Progress not Perfection

A few weeks ago I was at an overnight retreat with a group of men from our Church. The time was so good for my soul, to be surrounded by men chasing hard after Jesus and lifting our voices together in worship and prayer (and dodgeball and basketball!). On the second day the speaker drew our attention to a small verse in 1 Timothy 4. It reads this way:

“Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”

1 Timothy 4:15, ESV

Paul loved Timothy and he had entrusted a great work in the Kingdom of God to him. What Paul was most interested in seeing in Timothy was progress. Paul did not have the expectation that Timothy would suddenly become a Master Pastor (I just made that phrase up, but I kind of like it). Nor did he have the expectation that Timothy would overnight become a great exegete of the Bible. Rather, Paul longed to see Timothy slowly and yet consistently grow in his God assigned gifts, in Timothy’s case preaching and teaching God’s Word.

Our relationship to Jesus and the life we live of godliness and holiness is a journey that ought to be marked by progress. Notice that Timothy’s progress was not simply an encouragement by Paul for Timothy’s sake, but Timothy’s progress was actually for the sake of the Church “that all may see your progress“. The real question then is not whether Timothy thought or felt that he was growing in his own devotion to the Lord and use of his spiritual gifts. The real question is whether those around him were actually experiencing growth in Timothy’s life and benefitting from it.

This little verse is a precious treasure. On the one hand it is a comfort to me in my imperfections. It reminds me that the goal of Christianity is not that I am supposed to have it all figured out (as the Lord knows – that is certainly not true!). I am not called as a Christian to perfection. Woohoo! What freedom that gives. The expectation is not perfection, it’s progress. On the other hand this little verse is a great encouragement to never take my foot of the gas. My marching orders are straight ahead. I am to grow in my devotion life. I am to grow in my prayer life. I am to grow in my understanding of Biblical interpretation and cultural awareness. I am to grow in my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. I am to grow in leading my family towards Christ and discipling my children in Christ. My life ought to be marked by progress in all these things.

Can those around you spot the spiritual progress in your life? Are they able to see that who you are today is markedly different than who you were a year ago? Perhaps a better question is, are you close enough to anyone in your Church family that they would be able to see this kind of growth in you, and that you would be able to see this kind of growth in them? Growing in Christ is not to be done individualistically, but in the community of the Saints.

Written by Raef Chenery

I'm a pastor in Chicago at Park Community Church - South Loop. I'm a husband to my beautiful wife Sara and a dad to three sweet girls, Ruth, Joy, and Mira. I'm blessed to be surrounded by a number of men and women who love to think about the ways that our faith interacts with our culture. This blog is as much for me to get my thoughts in order, as it is for those who might benefit from it and engage in the conversations as well. I would love to get your feedback through the comments on each post.

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