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      Nurturing people in the image of God since 1868.                                                                          POB 397/520 Dry Creek Rd./Smithville, TN

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GROWING OLD OR GROWING UP

A remarkable passage of scripture found in 1 John 2:12-14 reminds us that the Christian life is active, not static, and that the key to spiritual success is growing in the Lord. While not within the scope of this article to do a thorough analysis of this text, a scan of the verses reveals that John uses three different phrases to describe the people he is writing to: "little children" (2:12a, 13c), "fathers" (2:13a, 14a), and "young men" (2:13b, 14b). Many Bible students interpret John's words to mean he is addressing three distinctive groups in the congregation/congregations he is writing to. "Children" would be new Christians, not physical babies but those who very lately obeyed the gospel and were still in spiritual infancy. "Young men" refers to those who were older in Christ and were stronger spiritually. And "fathers" are those who had been in Christ the longest and possessed the greatest knowledge of God. Even a superficial reading of the passage reveals John speaking of all three groups in a positive light, noting that their sins are forgiven, they know God the Father, they have overcome the wicked one, they are strong and the word of God abides in them. The passage sends a powerful reminder to us that the church is comprised of people of all different spiritual ages and levels of maturity, and that so long as we are faithfully following the Lord, we are secure at every state of our spiritual development.

The problem comes when we confuse growing old in the Lord with growing up in Him. Religious writer Charles Swindoll reminds us the two are not the same "Spiritual babies must grow up. Some of the most difficult people to live with in the church of Jesus Christ are those who have grown old in the Lord but haven't grown up in Him"  (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, p 80). God's goal is not simply to get people into grown Christ but also to get Christ into people. Baptism into Christ is important, even imperative (Galatians 3:27), but Galatians 4:19 reveals that along with baptism into Christ God wants Christ to be "formed" in us. God's goal for us is not simply to grow old in the church but to grow up into Christ. We "should no longer be children. . .but grow up in all things into Him who is the Head, Christ" (Ephesians 4:13-16). Someone has observed that you are young only once, but you can be immature indefinitely. Tom Wilson said, "Wisdom doesn't necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up all by itself." The same is true spiritually. The question is not how long we have been a member of the church of Christ. The question is are we becoming more like Jesus. Spiritually, are we growing up or just growing old?

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ