Watch the entire service here:
Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Psalm 119:1-8 here.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
In one of the Peanuts comic strips, Charlie Brown asks Linus this very question. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Linus answers, “Outrageously happy.”
What do you want to be when you grow up? Some of us might think we’re too old for that question, but my dad, who is in his 80s, says he’s still figuring it out.
Do we stop growing?
The way we grow physically is pretty amazing. Through complicated interactions of cells and hormones with our organs and bones, we grow from tiny little babies into fully formed adults. Our genes are programmed so that at a certain point, the process changes and the bones stop getting bigger and our growth plates fuse together. “From an evolutionary viewpoint, once our genes have orchestrated the growth and development of the body to the point that it can reproduce, the purpose for growth is complete.”
Physically, we grow to the point that we can reproduce.
I know that this greatly oversimplifies a very complicated process, but it’s an interesting thought to consider. We grow to the point that we can reproduce. That actually fits with God’s command to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1, “Be fruitful and multiply.” God tells Noah the same thing (Gen. 8:17, 9:1). And God says it again to Jacob along with a reminder of the promise to give them the promised land (Gen. 35:11). Be fruitful and multiply. Grow.
What if that’s true for us spiritually as well? What if the purpose for spiritual growth is to grow to the point that we can reproduce? To reproduce spiritually is to be able to help others to know God’s love and to become followers of Jesus. To reproduce spiritually is to be following Jesus command to “Go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them.” (Matt 28:19-20) Be fruitful and multiply. Grow.
If the purpose for spiritual growth is to grow to the point that we are reproducing, how are we doing?
Maybe you don’t want to grow to the point of reproducing. Maybe you, like Linus, just want to be happy. Maybe you already have children and what you want is for them to be happy. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all just be, as Linus says, “Outrageously happy”?
Yes, of course. Our Old Testament reading for today Psalm 119 says, “Happy are those who walk in the ways of the Lord. Happy are those who follow God’s decrees, and seek him with their whole hearts.” (V.1-3)
What if the purpose for spiritual growth is to grow to the point that we’re happy and we’re helping other people to be happy? Now we’re talking, right?
So how do we grow in happiness and help other people to be happy? Psalm 119 says we’re happy and blessed when we are walking with God and seeking to follow God’s ways. When we’re growing closer to God and toward God’s purposes.
In our other reading from 1 Corinthians 3, Paul points out the signs of unhappiness. He says, “You are jealous of one another and arguing.” (V.3)
Paul is writing to a church that he started in a port city that is known for being a fun place. I’ve heard people call Corinth the Las Vegas of the ancient world. Sailors enjoyed having some shore time there. Maybe they might even have used the motto, “What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth.” People in Corinth were known for finding their happiness in the pleasures of the flesh. Paul had spent time with them telling them about a different kind of happiness that comes from knowing God’s love for us, shown to us through Jesus Christ. This was the “milk” he fed them as spiritual infants. The basic good news of the gospel – through faith in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven of our sins.
Paul planted the seed of the gospel. He stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, and then moved on to another city so that he could keep spreading the Gospel (Acts 18). After he left, Apollos came and continued the teaching that Paul had begun. Apollos watered the seeds that Paul had planted. There were no denominations in those early days, but there were already divisions whenever they lost sight of God’s purposes and got distracted by lesser things. Paul reminds them that it didn’t matter who had baptized them or which leader they were following. Both Paul and Apollos contributed to the process of building that church in Corinth. Paul says:
”What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. 9 For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.” (1 Cor 3:7-9 NLT)
We are God’s building. God makes us grow. Like a tree planted by water. Psalm 1 says that when we find our delight in learning God’s ways, we’re like a tree planted by a river, bearing fruit in due season.
God blesses us with growth when we keep seeking God and trust that God is working.
On the cover of the bulletin this morning there is a picture of the rings inside a tree. The rings are the result of the tree’s growth. The center is the oldest part and the outer edges are the youngest. Wider rings mean more growth happened that year. Narrower rings show that less growth happened. The rings are lighter in color when the tree was getting more sunlight and water. The darker rings could indicate that there was a drought that year.
The tree doesn’t always grow the same amount, the conditions change with the seasons and with the years, but the tree keeps on growing. God makes it grow. It’s not so different with us. We keep on growing. Sometimes very slowly. Sometimes more quickly. Whether we realize it or not, we are growing because God keeps working.
Like a tree, we go through different seasons of growth. Whatever season we’re in, God brings the growth. And, as Paul reminds us in our memory verse:
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. –Philippians 1:6
My dad lives in the town of Cambria, on the central coast of California. It’s a beautiful place where there are lots of houses built on the hillsides overlooking the ocean. When we visit there, we always go walking through the neighborhoods and along the beach. One of the first times we visited after my dad moved there, we noticed that there were houses in various stages of unfinished construction. They had that weathered look about them that happens when they’ve been sitting unfinished for awhile. The reason is that Cambria has limited access to water, and back in 1986 they stopped adding new permits for water so that they would be sure to have enough for everyone. Water rights are a hot commodity in Cambria and those who have them don’t want to lose them, so they do just enough construction each year to qualify to keep their water rights, so that when they’re ready to retire, they can finish their houses and move to Cambria permanently.
We can be in a similar place in our life with God. We can do just enough to keep going, trusting that we’ve secured our access to heaven for when we’re ready to move there when we die. And God is patient and gracious with us and gives us the freedom to choose. How much Jesus do we really need? Just enough for salvation? Just enough on Sundays to get us through the week? In some seasons of our lives, this is all we can do, and as we continue to seek God through these seasons, God blesses us with growth.
Sometimes we hear God calling us to do more. God blesses us with growth when we take steps in faith that stretch us and take us outside our comfort zones.
If you watched the Oscars last Sunday night, you heard Idina Menzel sing the song “Into the Unknown” from the movie Frozen II. It’s a stirring and somewhat haunting song about the siren call that Elsa keeps hearing that’s calling her to leave her comfortable home and go learn about something that happened in the past. The refrain of the song is the same as the title, “Into the Unknown.” Elsa doesn’t know exactly where she needs to go, but she keeps hearing the call, and when she follows the call she learns something that repairs a deep rift that had grown between two groups of people.
That siren call is like the Holy Spirit calling us forward, drawing us more deeply into the heart of God. Calling us to grow so that we can help others know God’s heart.
Elsa’s call reminded me of Abraham’s call. God told Abraham to leave the land of his fathers and go to a new place that God would show him. God made Abraham this promise: “I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. . . All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
God called Abraham to grow so that he could be a blessing. Through Abraham, God created the nation of Israel, a nation of people who grew to know and worship God, and through whom God sent us Jesus, our messiah and savior, so that all the people on the earth could know the blessing of walking with God.
Happy are those who seek God with their whole hearts and walk in God’s ways. (Psalm 119:2-3)
The Holy Spirit is calling us to keep going, keep growing, until we find our happiness in God, and until we fulfill our purpose of helping others find their happiness in God. We keep on growing to be reproducing. We keep on growing to help others know the heart of God.
It is God who makes us grow, but we plant the seeds and do the watering. God blesses us with the desire to grow. Jesus says in Matthew 5, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” We can ask God to give us the desire to grow. We can pray, “God give me a hunger for more of you.”
Looking back, I can see that sometime after I started praying that prayer, I got that hunger to know God more, and that was when I started reading the Bible straight through. God blessed me with a growing knowledge and understanding as I kept reading and rereading.
Has God given you a hunger for growth? If not, start by asking God to give you the desire to grow spiritually.
God also blesses us with growth when we see areas in which we need to grow and we ask for help. Paul points out to the people in Corinth that their jealousy and quarreling was a sign of their need for growth. Long before I heard the call to go to seminary, I saw a need for growth in myself when I realized that I couldn’t walk into church without finding something to criticize. As I looked into that more, I realized that I wasn’t just doing that at church, I was being judgmental everywhere. I didn’t know what to do to stop, so I just started asking God every day in my prayers to make me less judgmental. I prayed that prayer for many years before I felt like I improved. I hope you aren’t sitting there saying, “Well, that prayer didn’t work.”
Has God shown you an area that needs work? Ask God to help you and keep on asking.
God blesses us with growth when we keep on trusting him, even when our situation is challenging or when we can’t clearly see the way ahead. God blesses us with growth when we keep on working together to help people know God’s love and grace.
Sometimes God gives us a vision of how we can be better, how life can be different, and we grow as we seek to follow God’s vision. That’s what happened to Harriet Tubman. (If you haven’t seen the new movie about her yet, it’s on Amazon now.) She had a vision that slaves could be free, and that vision gave her the hope and courage to go after freedom. She might not have made it if people hadn’t helped her along the way, and once she found the way she was determined to go back and bring others out. Before the Civil War began, she had brought more than 70 people out of slavery. She kept on listening for God’s guidance to accomplish this. Some had suggested they wait for the Civil War to end slavery rather than keep risking their lives, but Harriet couldn’t stand the thought of people having to keep on living in slavery, separated from their families, being treated so brutally.
What do you want to be when you grow up? I want us all to be fruitful, multiplying the growth God has given us, growing in our ability to trust in Jesus and follow his ways.
At the end of each worship service, I use Romans 15:13 as a benediction. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will overflow with hope. This is a prayer for us to grow to the point of reproducing, to overflow with hope to the point that it affects the people around us, and helps them to know this same hope.
May we keep on seeking God, hungry to know God more, and growing in our trust in God to the point that we are helping others to know God’s love, and may God give us the vision and the courage to make it so.