Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. (1 Timothy 4:15—NIV)

"Use it or lose it" is an ominous phrase to our ears, and it increasingly echoes as we age. The very thought we can lose something that we count as "in our back pocket" and that we currently enjoy is anathema to us. Whether the warning is applied to our benefits, our stewardship of time, our talents, or our brain power the fur ruffles at the very thought of something being taken from us. We buy the books, we reassess our priorities, we consider our options and we make course corrections in response to the words of warning. Does the same principle apply to spiritual maturity in our life?

Resoundingly yes! There is a Greek word used by Paul that provides a word picture embodying the "use it or lose it" principle. It is the word "progress" in our text. The original word is a compound made up of "before, forward" and "to strike, to impel." In Greek culture it was used to describe the work of the smith as he beat upon metal. He lengthened it by hammering and in so doing "beat forward." It means to promote forward, further, to advance and proceed, to increase (like the passing of the hours of the night in Romans 13:12). It is a term we would use to describe the work of colonial pioneers who beat a path through the wilderness. They struck forward, they cut forward a way, they cut before so that others may follow, they went before.

Worthy of meditation is the choice of this word to describe part of the humbling of the Son of God as He shared our very human experience of maturing. Luke 2:52 reads, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

Paul’s challenge to Timothy is that he concentrate on growing in spiritual maturity so that others may follow his example and grow likewise. Earlier in the chapter Paul makes the correlation between physical exercise, which produces measurable though limited benefits, and exercise of godliness, which is advantageous in every discipline of life now and to come (vv. 7–9). This life of godliness is to provide an example (like the pioneers of old) in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith and in purity (v. 12).

The "use it" principle is found in verses 13 to 15. Paul reviews the process of spiritual growth. It progresses by being immersed in the Word of God (reading), communicating the Word (exhortation), practically applying the Word to life’s challenges (doctrine), and submitting to the will of God (usefulness in accord with God’s giftedness). This is the advancement in spiritual things which matters to God. Spiritual maturity is making the right decisions consistently.

Where does the "lose it" principle come in? Hebrews 5:14 states, "but solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." 2 Timothy 2:16 and 3:9 identify the "lose it" principle as, in reality, the advancement of ungodliness rather than what God intended for every believer.

How is your spiritual growth similar to the forging of the "Wilderness Road" in American history? Do you live your life intentionally so that others may follow where you have trail-blazed and do you keep the way marked and clear-cut lest the wilderness once again prevail? Are you spiritually advanced beyond where you were this time last year and do you have the spiritual blisters to prove it? Trust and obey.