Sunday, June 18, 2017

Grow!

The Scriptures are filled with warnings for the saints. And we are wise to take those warnings seriously. If they weren’t necessary, they would not have been written. Peter ends his second letter with a warning.

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 2 Peter 3:17

Peter is warning about the danger of lawless people whom he had just finished describing. It’s quite good to be warned like this. But more is needed. And the more that is needed is clear instruction on what to do to be able to avoid the danger which that warning is about. And Peter comes through in this. This is what he writes next.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:18

It’s this instruction that we are going to look at this morning. We’re going to do that because there are many dangers in life, many dangers that we need to take quite seriously, and there is protection from danger here.


We’re going to take Peter’s instructions apart by looking at three key words. The first key word is ‘knowledge’. Peter exhorts the saints to grow in the knowledge of Jesus. I’m sure that you’ve been told the difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing that person. And there is a difference. Peter’s goal here is for the saints to actually know Jesus, to know Him as a person and not just as some religious idea. But if we are going to be able to do that, we will first need to know some things about Him. Consider some of the labels and names that the Scriptures apply to Him. Jesus is Lord, God, man, Messiah, Savior, propitiation for sin, second person of the Trinity, the one who baptizes with the Spirit. Those are aspects of who He is that we really need to know about. But then, once those truths are clear in our minds, we can follow up by asking what each of those has to do with us. Jesus is the Messiah. What difference does that make in my life? Jesus is the propitiation for sin. What difference does that make in my life? We do the work of getting to know things about Jesus so that we can get to know Him better as a person. Peter’s instructions are an exhortation to saints through the centuries to grow in both of these kinds of knowledge.

Let’s move on to the next key word, ‘grace’. Peter calls the saints to grow in the grace of Jesus. Grace is another of those church words. You think you know what it means, and yet maybe it’s not quite as clear as you think. Let’s translate it. Let’s use the word ‘favor’. You may remember that I’ve told you that the Greek word translated here as ‘grace’ is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as ‘favor’. So, ‘favor’ is a good way to understand the church word ‘grace’.

I’m sure that there have been times when you’ve read some Old Testament saint saying, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes…’, followed by some request. This explains favor. It’s about being viewed in a positive light, being viewed favorably. That OT saint was saying, ‘If you’re pleased with me, then let me make a request of you.’

That’s what Peter is talking about here. He is exhorting the saints to do what is necessary so that Jesus will view them more and more favorably. You might say that Peter wants the saints to be able to confidently make requests by praying, ‘Lord, if I have found favor in Your eyes…’ 

Now, take a moment to consider what I just said. Peter is exhorting the saints to do what is necessary so that Jesus can view His saints more and more favorably. There are some interesting implications to that. Here’s one. There are those Christians who really work at this, and, as a result, Jesus views them with more favor. But there are also those Christians who don’t work at this, and, as a result, Jesus doesn’t view them with the same degree of favor. Do you see what that means? Jesus doesn’t view us all in the same light. It all depends on whether we have been working on growing in His favor. He loves all the saints the same but He deals with some more favorably.

I find that a rather challenging thought. And here’s one reason why. Enjoying more of Jesus’ favor isn’t automatic just because you’re a Christian. It is something that you have to work at. Jesus is more favorable to those who have worked at it than those who haven’t. And that will show.

Now, be careful. Though we are to work at growing in Jesus’ favor, we do not earn it. It’s still a gift. And that’s because to actually earn it would require much more than what we could ever do. We cannot earn it, but we must work for it.

So, you see, Jesus does not treat all His saints in the same way. Some have responded to Him and His Gospel with more zeal and more effort. Jesus notes that. He becomes more favorable to them and grants more blessing to them. They are taking to heart Peter’s exhortation and working at growing in the grace, that is in the favor, of Jesus. And it shows. But it is a sad fact that there are too many Christians who do not take that exhortation to heart. They aren’t working at it. And that also shows.

I want to stress this point because, from what I can see, it isn’t talked about much. There seems to be the sense that whether the saints work hard at being a Christian or not, Jesus deals with us all in the same way and with the same favor. He is equally favorable to all. But if that’s true, what is Peter’s exhortation about?

One sad consequence of not taking Peter’s instruction seriously is what I have elsewhere called coasting. There isn’t the ardor, the diligence, the eagerness, to work at being a Christian, to work at things like putting sin to death and developing holy living. So, just as Peter exhorted those saints to whom he was writing, I want to exhort you. Jesus makes distinctions among His saints, distinctions based on how they are responding to Him, how they are working at being Christian. He loves us all, but treats us differently. What I want is for all of you to be working at this, to be growing in the grace of Jesus, so that He will view you more favorably, so that He would bless you in very tangible ways that make a huge difference in how you are able to live. It is when Christians work at this that life overflows with things like joy.

We’ve looked at ‘knowledge’ and we’ve looked at ‘grace’. Now, for the last key word: ‘grow.’ ‘Grow’ is an imperative verb. That makes it a command. Peter is calling for action in the lives of those saints he wrote to, just as the Spirit is calling for action in your lives. He is calling you to work at some things, to work at getting to know Jesus better and to work at getting to experience more of His favor, His grace. This is not some optional project for the especially motivated. This is something that all the saints are to be working at. It’s a command.

Now, for some of you Peter’s exhortation is an encouragement to continue what you are doing. And encouragement is necessary because working at this is hard. But let me remind you that Jesus sees your efforts and He will bless.

However, there are others of you for whom Peter’s exhortation is a call to begin working at these things. There hasn’t been much diligence in growing in the grace of Jesus. You’ve been coasting. But there is still time to repent of that sin, to come again to Jesus for forgiveness and then to ask for change so that you will work at these things.

And bear in mind, whether you’ve been working hard at this or not, you are not on your own. The Spirit is near to help you, to help you to continue this work or to begin it.

And now, for the money question. What are we to do to grow in these ways? How do we work at this? Three words fit here, three tools the Spirit uses: Word, Sacraments, Prayer.

The Word. It’s good to read the Scriptures, to listen as they are read and as they are preached. That’s all good and very important. But it’s incomplete. You also need to think about what you’ve read or heard. You need to ask questions of the text - and then do what you can to find answers to those questions. And then, in light of what you have discovered, you need to ask, ‘What does this say about how I am to live?’

Let me give you an example of what I mean. In the Psalm that we read together this morning, David wrote,

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. Psalms 36:7

What does that mean? What is the point of that image about wings? Are we to take refuge under God’s wings? How is that a refuge? What does this say about God? What does it say about us? You need to ask questions of the text and then answer them. If you get stuck, shoot me an email. As you do this you will be surprised by what you find.

Next, Sacraments. The sacraments - baptism and the Lord’s Supper - are intended to be tools by which the Spirit blesses us. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper each week. Before we do, I say a few sentences about some aspect of what we are about to enjoy. I do that because there is much to enjoy in the Supper. It really is a way that we are blessed by the Spirit. I would encourage you to consider carefully the things that I say at those times.

Then, there’s baptism. There was a time when pastors talked about ‘improving’ one’s baptism. They were trying to make it clear that the blessings of baptism are not limited to the moment when it happened. It is as we think about what was going on when we were baptized, what God was doing, that we can see more clearly into the Gospel and respond with a lively faith to what we’ve seen. So, what does your baptism say about God and then, about you?

Prayer. Nothing good happens without prayer. And that’s because nothing good happens unless God does it. But what are we to pray about? Well, along with so much else, we could pray about growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But don’t just repeat those words. Pray about the particular areas where you are growing and about obstacles to more growth.

Now, you can hear all of this as another burden you’re supposed to bear. More things that will take more time that you don’t have. Who needs more of that? Life is already filled with burdens aplenty. But what if you were to hear all of this not as a ‘must’ but as a ‘can’? What if you were to think that you can get to know Jesus better and as a result enjoy Him more? What if you hear Peter’s exhortation as a promise. Put in the effort and there will be glorious things for you to experience. And don’t think of the effort as calling for gobs of time. It is amazing what you can do with five minutes of meditation or five minutes of prayer. Yes, five minutes. Remember, you can’t earn this. It’s thinking that you need to earn it that tells you that five minutes couldn’t count for much. You give Jesus five minutes, and He will give you more of His blessing.

Now, last thought. Why is this important? There are many good answers to that question. Here’s just one. We are living among a people who are utterly lost, utterly alienated from God and, as a result, without a clue on how to live. Every day we see more evidence of wasted lives. They need to be reoriented to reality. And the first step in that process is bowing in worship before Jesus. But they won’t listen to us talk about Him. However, they do see us. They see how we live. So, for their sake, we need to show them the Gospel by how we live. Our ability to do that is tied to our growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is as we know Him more personally and as we are being blessed with more of His favor that our lives will reveal who He is to our wayward and hopeless world. The effort required to do this growing will be significant, but it will certainly be worth it when we see more and more people repent of their foolish ways and come to Jesus in order to live for Him. So, let me encourage you to take to heart what the Spirit is saying in Peter’s words so that Jesus will receive the worship that is His due.

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