by Wayne Barber
Last month we made the point that God may not measure growth as we tend to-that is, in terms of numbers, money, buildings, and even outstanding teaching.
Let's begin our examination of the difference in standards by looking at the church of Corinth. We know from God's Word that they were not only a very wealthy people but a people who "knew the Word of God." With Paul and Apollos as their pastors, they had had a firm foundation. In chapter eight of 1 Corinthians, Paul is about to address the subject of not using one's liberty under grace to walk over his weaker brother in the faith. He begins by saying, "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge" (8:1 nas).
Surely, some would say, a well-taught church would qualify as a growing church. Not necessarily. When we merely possess biblical knowledge-instead of it possessing us-what happens is that it causes us to become arrogant and insensitive in our attitude towards our weaker brother, just as the Corinthians did. True growth becomes stunted.
You see, Scripture unapplied in our lives causes us to use our liberty as a club, as we flaunt our knowledge in front of our brother that doesn't understand what we have been privileged to know. Instead of edifying our brother, we wound him with that which could have set him free. The word arrogant is the word "phusiˇo" which literally means an "airbag." The church of Corinth was a group of people who had been well-taught but were spiritual "airbags." No walk matched their talk.
Their numbers and their obvious wealth and the wonderful teaching that had been given to them were in no way a signal that they were a growing church. In fact, their growth was stunted. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul solemnly gave them his appraisal: "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?"
Imagine, such a well-taught and well-off church being called spiritual babies. We must be careful not to equate "good teaching" and "true growth" as being the same thing. We must be taught, and taught well, but we must respond to that which we know before true growth can take place in our lives. It is God who causes the growth-and that growth will be evidenced in our sensitivity to others around us.