Given that Jesus said, "Go
and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
Mt 28:19,20, I take it that Jesus expected his
disciples to go from being students to teachers in three
years. To the Ephesian elders Paul said, "Remember that for three years I never
stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. Now I
commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can
build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who
are sanctified." Acts
20:31,32 Notice he leaves them to God and God's Word only
after three years of ministering to them. In one of his
parables of Luke 13 Jesus said, "A man
had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look
for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man
who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve
been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t
found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
"’Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year,
and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit
next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’"
Luke 13:5-9 He expected fruit within three years.
He gave them an additional year of special education classes in
case they were spiritually retarded. But if they still didn't
produce fruit, then to hell with them.
So there's a time frame associated with maturity
and there's a role, or roles associated with maturity. Mature
Christians teach. Granted they may not be teaching in some kind
of institutional capacity, but they will be involved in teaching
Meat vs Milk
Notice also from the above passage in Hebrews,
while the Word of God forms the substance of one's nourishment,
not everyone is mature enough to handle all it says. "Solid
food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained
themselves to distinguish good from evil." Maturity
comes not by simply studying the Bible, nor even by simply
meditating on it. Maturity comes by applying it, practicing
it, exercising discernment as to its application. When you
apply for a job they'll ask you not just what education you
had, but what experience you had.
1Cor 3:1-4 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly— mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
If Christians are into the whole
Christian celebrity obsession, as the world also obsesses over
its celebrities, that's a sign of immaturity. They're not
ready to be taught advanced concepts.
Majoring on the Minors
There's the saying, "Don't make a
mountain out of a mole hill". Jesus said critically, "You strain out a gnat but swallow a
camel." Mt 23:24 Typical sign of immaturity is
to overinflate minor things. Immature Christians obsess over
things which have no application, like the timing of end times
events, while neglecting living the Christian life. They
divide over minor issues, while neglecting major ones.
An example is the Corinthian Charismatics. Like Charismatics today they obsess over speaking in tongues, and are divisive. 1Cor 11:18,19 "In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval." Since the immature cannot compete when it comes to major things, they overinflate the value of their participation in minor things so as to pretend they are better in God's eyes than others. Charismatics do this with tongues. Anyone, even a non-Christian, can fake the gift of tongues. And so Charismatics inflate that which can easily be fabricated and inflate their own view of themselves by it. Other Christians do much the same with religious ceremonies or even measuring their spirituality merely by their attendance.
Much of 1Corinthians Paul devotes
to giving them a proper perspective of that which they're
divided about including putting tongues in its place.
Concerning tongues, "Follow the way
of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the
gift of prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does
not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands
him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who
prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening,
encouragement and comfort." 1Cor 14:1-3
In other words he's saying, "Why do you so
obsess over a gift that doesn't edify others?"
The immature are narcissistic.
But notice even the immaturity of
the apostles in Acts 1:6-8 "Lord,
are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to
Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the
times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on
you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all
Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." They didn't ask what do you want us
to do, Lord, but rather they asked him about end times events,
just like many an immature today while the neglect the Great
Commission. In Acts 1:4 Jesus told them to wait for
the Holy Spirit, but they didn't wait. Instead they obsessed
over choosing an apostle to replace Judas, usurping Jesus on
the matter. For Jesus chooses his own apostles. They are not
to chose apostles for him, and certainly not without guidance
from the Holy Spirit who Jesus told them to wait for. So they
inflated a minor issue as if it were too urgent to wait for
the Lord, much like Saul in 1Samuel 15 who was too
impatient to wait for Samuel and so God rejected him as king.
Jesus ended up personally choosing Paul to replace Judas, and
he effectively replaced the other apostles as God's primary
spokesman. Paul wrote most of the New Testament Epistles.
Maturing in Love
And this leads to the subject of
love. Babies and perhaps adolescents tend to think only about
themselves, their own needs and desires. Actually there are
plenty of adults how never grow up in this respect too. But
the mature do their part to help others.
the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him
who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body,
joined and held together by every supporting ligament,
grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its
work." Eph 4:15,16
As one matures one's motivations change from "What can I get out of it?" to "How can I serve?" Christian who are not involved in the work of the ministry are immature in the faith.
The Immature are Naive, Gullible.
Eph 4:14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed
back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by
every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of
men in their deceitful scheming.
The immature tend to not exercise much
discernment and consequently are easily led astray into false
doctrines and practices. Gaining a little bit of knowledge
doesn't help much. They become "Sophomores" from the Greek words
"Sophus" meaning meaning "wise" and "moros" meaning "morons".
They simply become wise morons. The most dangerous drivers are
not beginners, but rather those who have been driving about 6
months. They gain over confidence not equal to their competence.
Einstein once said, "A little knowledge is a
dangerous thing". In fact there's no record of
Einstein saying that. But if you fell for it, that's an example
of being gullible. Remember Abraham Lincoln once said, "Don't
believe everything you read on the internet."
One area of growth is discernment. The mature
scrutinize all things. In fact it's consider honorable to
scrutinize everything in light of scripture. "Now the Bereans were of more
noble character than the Thessalonians, for
they received the message with great eagerness and examined
the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."
Rom 16:17,18 "I
urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause
divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to
the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.
For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their
own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the
minds of naive people."
Lk 21:8 Watch
out that you are not deceived.
1Jo 3:7 Do not let anyone lead you astray.
Ga 6:7 Do not be deceived:
All these require the practice of discernment. "He who is spiritual judges all things"
1Cor 2:15 Ironically there are those who try to
forbid Christians from practicing discernment by misconstruing
what Jesus meant when he said, "Judge
not and you shall not be judged" Mt 7:1
For by not practicing discernment false teachers can get away
Either/Or versus Both/And
The immature tend to opt unnecessarily for an either/or limited perspective on things. Again - just to "throw them under the bus again", take the apostles in Acts 6. "Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables." Acts 6:1,2 Really? Well maybe you don't desire it, but isn't that what Jesus did? "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded." John 13:3-5
So they went on to choose other people to do the
job as they could not imagine doing both ministering the word
and "waiting on tables" as they referred to in with contempt. It
doesn't take much to read into the passage to realize the not
only the Jerusalem church in general, but the apostles
themselves reckoned the Hellenist widows with contempt, because
they had been married to Gentiles. Such hatred they had for
Gentiles. But anyway among those they chose to do this ministry
was Stephen and Philip, the evangelist. Ironically Acts chapters
7 and 8 show that these men were some how able to do BOTH the
ministry of waiting on tables AND the ministry of the Word. In
fact the chapter after that, namely chapter 9, goes on to
introduce Paul. It's like the Lord had enough of it with these
apostles and turned to others to do the work. Their EITHER/OR
mentality was just an expression of their prejudice.
This also comes up regarding getting paid for
ministry, a mentality that you can EITHER become a professional
minister getting paid for ministry OR you can be a lay Christian
paying other to do the ministry for you. This in contrast to
practice Paul advocated and practiced,
"I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You
yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my
own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I
did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must
help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself
said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’"
Acts 20:32-35 One time at a church I was attending the
pastor was giving his own farewell speech, quoting the Acts 20
passage which is Paul's farewell speech to the Ephesian elders,
but had to stop before verse 32, because he got paid for his
ministry. While in 1Cor 9 Paul acknowledges that professional
ministers have a right to get paid, he goes on to say, "we did not use this right."
1Cor 9:12, but rather he advises that
people do BOTH work AND ministry.
One's involvement in evangelism is not a sign
the person is mature in Christ. Rather it's a sign the
person is alive in Christ. A baby crying is not a sign it is
mature. It's a sign it's alive. Paul says in 2Co 4:13 It is written: "I believed; therefore I
have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also
believe and therefore speak.
If a person is genuinely a believer in Christ, he will not
only be doing evangelism, he will persist in it in the midst
of persecution. Paul says to the Thessalonians, "we know, brothers loved by God, that he
has chosen you" 1Th
1:4 And he then goes on to speak of the evidence upon
which he bases his conclusion that they are elect of God,
like, "You became imitators of us
and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering,
you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy
Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers
in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out
from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia— your
faith in God has become known everywhere." 1Th 1:6.7 What's the
first thing the woman at the well did upon come to faith in
Christ? She went and told others.
in the Method of Evangelism
as one matures so does one's style of evangelism. Often new
believers limit themselves to trying to bring others to
faith in Christ in the same way they were. Did they come to
Christ by being invited to church to hear a pastor preach
the gospel? They tend to view evangelism as inviting people
to church. Did they come to Christ through someone giving
them a tract? They tend to view evangelism as handing out
Christian tracts. The apostle Paul is an interesting case.
How did Paul come to Christ? By being blinded and rebuked
for his opposition and hostility to the Christians
community. And what do we observe in his early years of
ministry? We observe his treatment of Elymas. "Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what
his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the
proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called
Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at
Elymas and said, "You
are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that
is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and
trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways
of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you.
You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be
unable to see the light of the sun." Immediately mist
and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking
someone to lead him by the hand." Acts
13:8-11 He probably figured, "Well, that's the way I
came to faith in Christ." Yet we never see Paul repeating
that kind of thing again. Why? Likely because he matured in
his perspective on evangelism.
in the Scope of Evangelism
immature tend to limit their scope of evangelism. They may
limit it to their friends and family. They may limit it to
their race, or to their country, their ethnic group. But as
one matures so does one's view of the scope of evangelism.
apostle Peter is an example. In fact the whole church of
Jerusalem along with the apostles there had limited their
scope of evangelism to Jews. This despite the fact that
Jesus told them, "You will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8.
But apparently they thought Jesus was just talking about
Jews who happened to live in those places. It's wasn't any
of the apostles who initiated the evangelism to the
Samaritans. But rather it was Philip the Evangelist.
was reluctant to preach to the Gentiles. Jesus had to give
him a vision for him to comprehend that Gentiles were to be
incorporated into the Christian community. Note what Peter
said in his sermon to Cornelius, "I
now realize how true it is that God does not show
favoritism" Acts 10:34 Apparently
prior to that Peter thought God did show favoritism. So
Peter matured in his perspective on the scope of evangelism.
However, notice what he says just after that, "but accepts men from every nation who
fear him and do what is right." Acts
10:35 So he was thinking that God accepts Gentiles,
but only Gentiles like Cornelius who were godly. Only "good"
Gentiles. Apparently Peter still had room to mature in his
perspective on evangelism.
apparently Peter was a slow learner, not even embracing the
implications of his present revelation, as a few chapters
later there's this event of which Paul write, "James,
Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived
the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and
Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should
go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised." Gal
2:9 Thus Peter, as well as the other Eleven,
relinquished his ministry to the Gentiles and limited
himself to the Jews.
What about Paul? I think Jesus called Paul to replace Judas because he was fast a learner and unlike the other apostles he would embrace the calling God had given to him. "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel." Acts 9:15 In fact Paul didn't limit himself to the Gentiles as the Jerusalem church demanded. For he preached both to Jew and Gentiles. Seems that Paul's attitude toward the decrees of the Jerusalem was like, "What a bunch of babies. I'm going to just ignore them.". He does the same thing regarding James' heretical decree of Acts 15. You never hear of it in his epistles, not even Galatians. He simply ignores them. And later when James brings it up, Paul says nothing. The only reason he went down to them in Acts 15 is because people from their church we're invading his arena preaching a false gospel. It's like they could care less about their people preaching a false gospel to Gentiles. They're just Gentiles, who cares about them?
Don't let the immature hinder you from carrying out the
ministry. Just ignore them.
noted from the rhetoric the New Testament uses
regarding Christian maturity, God does not mature
people purely in a monergistic fashion, to use a
theological term. That is God does not force maturity
upon us in a puppet like fashion. Cooperation is
involved. But God uses a number of things to influence
us, suffering circumstances, other people, the Word of
God, and the Holy Spirit.
Rom 5:3,4 We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
discipline seems pleasant at the time, but
painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest
of righteousness and peace for those who have been
trained by it.
12:7 To keep me from
becoming conceited because of these surpassingly
great revelations, there was given me a thorn in
my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
1Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
circumstances of suffering can be foreseen or
expected, like persecution. ("In
fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in
Christ Jesus will be persecuted" 2Tim
3:12) Others may come by surprise. Some are the
result of misjudgements or sin, others, such as 2Cor
12:7 are not due to something we did wrong,
but brought on by God to help us maintain and
develop our character, convictions and testimony.
the Christian responds to suffering with meekness, he
grows. "Meekness toward God is that disposition of
spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as
good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.
In the OT, the meek are those wholly relying on God
rather than their own strength to defend them
against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people
means knowing God is permitting the injuries they
inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect,
and that He will deliver His elect in His time." Online
Bible Greek Lexicon
2Peter 2:2 "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual
milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation" In the parable of the Sower the Word is described as a
growing seed. "This is the meaning of
the parable: The seed is the word of God." Lk
8:11 How it grows depends largely on the soil, which is
our part. We have to embrace the implications of the Word, lest
we'll be like the seed sown in rocky soil. "It sprang up quickly, because the soil was
shallow." Mt 13:5 These are shallow
Christians who are unprepared to handle the implications of the
Word. "When trouble or persecution
comes because of the word, he quickly falls away."
Mt 13:21 Nor should we be like those
among the thorns, where "the worries
of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it,
making it unfruitful." Mt 13:22
Prioritize your Christian life. Consider the cost of
discipleship. But even Christians will say God first, Family
second, and ministry third. But to put God's ministry third is
to put one's family first. Jesus said, "Anyone who loves his father or mother more
than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or
daughter more than me is not worthy of me" Mt 10:37, let alone those who
put their career or the accumulation of wealth above God's
Devotion to Word does not simply incorporate reading it. If you expect to excel you need to think about it. "I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes." Ps 119:99 and apply it, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word." Ps 119:9
Unique to the New Covenant is the intimate relationship believers have with the Holy Spirit. "I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh." Gal 5:16 The Psalmist of 119:9 above only had the Word to live by. But the Christian not only has the Word, but the Spirit of God as well. "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." Rom 8:11
not just in living, but interpreting the Bible and revealing
applications to us as one matures in the faith. "We do, however, speak a message of
wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of
this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to
nothing." 1Cor 2:6
as it is written: "No eye has
seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God
has prepared for those who love him" — but God has
revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all
things, even the deep things of God. For who among
men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s
spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the
thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have
not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who
is from God, that we may understand what God has freely
given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us
by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit,
expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man
without the Spirit does not accept the things that come
from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him,
and he cannot understand them, because they are
spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments
about all things, but he himself is not subject to any
man’s judgment: "For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of
Christ." 1Cor 2:9-16
Finally concerning all these matters, I would
kind of take a page out of the good book saying, "All of us who are mature should take
such a view of things. And if on some point you think
differently, that too God will make clear to you.
Only let us live up to what we have already
attained. Join with others in following my example,
brothers, and take note of those who live according to
the pattern we gave you." Php 3:15-17
you want to teach maturity, be an example of it.