我來到休士頓之後學會了養金魚，可以把一吋長的魚養成四至五吋長，可是，在過去的兩年，情況轉壞了，魚兒們不再生長，甚至死去了。我嘗試改養不同的魚，可是，效果仍是不變，上一個月我幾乎要放棄養金魚了。但我還是拿了魚缸的水質樣本給寵物店化驗，他們說水的酸鹼度過高和含有大量的亞摩尼亞，影響魚兒的生長，於是，我換了水，並採取了正確的步驟，到目前為止 , 魚兒們好像還滿開心。如要魚兒成長的話 , 一個 恰到好處的環境，是先決條件。
基督徒的成長也是一樣，我想到有些剛信主的信徒渴募神的話語，他們不間斷地參加祟拜、主日學和團契或小組，可是，他們漸漸的慢了下來 , 逐步停止了這些活動 . 他們屬靈生命的成長停頓了。在過往的數月中，我們學習了要像耶穌的樣式成長，我們也要成長更像耶穌，但曾紀何時，我們總是對自己的成長不滿意，原因何在？ 因為有些不健康或是某些毒素進入了生命 .
一 , 第一世紀教會的剖析
當日的哥林多教會可成為２００６年任何一所教會的寫照 . 我們也有優點，且看我們當中神賜予的恩賜與才能，都是其他教會所 羡 慕的。反之，我們也像哥林多教會一般，有我們的問題，有些教會正處於信徒分裂狀態，在種族、教育水平和經濟階層間劃分了界線；爭執取代了亙愛，信徒之間和教會之間的法律訴訟舉目可觀，信徒的溝通中斷，過去的朋友現在連談話也停止了；像哥林多教會 , 這些都是信心不成熟 , 屬靈生命不成長 的徵兆。讓我們一起來探索缺少成長的一些原因 .
二 , 狹窄的心靈抑制成長
1. 缺乏屬靈分辨能力 林後２：１７、３：１
這是否我們今天的光景？你的朋友與你一起認識基督，你們一同受洗，參加同一的教會和團契，你們的屬靈生命一同增長，可是，好景不常，你的朋友發現有更新和吸引的道理，他嘗試說服你與他共進，但你決定要堅守你所學的道理，繼而，你們慢慢地疏遠了，你們彼此間的愛心和感情逐漸流失，甚至成為了陌生人。跟隨錯誤的道理，往往會封閉了對信徒的愛心 . 關係的破裂，也是屬靈生命成長的障礙。
2, 與罪妥協 林後６：１４－１ 5
這也是我們今天信徒生命的寫照，我想到一些曾經在教會事奉的信徒，有一天發現他們已停止了在教會中的事奉 , 後來，我才知道 他們已離開了教會 ，原來他們生命中有未悔改的罪，以致他們不願意再來到教會 . 當信徒不願意認罪悔改，我們就會逐漸遠離其他的信徒，心也會變得狹窄起來，障礙了屬靈成長。
三 , 敞開的心靈邁向屬靈生命的成長
我們在這裡看見了甚麼 ? 保羅承認了他生命中的弱點、挫折感和爭扎 . 保羅是在承 認他的軟弱和何等需要神的恩典 . 他們雖然封閉了對保羅的愛心，但保羅對他們的心還是敞開的，他透過坦誠與他們分享自己的脆弱和對神恩典的需要來表示他的心是向他們敞開。
當我的心向你是封閉時 , 我絕不會向你承認我的軟弱 , 我的錯誤 . 當我的心向你是封閉時 , 我要叫你知道我是對的而你是錯的 . 我要全世界都知道你如何的傷害了我 , 同時我才不關心你的死活 .
因此 , 如果我要成長的話 , 我必須要將我的心向主內的弟兄姊妹 , 自家的成員敞開 . 要敞開我的心 , 我也必須承認自己的脆弱和對神恩典的需要 .
2. 我們與神和與他人的復和是敞開的心原因 .
為什麼在信徒的成長中 , 一顆敞開的心是如此的重要 ? 為什麼對人有敞開的心是如此重要 ? 當我的心向你封閉時 , 這就反映出我倆關係的破裂 . 聖經對這事有許多的教導 . 以弗所書 2:13-14, “你們從前遠離的人，現今在基督耶穌裡，靠著他的血已經可以親近了。 基督就是我們的和平：他使雙方合而為一，拆毀了隔在中間的牆，就是以自己的身體除掉雙方的仇恨，”
這段經文告訴我們說 , 因為罪的緣故 , 我們都是神的仇敵 . 但是當耶穌基督死在十字架上時 , 我們的罪得蒙赦免 , 我們就與神和好 . 不單如此 , 因基督在十字架上的死 , 他拆掉了我們與敵人之間的隔牆 , 使我們能彼此和好 . 我們之間就有了互相敞開的心 .
基督既然已除去了你我中間的隔牆 , 那我怎能再因我對你心的封閉而重建這牆呢 ? 基督在十字架上的死促使我們要彼此敞開自己的心 . 雖然你的心向我是封閉的 , 但因基督的緣故 , 我的心 , 靠著神的恩愛與聖靈的幫助 , 卻仍然向你是敞開的 .
每當我探望某一位弟兄時，我總是欣賞和 羡 慕他的魚缸，當中有一尾魚從起初的一吋生長成現時超過了十二吋，若把任何的魚放進這缸裡，牠們也會不斷成長，我盼望我的魚也可以這樣，若要魚兒不斷成長，健康的魚缸是先缺的條件，缸內不可以有任何障礙魚兒生長的雜質。
我們屬靈生命的成長不都是一樣嗎？在不同的教會裡 , 都會看 見弟兄姊妹屬靈生命的成長，使我的心受到了鼓舞，各人屬靈生命的質數、與別人的關係，和在教會的事奉，都是在主裡成長的指標。但也有時，在不同的教會裡也看見一些人停止了屬靈生命的成長 , 而感到難過 . 雖然 受洗多年，但信心仍沒成熟 . 其中的一個徵狀，就是他們的心向某些人封閉了。
我們若要學習基督一樣成長，若要長得像基督，就要向別人敞開我們的心靈，一顆向人敞開的心，也是一顆向神敞開的心 . 向信徒彼此敞開的心，正是屬靈生命成長的鑰匙。
Text: Galatians 6:14
Title: Cross and the Christian Growth
Theme: Since the cross is a manifestation of God's character, it is an integral part of Christian growth.
The cross comes in many different shapes and sizes. This is the cross of the Celtic Christians. This is the cross of the Egyptian Christians. This is the cross of the Greek Orthodox. Many of us wear crosses as jewelry. This is a cross that we see every Sunday.
What does the cross mean to you? When was the last time we think of the cross? Yes, we heard it during the Easter weekend. We often associate the cross with evangelism. We share with others how God loves us and died on the cross for us, urging them to come to the cross and confess their sins. In recent months we are learning what it means to grow spiritually? So, what does the cross mean to us in our Christian growth?
In the first century, there were some problems with several churches. The church at Corinth had faith, but they wanted to add Spiritual Gifts to it at the expense of the fruit of the Spirit. The church at Galatia had faith, but in addition, they also wanted circumcision. The church at Colossae had faith, but added rules and regulations. There was a similar pattern among these churches: In order to grow, there must be faith plus something else.
So what was Paul’s response? To the Corinthians he wrote 1 Corinth 1:22-23, “ 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified..” To the church at Galatia , he wrote, Gal 6:14, “ 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” To the church at Colossae , Col 2:13-16, “ ……. 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” When some of the early Christians taught that Christian faith, Christian living includes faith plus spiritual gifts, or circumcision, or rules and regulations, Paul’s response was precise: Go back to the cross. The cross can’t be separated from our growth. If we are to grow spiritually, we have to come back to the cross; we’re to understand the meaning of the cross.
I. The cross provides us with the assurance of God's grace towards us.
The cross tells us something important about God.
1. The cross demonstrates God's love for us. John 3:16, “ For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Paul wrote in Romans 5: 8 , “ 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Gal 2:20, “……Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” From these and other passages, it clearly tells us that Jesus' death on the cross is a public and visible demonstration of God's love for us. It is a sacrificial love.
We, because of sins, are separated from God. However, God took the initiative to find us and to win us back. How? By sending his son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross. Can you imagine this? He gave up his son in order that we may come back to him. Its like saying that you have two children. One of them had gone astray. In order for him to come home, you have to give up the one you have now. It is unthinkable, right? This is exactly what God did so we can come back to him.
Its like saying, God loves you. How much does he love you? He loves you this much (two hands stretched out); this is the cross. We don’t deserve this love, therefore when we see the cross, we see God's grace towards us.
2. The cross demonstrates God's justice. I vividly remember one Christmas season when I was still attending college in Japan . There was a Christmas service and the speaker was the well known Situation Ethicist, Joseph Fletcher. In the midst of the warm candle light, his sermon was on God's love. He forcefully and eloquently stated that because the Christian God is love, therefore it is impossible to imagine that he would condemn men to hell, to eternal death. At first it sounded very convincing and had a great impact on me. In the following months, in my reading and reflection, I began to realize that the Christian God is also a holy and just God. He has clear and distinct moral standards. None of us can stand before this holy and just God. Being a just God, He would have to make us pay for our sins, to punish us. If so, how about his love? Being a loving God, he could easily brush our sins away and tells us not to worry about them. If he does this, then it would contradict his Justice.
So, what did he do about our sins? Isaiah 53:5-6, “ 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” 1 Pet 2:24, “ 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” What did the just and loving God do about our sins? He placed all our sins on Jesus Christ on that cross. Jesus himself is sinless but because of our sins he was punished and nailed on the cross. On the cross he cried out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If we were there, we would have answered: “he was forsaken by God, his Father, because of our sins.” Jesus' death on the cross satisfied God's justice.
Again, do we deserve this? No, before this just God, we only deserve to be punished, separated from Him. Yet he placed our sins on Jesus, and considered us as just, as righteous. This is grace. When we see the cross, we see God's grace.
3. The cross demonstrates God's wisdom. What do men do about their sins? In the eastern religion, there are several ways. First, we are to quit sinning right away ( 放下屠刀立地成佛 ). Secondly, we have to wait to reap its consequences and thirdly, we try to accumulate as many merits as we can so we can cancel out our sins and wrong doings. You notice that all these are man centered. And experience tells us that its hard if not impossible to stop sinning, or to suffer its consequences. There is no way we can accumulate enough merit to cancel out our sins. We sin far faster and more than the good works we can do.
So, what did the Christian God do? He loves us and took our sins and put them on Jesus Christ. Jesus' death on the cross satisfied his love and justice. The cross is the meeting place of his love and righteousness. No religion has approached human sins this way. For this reason Paul writes in 1 Cor 1:18-24, “ 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. …..but we preach Christ crucified, …… Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” When we look at the cross it tells us about God's wisdom.
When we look at the cross, we can truly say, Gal 2:20, “……Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” What does it mean to us today? Romans 8:32, “ 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” This means that since God loves me and gives me his own son, then I also know for sure that he will also give me what is best for me. When I see the cross, I have the assurance of God's love and grace towards me.
This conviction is the key to Christian growth. From time to time I hear people say to me that I am not sure if I can still trust God. I doubt if he really loves me. Look at my life. It’s in a mess. Anything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Before I became a Christian, life wasn’t like this. But now, look at me. If he really loves me, why would he allow such things to happen? Some of us may be thinking about what life will be like after retirement. There is a sense of insecurity within us.
However, when we turn to the cross, we are being reminded of how much God has loved me. If God loves me and put my sins, and his wrath towards me on His son, Jesus Christ, how can he be against me? If God has given me his only son, would he not also give me the best according to his perfect will? The reason we lack assurance of God's love and grace is because we focus too much on our circumstances. We let our situations define our faith and who God is. Instead, we are to turn to the cross again and again. For the cross is God's final persuasion of how much he has loved us. Are we still doubting God's love, grace and goodness towards us? Look at the cross.
II. The cross provides us with the means of holy living.
We have looked at the cross as God's means of grace. By looking at the cross we have the assurance of how much he loves us. However, there is more to this. Gal 6:14 tells us two things about the cross, “ by which (the cross) the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” To the Christians, the world is crucified on the cross and to the world, the Christian is crucified on the cross. Let’s take a closer look at them.
1. To the Christians, the world is being crucified. The world is not meant by the material world we see. In the scriptures, the world is a reference to sins, to that which is against God's will, displeasing to God. The crucifixion is not natural; it is a deliberate and brutal execution. Therefore, for the world to be crucified is not something that will happen naturally. It is not something that the longer you become a Christian, then sins and the remnants of sins in our lives will slowly and gradually disappear. No, it requires deliberate effort on our part to nail the world, the sinful nature on the cross. It requires a radical decision to get rid of sins in life. Matthew 5:29-30, “"If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. …..And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” This is radical eradication of sins from our lives. Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” If we are to grow, to live a holy life, then we are to deliberately cut off sins from our lives.
You remember the parable of the good soil? There are seeds fallen among the thorns, and the thorns grow up and choked them. Because of the thorns, the seeds cannot grow well. It will grow to a certain extent and then stopped. If we don’t get rid of the known sins in our lives, it will stop our Christian growth. There are times we see individuals who have been Christians for 10, 15,20 or 30 years, yet spiritually they still are immature. Why? Because they have allowed thorns and sins to grow in them.
To grow like Jesus did, to be holy like him, we have to crucify the world, those sins in my life on the cross. We have to make an effort to crucify the sins of greed, immorality, resentment, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, gossip, uncontrolled anger, worry, obscene talks and slander. If we don’t get rid of them, we will not be able to grow.
2. To the world, the Christians are being crucified. We have learned that we are to grow as Jesus did. There is this guiding principle: 1John 4:17, “ as he is so also are we in this world.” So, what was he? Isaiah 53:3, “ 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” He was rejected and despised by the world. Since he suffered, despised, rejected and grieved, so will we.
Today, many Christians are seeking a life without pain, a life of health and prosperity. When they face calamities in life, they blame God and turn away from him. This is so foreign to the biblical teaching. This past Thursday I had the privilege of baptizing a cancer patient and his wife in their apartment. When his wife was two or 3 months pregnant, he was diagnosed with advanced stage of cancer. The baby is now two months old. They became Christians several months ago. I think of another cancer patient who was baptized here about 2 months ago. These individuals, in the midst of their pain and suffering, responding to God's call and followed him. I feel they had personified this truth: As he is so also are we in this world.
There are times the world will reject us because of our faith in God. We can think of Christians in different parts of the world still imprisoned because of their faith. Some faced the threat of death in certain Muslim countries. For us living in this country, we may experience rejection by the world in a different manner. People close to us, may be our spouse or friends at school and work, would say, “how can you still believe in this?” “Why are you going to church? What for? Are you kidding?” “How can people like you go to church?”
To grow like Jesus is to expect rejection and suffering in our world. The way to holy living is to have the world crucified to us, and us crucified to the world.
Some time ago I asked an individual a fairly simple question: Where are you worshipping now. He said it was a long story. Then he went on to tell me that he was at one church for several years, and then went to another church. The church he was at was his third church in 10 years. He explained that at different times in his spiritual growth, he was searching for different things and different churches met those needs. Yes, there was faith, but he wanted to add something else to it. Don't we also sometimes feel like this? If I am to grow in Christ, besides my faith in him, I also need to have some extraordinary experiences or do more good works. Do we also feel sometimes that we are not too sure of God's love and goodness towards us? Are we doubting about God?
If we find ourselves in such situations, then we need to come back to the cross. At the cross, we have the assurance of God's love for us. At the cross, we find the key to Christian growth. Shall we pray?http://archive.hcchome.org/
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