Shelby G. Floyd
We will work till Jesus comes, and then we will be gathered home. It so good to see you this morning. And we’re looking forward to a study out of God’s word. The text read today really is the theme that I will be discussing and that is we must add to our faith all the different virtues and grow spiritually throughout our life until God comes to take us home. The text that was read was specific and to the point.
We are so thankful we have a lot of growth in this congregation in a physical way. For instance, we have had three families to identify with this congregation the past few weeks. Also, we have baby Paul here at the front and little baby El at the back. And they are growing every week as God intends for little children to grow. Then we have some that have been growing for several years like Natalie and Nivea and several other children about that age. Also we have some of our teens that have grown up in this congregation over the 21-year history of this congregation. Several are going to college like Caden, Cassidy, Cayman, and Brianna. Mitchell McCann is in a trade school to be an aircraft mechanic and they’ve already hired him even before he has finished his schooling!
THREE STAGES OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH
Today, though, we are not really talking about physical growth. We are talking about spiritual growth. The writer of Hebrews urged the Christians from Judaism to go forward to maturity (Hebrews 6:1). So today we are talking about God’s growing family or God’s maturing family. Where are you today, in your spiritual growth? There are different stages of physical growth—mental, social, emotional, and spiritual. Where are you in the different stages of spiritual growth? There are children, young adults, parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents. Each stage has different activities and different needs. I want you to look at this graphic, because that is really a brief picture of what we are going to talk about today:
In this graphic, spiritual growth is compared to LITTLE CHILDREN, FATHERS, and YOUNG MEN! This graphic is based upon John the apostle’s statement:
12 I write to you, little children,
Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.
13 I write to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
Because you have overcome the wicked one.
I write to you, little children,
Because you have known the Father.
14 I have written to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.
I have written to you, young men,
Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,
And you have overcome the wicked one. (1 John 2:12-14 NKJV).
This is really where we are going to center our remarks today. It is a unique passage of scripture. It is a scriptural statement. Therefore, it is an inspired illustration: Little Children, Fathers and Young Men. This illustration includes young girls, mothers, and young ladies also. But since men were appointed as leaders in the church, that’s the way the inspired Bible writers wrote down their teaching. And so that graphic chart really is the picture that I want you to fasten into your mind. And think about it as we go along today.
I will not follow John’s exact order. His order is little children, fathers, and then young men. But I’ll follow the logical order in the way that I think, and it will be children, young men and then fathers. I don’t know why John chose that order, but he did, and the Holy Spirit must have had a good reason. Maybe it’s because we need more young men to step up and be in the army of the Lord so that we can take on the world for our Lord Jesus Christ.
The biblical illustration of the family is the key to our understanding the growth of the spiritual family—the church! In the Bible we read about the Fatherhood of God. The Fatherhood of God is the archetype of all the families in heaven and on earth. Notice that Paul verifies this in the book of Ephesians:
“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Ephesians 3:14, 15).
We use family language a lot. For instance, George Washington is the Father of our country. We read in many of our history books about the Founding Fathers. And years ago, more so than now, even the crime syndicates were called, a family. Family is very important to God and family is very important in the Bible and it should be important to us.
Like all families, the family of God family must grow in spiritual maturity. Peter exhorted his audience to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-11 NKJV).
Now I want us to focus on the three different age groups that John is writing to in the church. The first group he addresses is that of the little children.
SPIRITUAL CHILDHOOD: “LITTLE CHILDREN”
12 I write to you, little children,
Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.
13 I write to you, little children,
Because you have known the Father. (1 John 2:12, 13 NKJV).
Be sure to open your bible and read this unique scripture. It a beautiful passage of scripture about figurative little children? First let us look at spiritual childhood— “little children.” He said I write to you, little children, because you are forgiven on account of his name. I write you little children because you have known the Father. We become spiritual children when our sins are forgiven on account of his name. The keyword at this stage of growth is “forgiven.” At this beginning stage of growth, the relationship with the Father is dominant just like it is in the earthly relationship. Little children in the Lord have a relationship with their Father because their sins have been forgiven. At this beginning stage of the Christian life, the new relationship with the heavenly Father is dominant. Spiritually speaking, it takes time to go from children to young adults, and then fathers! And so we must allow time for new converts to develop, grow and become stronger. As an example, “And Jesus increased in wisdom. And stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
And so how do we go about having our sins forgiven? I need to remind all of us that we must go through the new birth of water and the spirit. John the apostle taught that everyone must be born again:
“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:1-5).
I don’t have to remind you that Paul said that we all are forgiven of our sins when we are buried with our Lord in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-5) The Bible teaches that “We all are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). That’s how we become spiritual children. It is by faith, repentance, confession of our faith, and a burial in water for the forgiveness of our sins. We are God’s children and we have a relationship with him. And we call him Abba, or Father. Like little children when they are very young will call their father da, da, or dad. The Bible says we use that kind of language, Abba, Father to refer to our heavenly Father!
To grow in the physical family, we need to have a loving atmosphere. There needs to be a loving atmosphere for a child to grow up well. We have that kind of growing atmosphere in the church as it should be. We should be like parents to new converts and show them love and to help them to grow, and to them speak words of encouragement. And that will help them to grow. And you know the Bible teaches that newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word. Now how many of you adults have young people in your family and you go to the store and buy a lot of milk—you buy it by the gallons, don’t you? When you get our age, we don’t drink a lot of milk, so we buy a half gallon per week. So children need the milk of the word. That is what the Bible talks about. Peter writes, “As newborn babes desire the pure milk, the pure spiritual milk of the word.” We need Bible class teachers. Who will volunteer to go back and give the little children that are growing up spiritual milk—the milk of the word so they can grow thereby? Peter says, “Therefore, rid yourself of all malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies crave pure spiritual milk so that you may grow up in your salvation and know that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” So that’s what little children need as they grow up, both physically and spiritually.
Do you agree that it is easier to be born again than it is to grow up and be an adult Christian? I can look back at the congregation where we grew up and remember a lot of young people that were baptized into Christ. Are they all faithful Christians today? Are they all living the Christian life? No! We are sad to say that many of them somewhere along the line, stopped growing and stopped serving the Lord Jesus Christ. So it’s a lot easier to be born again than it is to grow up and become spiritual young men, spiritual fathers and grandfathers.
And Paul had that problem with the Church at Corinth. In Acts 18:8, “And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.” They started out as spiritual children. But later after a few years, he writes a letter back home. Have they been growing like they should? No, they’ve been born again, but they’re not growing:
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
And then the writer to the Hebrews said to the Christian people that he was addressing, that they were not growing like they should. They had been born again. They were the Jewish people who had come out of Judaism and had accepted Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God. And they were drinking milk, but they were not advancing and so he said,
“ For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14).
Do we all understand what John was talking about when he said little children, “Your sins have been forgiven. You have known the Father?” But you really need to grow and develop into strong spiritual young men and join the fight to overcome the evil one—the devil! Let us therefore look at the second stage of spiritual growth.
SPIRITUAL ADULTHOOD: “YOUNG MEN”
13 I write to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one. 14 I have written to you, young men,
Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,
And you have overcome the wicked one. (1 John 2:13, 14 NKJV).
Let us go on now in the transition to the next stage of spiritual growth, and that’s spiritual adulthood: “Young men.” I would think that the children we’ve been talking about would be from newborns, up to about 18 or 20 years old, and most societies would accept that. This would be the stage before you become an adult. Now we are discussing spiritual adulthood. I would think, that would be about 20 to 50 years old. How many do we have in that stage? Let me see your hands. We have a lot of spiritual young adults and that’s good. We’re going to talk about that right now. Let us focus on 1 John 2:13, 14 again: “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you. And you have overcome the wicked one.” What is John really saying about these young men? You are strong. Why are you strong? You didn’t stop growing back there when you became a little child in the Lord. You have been reading your Bible every year; you have been studying your Bible classes. You have been growing, taking the meat of God’s word into your spiritual being, and you have become strong. Why have you become strong? Because the devil has not overtaken you. You have overcome the evil one, the wicked one. Satan is called by a lot of different names. And I like what John calls him here. The evil one, the wicked one. Young men and women in that age group of young adults, the devil is going to try you at that stage, more than probably any other group. Satan will use anything he can use to destroy you from being effective as a worker in the Kingdom of God and overcoming the evil one.
Young adults, the key at this stage of growth is activity. You 20–50-year-old adults need to be the busiest people in the congregation. Not the older people. Older people are thinking about retirement. Young men and young ladies, you need to be the strongest people in the church activity and do something for the Lord. Make it happen. This is the big arena where we learn to put God’s word into practice in the practical areas of our lives and in the work of the church family. Do we send old men to battle? No, we send young people 18 to 20 because they’re strong. We need young adults in the church in the spiritual battle that we fight against that evil one—the wicked one.
And at this stage of growth, it is very important to have victory. How many of you young adults played in sports? There is something wonderful when you have a victory? Like when Michigan beat Iowa and beat them bad. We all saw how joyful they were when they won a victory like that. Well, the same thing can happen to each one of you. You young adults in the Lord will rejoice every time you overcome the wicked one. There’s no substitute for victory. John writes, “I write to you young men, because you have overcome the evil one,” and so that’s a victory. Young adults in God’s family, you must be the ones who win the battles over Satan for yourselves and for the church family. James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Satan will not stay around when he faces a lot of resistance. Peter also encourages us to: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:8,9).
The next thing we notice about spiritual young adulthood, is that at this stage we can be strong and become even stronger. We will learn not to rely upon our own human strength, but upon the mighty power of God: “I write to you young men, because you are strong.” Paul tells us how we can be strong in his letter to the Ephesians:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10, 11).
After we have overcome that evil one, we realize we have been able to do that because of the power of God’s word that lives in us. For example, young Timothy was strong because from a young child he had been taking on the word of God into his life: “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17). So God’s word is strong and powerful. It will help you to overcome the evil one when nothing else will. Now, let us look at the third stage of growth. And that is spiritual fatherhood.
SPIRITUAL FATHERHOOD: “FATHERS”
13 I write to you, fathers, because you’ve known him who is from the beginning. 14 I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known him who is from the beginning. (1 John 2:13, 14).
It is very interesting that to the fathers, John writes the same thing twice. He uses the same words over again. Before we leave this world, there is one proposition that we should believe, and nobody could ever change our mind. It is that God has been from the beginning. And Mitch illustrated eternity recently in a graphically good way. God always has been, and He always will be. And if you try to think about that very long, it will drive you insane. We just cannot conceive of something that did not have a beginning, because that is all we know. Everything we know has a beginning and has an end. But “the fathers” in the church know and have known that God is from the beginning. There is no beginning and there is no ending with the God we know. So John repeats that bedrock truth for emphasis. I think we can accept that.
As we get older, we are not going to be able to do the things that we did when we were younger. One thing I have noticed is that when you get dressed, you ask your wife: “Why are my pants too long? I have always been 31 in length.” And she says it is because you eat too much peanut butter! And when you eat too much peanut butter, you get that disease called Chest of Drawers. And it is called that because your chest has fallen into your drawers. And that’s just the way it is with older men. With the aging process we change, and we can’t do a whole lot about it. We try and we make resolutions and all that, but that’s just part of the aging process.
That is the reason we don’t go to war. We send the young people. But “the fathers” who know God can be a great stabilizing influence in the church family. We can keep the church on an even keel! And so we urge everyone we have mentioned today—“little children,” “young men,” and the “fathers,” to take on the Christian graces mentioned by the apostle Peter and become all that you can be!
“ But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-11 NLKJV).
God wants all of us to be faithful to the day that we die, so he can come and take us home to glory. Therefore, we can know our Heavenly Father as a child, as an adult and as a father ourselves. Jesus said that when we have seen Him, we have seen the Father (John 14:8-10). Let us look at the graphic again that pictures all of us in our Christian walk: Little Children, Fathers, and Young Men. Where are you this morning in this spiritual family growth? Have you been born again spiritually so you can be a “little child” of God (John 3:1-8)? Or have you been born again, but you have not grown to be a strong young man or woman, and the devil was able to take you back into the world? Why not be restored so you can become a strong advocate for Christ? We pray that more will become faithful throughout all your life and reach spiritual fatherhood and be able to be an example to younger people and a strong rock in the congregation. Please ask yourselves this morning, where am I in this spiritual stage of growth? Whatever you need to do make it happen now. Make your decision right now, as we stand to sing this song of encouragement. *
* Copyright © 2021 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon December 5, 2021, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana 46142
Shelby G. Floyd Heartland Church of Christ 1693 West Main Street Greenwood, Indiana 46142