Barn-raising was a community event in rural areas. It still is among the Amish. Timbers for the side walls were assembled on the ground and hoisted up into place by teams pulling on ropes from one side and pushing with poles on the other.
Take barn-raising as a spiritual metaphor for helping a believer grow closer to God. Doing that is a fellowship project. The Spirit empowers such growth. The Spirit works through the Word as it is experienced and shared through fellow believers.
Writing to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul gives thanks that their trust is continually growing and the love for one another is increasing (2 Thes 1:3). He attributes this movement to the empowering work of the Spirit (2:13). He urges these believers to encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone, be sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong (1 Thes 5:14). Don’t put out the Spirit’s fire (5:19).
When the Spirit is at work, Paul clearly expected movement and change among believers. We can envision such growth as upward closer to God or forward to becoming more like Christ.
An earlier blog “Chart Your Spiritual Journey” presented the following chart that asks a person to mark on the vertical line where he or she was in terms of farther from or closer to God at different ages in their life. The right-hand chart graphs a typical confirmed believer drifting away from God in young years and being drawn closer at a later age.
This chart has sparked many productive discussions in small groups of believers. A compelling question is where you want to be in the years ahead. In life with the Spirit, the best can be yet to come as he produces more love, joy, peace and other fruit in your life. The value of fellowships of the Spirit can become apparent when you name believers who helped you move from one stage to the next. A challenge to you is to help someone else grow up closer to God.
Moving upward is one direction. Using a sanctuary as the metaphor Martin Luther envisions movement forward. He describes three kinds of conscience, which we can see as stages of faith. Those in the outside churchyard concentrate on getting the external rules of church life right. Some move forward to the pew section which characterizes those who are living faithfully but out of guilt with no joy. Progressing forward, those who are living with a heart changed by the Spirit have a chancel conscience.
Here is how Luther describes this advanced position. “When the Spirit comes, he makes a pure, free, cheerful, glad and loving heart—a conscience made righteous by grace, seeking no reward, fearing no punishment, doing everything with joy.”
I have presented four stages of faith a person can move through. This is adapting work done by James Fowler in developmental psychology. Believers in Stage Four get a glimpse of what Luther describes in his chancel conscience.
It takes a fellowship to raise a believer. Good fellowships of the Spirit can extend way beyond a congregation’s organizational structure. Be thankful wherever you encounter a fellow believer who helps you in your life with the Spirit. Be sure to return the favor to someone else.