‘Let Your Advancement Be Manifest’
“Now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a babe.”—1 CORINTHIANS 13:11.
1. How is growth a testimony to the wonder of creation?
FROM an egg so small that it can only be seen under a microscope, a whale may grow into a creature more than a hundred feet [30 m] long and weighing over 80 tons. Similarly, from one of the smallest seeds, the giant sequoia may grow to be over 300 feet [90 m] tall. Truly, growth is one of the wonders of life. As the apostle Paul put it, we can plant and water, but it is “God who makes it grow.”—1 Corinthians 3:7.
2. What kind of growth was foretold in the Bible?
2 There is, however, another kind of growth that is just as amazing. It is the one foretold by the prophet Isaiah: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.” (Isaiah 60:22) This prophecy has to do with the growth of God’s people, and it is undergoing a major fulfillment in our day.
3. How did the 1991 service-year report show that Jehovah is speeding up the work of his people?
3 The 1991 service-year report of the worldwide activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses shows that the number of Kingdom publishers reached a new peak of 4,278,820, and a total of 300,945 persons were baptized during the year. With the influx of so many new ones, 3,191 new congregations were formed, together with a corresponding number of new circuits and districts. That is more than eight new congregations a day, almost one new circuit every two days. What marvelous growth! Clearly, Jehovah is speeding things up, and his blessing is upon the efforts of his people.—Psalm 127:1.
Time for Self-Examination
4. What questions must be considered as we look to the future?
4 Though heartwarming to see, this blessing also brings with it certain responsibilities. Will there be enough mature and willing individuals to look after the spiritual needs of all these new ones? As we look ahead to the future, it is staggering to think of the number of pioneers, ministerial servants, elders, and traveling overseers that will be needed to care for the growth and expansion, as well as the number of volunteer workers needed in the branch offices and Bethel Homes around the world to support that work. Where will this great number of people come from? There is no doubt that the harvest is great. But who today are in a position to care for all the workers needed to reap that harvest?—Matthew 9:37, 38.
5. What situations exist in some areas because of rapid growth?
5 It has been reported, for example, that in some parts of the world, there are congregations with as many as a hundred Kingdom publishers served by only one elder along with one or two ministerial servants. Sometimes one elder has to serve in two congregations. In other places the need for qualified Christian ministers to conduct home Bible studies is so great that new ones have to be put on waiting lists. In still other areas, new congregations are formed at such a rapid rate that three, four, or even five congregations have to share one Kingdom Hall. Perhaps you have seen growth like this in your own area.
6. Why is self-examination timely on our part?
6 What does the foregoing tell us? That in view of the times, all of us need to examine our circumstances to see if we are making the best use of our time and assets in order to respond to the need. (Ephesians 5:15-17) The apostle Paul wrote to Hebrew Christians of the first century: “For, indeed, although you ought to be teachers in view of the time, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God; and you have become such as need milk, not solid food.” (Hebrews 5:12) As those words indicate, individual Christians also need to grow. And there is a real danger that one may linger in spiritual infancy rather than progress to Christian maturity. In harmony with this, Paul urges us: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves are.” (2 Corinthians 13:5) Have you examined yourself to see if you have been growing spiritually since the time of your baptism? Or have you been standing still? How, though, can one tell?
“Traits of a Babe”
7. For spiritual advancement to be manifest, what must we do?
7 “When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a babe,” said the apostle Paul. (1 Corinthians 13:11) In spiritual development, at one time all of us were like children in our thinking and actions. However, for advancement to be manifest, we must do away with “the traits of a babe,” as Paul said. What are some of these traits?
8. According to Paul’s words at Hebrews 5:13, 14, what is one trait of a spiritual babe?
8 First, note Paul’s words at Hebrews 5:13, 14: “Everyone that partakes of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” Are you ‘acquainted with the word of righteousness’? Do you know God’s Word, the Bible, well enough to be capable of using it to “distinguish both right and wrong”? Paul said that mature people are able to do so because they regularly take in “solid food.” Thus, one’s desire or appetite for solid spiritual food is a good indicator of whether one has grown up spiritually or still remains a spiritual babe.
9. How is one’s spiritual appetite an indication of one’s spiritual progress?
9 How, then, is your spiritual appetite? How do you view the abundant supply of spiritual food that Jehovah regularly provides through Bible-based publications and Christian meetings and assemblies? (Isaiah 65:13) No doubt you rejoice greatly if new publications are released at annual district conventions. But what do you do with them once you get home? What do you do when a new issue of the Watchtower or Awake! magazine arrives? Do you take time to read these publications, or do you just flip through them to look at the highlights and then add them to others on your bookshelf? Similar questions could be posed regarding Christian meetings. Do you regularly attend all the meetings? Do you prepare for as well as participate in them? Apparently some have fallen into poor spiritual feeding habits, skimming and eating on the run, as it were. How different it was with the psalmist, who said: “How I do love your law! All day long it is my concern.” Further, King David said: “I will laud you in the big congregation; among a numerous people I shall praise you.” (Psalm 35:18; 119:97) Clearly, the degree to which we appreciate spiritual provisions is an indicator of our spiritual progress.
10. What trait of a spiritual babe is indicated at Ephesians 4:14?
10 Paul pointed out another trait of a spiritual babe when he warned: “We should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error.” (Ephesians 4:14) As parents well know, children are curious about everything. In a way this is a positive trait because it enables them to explore and to learn and gradually to develop into mature persons. The danger, however, lies in their being easily distracted by one thing after another. What is worse, because of lack of experience, this curiosity often leads them into serious trouble, even endangering themselves and others. This is also true of spiritual babes.
11. (a) What did Paul have in mind in using the expression “every wind of teaching”? (b) What ‘winds’ are we confronted with today?
11 What, though, did Paul have in mind when he said that spiritual babes are tossed about by “every wind of teaching”? Here, “wind” is translated from the Greek word aʹne·mos, regarding which the International Critical Commentary observes that it is evidently “chosen as suitable to the idea of changeableness.” This is well illustrated by Paul’s next words, “by means of the trickery of men.” The word “trickery” in the original language basically means “dice” or “dice-playing,” that is to say, a game of chance. The point is that we are constantly confronted with new ideas and pursuits that may seem harmless, tempting, even worthwhile. Paul’s words apply primarily to matters related to our faith—ecumenical movements, social and political causes, and the like. (Compare 1 John 4:1.) But the principle also holds good with regard to the ever-changing fads and fashions of the world—styles, entertainment, foods, health or exercise routines, and so on. Because of lack of experience and good judgment, the spiritual babe may be overly distracted by such things and thus may be prevented from making spiritual advancement and fulfilling his more important Christian obligations.—Matthew 6:22-25.
12. How do young children differ from adults with regard to responsibility?
12 Another trait of young children is their constant need for help and attention. They are neither aware of nor concerned with responsibilities; childhood is the time of life when almost everything is just fun and games. As Paul put it, they ‘speak as a babe, think as a babe, reason as a babe.’ They take it for granted that others will take care of them. The same can be said of the spiritual babe. When a new one gives his first Bible talk or first starts out in the field ministry, the spiritual parent is delighted to do everything to help. What happens if the new one continues to rely on such help and proves unable to accept the responsibility of caring for himself? Clearly that would be an indication of lack of self-application.
13. Why must each one learn to carry his own load?
13 In this regard recall the apostle Paul’s admonition that although we should “go on carrying the burdens of one another,” still “each one will carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:2, 5) Of course, it takes time and effort for one to learn to shoulder one’s Christian responsibilities, and it might mean making sacrifices in certain areas. However, it would be a serious mistake to allow oneself to be so involved with the fun and games of life, be they recreation, trips, gadgets, or even unnecessary pursuit of secular work, that one merely stands on the sidelines, so to speak, with no desire to increase one’s share in the disciple-making work or to reach out for spiritual advancement and responsibility. “Become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning,” urged the disciple James.—James 1:22; 1 Corinthians 16:13.
14. Why should we not be satisfied with displaying the traits of a spiritual babe?
14 Yes, there are many easily discernible traits that distinguish a child from an adult. The important thing, however, as Paul put it, is that we gradually do away with the traits of a babe and grow up. (1 Corinthians 13:11; 14:20) Otherwise, we may be retarded in a spiritual sense. But how does one make progress? What is involved in maintaining spiritual growth to maturity?
How Advancement Becomes Manifest
15. What are the basic steps in the process of growth?
15 Well, how does growth take place in the natural world? “Each individual begins life as a single cell,” explains The World Book Encyclopedia. “The cell takes in materials and converts them into the building blocks that it needs to grow. Thus, the single cell grows from within. This cell can multiply and divide to form other cells. The process of building, multiplying, and dividing is growth.” The noteworthy point here is that growth takes place from within. When proper nourishment is taken in, assimilated, and put to use, growth results. This is clearly seen in the case of a newborn infant. As we know, a newborn takes in a steady supply of a specially formulated food, milk, which is rich in fat and protein, the materials needed for growth. The result? The amount of growth in terms of weight and height that a baby gains in the first year is never matched in any other year of normal growth for the rest of its life.
16. What kind of growth is seen in most new Bible students, and how is that made possible?
16 There is much that we learn from this natural process of growth that we can apply to our spiritual progress from basics to maturity. First of all, a steady feeding program is essential. Think back to the time when you first started to study the Bible. If you are like most others, you probably knew practically nothing about God’s Word. But week by week you prepared your lessons and had your Bible study, and in a relatively short time, you came to understand all the basic teachings of the Scriptures. That, you must admit, was phenomenal growth, and all as a result of regularly feeding on God’s Word!
17. Why is a regular spiritual feeding program indispensable?
17 What, though, about now? Do you still follow a regular feeding program? One should never think that just because one has been baptized, there is no longer any need for a regular and systematic study to take in nourishing spiritual food. Even though Timothy was a mature Christian overseer, Paul urged him: “Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons.” (1 Timothy 4:15) How much more does each of us need to do so! If you are interested in making your spiritual advancement manifest, such efforts are indispensable.
18. How does one’s spiritual advancement become manifest?
18 Letting one’s advancement be manifest does not mean making a special effort to show off what one knows or trying to impress others. Jesus stated: “You are the light of the world. A city cannot be hid when situated upon a mountain” and, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 5:14; 12:34) When our hearts and minds are filled with the good things of God’s Word, we cannot help but manifest this in what we do and say.
19. What should we be determined to do regarding our spiritual progress, and with what result in view?
19 Hence, the question is: Do you regularly study the Bible and attend Christian meetings to take in the nourishing material that can stimulate your internal, spiritual growth? Do not be satisfied with being a passive observer when it comes to spiritual development. Take positive steps to make sure that you are making full use of the abundant spiritual food Jehovah provides. If you are one whose ‘delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law you read in an undertone day and night,’ then it can also be said of you: “He will certainly become like a tree planted by streams of water, that gives its own fruit in its season and the foliage of which does not wither, and everything he does will succeed.” (Psalm 1:2, 3) What, though, can be done to make sure that you will continue to make spiritual advancement? This we will discuss in the next article.
Can You Answer?
□ Why is it timely to check our spiritual advancement?
□ How is spiritual growth related to spiritual appetite?
□ What is meant by “every wind of teaching”?
□ Why must each one carry his own load?
□ How is spiritual advancement achieved?
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Do you take time to read Bible-based publications?