Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Key to Joyful Christianity

1 John 1:4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.

How can we as God’s people enjoy getting ourselves centered around the Written Word, the Bible and the Living WORD Jesus Christ.  When I read 1 John 1:4, its words leap off the page and into my heart: “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”  These words communicate the main thought of: "Joyful Word-Centered Christianity." 

A Little bit about the Apostle John – the man who lived the joyful word-centered life

Now mind you when the Apostle John wrote these words, he was writing some sixty years after Jesus Christ had ascended into heaven. John by this point in his life was in his early to mid-nineties.  He was under the ever-watchful gaze of the Roman Empire, was providing pastoral oversight to seven churches in Asia Minor, and would face within a short span of time exile to the Isle of Patmos, where he, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would compose the Book of Revelation.  Within a span of less than five years John wrote the Gospel of John, this letter of 1 John, two other shorter letters (2 and 3 John) and the final book of the Bible – the Apocalypse or more commonly known simply as “The Revelation”. 

Why John was such a joyful Christian, and how you can be one too 

There was no doubt about it, the Apostle John was a man of the Word and THE WORD.  John was known as “the beloved disciple”. (John 13:23; 21:7,20).  His nickname “The beloved disciple” stemmed from the joyful love that He had for the Living Word and the written Word.  In 10 places in his Gospel and all three of his little letters, John refers to “Joy” or “enjoyment” in contexts where either Christ, the Living Word is the subject or speaker, or where the written Word is being shared. 

It has been commented that the Apostle John is known as “The Apostle of Love”, since the theme of love is mentioned almost 40 times in his Gospel, almost 40 times in 1 John  and 10 more times in 2 and 3 John.  Yet this insatiable love of John is not unaccompanied without the tone of joy that we see in His thrill over the Living Word – Jesus Christ, and the Written Word of God. 

Understanding Christian Spiritual Maturity

Colossians 1:3-4 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;

Defining spiritual maturity and its benefits
What is spiritual maturity in Jesus Christ? All spiritual maturity is shaped by those two chief concerns: treasuring Jesus Christ and  loving his people.  In Colossians 1:1-12 we see Paul demonstrating the crucial link between a Christian's spiritual maturity and fulfillment in Jesus Christ. 

What are the outcomes of those who press daily to be spiritually mature? Hebrews 5:13-14 gives us the answer: For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Connecting Christian spiritual maturity to fulfillment in Jesus Christ
So how does one's spiritual maturity connect to finding fulfillment in Jesus Christ?  Colossians 1:1-12 spells this connection out for us:

1. Spiritual maturity can only grow in the presence of fulfillment in Christ's Word. Colossians 1:1-7
Notice how many times Paul refers to the Colossians growing spiritual maturity in conjunction to their hearing the word of God:

-they heard of the hope laid up in heaven for them "in the word of truth, the gospel" (Colossians 1:5)
-their Christian maturity is bearing fruit in Christ's fulness that they heard of and understood from the scriptures. (Colossians 1:6)
-they learned the cornerstones of their maturity of treasuring Christ and loving his people from Epaphrus, who faithfully ministered the Word to them. (Colossians 1:7)

Only when I am exposed to the fulness of God's written word will I grow in my appreciation of the fulness of Christ.  As I treasure Jesus Christ, the natural outcome should be a greater love for His people - thus the two elements of Christian spiritual maturity.

2. Spiritual maturity goes forward in the power of prayer that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:3, 9
As these Colossians were growing in grace from finding their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, Paul prayed that they would do all the more.  Prayer indicates that I need God's grace to walk out what He calls me to do by His grace.  The desire to treasure Jesus Christ and love His people cannot be done without a growing prayer life.  If the Word of God is the engine of spiritual maturity, and fulness of Christ is the fuel, then the Christian's prayer life is the transmission.  The transmission in a car is what delivers power from the motor to the wheels.  If I don't have a prayer life - I don't have power.  Fulfillment in Jesus Christ cannot be increased apart from prayer. 

3. Spiritual maturity grows fruitfully because of seeking to be even more fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:9-12
Colossians 1:9 reads -  For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
The knowledge of God's will is attained through growing familiarity with the scriptures and obedience to Christ. (Deuteronomy 29:29; John 14:15,21,23).  What does spiritual maturity that is bearing fruit in Christ's fulness look like?  Paul's prayer for the Colossians reveals the fruit we should desire in our seeking further fulfillment in Jesus Christ:

-Desiring to know and do the will of God Colossians 1:9
-Desiring to walk in a way that pleases God Colossians 1:10a
-Desiring my life to demonstrate to others a desire to know God Colossians 1:10b
-Desiring to live in His strength, not my own Colossians 1:11a
-Desiring to have a continuous enjoyment of Jesus Christ Colossians 1:11b
-Desiring to be thankful to God in all things Colossians 1:12

Spiritual maturity is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, since in treasuring and loving Him, I'll end up treasuring and loving His people, leading me to be more effective in my Christian life.