Acts 6:1-5; 8:4-13; 26-40
This past Tuesday, I brought Esther to the pediatric dentist. In the office were various neon light pictures. One of these pictures was Pooh Bear holding behind him a red Valentine’s heart. I asked Esther what that neon picture was. She said, “It’s a heart.”
I asked, “Who’s holding the heart?”
She looked at me with a smile and said, “Jesus!”
I had the hardest time trying to convince her that neon picture was not Jesus. The picture didn’t looked anything like Jesus, but Esther has learned that Jesus is the pat answer to many of my questions. Reproducing faith and skills in our children, in non-believers or in new believers can sometimes be met with humorous results.
Nevertheless, Jesus commanded us to make disciples. Paul reminded us to pass on what we’ve been entrusted. But what I’ve seen passed onto as faith and skills are really traditions or personal preferences. Other times we pass on Bible information and pat answers. Reproducing faith and skills is hard. Reproducing behavior and information is much easier.
When we talk about faith, we are talking about what we believe. When we talk about skills, we are talking about more than Bible study skills, different ways of praying or training in evangelism. We are talking about the application of what we believe to everyday life and every area of life.
We’ll be looking at the model of Philip this morning to learn how faith and skills mature in a person. We often think faith and skills mature as a result of Bible studies, daily prayer, reading devotional books or attending conferences. These are helpful, but let’s see how God matures a person in faith and skills. Our text is Acts 6:1-5; 8:4-13; 26-40. Let me read that for us.
Philip, if he were a part of our church, would be serving in the Congregational Life Ministry. He and 6 other men were appointed by the Elders to make sure certain widows in the church were attended to. Philip was not only described as a mature Christian, but he was described as a Christian who reproduced faith and skills in others. When we finish reading the last record of Philip in the New Testament, we find that he brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to Ethiopia through the Ethiopian eunuch, and he became a life-long evangelist.
Let’s look closely at Philip’s maturity that enabled him to reproduce faith and skills in others.
First, Philip matured internally.
In Acts 6, we see Philip was full of God’s Spirit and wisdom. To be full of God’s Spirit means his life had evidence of God’s transformation. He was under the influence of God. We read in Galatians 5:22-23 that the result of God’s Spirit working in a person is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
And Philip was full of wisdom. The Bible tells us that wisdom is inside the person. Proverbs 14:33 tells us, “Wisdom is enshrined in an understanding heart.” The exercise of that wisdom is what becomes evident outside the person.
Philip was chosen to serve, and he was effective in ministry, because he was mature internally. Philip made room for the Holy Spirit and for wisdom to reside in his heart. But most of us work on achieving externals without working on internals.
Most of the time, we want to grow in external accomplishments, because people reward external accomplishments. I know of no boss who gives raises based on integrity, patience or self-control. Internal accomplishments or maturity such as character or emotional health is often overlooked. Yet, if we don not grow internally, our faith is shallow and unable to endure hardship and obstacles.
I was on the phone with my mentor a couple of weeks ago. I was ready to give up being a pastor. I said to him, “I’ve been reading these leadership books, and I don’t think I’m cut out to lead the church. I don’t like the discomfort that comes from relational breaks, and the stress is sometimes too much for me. I’m being worn out.”
He told me that leadership books generally don’t tell the whole story. They highlight the successes in order to sell the books. Then he proceeded to tell me about his recent discouragement and disappointments in ministry. He shattered for me the myth that strong and spiritual leaders don’t struggle with discouragement or disappointment.
Ross Campbell noted that emotionality and spirituality are closely related. For instance, bitterness, pride and worry are both emotional and spiritual in nature. Peace, joy and confidence are also emotional and spiritual in nature. Therefore, reproducing mature faith and skills must go beyond head knowledge and external behavior to applying our faith to our emotions and internal growth.
Few people want God to change their inside, to address character flaw, generational sin, emotional immaturity and negative personality. People want God to change their outside circumstances, the people around them and the results of their actions. But to truly reproduce faith and skills, we must help people apply their faith internally first. The external walk and talk will follow.
Second, Philip matured gradually.
Philip went from distributing food to widows to preaching and performing miracles in Samaria to being responsible for bringing the Christian faith to Ethiopia. Because Philip was faithful with the little things, God entrusted him with bigger things.
Seminary students want to pastor mega churches. Beginning sales people want to have the largest accounts. People want more opportunities, more titles, more money and more influence without taking the small steps of internal and external growth toward achieving these goals. We all want achievement, yesterday.
If we want to reproduce faith and skills in our children, in non-believers and in new believers, we cannot expect instant maturity from our efforts. Instead, we need to expect a costly and gradual process of maturity.
For instance, I didn’t grow very much in character or behavior the first five years of my Christian life. I learned to fake more maturity than I really possessed at the time. But the people who invested in me didn’t give up on me.
Our journey toward maturity is more like two steps forward and one step back. You may find that one week, you are able to forgive someone who hurt you, and the next week, you are unable to let go of the smallest offense. Or you may have great control over your speech one day, and the next day, you find yourself slipping into gossip or lies. Don’t give up on yourself or on the people you are helping to mature in their faith and skills. The journey toward maturity involves progress and regress.
Finally, true reproduction of faith and skills involves more than head knowledge. We often have to wait for God to provide the opportunity to apply our head knowledge. We may falsely equate knowledge with wisdom. Knowledge is awareness; wisdom is application.
Fred Smith wrote in Learning to Lead, “We may never reach complete maturity this side of heaven, but we certainly cannot lead others into maturity unless we are experiencing the maturing process and becoming more consistent, well balanced, and whole. Beyond that, however, the leader’s role is to help people see their entire life as an expression of their faith, to apply their Christianity to all the diverse areas of their lives.”
Unless we are maturing internally and gradually, we cannot hope to reproduce faith and skills in others. We may reproduce head knowledge through teaching and external behaviors through peer pressure. But true reproduction of faith and skills happens on the inside first and gradually shows up on the outside. Let Philip be our model.