3 keys for creating a culture of spiritual growth

What kind of culture are you cultivating in your life?  Are you surrounding yourself with things that contribute toward your growth in Christ, or are you primarily focusing on lesser things that divert you from His mission for you?

Is creating a culture of spiritual growth something you'd like to do?  What does God's word tell us about that kind of activity?  What needs to be present if we're going to cultivate that kind of mindset or environment?  

This question is answered in detail in the last chapter of 2 Corinthians. Take a look at some of the principles and practices Paul shares in 2 Corinthians 13 that contribute to the creation of a culture of spiritual growth in our individual lives, in our homes, and in our local churches...


I. Encourage accountability

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.  
— 2 Corinthians 13:1-4, ESV

One of the greatest blessings the Lord grants us as His children are brothers and sisters in Christ who genuinely care about our well-being. I'm so grateful for the people the Lord has placed in my life that genuinely demonstrate that they care. Just this past week, a friend called me out of the blue to express his love for me as a friend and to make sure I was doing well. I truly appreciated that. And one step beyond that are those friends who love us enough to be willing to tell us difficult things or point out areas of our lives where we may need to practice repentance. It's good to have people in our lives that we're accountable to.

The Apostle Paul loved the Corinthian church enough to be honest with them. He could have papered over some of the things that were taking place in their midst, but he chose not to do so. He had hard conversations with them. He pointed out difficult and awkward things that I'm sure many of these believers didn't initially appreciate having a light shined on.

It's interesting to look at the words Paul shared here when you consider that this is the closing section of his letter to the church. He told them that he would be visiting them soon, and in most cases when people communicate they're going to be visiting, they usually do so in a lighter manner. In this case, Paul did so with a stern warning. Specifically, he was warning those who chose to live in outright rebellion to Christ and were causing dissension within the church that they were about to be called out, confronted, and not spared from the consequences of their actions. Paul was about to hold them accountable.

What do you think about personal accountability? Wouldn't you agree that it can be one of the most challenging things for us to develop an appreciation for? I think it takes time and maturity to see the value in personal accountability within our Christian family. But consider this contrast for a second. What is the fruit of the lack of accountability and how does that contrast with the fruit of authentic accountability?

The lack of accountability is a breeding ground for sin. Temptations aren't exposed. Corners are cut. Denial becomes rampant. Deceit becomes common. Selfish interests prevail. People are genuinely hurt, and the cause of Christ isn't emphasized.

In the context of healthy accountability, however, sin is exposed. It's robbed of its power to destroy us because it's exposed to the light. Truth abounds. Love is genuine. A mindset that looks out for the needs of others prevails. People experience healing and forgiveness, and the heart of Christ is displayed.

Paul was displaying the value of accountability to this young church, and that example reverberates in our context as well.


II. Practice self-examination

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.  
— 2 Corinthians 13:5-10, ESV

Tests are useful things, but when we're thinking about the possibility of being tested, it can be rather easy to become anxious. When I was in high school and had a test approaching, I had a system for studying that I would follow if I wanted to get a good grade.  I would disappear, close myself into my bedroom closet where I was away from distractions, and read through my notes as many times as it took for me to retain the information. Then I would emerge from that small space once I was confident I had the material mastered and didn't need to worry about the test.

Tests in life can be difficult, but they are ultimately quite good. As a personal discipline in our walk with Christ, we're encouraged to test or examine ourselves. We're invited to seek the Lord's insight and ask Him to shine a light into our lives. Paul even asked the Corinthians to examine themselves to confirm that they were actually believers. He wanted them to evaluate the fruit that was coming from their lives to make certain that they were actually treating each other with, and living their lives in a Christ-like manner.

There's a principle that's spoken of in Scripture that I have seen to be true during the course of my life. Behavior follows belief. Given enough time, our core beliefs become evident by the fruit of our lives.  Look at what Jesus stated in His Sermon on the Mount...

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.”
— Matthew 7:15-17, ESV

You can tell what I believe will satisfy my soul by what I spend my life pursuing. If I'm pursuing a deeper walk with Christ, that's evidence that I have become convinced that He can bring satisfaction to my soul. If a person's life is spent in the pursuit of wealth, power, inappropriate relationships, happiness, or revenge, then you will be able to correctly assess what they believe about these things. Behavior follows belief.

So, let's take a moment for some self-examination. Let's test ourselves like Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to do. Be as honest as possible with yourself as you think through your answers.

  • What do you daydream about most?
  • What do you speak about with excitement and enthusiasm?
  • What primary life values are you insisting your children adopt?
  • What are you convinced you need more of in order to be happy or content?
  • Where do you share your time, talents, and treasures?
  • Where do you find comfort when you're hurting, or motivation when you're slumping?

Is Jesus your answer to any of these questions? If so, that's great. If not, what will it take for Him to become the one our lives are truly centered around?


III. Aim for restoration

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  
— 2 Corinthians 13:11-14, ESV

A few years ago, an angry man rushed through a museum in Amsterdam until he reached Rembrandt’s famous painting “Nightwatch.” Then he took out a knife and slashed it repeatedly before he could be stopped. A short time later, a distraught, hostile man slipped into St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome with a hammer and began to smash Michelangelo’s beautiful sculpture The Pieta. Two cherished works of art were severely damaged. But what did officials do? Throw them out and forget about them? Absolutely not! Using the best experts, who worked with the utmost care and precision, they made every effort to restore the treasures (-Bible.org). They worked toward restoration. 

As Paul concludes this highly personal letter, he does so with a view toward restoring the damaged relationships within the Corinthian church. He encourages this group of believers to intentionally practice that which would benefit one another. To restore the hurting, comfort the grieving, find areas of agreement to emphasize, and to live in love and peace as God fostered both within the lives of His children.

Do you consider yourself someone that's easy to get along with. Have you ever heard the most important words for getting along with people? According to an unknown writer, this is what they are...

  • The SIX most important words: “I admit I made a mistake.”
  • The FIVE most important words: “You did a good job.
  • The FOUR most important words: “What do you think?”
  • The THREE most important words: “After you, please.”
  • The TWO most important words: “Thank you.”
  • The ONE most important word: “We” 
  • The LEAST important word: “I”  

In Christ we find the deepest form of restoration. Our life has been restored. Our future has been restored. Our security has been restored. Our relationship with our Creator has been restored after it appeared to be damaged beyond all repair.

As Christ restored us, He invites us to foster a culture of restoration within His church. We encourage accountability because it fosters holiness. We examine ourselves to confirm that Christ is our main priority in life. And by His grace, we grow mature in our faith as we each lovingly invest in the well-being of those Christ is teaching us to love.

© John Stange, 2017