Make Your Advancement Manifest
“Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons.”—1 TIMOTHY 4:15.
1. How can you tell when a fruit is ripe and ready to eat?
PICTURE in your mind your favorite fruit—a peach, a pear, a mango, or something else. Can you tell when it is ripe and ready to eat? Most certainly. Its aroma, color, and feel all tell you that a mouth-watering experience awaits you. The moment you get a piece of it into your mouth, you may let out a sigh. What succulence! What sweetness! It gives you a great deal of enjoyment and pleasure.
2. How is maturity made manifest, and what effect does it have on personal relationships?
2 This simple but delightful experience has its parallels in other areas of life. For one thing, as is true with ripeness in fruit, spiritual maturity in a person is also manifest in various ways. We recognize maturity in a person when we see discernment, insight, wisdom, and so on. (Job 32:7-9) It is certainly a delight to associate and work with people who display such qualities in their attitudes and actions.—Proverbs 13:20.
3. What did Jesus’ description of the people of his day reveal about maturity?
3 On the other hand, a person may be grown physically, but the way he talks and acts may reveal that he is immature emotionally and spiritually. For example, speaking of the wayward generation of his day, Jesus Christ said: “John came neither eating nor drinking, yet people say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of man did come eating and drinking, still people say, ‘Look! A man gluttonous and given to drinking wine.’” Even though those people were mature physically, Jesus said that they acted like “young children”—anything but mature. Thus, he added: “All the same, wisdom is proved righteous by its works.”—Matthew 11:16-19.
4. In what ways are advancement and maturity made manifest?
4 From Jesus’ words, we can see that whether a person is in possession of true wisdom—a distinctive sign of maturity—is indicated by the works he performs and the results produced. Along this line, note the apostle Paul’s counsel to Timothy. After enumerating the things that Timothy should pursue, Paul said: “Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons.” (1 Timothy 4:15) Yes, a Christian’s advancement toward maturity is “manifest,” or clearly discernible. Christian maturity, like a shining light, is not an internal or hidden quality. (Matthew 5:14-16) We will, therefore, consider two principal ways in which advancement and maturity may be made manifest: (1) growing in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom; (2) manifesting the fruitage of the spirit.
Oneness in Faith and Knowledge
5. How can maturity be defined?
5 Most dictionaries describe maturity as the state of full development, of being full-grown, and as having attained a final state or desired standard. A piece of fruit, as mentioned earlier, is mature, or ripe, when it has completed its natural growth cycle and its appearance, color, aroma, and taste have reached what is considered desirable. Maturity, therefore, is synonymous with excellence, completeness, even perfection.—Isaiah 18:5; Matthew 5:45-48; James 1:4.
6, 7. (a) What shows that Jehovah is keenly interested in having all his worshipers advance to spiritual maturity? (b) To what is spiritual maturity closely related?
6 Jehovah God is keenly interested in having all his worshipers advance to spiritual maturity. To that end, he has made wonderful provisions within the Christian congregation. To the Christians in Ephesus, the apostle Paul wrote: “He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ, until we all attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ; in order that we should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error.”—Ephesians 4:11-14.
7 In these verses, Paul explained that among the reasons why God made such ample spiritual provisions in the congregation are that all should ‘attain oneness in the faith and in accurate knowledge,’ become “a full-grown man,” and have the ‘measure of stature of Christ.’ Only then will we be safe from being tossed about like spiritual babes by false ideas and teachings. Thus we see the close relationship between advancing to Christian maturity and gaining “oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God.” There are a number of points in Paul’s counsel we do well to take to heart.
8. What does attaining “oneness” in the faith and accurate knowledge require?
8 First, since “oneness” is to be observed, a mature Christian must be in unity and full harmony with fellow believers as far as faith and knowledge are concerned. He does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding. Rather, he has complete confidence in the truth as it is revealed by Jehovah God through his Son, Jesus Christ, and “the faithful and discreet slave.” By regularly taking in the spiritual food provided “at the proper time”—through Christian publications, meetings, assemblies, and conventions—we can be sure that we maintain “oneness” with fellow Christians in faith and knowledge.—Matthew 24:45.
9. Explain the meaning of the expression “the faith” as used by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.
9 Second, the expression “the faith” refers, not to the conviction that each individual Christian professes, but to the totality of our belief, “the breadth and length and height and depth” of it. (Ephesians 3:18; 4:5; Colossians 1:23; 2:7) In fact, how can a Christian be in oneness with fellow believers if he only believes or accepts a certain part of “the faith”? This means that we must not be content with knowing just the basic teachings of the Bible or having just hazy or partial knowledge of the truth. Rather, we should be interested in taking advantage of all of Jehovah’s provisions through his organization to dig deeply into his Word. We must endeavor to gain as accurate and as full an understanding of God’s will and purpose as possible. This includes taking the time to read and study the Bible and Bible publications, to pray to God for his help and guidance, to attend Christian meetings regularly, and to have a full share in the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work.—Proverbs 2:1-5.
10. What is the significance of the words “until we all attain,” as used at Ephesians 4:13?
10 Third, Paul prefaced the description of the three-fold goal with the words “until we all attain.” Regarding the expression “we all,” one Bible handbook gives the meaning as “not all, one by one, separately, but all together.” In other words, each one of us should put forth a reasonable effort to pursue the goal of Christian maturity along with the entire brotherhood. The Interpreter’s Bible observes: “The fullness of spiritual achievement is not to be attained by the individual in isolation, just as one part of the body cannot reach its mature development except as the whole body continues its healthy growth.” Paul reminded the Ephesian Christians that it was “with all the holy ones” that they should strive to grasp mentally the full scope of the faith.—Ephesians 3:18a.
11. (a) What does making spiritual advancement not imply? (b) What do we need to do to make advancement?
11 It is clear from Paul’s words that making spiritual advancement does not mean merely filling our mind with knowledge and great learning. The mature Christian is not one who dazzles others with his brilliance. Rather, the Bible says: “The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” (Proverbs 4:18) Yes, it is “the path,” not the individual, that is “getting lighter and lighter.” If we put forth a continuous effort to keep up with the ever brightening understanding of God’s Word that Jehovah is granting his people, we will be making spiritual advancement. In this case, to keep up is to move ahead, and that is something all of us can do.—Psalm 97:11; 119:105.
Manifest “the Fruitage of the Spirit”
12. Why is manifesting the fruitage of the spirit important in our quest for spiritual advancement?
12 While attaining “the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge” is important, it is equally important for us to manifest the fruitage of God’s spirit in every aspect of our life. Why? This is because maturity, as we have seen, is not internal or hidden, but it is marked by clearly discernible characteristics that can benefit and build up others. Of course, our quest for spiritual advancement is not merely an effort to look cultivated or to put on airs. Rather, as we grow spiritually, following the leading of God’s spirit, there will be a wonderful transformation in our attitudes and actions. “Keep walking by spirit and you will carry out no fleshly desire at all,” said the apostle Paul.—Galatians 5:16.
13. What change is a clear indication of advancement?
13 Paul went on to list “the works of the flesh,” which are numerous and “manifest.” Before a person comes to appreciate God’s requirements, his life is patterned after the ways of the world and may be filled with some of the things Paul mentioned: “fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism, enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects, envies, drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:19-21) But as the person makes spiritual progress, he gradually gains the mastery over these undesirable “works of the flesh” and makes room for “the fruitage of the spirit.” This outwardly visible change is a clear indication that the person is advancing toward Christian maturity.—Galatians 5:22.
14. Explain the two expressions “the works of the flesh” and “the fruitage of the spirit.”
14 We should note the two expressions “the works of the flesh” and “the fruitage of the spirit.” “Works” are the results of what one does, the product of one’s actions. In other words, the items that Paul listed as the works of the flesh are the results either of one’s conscious effort or of the influence of the fallen human flesh. (Romans 1:24, 28; 7:21-25) On the other hand, the expression “the fruitage of the spirit” implies that the qualities listed are, not the results of efforts in so-called character development or personality enhancement, but the results of the operation of God’s spirit on a person. Just as a tree will bear fruit when it is properly tended, so a person will manifest the fruitage of the spirit when holy spirit flows freely in his life.—Psalm 1:1-3.
15. Why is it important to give attention to all aspects of “the fruitage of the spirit”?
15 Another point to consider is Paul’s use of the word “fruitage” to encompass all the desirable qualities that he mentioned. * The spirit does not produce a variety of fruits for us to pick our favorite. All the qualities listed by Paul—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, and self-control—are equally important, and together they make possible the new Christian personality. (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10) Therefore, while we may find that certain ones of these qualities are more evident in our life on account of our own personality and inclinations, it is important that we give attention to all the aspects mentioned by Paul. By so doing, we can more fully reflect a Christlike personality in our life.—1 Peter 2:12, 21.
16. What is our objective in our pursuit of Christian maturity, and how can it be achieved?
16 The important lesson we can learn from Paul’s discussion is that in the pursuit of Christian maturity, our objective is neither to acquire great knowledge and learning nor to cultivate refined personality traits. It is to gain a free flow of God’s spirit in our life. To the extent that our thinking and actions are responsive to the leading of God’s spirit, to that extent we become spiritually mature. How can we achieve this objective? We must open our heart and mind to the influence of God’s spirit. This involves our faithfully attending and participating in Christian meetings. We should also regularly study and meditate on God’s Word, allowing its principles to guide our dealings with others and the choices and decisions we make. Certainly, then, our advancement will be clearly manifest.
Make Advancement for God’s Glory
17. How is making advancement related to glorifying our heavenly Father?
17 Ultimately, making our advancement manifest brings glory and praise, not to us, but to our heavenly Father, Jehovah, who makes it possible for us to gain spiritual maturity. On the night before Jesus was killed, he told the disciples: “My Father is glorified in this, that you keep bearing much fruit and prove yourselves my disciples.” (John 15:8) Both by the fruitage of the spirit and by the Kingdom fruitage of their ministry, the disciples brought glory to Jehovah.—Acts 11:4, 18; 13:48.
18. (a) What joyful harvest is taking place today? (b) What challenge does this harvest present?
18 Today, Jehovah’s blessing is upon his people as they engage in a global spiritual harvest. For a number of years now, about 300,000 new ones every year have dedicated themselves to Jehovah and symbolized their dedication by water baptism. This makes us happy and undoubtedly also makes Jehovah’s heart rejoice. (Proverbs 27:11) However, for this to be a continuous source of joy and praise to Jehovah, all such new ones need to “go on walking in union with [Christ], rooted and being built up in him and being stabilized in the faith.” (Colossians 2:6, 7) This presents a two-fold challenge to God’s people. On the one hand, if you are newly baptized, will you accept the challenge to apply yourself so that “your advancement may be manifest to all persons”? On the other hand, if you have been in the truth for some time, will you accept the challenge to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the spiritual welfare of new ones? In either case, the need for pressing on to maturity is clear.—Philippians 3:16; Hebrews 6:1.
19. What privilege and blessings can be yours if you make your advancement manifest?
19 Wonderful blessings await all who work hard to make their advancement manifest. Recall Paul’s encouraging words after he urged Timothy to make advancement: “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” (1 Timothy 4:16) By diligently making your advancement manifest, you too can share in the privilege of glorifying God’s name and enjoying his blessings.
Do You Recall?
• In what ways can spiritual maturity be made manifest?
• What kind of knowledge and understanding reflect maturity?
• How does manifesting “the fruitage of the spirit” indicate spiritual advancement?
• What challenge should we accept as we press on to maturity?
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Ripeness, or maturity, is clearly discernible
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We make spiritual advancement by keeping up with revealed truth
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Prayer helps us to manifest “the fruitage of the spirit”