Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 31
THE SECRET OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH
The portion of Peter’s message we considered during our study of his life was mainly that directed to those who had not yet heard the Gospel. The message we are turning our attention to now however is one directed to Christians. The major theme of Peter’s first epistle is stated in 1 Peter 2:1-2. This entire chapter is directly concerned with growth and building. In one way or another the entire epistle is concerned either directly or indirectly with this theme. Let us read carefully then the two verses cited above. “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby.”
The Purpose of Creation
The purpose for this world’s creation was not human happiness but rather human growth. Men are forever busy devising new schemes for human happiness as though this were the very end of life. But their cleverest schemes fail for they have not understood the nature of happiness. Happiness is a by-product of something else. That man alone is happy who is fulfilling the purpose for which he was made. You were put here on this earth in order that you might grow a soul that has survival value for eternity. Any happiness you will have then will come as a by-product of this growth. Most young people are comparatively happy. It is natural for a youngster to be happy. Only very adverse circumstances can interfere with that natural happiness. This is true because he is growing. But physical growth comes to an end somewhere near the age of twenty three. The last few years of this growth, it is so slow as to be almost imperceptible but it is still going on. But the minute anything quits growing it starts decaying. During the first few years of this decay, it will be as slow and imperceptible as the growth was in the few years that preceded it. As the years pass however the rate of decay accelerates until it becomes most painfully obvious. Up until age twenty-three then, a person may be fairly happy even in the absence of spiritual growth for there is a growth process working within him. After twenty-three however happiness begins to fade and will never be reclaimed unless the person can be born again and start a new process of growth. Spiritual growth must take the place of physical growth. If it does not the unhappy individual must watch within his own life a double process of decay. The secret of any real and lasting happiness in adult life then is to grow spiritually.
The Secret of Spiritual Growth
The secret of spiritual growth is what Peter is telling us in his first epistle and it is a precious secret indeed. Peter draws a comparison between spiritual growth and physical growth in order that we might better understand the process. How does one grow physically? Not from lectures on growth! You do not bid a plant to grow nor do you threaten a child with dire punishments unless he grows. A plant grows naturally where conditions are favorable to its growth. It is the very nature of a child to grow if only he is provided with the conditions vital to his growth. It is just as true with spiritual growth. When we are born again as children of God, a seed is planted within us that will cause us to grow spiritually so long as the conditions of our lives are favorable to such growth. It is these conditions of growth that Peter provides for us in the passage quoted earlier. We note that the first essential is the removal of all those things that will retard or destroy growth. Peter cautions us that we must lay aside all malice, guile, hypocrisies, envies, and evil speakings. This is an essential for any form of growth. Sickness will prevent physical growth. A child cannot grow properly if he suffers from leukemia. So we cannot grow spiritually if we suffer from cankers of guile. Evil speakings and envies are more destructive to spiritual health than running sores are to physical health. Hypocrisy is more deadly than cancer. If we expect a child to grow physically we must take measures to protect his health. If his body is diseased we must find a way to combat and destroy the disease if the child is to grow properly. If we are to grow spiritually we must submit ourselves to searching spiritual examination and take whatever measures necessary to rid ourselves of the spiritual diseases of guile, hypocrisy and the other sinful conditions Peter lists. Until we do this our growth can never be satisfactory. But let us suppose that our child is not the victim of some terrible disease. The absence of such disease is not sufficient within itself to assure his growth. There are three things absolutely essential to the healthy child if he is to retain his health and enjoy normal growth. They are proper food in proper amounts, plenty of fresh air, and the right amount and right kind of physical exercise. It is just as true that the spiritual life must be properly fed, must breathe properly, and must be properly exercised. What is the proper food for spiritual health and growth? Peter does not leave us guessing. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby.” That man who does not give adequate time to the reading and study of the word is in danger of spiritual starvation and, whether he knows it or not, is already suffering from spiritual malnutrition. It is not enough to hear a sermon occasionally. All of us know that one big meal a week is not a proper diet. Our souls as well as our bodies need daily food. The meal should be unhurried and properly balanced. We should allow ourselves time to read the word meditatively. We should avoid reading nothing but a few favorite passages over and over. We should seek to know as much of the entire word as we can. I see no reason why the earnest Christian would not want to give at least an hour each day to a diligent search for truth in the word of God to feed his soul. Only thus may he hope to maintain full spiritual health and enjoy proper growth. If you are doubtful about your Christian growth you might consider if the reason for your retardation might not lie in your neglect of the word. But reading the Bible alone will still not insure complete spiritual health and growth. A man must breathe and he must exercise his muscles if they are to be sustained. We will consider these matters in our next chapter.