse says:

 

            No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

 

Hawkins goes on to say, “Only God knows how many times across the years I have arrived at temptation’s corner and this verse, hidden in my heart and mind, came out of my mouth and kept me on the right path.” Hawkins’ words remind me of David’s words in the Psalms.

 

            How can a young man keep his way pure?

                        By guarding it according to your word.

           

            I have stored up your word in my heart,

                        that I might not sin against you.

(Psalm 119:9 &11 ESV)

 

Further, Hawkins’s experience and David’s reflects my own. I, too, memorized that verse as a new Christian and I found that reciting it in times of temptation saved me from sin.

 

We must abide in his word, including memorizing his word, to resist temptation.

 

[4] We must abide in his word so that we will be prosperous and have good success.

 

            This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

(Joshua 1:8 ESV)

 

This was the promise of God directly to Joshua. But Joshua wrote it down for us! Psalm 1 makes it clear that this promise to Joshua is not just for Joshua. It is for every child of God! Hallelujah!

 

If we will abide in his word, including memorization, meditation, and application, then God promises us prosperity and success. That means spiritual prosperity and success. Great peace of mind, an abiding love for the Lord, and a continual sense of his favor upon you. Oh, there is nothing on earth like it!

 

  • We must abide in his word, including memorization, because this is what will identify us as being a disciple.
  • We must abide in his word, taking it in to us, in order to have life.
  • We must abide in his word, including memorization, to resist temptation.
  • We must abide in his word, meditating upon it, in order to have prosperity and success.

 

[5] How can we do that in a practical way? Some have tried it and failed. Others think that they have a poor memory. Both of those excuses are false paths. Let me take the second one first.

 

Some may think that they cannot memorize. This is false because everything we do is a process of memorization. If you can fix something that is because you memorized the steps to fix it before, after you either tried it or were shown by someone else. If you can cook something that is because you memorized the steps to cook it before, after you either tried it, read it in a cookbook, or were shown by someone else.

 

Everyone knows the pledge of allegiance. Let’s say it now. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

 

Why have we memorized that? Because we have hear it so often! That is the simple key. Repetition. Repetition equals memorization.

 

With the memorization we should also have meditation. This involves thinking about what is written, studying what is written, and praying over it. The goal is that the truth that is being communicated becomes a part of us.

To that end, it is a very good thing to memorize the word of God.

When we memorize the word of God it does become a part of us, if we understand what is being said.

 

[Conclusion.] We are all like Ray Robertson. But we are either like him before Pearl Harbor or after Pearl Harbor. Which Ray Robertson are you? Brian Simko gave a testimony last Sunday about changing. He used a word that is quite appropriate to today’s message. He said we have to be intentional. That is a good word.

 

To be intentional means that you apply what you have heard and make it happen with a plan.

 

If you just wish you will change and don’t actually do anything to bring about change then you are not going to change.

 

Allow me to recommend a commitment to maturity. The path to maturity includes the memorization of Scripture. I propose that we all commit to memorizing a verse a week. In order for you to succeed you will need, besides the Spirit (which you already have) three things:

 

  • The intent. That means a commitment and that is up to you.
  • The verses. There are two different lists. Take both home and choose one after looking over which list is most appealing to you.
  • The time. You must set aside a specific time of day – the same time each day – to focus on memorization and meditation. If you do not have a specific time and make that time a priority over other things then you will fail.
  • Repetition. Write your verse for the week down on a 3 x 5 card and carry it with you each day, looking at it and reciting it.

 

This is a promise from God. As you engraft His word into you, you will…

 

  • Truly be Jesus’ disciple
  • Come alive
  • Overcome temptation
  • Be prosperous.