This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Rev. Raymond Hylton
FPCE senior pastor.
This Saturday morning, a group of our church leaders will gather in room 213 to learn about discipleship and spiritual formation. The training is limited to leaders because, if we hope to build a disciple-making culture at First Pres, our leaders will need to be our greatest champions, people known to be fully prepared to lead.
The principle of “being before doing” is an established practice in Scripture. Long before Jesus called others to follow him, Jesus first lived a life of obedience to his Father. So it makes sense that our leaders would be and do the same.
Have you ever wondered about the how of Jesus’s spiritual formation? Since he is the second person of the Godhead — born of a virgin, the One ancient prophets said would redeem the world — we naturally assume that Jesus came into the world prepackaged, fully spiritually developed, with no need to undergo spiritual formation.
The thinking may be that he was a “little God” who did not need to develop as a person in his earthly life. And if he exercised any spiritual practices, they were already baked-in and came naturally to him. To hold such a view is borderline heresy (think Apollinarianism) and makes Jesus’s humanity inconsequential.
Luke 2:40 and other scriptures capture his humanity and deity. Jesus underwent real spiritual growth and development: And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
Luke 2:41 notes Mary and Joseph’s engagement in his formation. From his earliest childhood on earth to his twelfth year, each Spring his parents traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem to observe the feast of Passover. They were devout, faithful, observant Jews, and one can rightly assume that their love for God — through deeds more than creeds — shaped their children’s life before God.
Luke 2:52 shows the cumulative result of life with God in community: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. His perfect obedience did not eliminate the need for growth — it accelerated growth.
Jesus’s spiritual development on earth was real. The author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to emphasize the reality of Jesus’s true humanity: Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17–18)
In Luke 4:16, Jesus is now a young adult, probably 30 years old, and Luke gives us a glimpse into his adult practices: And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Regular, ordinary, disciplined customs form spiritual growth — church attendance being one of them.
At the end of his time on earth, Jesus gathered his disciples and commanded them: Go and make disciples and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20). Do what you saw me do; teach what you saw me teach.
If you have read this far, here’s my basic point: We can only give what we have. The fruit we bear is directly related to our roots anchored in the rich soil of faith and community.
Sociologist Rodney Stark attributes the reasons behind the growth of early Christianity to interpersonal relationships: “Christianity did not grow because of miracle-working in the marketplace. . . the primary means of its growth was through the united and motivated efforts of the growing number of ordinary believers, who invited their friends, relatives, and neighbors to share the ‘good news.’” (“The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History,” 1996).
I am excited about what we will do this Sunday, and I urge you to make an effort to join us in worship.
Seeking to practice the way of Jesus,
Pastor Ray Hylton