My wife and I are not terribly green-fingered. Amazingly, an indoor tree I once bought my wife as a misguided present, somehow still clings on to life in our home over 10 years after I bought it for her. It has certainly been at the point of death more than a couple of times. Fortunately for our little tree, my mother-in-law regularly sees fit to revive it. I recall one fateful day she determined we had so woefully neglected it that she took it away for a few months like some sort of tree-based social service. It certainly came back looking much refreshed. Alas, it is in need of some TLC again.
As you can tell, I don’t know much about plant-care. Despite growing up in a shire county surrounded by countryside, it is apparently possible to remain entirely ignorant of horticulture, agriculture and the sort of activities that occupy horse trainers. One thing I do know, however, is that you can’t expect a seed to grow unless you stick it in the ground. No matter how great you are at gardening, you can tend the soil till you’re blue in the face, you can water it all day long, but if you don’t stick any seed in the ground you are wasting your time.
The same principle of growth applies to teaching. Back during my brief career as a secondary school teacher – and I’m sure any teacher will tell you still – you could hold a PhD in your subject area, you could deliver masterful lectures that are both insightful and interesting, but unless you actually give your pupils something to do, it will all be for naught. Delivering content and offering didactic information, whilst most certainly important, is akin to tilling the ground. Unless you put the seed in the ground, nothing is going to grow.
In exactly the same way, when it comes to the church, this principle of growth applies. We can deliver all the sermons, run all the programmes and sing all the songs we want, but if we don’t give our folk anything to do then they aren’t going to grow. Ah, you will say, but does not God work through the Word preached? Of course he does. But just as a seed needs water to grow, it’s got to be put in the ground before the water will do it any good. For our members to grow, yes they must be watered by the Word, but they’ve got to be in the ground for the water to do them any good.
Well then, I hear you reply, surely Christ is the ground. Well, in a particular analogy, yes. Christ is the ground, the Word is the water and the people grow. But it’s worth noting this, how does Paul suggest we receive grace? In 2 Corintihans 12:9, he says it is when we are weak because Christ’s ‘power is made perfect in weakness’. So, says Paul, ‘I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me’. It seems that we receive more grace when we are seeking to serve the Lord in those things we do not otherwise feel equipped to do.
It is worth looking at what else Paul says about grace in Ephesians 2:8-10:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
If we are saved by grace for good works, it follows that our good works are thus a result of grace. More than that, it appears that Paul is saying we are given grace for good works. That is, our salvation is by grace and that grace multiplies for the purposes of our walking in the good works that God has prepared for us to do. Given that God is the giver of grace that leads to both salvation and good works, our good works redound to his glory because he is the one who ‘prepared them beforehand’ and provides us with the requisite grace that enables us to walk in them. Isn’t that what Paul means when he says ‘ for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (Phil 2:13).
If we receive grace from God for the good works he has prepared beforehand for us to do, does it not follow that we grow in grace when we do those good works? For when does God give us grace for good works? Surely it is at the point the grace is needed. Doesn’t James write that the one who does good works will be ‘blessed in his doing (Jam 1:25)? What blessing could he possibly have in mind? Presumably the same blessing Paul has in mind in Romans 8:28-29; namely, growth in Christ-likeness. That is, being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who is himself the source of all grace.
This means growing our members involves giving them something to do. They will receive grace as they seek to serve the Lord in the good works he has prepared beforehand for them to do. If they forever feed off the preacher, the appointed evangelist, the deacons, other members and never engage themselves in good works, how can they expect to receive the promised grace for the good works we were called to walk in? Sure, we may not throw somebody straight into the pulpit (though we can work up to that). But if you want your folk to grow, give them something to do.