My friend's house is located at the end of our street. She and her husband are both retired. They are originally from the Dominican Republic. One day they decided to sell their gorgeous four-bedroom house on a spacious, manicured corner lot and move to a condo. At this point in their life, they felt they couldn't keep up with its maintenance and upkeep. They put their house up on the market, and after what appeared to be a long, long wait, their house finally sold.
The newcomers are a young couple with a small child. But it also looks like two other young adult males (relatives perhaps) also live with them. They all seem to be very nice people.
I have been noticing that the new owner mows the grass in three stages. He mows a third of the yard one day. Then a couple of days later, he mows another third. Then a day or so later, the job is finally finished. The grass in the yard is never the same height.
Not that it matters, but it's disconcerting to see the grass not all the same height. Every time I pass this house, I mentally ask the question: Why can't he just mow the grass in one day and be over with? This way, the height of the grass would be uniform throughout the whole yard, and it would look pretty.
I pondered over the grass situation as I walked, and the thought occurred to me: Oh, how many people think this way in the spiritual arena. We fail to take into consideration the fact that church members have different stages of spiritual growth and development. We want them all to be the same, grown up in faith and filled with sweet Christian graces, right?
Pertaining to brand new members, we want these new babes in the Lord to choke on veggie steak and potatoes instead of sucking from a bottle the sincere milk of the Word. They crawl, but we want them to get up, walk and run a marathon instead of allowing them time to grow and develop their spiritual sinews and muscles.
The truth of the matter, though, is even mature Christians need to keep on growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There is never a time to stop learning and growing. There is never a time when we can sit back and say: I am now matured; I have arrived. I have attained. In fact, even as the years of eternity roll, glorious revelations of God and Christ will unfold, and the redeemed will learn, appreciate, and admire more and more the loveliness of the character of God and His Son.
How should new babes in Christ be dealt with in the church? Here are some good counsels:
"At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Matthew 18:3-6.
"By 'little ones' Christ does not mean babies. Those to whom He refers are 'little ones which believe in Me'--those who have not gained an experience in following Him, those who need to be led like children, as it were, in seeking the things of the kingdom of heaven. --Evangelism, Page 341.
"When men and women accept the truth, we are not to go away and leave them and have no further burden for them. They are to be looked after. They are to be carried as a burden upon the soul, and we must watch over them as stewards who must render an account. Then as you speak to the people, give to every man his portion of meat in due season, but you want to be in that position where you can give this food.
"The Lord Jesus said to Peter, 'When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren'; and after His resurrection, just before His ascension, He said to His disciple, 'Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs.'
"This was a work in which Peter had but little experience; but he could not be complete in Christian life unless he learned to feed the lambs, those who are young in the faith. It would require great care, much patience and perseverance, to give those who are ignorant the suitable teachings, opening up the Scriptures and educating them for usefulness and duty. This is the work that must be done in the church at this day, or the advocates of truth will have a dwarfed experience and will be exposed to temptation and deception. The charge given to Peter should come home to nearly every minister. Again and again the voice of Christ is heard repeating the charge to His undershepherds, 'Feed My lambs,' 'Feed My sheep.'
"In the words addressed to Peter the responsibilities of the gospel minister who has charge of the flock of God are laid before him.
"Let us feed the flock of God. Let us bring encouragement and cheerfulness to every heart. Let us turn the eyes of our brethren and sisters away from the unlovely traits of character possessed by nearly everyone, and teach them to behold Christ, the One altogether lovely, the Chiefest among ten thousand...
"God has entrusted to mortals precious treasures of truth. These treasures may be likened to beautiful fruit, which is to be presented to the people in vessels that are clean and pure and holy, so that they will accept this fruit and enjoy it, to the glory of God.
"As the shepherd of the flock he [the minister] should care for the sheep and the lambs, searching out the lost and straying, and bringing them back to the fold. He should visit every family, not merely as a guest to enjoy their hospitality, but to inquire into the spiritual condition of every member of the household. His own soul must be imbued with the love of God; then by kindly courtesy he may win his way to the hearts of all, and labor successfully for parents and children, entreating, warning, encouraging, as the case demands.
"Come close to your brethren; seek for them, help them; come close to their hearts as one touched with the feelings of their infirmities. Thus we may achieve victories that our small faith has not grasped. The members of these families should be given some labor to perform for the good of souls. Mutual love and confidence will give them moral force to be laborers together with God.
"Many who profess to be Christians are so engrossed with earthly cares that they have no time for the cultivation of piety. They do not regard true religion as of the first importance. A man may seem to receive the truth, but if he does not overcome his un-Christlike traits of character, these thorns grow and strengthen, killing the precious graces of the Spirit. The thorns in the heart must be uprooted and cast out, for good and evil cannot grow in the heart at the same time. Unsanctified human inclinations and desires must be cut away from the life as hindrances to Christian growth.
"There is pastoral work to do, and this means to reprove and exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine; that is, he should present the Word of God, to show wherein there is a deficiency. If there is anything in the character of the professed followers of Christ, the burden should certainly be felt by the minister, and not that he should lord it over God's heritage. To deal with human minds is the nicest job that was ever committed to mortal man.
"A minister is one who ministers. If you confine your work to sermonizing, the flock of God will suffer; for they need personal effort. Let your discourses be short. Long sermons wear out both you and the people. If ministers would make their sermons only half as long, they would do more good and would have strength left for personal work. Visit families, pray with them, converse with them, search the Scriptures with them, and you will do them good. Give them evidence that you seek their prosperity, and want them to be healthy Christians.
"The Lord's workers need the melting love of Jesus in their hearts. Let every minister live as a man among men. Let him, in well-regulated methods, go from house to house, bearing ever the censer of heaven's fragrant atmosphere of love. Anticipate the sorrows, the difficulties, the troubles of others. Enter into the joys and cares of both high and low, rich and poor.
"At every suitable opportunity let the story of Jesus' love be repeated to the children. In every sermon let a little corner be left for their benefit. The servant of Christ may make lasting friends of these little ones. Then let him lose no opportunity of helping them to become more intelligent in a knowledge of the Scriptures. This will do more than we realize to bar the way against Satan's devices. If children early become familiar with the truths of God's Word, a barrier against ungodliness will be erected, and they will be able to meet the foe with the words, 'It is written.'" --Evangelism, Pages 345-349.
"As an important factor in the spiritual growth of the new converts the apostles were careful to surround them with the safeguards of gospel order. Churches were duly organized in all places in Lycaonia and Pisidia where there were believers. Officers were appointed in each church, and proper order and system were established for the conduct of all the affairs pertaining to the spiritual welfare of the believers.
"This was in harmony with the gospel plan of uniting in one body all believers in Christ, and this plan Paul was careful to follow throughout his ministry. Those who in any place were by his labor led to accept Christ as the Saviour were at the proper time organized into a church. Even when the believers were but few in number, this was done. The Christians were thus taught to help one another, remembering the promise, 'Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.' Matt 18:20.
"And Paul did not forget the churches thus established. The care of these churches rested on his mind as an ever-increasing burden. However small a company might be, it was nevertheless the object of his constant solicitude. He watched over the smaller churches tenderly, realizing that they were in need of special care in order that the members might be thoroughly established in the truth and taught to put forth earnest, unselfish efforts for those around them.
"In all their missionary endeavors Paul and Barnabas sought to follow Christ's example of willing sacrifice and faithful, earnest labor for souls. Wide-awake, zealous, untiring, they did not consult inclination or personal ease, but with prayerful anxiety and unceasing activity they sowed the seed of truth. And with the sowing of the seed, the apostles were careful to give to all who took their stand for the gospel, practical instruction that was of untold value. This spirit of earnestness and godly fear made upon the minds of the new disciples a lasting impression regarding the importance of the gospel message.
"When men of promise and ability were converted, as in the case of Timothy, Paul and Barnabas sought earnestly to show them the necessity of laboring in the vineyard. And when the apostles left for another place, the faith of these men did not fail, but rather increased. They had been faithfully instructed in the way of the Lord, and had been taught how to labor unselfishly, earnestly, perseveringly, for the salvation of their fellow men. This careful training of new converts was an important factor in the remarkable success that attended Paul and Barnabas as they preached the gospel in heathen lands.
"The first missionary journey was fast drawing to a close. Commending the newly organized churches to the Lord, the apostles went to Pamphylia, 'and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia, and thence sailed to Antioch.'" --Acts of the Apostles, Pages 185-187.
"Humble, simplehearted, trusting souls may do a work which will cause rejoicing in heaven among the angels of God. Their work at home, in their neighborhood, and in the church will be in its results as far-reaching as eternity. It is because this work is not done that the experience of young converts never reaches beyond the ABC in divine things. They are always babes, always needing to be fed upon milk, and never able to partake of true gospel meat.
"When souls are converted, set them to work at once. And as they labor according to their ability, they will grow stronger. It is by meeting opposing influences that we become confirmed in the faith. As the light shines into their hearts, let them diffuse its rays. Teach the newly converted that they are to enter into fellowship with Christ, to be His witnesses, and to make Him known unto the world.
"None should be forward to enter into controversy, but they should tell the simple story of the love of Jesus. All should constantly search the Scriptures for the reason of their faith, so that, if asked, they may give 'a reason of the hope that is in them, with meekness and fear.'
"The best medicine you can give the church is not preaching or sermonizing, but planning work for them. If set to work, the despondent would soon forget their despondency, the weak would become strong, the ignorant intelligent, and all would be prepared to present the truth as it is in Jesus. They would find an unfailing helper in Him who has promised to save all who come unto Him.
"Those who are most actively employed in doing with interested fidelity their work to win souls to Jesus Christ, are the best developed in spirituality and devotion. Their very active working formed the means of their spirituality. There is danger of religion losing in depth that which it gains in breadth. This need not be, if, in the place of long sermons, there is wise education given to those newly come to the faith. Teach them by giving them something to do, in some line of spiritual work, that their first love will not die but increase in fervor. Let them feel that they are not to be carried and to lean for support on the church; but they are to have root in themselves. They can be in many lines, according to their several abilities, useful in helping the church to come nearer to God, and working in various ways to act upon the elements outside the church which will be a means of acting beneficially upon the church. The wisdom and prosperity of the church casts a telling influence upon her favor. The psalmist prayed for the prosperity of the church, 'God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause His face to shine upon us. . . That Thy way may be known upon the earth, Thy saving health among all nations.'
"Nothing saps spirituality from the soul more quickly than to enclose it in selfishness and self-caring. Those who indulge self and neglect to care for the souls and bodies of those for whom Christ has given His life, are not eating of the bread of life, nor drinking of the water of the well of salvation. They are dry and sapless, like a tree that bears no fruit. They are spiritual dwarfs, who consume their means on self; but 'whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.'
"Christian principles will always be made visible. In a thousand ways the inward principles will be made manifest. Christ abiding in the soul is as a well that never runs dry.
"Let him seek to keep the church alive by teaching its members (including new members) how to labor with him for the conversion of sinners. This is good generalship; and the result will be found far better than if he should seek to perform the work alone. --Evangelism, Pages 365-367.
What should be our attitude toward fellow members of the church, especially the new babes in Christ? All members have different stages of spiritual growth and development and should be dealt with accordingly. The youngest members are placed in the arms of the church for the purpose of nurturing. In a sense, we are all ministers, and we have a job to do to nurture those who are young in the faith--to give them the sincere milk of the word, to teach them by precept and example, to encourage them in their walk with God, to show them how to labor with others in love, to pray with them and speak words that are like apples of gold in pictures of silver. What a solemn responsibility we have! What a challenge we face! Can we handle it?