For a long time, my brother lived the bachelor life. He drove truck – coming and going as he pleased. He ate those frozen “Hungry Man” tv dinners. He painted his house Smurf Blue on the outside and John Deer Green on the inside. But all that changed last summer when he got married to his sweetheart.

Now he’s looking to settle down and buy a farm in Saskatchewan. He eats three full, healthy meals a day. And the John Deere Green has been replaced with Cornflower Blue. Yes, things have changed for my brother.

And things will be changing even more, because earlier this week he called me up to tell me that they are expecting their first baby in March. So things are going to be very different for my brother. It’s a very exciting time in his life, and a very challenging one – as any parent knows.

Being a parent is a huge responsibility. It’s very daunting and very humbling. For myself, its hard to even comprehend that God has entrusted me with three little lives to be responsible for, to protect, to teach, to shape who they will ultimately grow up to be. Why would God ever do that!? Doesn’t He know that I’m prone to failure – that I make mistakes and poor choices? And yet it’s my job to help my children grow up so that they will know and love the Lord Jesus. That’s God’s design for the family.

And believe it or not, that’s also God’s design for the church – To help children to grow up to know and love the Lord Jesus. Now, when I say “children”, I don’t just mean people under the age of 18. Everyone of us is a child of God. We’ve been talking a lot about family over the past month. How we, as a church, are a family. How every believer in the world is part of God’s family.

And just like God has designed the family to help children grow up, so He has designed the church to help believers grow up.

Now, what does that mean? What does it mean to help believers grow up? Why do we need to grow up? I mean most of us here are adults. Most of us don’t live with our mom & dad anymore. We don’t need other people to tell us what to do. So what do we mean by “growing up” as a believer in Christ?

When you first become a Christian, we say that you are “born again.” That comes from Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemous when He said,….

3 “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.

John 3:3-5

So when we accept Christ as our Savior, it’s like we are being spiritual born. We are spiritual babies.
And just like physical babies need to grow and learn and develop, so do spiritual babies. We need to grow in our faith & in love & in our knowledge of God. We need to learn about living life as He intends us to live. We need to develop the gifts and abilities that God has given to us to do His work. God does not intend for us to stay as spiritual babies. He wants us to grow up. 1 Peter 2:2 says…

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation. 1 Peter 2:2

And the same idea is in Ephesians 4:11.

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Ephesians 4:11

Clearly, God wants us to grow up in our Christian life. To become spiritually mature. You know, you can be 100 years old physically, and still be a spiritual baby – be spiritually immature. But we don’t want that to be said of us.

We want to be… “mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.” We…  “we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ.”

But how do we do this? How do grow up spiritually? How do we keep from staying as spiritual infants?

Well, in a nutshell, we follow the pattern that God has laid out for us in the family. It seems pretty clear that God’s design is for the church to function as a family. Just look at the language the Bible uses in describing how we should act towards each other.

1Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. 1 Timothy 5:1-2

As a church, we are to function as a family. Now in our physical families, we have a variety of roles throughout our lifetime. For example, I started off as a baby. I was also a brother. Before long, my brother grew up and had a baby, so I became an uncle. Then I got married and had three kids of my own, so now I’m a father. And hopefully somewhere down the road, I’ll get to be a grandfather or even a great grandfather.

And in the church, we have similar roles. We have spiritual babies – those who have just started their life with God. We have brothers and sisters – those who are about the same spiritual maturity as we are. And we have spiritual moms & dads – grandmas and grandpas – those who clearly have a much deeper and more mature relationship with God than we do.

Now, of course in our physical families, it’s obvious who is the parents and who is the baby and who is the grandparents. But in our spiritual families, it’s a little harder to tell who is who. You can’t tell by how old they are, because some people don’t start their walk with God until they’re senior citizens. You can’t tell by how long they’ve been a Christian, because people mature at difference rates. Sometimes a person who has been a Christian for five years is more spiritually mature than a person who has been a Christian for twenty-five years. Everybody’s journey with God is different.

So how do you tell? How do you know how spiritually grown up and mature a person is? Well, with a little observation, I think the answer becomes obvious. Look at their life. Do you see them living out the fruit of the spirit? Galatians 5:22 says…

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22

When you see those things in someone’s life, that’s evidence of spiritual maturity. And when you don’t see those things in someone’s life, that’s evidence of spiritual immaturity.

So why am I telling you all of this? What’s the point of it all?

Look around this room for a minute. Over the years, you’ve gotten to know these people  fairly well. You’ve had opportunity to observe their lives and get an idea of where they are in their walk with God.

Some people in this room are spiritual grandparents – having walked with God for maybe fifty or more years. They’ve grown greatly in their relationship with God. They’ve learned what it means to walk in close fellowship with Him. They’ve developed their spiritual gifts and have used them to build up the body of Christ. You can clearly see the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

There are others who are spiritual youngins’ who have just started walking with God. They are just beginning to learn what it means to live this new life. They have yet to discover all their spiritual gifts, and the fruit of the Spirit is just beginning to show up in their lives.

Then there is the rest of us who are somewhere in the middle.

Look around the room for a minute and try to figure out in your mind who might be your spiritual elder and who might be your spiritual younger.

The point is, In the family of God, we have those who are our spiritual elders – those who are ahead of us in spiritual maturity. And there are those who are spiritual younger – those who are coming up behind us. And we have responsibilities to both.

To those ahead of us, we have the responsibility to seek out their leadership and wisdom and guidance – taking advantage of their experience.

And to those coming up behind us, we have the responsibility to bring them along, encourage them, teach them, help them up when they stumble.

As a Dad, I have the responsibility to my children to make sure they grow and learn and develop into maturity. Each of us has that same responsibility to those in the church who are spiritually younger than ourselves.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:19
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19-20

He didn’t say just to get ‘em saved and leave them to fend for themselves. He said to “make disciples”, “teach them to obey”. In other words, help them to grow up into maturity.

So I ask you this morning, are you doing that? When you look around this room and you see people who are spiritually younger than you, what are you doing to help them grow up? How are you being a spiritual father or mother to those people? Don’t under-estimate the impact that you can have in in their lives.

My parents were Christians and so while I was growing up physically, they also helped me grow up spiritually. But they weren’t the only ones. In the little church that I grew up in, I had lots of “Aunts and Uncles” that weren’t real aunt & uncles, but they had an active part in helping me grow up spiritually. And when I was in my teens, another Christian man who didn’t even attend my church, took it upon himself to make sure that I grew up and developed into Christian maturity. And I would not be here before you today if those people had not taken my spiritual well-being as their responsibility.

So I challenge you this morning, no matter where you are in your walk with God, look for  people who are coming up behind you. Get involved in their lives. Adopt them as your spiritual sons or daughters. Watch out for their spiritual well-being. Offer them encouragement. There may even be a time when you must confront them if they go astray, but love them enough to get involved. We must not neglect “making disciples”.

I want to end this morning with something a little bit unusual. I’ve brought my camera and I want to take a family picture. Now I realize that not everyone is here, but that’s ok. The point is not to look at this picture and say “Here’s all my family”. The point is to say “Everyone in this picture is my family. I have a responsibility to these people.”

So I’m going to take this picture, and as long as it turns out half-decent, I’ll make enough copies for all of us to take home, put up on our fridge, and be reminded that we have the responsibility to help those in our family to grow up into spiritual maturity.