The following article by Mr. James Gunn was taken from a booklet he wrote some 50 years ago entitled, “The Christian’s Ambition.” I have had my copy of this booklet for many, many years. It contains a series of addresses given by Mr. Gunn to young people in Chicago when he himself was still a fairly young man. The booklet, published by Gospel Folio Press, bears no date.
As we read the letters of the apostle Paul we feel that we are really watching him in his labours for the Master. We see him on the old Roman roads as he journeys from place to place with the gospel, we watch him and listen to him as he takes his seat in the synagogue and reads the Scriptures and reasons with the Jews. We sit among the philosophers of old on Mars Hill and hear him as he directs minds and hearts to the Unknown God. And in chapter one of his Colossians epistle we step within the prison door at Rome, and behold a man with chains on arms and legs kneeling upon the pavement bowed in prayer. Let us listen to his prayer, for in it we have the desire of his heart for the Colossians. He prays for their spiritual progress. He hopes that they may grow in grace and in the knowledge of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
Let us look at this subject under several headings:
1. The Measure of Spiritual Growth
This may be seen in the repetition of the little word “all.” “Filled with all wisdom”; “worthy unto all pleasing”; “strengthened with all might”; “unto all patience.” He desired to find in them a full measure of these Christian graces. It was for full development and perfect maturity that Paul prayed; no partial growth did he wish to see.
In spite of the fact Paul knew that on earth he himself could not reach this, he endeavoured to attain to the state of the resurrection by fellowship with Christ: “That I might know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death: if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11). He rebuked the Hebrews for their spiritual immaturity, “Ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat” (Heb. 5:1112), and also the Corinthians, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are carnal” (1 Cor. 3:1-4). Immaturity in the physical body is a sad thing, and immaturity of mind is a sadder thing, but I think to God the saddest thing of all is spiritual immaturity. God’s desire for us all is full growth.
2. The Means of Spiritual Growth
In the language of the apostle here there can be seen a twofold request: First, “That ye might be filled.” Second, “That ye might walk.” It will be noticed that, the first is unseen while the second is seen; one is private and the other is public; one is the cause and the other is the effect. It is the first of these that really shows the true means of spiritual growth. Let us notice three factors in the acquisition and the operation of the divine will in the Christian. “Being filled with the knowledge of His will.” That is apprehending the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures. “In all wisdom.” I judge this means that I must not only know the will of the Lord, but that I must also know its connection to my life and particular circumstance. It is a question of knowing His will and also where it fits. Then we read “spiritual understanding.” Now this may mean the applying of God’s will to my life and ways. These three can be illustrated by Solomon’s workmen engaged on the construction of the temple. First, they had to quarry the stones they possessed by taking them out from among all the others. Now that is like the acquisition of knowledge. Second, they were measured for a particular place in the temple, and cut and shaped until they met the specifications, to make sure that they would fit into these places. Last of all, the stones were taken to the temple, and placed in the position where they belonged; they were applied to the building. The second of these reminds us of wisdom and the last one of understanding. As the people of God, to grow in grace, we must through knowledge acquire the will of God, and through wisdom determine just where it fits into our daily life, and then through understanding we must apply it there.
In writing to the Romans the apostle Paul says, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2). So, then, one learns the will of God not only by the reading of His word, but also by the renunciation of the world.
3. The Manifestation of Spiritual Growth
“That ye may walk worthy of the Lord.” Our spiritual growth is manifested in our walk. The manner of my life is the effect of my knowledge of the will of God.
To what extent am Ito walk worthy of the Lord? “Unto all pleasing.” Dr. Moule renders this expression, “Unto every anticipation of His will.” This may be illustrated thus: A child dutifully does what his father asks him, and thus pleases him; but then the child on some occasions anticipates father’s wish and goes and does some things without being asked; it thereby pleases the father to a much greater extent.
In how many ways is this progressive walk of the child of God to be seen?
1. In service: “Being fruitful in every good work.”
2. In knowledge: “Increasing in the knowledge of God.”
3. In experience: “Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” Strength is required in the every day experiences of life, and it will be given by God unto all patience amidst surrounding circumstances. Patience struggles but endures; longsuffering endures without struggling and joyfulness endures and glorifies in suffering. These are only to be seen in those that have grown in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as in the apostle Paul who wrote, “And not only so, but we glory in tribulation” (Rom. 5:3).
4. In gratitude: “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Who delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” Every day the Christian’s heart should be filled with gratitude to God. It will be noticed that by inverting the order of things in verses 12 and 14 we have an ascent from lower to higher plains: Forgiveness of sins; redemption through his blood; translation into the kingdom of His dear Son; and participation in the inheritance of the saints in light. No wonder we should be thankful to our God.
May we henceforth be no more children, but may we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and may this spiritual development be seen in our walk before God, our brethren, and the world.