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Stepping Your Way toward Maturity by

Learning How to Handle Criticism

by Pastor Douglas Shearer

 

In last week's sermon, I made the point that Christ was both fully God and fully man. Let's read from Luke 1:35.

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

Luke 1:35

Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit - and born of the Virgin Mary - making him fully God and fully man.

I tried to explain last week the role Christ’s deity plays in our redemption - that it gives to his sacrifice on the Cross the infinite value that atonement requires. Without it, God could not have passed over our sins. That’s the purpose of Christ’s deity; its purpose is to deliver us from the penalty of sin - death - by enabling God to pass over our sins without in any way calling into question his absolute hatred of sin. That’s the meaning of Romans 3:25 and 26.

But the purpose of Christ’s humanity is to save us from the power of sin. The power we need to break the grip of sin in our lives - to break all the devil’s bondages - that power is found within the scope of Christ’s humanity.

That’s a truth that needs to be declared again and again. We’re so geared toward the supernatural. We tend to think of salvation in terms of the acquisition of supernatural power. And it’s not.

Salvation is not a process that transforms us into deities. That’s what the Mormons teach; it’s what the Hindus teach; and it’s what New Age is all about.

There’s a growing fascination with the supernatural - both the good and the evil of it - mostly the evil. We tend to think of the developing cosmic struggle - which we all sense is reaching a crescendo - whether Christian or otherwise - only in terms of a clash between awesome supernatural forces - with human beings cast into the role of mere pawns - props - by and large helpless and powerless. You see it on TV and at the movies more and more - the supernatural.

  1. The threat it poses.
  2. How to guard against it.
  3. How to sense it.
  4. What to do when confronted by it.
  5. How to control it.
  6. How to acquire its power for ourselves.

It’s a recurring theme within the entertainment industry.

Much of it began with the Exorcist over twenty five years ago - but with every passing year, it’s becoming ever more elaborated - ever more blatant - and cast in ever darkening terms. And the line here between what passes for Christian entertainment and secular entertainment is very thin - to the point of being at times nonexistent. Christian books, Christian films, Christian seminars have all taken up the same beat: the supernatural.

And the message in both realms - the secular and the Christian - is always the same: we humans must acquire for ourselves supernatural power - that the coming cosmic struggle will occur fundamentally within the supernatural sphere - that the human sphere is not basically a part of it - that it becomes a part only by being dragged into it.

Our humanity, it’s suggested, is far too insufficient; far too inadequate. The power at its disposal is pitiful - and not to be compared to the power of the supernatural. If we’re to struggle effectively against the power of the “Dark Side,” we need to be trained under the careful, watchful eye of "Yoda" - who will teach us how to control and manipulate the "Force" for good.

And that’s a trick of the devil. Because the coming clash is between man and the devil.

It’s the power of a restored humanity that God plans to pit against the forces of darkness.

Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Gen. 3:14-15

It’s as the Son of Man that Jesus waged his battle against the devil, not as the Son of God. It’s as the Seed of the Woman that Jesus triumphed over each and every demon sent against him - and, finally, over the devil himself.

We’re being tricked - whether it’s the "Pretender;" or the "Millennium;" or the "Profiler" - we’re being seduced. What we should be focusing on is not the power of the supernatural - but the power that’s at our disposal in the restored humanity the Holy Spirit imparts to us the moment we’re regenerated.

With all this in mind, turn with me to Luke 2:40. Because it’s here that we begin to learn exactly how Christ waged his struggle against the forces of darkness arrayed against him. It’s exactly the way we’re called upon to wage our own struggle against those very same forces.

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:40

The translation here is very poor. Let me provide you with a better translation from the original Greek.

Re-translation

And the child was growing, (not “grew” - it's not in the past tense; it's in the imperfect tense - implying continuous action - denoting, therefore, a slow process; it didn’t occur rapidly; and it most certainly didn’t occur instantaneously), and was being strengthened (not “waxed strong” - again, it's not in the past tense; it's in the imperfect tense - implying continuous, on-going action - a slow process) being filled with wisdom (omit the prepositional phrase “in spirit” - it’s not present in the best manuscripts; and change “filled” to “being filled”) and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:40

So, here’s how Luke 2:40 should read from the original Greek:

And the child was growing and was being strengthened, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:40

What we have here is a process. Humanity is not like deity. It grows and develops. It matures. It doesn’t spring forth complete. Development and growth are intrinsic to human nature. The power that’s there must be cultivated - brought slowly to maturity. It doesn’t come ready made.

Jesus grew - and that growth was vital; without it, he would have failed to develop the powers God meant for him to use against the devil - the very powers God means for us to employ.

The key to understanding Luke 2:40 is, in many respects, found in Hebrews 5:8 and Hebrews 4:15.

We’ll only touch briefly upon Hebrews 5:8; and then we’ll move on to examine Hebrews 4:15 in detail - but hold your place in Luke 2:40.

Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered...

Heb. 5:8

Jesus learned obedience. That seems so strange, doesn’t it? Imagine, Jesus had to learn obedience. Obedience wasn’t his by nature; he learned it. He developed it.

At first glance, it seems almost blasphemous. But there it is. Jesus learned obedience. It’s very plainly stated.

Let me explain it. It’s important. The fact that Christ learned obedience does not imply that at one time Christ was disobedient.

Innocence is not obedience.

  1. Innocence is the state into which Christ was born.
  2. Obedience is the state into which Christ grew.

Let me put it slightly differently:

  1. Innocence was Christ’s beginning state of being;
  2. Obedience was a choice that he, just like all of us, had to make - and not just once, but again and again - over the entire course of his life - culminating with the last, painful choice he made in Gethsemane. . .

...O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

Matt. 26:39

Christ never departed from innocence - he remained always sinless - which is what Hebrews 4:15 tells us unambiguously - he was “without sin;” but he progressed from a state of mere innocence - a state of sinlessness - to a state of obedience.

At every stage along the road to maturity, Christ chose to trust God - and, in trusting God, to obey him. And through those choices, he became obedient - a final, mature state of being - which is the pinnacle of human achievement - what human maturity is meant to lead us to. The third and fourth chapters of the Book of Hebrews speak of the rest God calls us into through obedience to his will. Obedience to God’s will leads finally to God’s rest.

Now, let’s examine Hebrews 4:15 - which, like Hebrews 5:8, explains Luke 2:40.

...(he) was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Heb. 4:15

Because Hebrews 4:15 is so important in terms of casting light upon Jesus’ growth to full maturity, let’s read it together with Luke 2:40.

And the child was growing and was being strengthened, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:40

...(he) was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Heb. 4:15

Look carefully now at the three clauses that make up the second half of Hebrews 4:15 - the half that we’re concerned with - the half that throws light on Luke 2:40:

  1. was in all points tempted;
  2. like as we are; and
  3. yet without sin.

Let’s begin with the first clause "was in all points tempted..." "Tempted" translates the Greek word “pepeirasmenon" - "pepeirasmenon.” And that's an unfortunate translation - because the English word "tempted" conveys the sense of moral perversion - the sense of preying upon an ingrained lust. But frequently "pepeirasmenon" implies little more than a "test" - and is meant to be morally benign. And that's its meaning here. Clearly, "pepeirasmenon" is not used here in the sense of James 1:14.

But each one is tempted ("peirazetai" - a different form of the same word in Hebrews 4:15, "pepierasmenon") when he’s carried away and enticed ("deleazomenos"), by his own lust.

James 1:14

In James 1:14, there's no question that the issue is "moral perversion" - that an ingrained lust is being exploited - that, therefore, the English word "tempted" is an appropriate translation. Why? Because it's used in conjunction with the word "deleazomenos" - which means "to entice."

So the better translation of Hebrews 4:15

...(he) was in all points tested like as we are, yet without sin.

Putting these two verses together, we’re able to catch the dynamic underlying all spiritual growth:

  1. spiritual growth consists of a series of stages - each of which is marked by a test.
  2. Each test is a challenge - which, if mastered, leads to an in-filling of wisdom, which is a translation of the Greek word “sophia” - we’re filled with wisdom. We’re filled with “sophia.”
  3. Each test, when courageously faced and mastered, leads to ever more wisdom - “sophia.”

And we aren’t talking here about some esoteric gnosticism - a secret lore of some kind - which is the meaning the word “sophia” is acquiring within the “New Age Movement.” We’re not talking about the supernatural, non-human realm. We’re not intruding upon the mystical here.

“Sophia,” does not convey the sense of knowledge alone - far from it. It includes the sense of knowledge; but there’s more to it than just that. Its definition is best given in James 3:17.

But the wisdom that’s from above (the kind of wisdom that’s filling Jesus in Luke 2:40)

  1. is first pure, then
  2. peaceable,
  3. gentle, and
  4. easy to be entreated,
  5. full of mercy and good fruits,
  6. without partiality, and
  7. without hypocrisy.

James 3:17

The description James gives of wisdom is almost the very same description Paul gives of

  1. the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 through 23, and
  2. love in 1 Corinthians 13.

Look at Galatians 5:22 through 23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

Meekness, temperance...

Gal. 5:22-23

That’s the fruit of the Spirit. Here now, from 1 Corinthians 13, is Paul’s definition of “love.”

Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

1 Cor. 13:4-7

That’s love. And, here again, is James definition of “wisdom.”

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

James 3:17

That’s wisdom.

Look again at Luke 2:40.

And the child was growing and was being strengthened, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:40

There’s nothing mystical here - nothing supernatural - in that it’s intrinsically alien to human nature. When someone tells you that he’s spiritually mature - and to prove it he points

  1. to all the Bible knowledge he possesses, or
  2. to the unerring accuracy of his prophetic word, or
  3. to the truth of his spiritual insights, or even
  4. to the miraculous powers he displays

...remind him of Luke 2:40 - its real meaning - that spiritual growth is measured only in terms of the fruit of the Spirit - that’s the meaning of the word "wisdom" in Luke 2:40 - the concrete form wisdom assumes; it’s also the meaning of love - the concrete form love assumes. Remind him of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, (I am) nothing.

1 Cor. 13:1

A person who is growing in Christ is becoming

  1. ever more loving
  2. ever more joyful;
  3. ever more peaceful;
  4. ever more patient;
  5. ever more gentle;
  6. ever more concerned with the interests of others;
  7. ever more persevering;
  8. ever more willing to give ground to others - to make room for others; and, lastly,
  9. ever more in control of his passions.

That’s the mark of real spirituality. That’s what it means to be filled with wisdom. That’s what it means to become fully human.

And that’s what was happening to Jesus - in the small town of Nazareth - nestled in the high valley solitude of southern Galilee. His humanity was being developed through a series of stages - each of which was marked by a peirasmon (peirasmon) - a test - a challenge - which, when mastered, led to a new level of maturity - marked by a new in-filling of wisdom. And, so, slowly, painfully, his humanity was developed. Jesus’ growth to full maturity marked the first time humanity ever reached its zenith - the very pinnacle of what God had always intended.

Remember: spiritual growth is not automatic.

It’s marked by a series of crises - specific, well defined challenges - each of which must be mastered before further growth can occur. If the challenge isn’t mastered, spiritual growth ceases.

Let’s carefully review the dynamic of spiritual growth:

  1. Spiritual growth begins with a challenge - what the scripture calls a test (peirasmon);
  2. if the challenge is mastered and the test is passed, there’s an in-filling of wisdom;
  3. the concrete form that wisdom assumes is the fruit of the spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, etc.
  4. Then, a further challenge is encountered - an additional peirasmon - which, if also mastered, leads to a further in-filling of wisdom - which assumes the concrete form of ever more joy, ever more peace, ever more patience, ever more gentleness, etc.
  5. And so on - and on - and on - until, finally, we enter into the Promised Rest of the third and fourth chapters of the Book of Hebrews.

The dynamic underlying all spiritual growth is peirasmon - the test - the challenge.

And each test marks a fresh stage of spiritual growth. Peirasmon is the impetus that propels spiritual growth forward. Without peirasmon, spiritual growth is impossible.

That’s why James 1:2 tells us

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations...

James 1:2

The word that’s translated “temptations” is, I’m sure you can guess, the plural form of the Greek singular "peirasmon" - "peirasmois."

Why “count it all joy”? Because the test to which you’re being subjected indicates that you’ve reached a new stage of spiritual growth - and the peirasmon you confront marks that stage. And if you master the challenge it poses, you’ll break into a larger, more expanded realm of joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, etc. - which, of course, is exactly what James goes on to describe in the verses which follow.

As Jesus grew up - passing from infancy through his teen years - and, finally, into adulthood - he encountered at each stage fresh challenges - new tests - new peirasmois - each one of which he mastered. The end result was a humanity which is exactly what God had sought for in Adam - but which Adam’s failure had aborted.

When Adam failed - at what stage - we don’t know. We know the test; and we know the sin it led to; but we don’t know the stage. We don’t know how far Adam’s spiritual growth had progressed before his tragic failure. Again, we know the nature of the failure, but we don’t know the stage of spiritual growth it marked.

But Jesus, unlike Adam, passed through each and every stage - perfectly - with no failure. How do we know? Again, Hebrews 4:15 tells us unambiguously:

...(he) was in all points tested like as we are, yet without sin.

Heb. 4:15

Not once did Jesus fail; not once was his growth impeded by sin. He became what God intended man to be. He reached the pinnacle of manhood. Every aspect of his humanity was fully developed. Each feature was perfect. And it was then - having achieved the very zenith of human maturity - that Jesus was sent forth by God the Father to be baptized by John in the River Jordan - which for Jesus was not a baptism of repentance, but an anointing (Acts 10:37-38) - which installed Jesus into the Messianic Office - and invested him with all the authority pertaining thereto.

The dynamic prompting spiritual growth on the part of Jesus is exactly the dynamic that prompts our spiritual growth as well. Each stage is the same. Each challenge is the same; each test is the same; each peirasmon is the same. How do I know? Again Hebrews 4:15 tells me.

...(he) was in all points tested like as we are, yet without sin.

Heb. 4:15

“...in all points...just as we are...”

There’s no difference! The dynamic is exactly the same.

This process in Jesus was unimpeded - in the sense that each challenge was mastered at every stage of growth. There was no failure. But we have failed in many of the choices we’ve made. We’ve failed to pass all the tests we’ve encountered - to master each and every challenge. Though we’ve been redeemed by the blood of the lamb - regenerated - our spiritual growth is often impeded - thwarted - because we don’t always make the right choices - we don’t always pass the test that marks each stage of spiritual growth; and until that test is passed, until that challenge is mastered, our growth is thwarted.

So often, we refuse to face our failure - to admit it. And when, finally, we’re forced to admit it, we make excuses for it. “It was too hard. It was beyond my capacity. I wasn’t ready for it.”

It doesn’t matter how much we squirm; how much we make excuses. The plain and simple truth of the matter is that we don’t grow.

1 Corinthians 10:13 deals with our excuses - all of them.

No temptation (peirasmon) has overtaken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (peirasthanai) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation (peirasmon) will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Cor. 10:13

God carefully measures out each and every test he subjects us to - making sure that it’s not beyond our capacity. The point of the test - the challenge - is not to make life miserable for us - it’s to propel forward our spiritual growth. Spiritual growth and peirasmon go hand in hand.

If we bog down at any one point, God uses rebuke and correction to bring us around - bring us to the point of facing our failure. Rebuke and correction are an inescapable part of human spiritual growth.

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?

But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Heb. 12:5-8

Correction and rebuke are meant to

  1. help us see what we failed;
  2. how we failed; and
  3. encourage us to face the test again - and to master it.

Why do so many of us fail as Christians to grow? It’s not because we fail the peirazmois so often. That’s not the real reason. The real reason is that we cringe from being rebuked and corrected when we fail.

Oh, how we love to rebuke and correct others; but how difficult it is for each of us to undergo rebuke and correction ourselves. That’s the real reason we stagnate.

Someone points out a failing - and, oh, how we defend ourselves; oh, how we become indignant; oh, how we make excuses. And so we don’t grow.

And, after a while, the rebukes become more and more infrequent; people give up trying to correct us. Our temper and indignation drive them away. Our excuses become wearisome.

You remember two Sundays ago the three couples who stood here before you - how they told you of the victory they’d gained in their marriages. Each person began his or her long journey to victory with an admission of failure. Each person began by acknowledging defeat. That was the beginning.

And most of the process involved in bringing them to victory consisted of a series of corrections and rebukes.

  1. They policed one another;
  2. confronted one another;
  3. encouraged one another;
  4. pressed one another.

Of course, part of their victory consisted of learning new insights; but that accounted for only about 30%; the remaining 70% consisted of rebuke and correction.

An unavoidable key to victory is rebuke, correction, and encouragement.

Perismon2Spiritual growth is not a seamless straight line - moving ever upwards. It consists of a series of stages - each one of which is entered into through a test - a peirasmon. And unless that test - that challenge - is mastered, the next stage is never reached - and spiritual growth ceases.

When we fail, we need to be corrected and rebuked - and, then encouraged. It’s a process we can’t do without.

And with each stage that’s entered into, we reach a new level of empowered humanity - ever more frightening to the devil and his almost numberless hosts.

The devil knows that it’s the Seed of the Woman that he needs to fear.

That’s why he’s bombarding you with the "Millennium," "the Pretender," and the "Profiler." That’s why in Christian bookstores so much of what’s being sold there pertains to the supernatural - and serves the primary purpose of stirring up your fascination with the supernatural.

The devil is doing everything he can to distract you from perfecting your humanity - to get you to think that the key to overcoming him lies in the supernatural and the mystical. But it’s all a lie.

Marriages that work - friendships that are true - patience, gentleness, meekness, joy, peace - that’s what terrifies the devil.

And all of that is developed over time - through a whole series of stages - each one of which is marked by a peirasmon - and each one, when mastered, releases more joy into your life - more peace - more gentleness - more meekness.

  1. What tests have got you bogged down?
  2. What tests have you given up on ever passing?
  3. What tests do you cringe from - and make excuses for refusing to take?
  4. What "boxing rings" don’t you climb into anymore?

I’m going to ask you to recommit yourselves to victory - and in so doing, commit yourselves, perhaps for the first time, to rebuke and correction - to embracing rebuke and correction.

Wherever it is that you're bogged down - whatever test you've failed to pass - whatever challenge you've failed to master - whatever it is, step up to the plate again. Each of us has failed at some point - and each of us is struggling at some point. There’s no shame in admitting failure. It’s not failure that should shame us, it’s our refusal to admit failure when it’s so painfully obvious. It’s our refusal to admit that the test we face can be overcome; that it’s not beyond our capacity to overcome - that God has never permitted us to be confronted by a peirasmon that can’t be overcome and mastered. Let's move forward again - break the inertia that has paralyzed us - and begin once more to...

run with endurance the race that's been set before us - looking unto Jesus - the author and finisher of our faith...

Hebrews 12:2

 

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