“I Write unto You, Young Men”
“I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” (1 John 2:14)
“And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.” (Mark 4:30-32)
The “kingdom of heaven” at times describes the whole work of God, and at other times the work in an individual who is born again. This parable has meaning in both arenas, but our thoughts here are directed toward the individual: you, young man, and me. The mustard seed is very small, is it not? And not only very small, but it must be sown for there to be any prospects of change. If I’m a mustard seed, and aspire to be a useful bush, I face two challenges: my sense of inferiority to seeds in general, and the appalling prospect of being buried. But in these two things lie great promise, for if I recognize how disadvantaged I am, it stirs me all the more to call upon God and depend on Him to work. And if I face the prospect of being buried, and accept it, nothing stands in the way of God working. I had to die to what I was to get saved. I must stay buried (deny myself, stay lowly in heart) to grow.
Suppose now I have been born again by the will of God—I’m saved—all things are new—and I now look ahead and a vision of usefulness in the kingdom of God rises before me. But I’m so small, so limited, have so many weaknesses and faults! Ah, the mustard seed is “less than all the seeds that be in the earth.” Last place—that is, behind everything and everyone else. How does it become this great bush with “great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it”? Simply this: “it groweth up.” Do you see a timetable here? Does it say, that it grows faster to catch up, or it focuses on the other bushes in any way? No. It simply grows. We want to follow this thought of growing, first examining a couple of examples in the Bible.
“But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him.” (1 Kings 12:8)
This is spoken of Rehoboam, King Solomon’s son, at a point of crisis in his life. It was time to be crowned king of Israel, but there were simmerings of rebellion at the oppressive load Rehoboam’s father had put on the people. The full story shows the disastrous mistake he made (yes, it was according to God’s purpose, but from his perspective, it was an awful mistake, nonetheless). What went wrong? He “consulted with the young men that were grown up with him.” We are often naturally attracted to those closer to our “level,” our peers, because we feel “normal-sized” around them. But Rehoboam so badly needed the counsel of those much further along than him in this crisis. Furthermore, the counsel of his “fellow seeds” was the sort to make him feel big and important. Oh, how deadly pride is to proper growth!
“And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren.” (Exodus 2:11)
This is a test of where Moses was in his growing. Do you notice the phrase, “one of his brethren”? Moses identified with these lowly, despised slaves, despite all the earthly advantages he had lived under. He was headed in the right direction for proper growth, but we find he still had a way to go before being useful in God’s sight. His own idea of delivering “his brethren” was still full of himself and his abilities. Later, after forty years as a shepherd in the wilderness, he had gotten small enough: “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” (Num. 12:3) This later Moses was the man God used to deliver His people.
“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” (Psalm 92:12)
Palm trees, with their single trunk and cluster of large green branches, give a sense of luxuriant plant life—I still carry a picture in my mind of a row of stately palms lining a road we drove by when I was a young child, towering perhaps 50 feet in the air. Palm branches are used as a symbol of victory. The cedars of Lebanon were stately, long-branched, and the wood was of pleasant odor as well as durable. They were the giant trees of the middle east, much as those in the western US might regard the coastal or Sequoia redwood trees of California, or the Douglas Firs of the Northwest. These are images that suggest resiliency and stature. But let us consider the beginning of the verse: “The righteous.” We don’t grow successfully to great stature spiritually because of wisdom or boldness or zeal (although these might play a part at times in our growth), but by being “the righteous.” Living right, keeping clean in our souls, walking humbly in obedience to our Savior—these are the things that result in flourishing growth.
“As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” (1 Peter 2:2)
A human baby grows best as it gets the nourishment best designed for it. The word sincere in this context means unmixed, or pure. A newborn babe doesn’t know enough to really have an appetite for anything other than “sincere milk,” but they can develop an appetite for less healthy things if given them, and can learn to desire them more than the milk. A child of God can develop an appetite for less healthy things than “the word,” but what is best for them? Spiritual growth can be stunted, or worse, by the many things the enemy of our souls would mix with “the word,” or substitute for “the word.” Let us plead with the Lord to help us have healthy appetites for the things that are best for us to grow spiritually!
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)
I spent a little time as a volunteer “collector” of overdue accounts for a daycare some years ago. I also work now with people who have to collect money owed to a government agency. One of the things I noticed both in my own labors and in observing those of others, is how “grace” works in these situations. Grace is extended to the humble and cooperative, and not generally to the stubborn and “slippery.” This is partly due to the natural reactions of people who have the distasteful task of “going after” people to collect debts, but it also pertains to justice and fair play. It is more appropriate to reward cooperativeness than contrariness. There is a correspondence here with grace as it pertains to our relationship with the Lord. To “grow in grace” is not to become more self-sufficient, but to cooperate more fully with a loving and generous God! To “grow in grace” is to grow more proficient at responding humbly to God’s dealings with us, at leaning on Him and cooperating with Him and drawing our strength from Him! And to “grow… in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” suggests something different than if it were put “grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.” The focus is on knowledge that pertains to His position with us as Lord and Savior. If we gain the type of knowledge that enhances our obedience, such as hearing His voice better and trusting Him more, we are growing in the knowledge of our Lord. If we gain more of a love for good and abhorrence for evil, and a dependence on Him to “deliver us from evil,” () we are growing in the knowledge of our Savior.
“It groweth up”—let’s ask the Lord to help us do so.