I have sometimes heard someone say, “I might be growing older, but I’m not growing up.” In a way, I like the message that says. It says that we might have to age in body, but that we don’t have to age in spirit. Our bodies might wrinkle and shrink and get weaker, but our spirits don’t have to lose the sense of fun and wonder and joy that we had as children. Too often we let life make us too serious. Problems and trials and fears have a way of making us solemn, sombre and even grim. As we age, we begin to feel the weight of our responsibilities and we can let it crowd out joy. I have admired the elderly people I know who didn’t let that happen. My friend Curt Bork was elderly but he was always quick with a smile, a joke and a kind word. He often quoted this poem called, Keep Me Sweet by Mrs. Charles F. Cowman:
Lord, keep me sweet when I grow old
And things in life seem hard to bear,
When I feel sad and all alone
And people do not seem to care.
Oh, keep me sweet when time has caused
This body, which is not so strong,
To droop beneath its load of years
And suffering and pain have come.
And keep me sweet when I have grown
To worry so at din and noise,
And help me smile the while I watch
The noisy play of girls and boys.
Help me remember how that I,
When I was younger than today
And full of life and health and joy,
Would romp and shout in happy play.
Help me to train my heart each day,
That it will only sweetness hold;
And as the days and years roll on,
May I keep sweet as I grow old.
Oh, keep me sweet and let me look
Beyond the frets that life must hold,
To see the glad eternal joys;
Yes, keep me sweet in growing old.
Curt lived that. But at the same time, Curt was never childish. He knew how to have fun. But he was also what we might call mature and not just in his body. He was mature in his attitudes, mature in his way of relating to people, mature in his response to adversity and mature in his relationship to God.
And that is why although I sympathize with the sentiments of the people who say, “I might be growing older, but I don’t have to grow up,” I also understand that there are ways in which, if we are going to have joy in our lives, we have to grow up.
You might be wondering why I am preaching this today. We just sent the children down to Sunday school. Most of us are adults here. However, we might all be adults in body, but are we adults in our emotions and spirits? If emotional and spiritual maturity came along with physical maturity, I would wonder why the writers of the Bible continued to urge Christians to
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
1 ¶ Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity ... (Hebrews 5)
2 ¶ Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1)
And so The Bible urges us to become mature. We can assume that there are ways that we all still need to become mature. It seems that maturity needs to be our lifelong pursuit.
At first glance, it looks like our Bible passage this morning doesn’t say much about spiritual maturity. It appears that Paul is simply thanking the Philippian church for sending him a financial gift. It is rather curious in the way he thanks them. When you read the passage, you get the sense that Paul is thanking them on one hand while at the same time telling them that he really didn’t need it. When I researched why Paul would have responded this way, I found out that he probably responded to the gift this way because he wanted to appear different from preachers and teachers who were only in it for the money. He wanted the Philippians to understand that the primary goal of his ministry was not to make money. He also wanted to make it clear that he didn’t consider the Philippians to be his patron. In other words, he was not preaching things to please them so that they would support him. And so, although he appreciated the gift, he considered it a pleasing sacrifice to God on their behalf, and not simply a gift to him.
But in telling them all this in the next few verses, Paul actually shows us four characteristics of maturity in his life.
I. The ability to be AFFIRMING.
10 ¶ I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.
Notice here that Paul is affirming the Philippians for their heart-felt concern. He APPRECIATES the gift – what they did. He AFFIRMS their concern.
While he was thankful that their gift for him arrived, notice how Paul rejoiced greatly in the Lord that they were able to RENEW THEIR CONCERN for him.
He rejoices that their HEARTS were so concerned for him – that they were the kind of people who WANTED to support him.
We APPRECIATE what people do for us. We AFFIRM who people are.
When we thank someone who completes a task, we are expressing our appreciation. When we acknowledge and express our gratitude for who people are – in character, in motive and in heart – we are affirming them personally.
A mark of maturity is the ability to AFFIRM, not just APPRECIATE – as good as that is in and of itself.
It is easy to see people just as doers of tasks. As important as appreciation for a job well done may be, it is incomplete. People are not human tools, but human beings with souls and feelings. It is important to recognize and affirm the unseen, hidden qualities that make an individual person of worth and dignity.
Being able to do this is a mark of maturity because in order to affirm someone for who he or she is, I must get my eyes off of me and on to someone else. I must leave my own self-centred world and focus on the other person. I must learn to empathize with them, see what is important to them, and see what they value.
A mark of maturity is the ability to get our eyes off of ourselves so that we can understand and affirm others.
And so one mark of spiritual maturity is the ability to affirm others.
II. Another mark of maturity that Paul displayed was CONTENTMENT.
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
A mark of spiritual maturity is contentment despite the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Paul’s life was an amazing, adventurous life. In his ministry he found himself in all kinds of situations. Sometimes he was the guest of a wealthy supporter. Other times he lived in a prison cell. Sometimes he found himself well fed and comfortable. Other times he lived in great poverty. At times he lay down his head to sleep in security. Other times he found himself in dangerous positions. He knew all kinds of situations and circumstances in his life. But he had learned to be content in ANY and EVERY situation. He was peacefully happy and satisfied no matter what.
Paul was able to live in want without losing his faith. He was able to endure difficult situations without complaining and blaming God. He didn’t pin his joy on obtaining things he wanted, but didn’t have.
We so often pin our joy on getting something we don’t have yet. If I get that new car, then I will be happy. If I get that new IPAD or that new Smartphone or that new house or that new washing machine or that new set of living room furniture than I will be really happy.
Paul had to do without those things. To be fair, in his day, everyone did! The things Paul did without were much more basic. He often did without warm clothes, food and freedom.
Yet he was content. How? We find the answer in verse 13:
13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Paul’s contentment came not from his outside circumstances but through the inner resources Jesus Christ gave him.
If we depend on things outside ourselves for peace and joy and satisfaction they will prove elusive.
They will prove elusive because we are actually not designed so that those outside things will satisfy us.
Ec 5:10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.
I’m not saying that life isn’t better with some of those things. Having a washing machine of your own is better than going to the Laundromat. Last week we learned how much we like having a dishwasher when ours broke down. It is nice to have some money in the bank.
I’m just saying that if we place our faith in outside things for satisfaction we will not find it. There is always a better washing machine to want. There is always a newer car. There is always a better house.
And I have known people who don’t have these things who are happier than those who do. We simply aren’t designed to find our contentment in things.
The second reason that we won’t find contentment in outside circumstances is sometimes we have no control over them.
Some people think that if only their spouse would change, they would be content. I’m not arguing that it probably would be better if your spouse changed.
A man was sitting first class on an airliner. He was sitting beside a well dressed matronly woman who was wearing a necklace that featured a beautiful, large diamond. The man was mesmerized by the beauty of the diamond and finally asked her, “Ma’am, that is the most beautiful diamond I have ever seen.” “I’m glad you like it,” she replied, “It’s the Klopman diamond.” “I’ve never heard the Klopman diamond,” the man answered, “Well,” she said, “It’s much like the Hope diamond. It’s not as large, of course, but in colour and cut and clarity it is about the same. The only problem is, like the Hope diamond, the Klopman diamond comes with a curse to its owner.” “Oh,” said the man, “What is the curse?” “Mr. Klopman” she replied.
Maybe your life would be better if your spouse changed. However, nobody can control that. We can’t make that happen. We can encourage. We can instruct. We can remind. We can nag but we can’t make someone change. If we pin our contentment on something we can’t control, we will never find it.
All that is within our control is the way we respond and deal with it.
And that is why we need the strength Jesus Christ can give us. We can’t change other people, BUT CHRIST CAN CHANGE US – if we let him.
If you are struggling with discontent, maybe the first prayer you need to pray is the same one we find in Psalm 139.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139)
This is a prayer for change. This is a prayer that God will reveal to us where we need to change and a prayer that God will help us change.
It is through Christ we find the strength to be content because He can work in our hearts to change us. One symptom of Christ working in our hearts to change us is CONTENTMENT.
III. I find it interesting that not only does Paul demonstrate maturity in this letter, but he also highlights the maturity of the Philippians themselves.
A. Personal Compassion
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.
The Philippians “shared” in Paul’s troubles.
They were willing to inconvenience themselves and take on part of Paul’s troubles. They probably empathized with him when he suffered. The felt pain when he hurt, they prayed for him when he was unable to stay in touch and sent friends to comfort him when he was in prison.
Part of spiritual maturity is the ability to share in the troubles of others – to empathize and support others.
Little children often lack this ability to empathize. When told that their friend can’t come over to play because they are sick, the children are more upset that their play is cancelled rather than upset that their friend is sick. As the child matures, we hope that ability to empathize develops as well.
It is not always the case. Sometimes we remain self-centred. A spiritually mature person, however, is someone who can “share” in someone else’s trouble and be a support to them.
B. Financial Generosity.
15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. 17 Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
The Philippians were people who gave. They were the only church in the area that did support Paul and Paul commended them for it.
The Philippians had caught Paul’s vision. They quite literally bought into it. They wanted to see the gospel spread. They wanted Paul to be able to do things he would not have been able to do without his support.
Their financial generosity was a sign of their spiritual maturity.
Someone once asked what the most sensitive nerve is in the body. The answer is, “The one that leads to the wallet.”
While many people are willing to give the Lord credit, they are reluctant to give him cash.
When people graciously and liberally release their treasure in the cause of Christ it is a sign that they are growing up and maturing in their faith. Even with little children we see it as a sign of maturity when they learn to share.
It has been my experience that the most spiritually mature people in a church are also the biggest givers in that church and not just to the church.
We might ask if spiritual maturity comes with giving or does giving come with spiritual maturity. I suppose it is a chicken and egg type of question. Probably the answer to both is yes. Giving can be a faith-stretching exercise. It can be a way that we put ourselves out of our comfort zone so that we grow to trust the Lord with our finances.
One gentleman told me when he was a young man just starting out on his own he was sitting in a worship service and felt the Lord telling him to put all the money in his wallet in the offering plate. He argued with the Lord about it but gave in after a few minutes and when the offering plate went by, he put all the money in his wallet into the offering plate. The next day he received a letter in the mail. It was a birthday card with exactly the same amount of money that he had put into the plate. He had forgotten that it was his birthday. That experience helped him to grow in his faith in the Lord. He indeed experienced what Paul said in verse 19 in the text:
19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
As you get to know Jesus Christ more and more, you quite likely will find that you will be led to similar challenges regarding your giving.
The Lord wants you to become mature. One sign of maturity is financial generosity.
And so, while I like the sentiments of the saying, “I may be growing older, but I refuse to grow up,” I am afraid that we NEED to grow up. It is great to be child-like. It is great to have a sense of fun and wonder and discovery and joy. It is not so great to be childish. It is not so great to be self-centred, to be a malcontent, to be unable to empathize, and unwilling to share. We need to become spiritually mature. We need grow up in our faith.
In what areas of your life do you have to grow up? It’s O.K. to say that you have not fully matured. In fact, identifying those areas may just be the first step to becoming mature. That will be a good thing. In the Christian life there is always more room to grow. In our walk with Christ we should always desire to move forward. And that’s what God wants for us. Little children want to grow up. Don’t you? Don’t we want to be affirming? Don’t we want to be content? Don’t we want to be compassionate? Don’t we want to be people who share? I think that we do. We want to grow up. Let’s ask God to help us. He will. He wants us to grow up too.
20 ¶ To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 21 Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. 22 All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
C. 2012 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.