By Pastor Glenn Pease
Conrad Hilton, president of the world's leading hotel organization, has all his life prayed for God's guidance to help him grow. Mr. Hilton is a professing Christian who, like many other successful Christians in the world of business, feels that we should never be content with what is small, but keep our sights set on what is big. He started in Cisco, Texas with a small $40,000 dollar hotel, but even then he had his eye on the Waldorf-Astoria, the most famous hotel in the world at that time, and in 1949 he got it. He did not then give up the desire to grow, however, but began the long complicated process of acquiring the Statler Hotels. In 1954 the largest real-estate transaction ever made up till then in the United States took place when he bought the Statler chain for the $11,000,000.
Conrad Hilton never stopped growing, and that was one of the key factors in his success. This has been true for successful people in all areas of life. Longfellow in his declining years was asked how he could be so energetic and write with such power. He pointed to an old apple tree and replied, "That apple tree is very old, but I never saw prettier blossoms on it than it now bares. The tree grows a little new wood each year, and I suppose it is out of that new wood that those blossoms come. Like the apple tree I try to grow a little new wood each year." A tree that stops growing is a dying tree, and a life that stops growing is a failing life, for the facts of life, and the teaching of God's Word is, that growth is success. All that is living must grow or die. This is as true in the realm of the spirit as it is in the natural realm. Paul makes this point clear-
I. GROWTH IS ESSENTIAL.
Paul is not scolding the Corinthian Christians because they are immature babes in Christ. That would be as foolish as scolding a baby for not being a man. It is not only legitimate, it is absolutely essential that churches have immature babes. There is no way to grow the kingdom except by winning new converts who begin as babes. Paul is not angry because they are immature, but because of their lack of growth. No one can complain that a baby is a baby, but it is a problem when an adult is a baby. When a child does not grow it is a serious matter. Lack of growth is the real issue here, and it is their failure to grow that is making them fail in the Christian life.
There can be no success without growth. The tragedy of many Christian lives is that they come to a point where they stop growing. Elizabeth O'Connor, in her book Our Many Selves, feels that this is the essence of sin. She writes, "The meaning of sin is usually not that we try to make ourselves the center of everything. That may happen, but it is a monstrous perversion. We are usually more subtle. We make our present state of selfhood the meaning of existence and thus refuse the deeper meaning which lies within and beyond this present." In other words, if you stop pressing on toward the goal for which God made you, you are failing. Failure is often success that stops growing. That was the case with the Corinthians. Glen Dresback put it in poetry-
But no defeat is quite so imminent
To common ways as the defeat success
Turns into when it puts aside the dreams
That made it be and somehow, grows content
With what it is, forever giving less
Until it is not, and no longer seems.
If growth is success, then lack of growth is failure. This means the question is, not where are you, but where are you going? The new Christian who is immature but growing is a successful Christian. The mature Christian who is standing still is failing, for growth is success. The analogies that Paul uses in this text are analogies that deal with growth. In verse 9 Paul says you are God's field and God's building. A field that does not grow anything is a flop, and so is a building that never gets off the foundation. There must be growth and advancement, or there is no success.
The Biblical perspective is similar to that of Ben Sweetland the contemporary success writer. He stresses that success is not a destination but a journey. You are not just successful when you arrive at your goal, but you are successful the minute you start, and all along the way as you move toward it. Paul makes it clear in this context that even the unsuccessful Christian will make it to heaven, but he will lose rewards because of his poor journey. It is not just getting to heaven but how you live along the way that determines if you are a success or failure in the Christian life. If growth is the key, then it follows that success is a journey, and not just a destination. It is not enough to be going to be with Christ, but we must be growing to be like Christ now.
It is not just where we get, but what we become that is important. In secular life many strive only for a goal, and when they arrive and are rich, or famous, they have a temporary pleasure, and then in no time at all they are bored and dissatisfied. They failed to realize
that true success is not just in getting but in becoming. The same mistake was being made by the Corinthians. They wanted to get this gift and that gift, and they wanted their particular man to dominate, but in all their getting they were not growing, or becoming mature in Christ. The result was, all of their success was really failure, for they were not growing. The best gifts without growth only add to the tragedy.
Spiros Zodhiates, the contemporary Greek commentator, says of the Greek word Paul uses in verse 1 to refer to them as men of the flesh, "The state of being sarkikos is one of resistance to the elements that cause growth." A carnal Christian is one who refuses to grow. The spiritual Christian is one who refuses to stop growing.
After president Coolidge issued his famous quote "I do not choose to run" statement, he was besieged by reporters seeking a more detailed account. One of them, more persistent than the rest, followed him to the door of his library and asked, "Exactly why don't you want to be president again?" Coolidge looked him squarely in the eye and answered, "Because, there's no chance for advancement." He may have been joking, but the fact is, there are points in secular life beyond which we cannot advance, but in the spiritual life there is no such point. Growth is always a possibility for every believer at all times.
Life must grow or die. All agree that eternal life is both quantitative and qualitative. It lasts forever, but it is also a quality of life that begins now and grows forever. The degree of that growth in this life determines much as to the reward we receive in the life to come. My own conviction is that eternal life means eternal qualitative growth. Heaven will not be a place of stagnant sameness, but a place where the adventure of advancement goes on forever with the finite ever moving closer to the qualities of the infinite. That journey does not begin in eternity, but begins right now.
Paul, as a concerned spiritual parent, knows that if he can not motivate these Christians to grow up, they will miss out on God's best for both time and eternity. We might question if it is legitimate to try and motivate people by appealing to rewards or judgment, but the fact is, the Bible does it, and Paul is doing it here. It is also a fact that many, if not most, successful people have had parents who constantly motivated them to grow and keep moving ahead. Lyndon Johnson was a compulsive worker due to the motivation of his father. As a boy he would be awakened in the morning by his father saying, "Get up, Lyndon, get up! Everybody else in town has a head start on you already." John F. Kennedy had a father who did the same for him. His sister Eunice wrote, "Even when we were six and seven years old, daddy always entered us in public swimming races...the thing he kept telling us was that coming in second was just no good. The important thing was to win."
It is obvious that you can go to excess in this area of motivation and do great harm. Richard Nixon was also strongly motivated to win and succeed, and he did it, but his drive carried him beyond what was legitimate. This was equally true of many others who never got caught. There is a dangerous extreme in every virtue. Even growth can be excessive. Cancer is excessive growths. The abuse of any idea or truth, however, is not to derail us from its pursuit. Paul is not worried about these Corinthians growing so fast they become clumsy spiritual giants. He is fearful that they will remain stunted babes.
In the book Cradles Of Eminence, there are 400 famous men and women studied, and all but two of them were motivated at an early age to develop a love for reading and learning. It is a simple law of life. If you do not feed, you do not grow. If you do feed on great food, you become a greater person. Paul is working on this very principle. He wants to motive these Christians to feed on the solid food of Christian truth. You become what you eat, and if you can get people to study the Word of God in depth, and really get into the meat of it early in life, you will have a great Christian life growing. A growing successful Christian is one who has as much motivation to feed his spirit as he does to feed his body. If we were as eager to find gems of truth in the Word of God as we are to find delightful tastes for our tongues, we would be growing Christians. We need to heed Paul's rebuke, where none of us are without sin in this area. Secondly-
II. GROWTH IS CONDITIONAL.
It doesn't just happen, for it had not happened to the Corinthians. The first condition is that one be aware of his need for growth. Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians that they were responsible for their lack of growth. And that only they could choose to change an get growing. The problem was not lack of food or resources, but their lack of preparation and development. They obviously were unaware of how little they had grown. They thought they were giants when they were pigmies. They thought they could judge who was the greatest leader, and what were the best gifts. They thought they had surpassed just about everybody, when in reality they had not gotten beyond the nursery. They were like the little boy who at the end of his kindergarten year said, "Good-by teacher. I sure do like you. I wish you knew enough to teach me in the first grade." He thought he was passing up the teacher. The Corinthians felt the same about their teacher Paul. His first task was to awaken them to the fact that they were not advanced students at all. They were still working on the alphabet.
All of us need to realize how little we really know if we are going to be motivated to grow. The illusion of maturity is our biggest hindrance to growth. We feel no need to grow if we think we know enough. We need to humbly admit that we are not giants. We may not be as immature as the Corinthians, but we are far short of the goal that Paul lays down in Eph. 4:13, where he says we are headed for, "...Mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." When we admit we have not yet arrived, then we are ready for growth. Archbishop William Temple once said, "The sin of the world exists not because a few people are spectacularly sinful, but because most of us are as good as we are and no better." If the world is going to be a better place, then all of us have got to get better, and that means we must grow.
One of the fascinating aspects of the Incarnation is that our Lord entered into the experience of growth. It was prophesied in Isa. 11:1, "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." Luke 2:52 says, "An Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man." The Greek word for increased is prokopto, which means to strike forward. The Christmas message is "Unto you a child is born." Jesus did not come as a full grown Savior. He had to grow and strike forward. He had to develop physically, mentally, spiritually and socially. Jesus has already gone through the process of growth, and He has fulfilled the conditions of growth. Jesus entered into time and used time wisely to grow. It takes time to grow, and Paul was angry at the Corinthians because they had time and did not use it. We must recognize that only we can so use our time that it leads to growth. No one can force us to grow. We must choose to grow. We must cultivate our taste. I takes time to fall in love with all God wants us to love.
People often expect good things to be delightful from the start. Christians are often bored with sermons and Bible study, and quite often it is because they are just plain boring. On the other hand, it is also often due to the fact they have not developed and grown in their love for what is good for them. They have not cultivated their taste for spiritual food. This growth does not just happen. It takes time and effort and the will to develop it. Those who never take the time and put forth the effort will remain babes and likely will do little of lasting value in the Kingdom of God. I takes time to grow, but if you take the time you will gain eternal reward. Susan Coolidge wrote,
How does the soul grow? Not all in a minute;
Now it may lose ground, and now it may win it,
Now it resolves, and again the will faileth;
Now it rejoiceth, and now it bewaileth;
Now its hopes fructify, then they are blighted;
Now it walks sullenly, now gropes benighted,
Fed by discouragement, taught by disaster,
So it goes forward, now slower, now faster.
Till all the pain is past, and failure made whole,
It is full grown, and the Lord rules the soul.
Jesus had to go through this process himself. He had to overcome obstacles in his family, in society, and even with his own disciples. Jesus was growing right up to the point of Gethsemane where he prayed, "not my will but thine be done." He learned obedience by the things which he suffered. He was then a perfect specimen of manhood and ready to be offered as the Lamb without spot for the sin of the world. If we want to count and not just be counted, we too must use our time to grow and strike forward. The strike forward idea is important. It is not where you are but your direction that matters. Christians are in all different degrees of maturity, but they are successful wherever they are if they are moving forward. A child with 2 years of practice on the piano is not to be compared with one of the famed masters, yet the child is a successful piano player if there is steady improvement. The parents and teacher are pleased with such success. It is not just he destination but the journey that matters.
Growth is success and that is why both Peter and Paul are constantly urging Christians to grow. In II Pet. 3:18 we read, "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." In I Pet. 2:2 we read, "Desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby." Paul writes in I Thess. 4:10, "We beseech you that ye increase more and more." and in Col. 1:10, "Increasing in the knowledge of God." and in I Thess. 3:12, "The Lord make you to increase in love." and in Eph. 4:18, "That ye may grow up into Him in all things." and in Phil. 1:9, "I pray that your love may abound more and more." You see in everywhere in the New Testament that growth is essential and conditional. Everyone can grow but only those who will to grow, will grow.
J.C. Ryle in his classic book on Holiness wrote, " Many admire growth in grace in others, and wish that they themselves were like them. But they seem to suppose that those who grow are what they are by some special gift or grant from God, and that as this gift is not bestowed on themselves they must be content to sit still. This is a grievous delusion and one against which I desire to testify with all my might. I wish it to be distinctly understood that growth in grace is bound up with the use of means within the reach of all believers."
Let me then be always growing,
Never, never standing still,
Listening, learning, better knowing
Thee, and Thy most blessed will;
That the Master's I may trace,
Day by day, my growth in grace.