Tom M. Roberts
Fort Worth, Texas
Most of us understand that "maturing" is more than simply growing old. Maturity is the process where one passes from childhood into adulthood with the acquired ability to use wisdom and experience in the decisions of life. By the very nature of life, juveniles should ripen, develop and become well-versed in the art of living. Anything less is arrested development and sad to all who see it.
Spiritual maturity is the condition of "growing up" of life in the Lord, as Paul instructed the Ephesians: "But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into him who is the head - Christ" (Eph. 4:15, NKJ). A Christian must begin as a babe (being born anew, Rom. 6:4), but most not remain in infancy. He is to grow by desiring "the pure milk of the word" (1 Pet. 2:2) and make progress toward meatier food. "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" (Heb. 5:14).
This spiritual maturity is not only a state to be desired, but one which is made possible by the work of Jesus Christ. Paul declared that Jesus left behind gifts for men when he went back to heaven to insure the completeness of the church itself as well as that of individual Christians. Notice Ephesians 4:11f: "And he himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
The church reached its desired state of perfection (maturity) so that Paul was able to declare, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Cor. 13:11). In this instance, he spoke of leaving behind the age of miraculous gifts (the childish age of the church) and passing into maturity (the time when truth would be fully and completely revealed). (Cf. Jude 3; John 14:26; 16:33.) However, it remains for each of us as individuals to pass from infancy into maturity; from childhood into being a full-grown man in Christ. When this is not done, our spiritual lives suffer and we hinder the local churches by an inability to distinguish between the things of the world and the things of Christ.
Worldly Maturity Not Spiritual Maturity
"Sophistication" in the world is not the same thing as spiritual maturity. Some seem to feel that a certain "saviorfare" toward drinking, gambling, curing, evil entertainment and other kinds of immorality marks one as being "mature." Those in the church who have "old-fashioned" ideas are viewed as backward and colloquial, perhaps ignorant of the enlightened views of the sophisticates who claim to be "free." But there is no freedom in sin (Rom. 6:20: "For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness"); only freedom in Christ (Rom. 8:2: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death"). We must not be fooled into thinking that spiritual maturity permits a sinful lifestyle (1 Pet. 2:16: "as free, yet not using [your] liberty as a cloak for vice, but as servants of God").
Cosmopolitan Preaching Not Spiritual Maturity
There is a distinctive ring to gospel preaching that is identifiable both in substance and form. One does not have to listen long to textual sermons to recognize Bible-based preaching. The uniqueness and distinctiveness of the Lord's church is not just a matter of coincidence; one cannot preach the truth without preaching Christ and his body, the church. Yet there are those who, unlike Paul, are ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Some clamor for a New Hermeneutic, jeer at New Testament patterns, ridicule biblical authority and express dissatisfaction with worship that is according to "spirit and truth" (Jn. 4:24). On the other hand, they are broad-minded enough to accept every deviation, every aberration, every digression known to modern theologians. The only anathema to these refined and suave champions of broadened fellowship is the "legalist" who insists on a "thus saith the Lord' for every principle or practice. These people are of such a world view in religion that they will accept the premillennial, the instrumentalist, the institutionalist or the pious unimmersed, but will cast out of their fellowship anyone who calls these practices into question. We need to be just as cosmopolitan as Paul who met the philosophers in Athens and preached Christ to them, who met Roman rulers and tried to baptize them, who was willing to made a "spectacle" (1 Cor. 4:9) to the world in order to preach the true riches of Christ. Spiritual maturity is not compromise.
Spiritual Maturity Builds Up the Church
Strong Christians make strong churches. When we are able to feat upon the "meat" of the gospel and teach it to others, babes in Christ iwll grown into mature Christians. Ideally, there will always be babes in a congregation due to new conversions, but these new babes will not remain so. As time passes, each new convert matures into "perfection" (Eph. 4:13: "a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ"). It is sinful to remain a child, to stay a babe, being "tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14).
When churches have mature Christians, they will have the right attitude toward elders. Churches who have long existences without men growing into qualified elders (1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1) have arrested development. Churches who cannot accept the oversight of godly men are immature. Churches who are satisfied with a preacher running the business of the church do not understand the wisdom of bishops appointed by God. Churches who sit for years and fuss, grumble, feud and fight are still in childish attitudes and need to grow up. Churches who had rather fight among themselves than fight the Devil need to look in the mirror (Jas. 1:25) and see immaturity for what it is and begin to set God's house in order.
When churches have mature Christians, they will have the right attitude toward gospel preaching and preachers. Let this be no defense of immature and inconsiderate (to say nothing of inept) preachers. But churches that have faithful men proclaiming the word need to support both the truth and his efforts to preach it. There is no excuse for the practice of constantly carping at a preacher and his family. Some preachers have to watch their posterior from the attacks by brethren more than they do the ramparts for the enemy. Since I have been treated in a fine way by my brethren, I can say these things without sour grapes. I have witnessed fine men harrassed to the point of exhaustion by radical extremists, by disgruntled brethren, by jealous critics, by untaught neophytes and the church as a whole will say little or nothing to stop it. There is no excuse for a church with mature men in it permitting the preacher to be attacked in classes, in business meetings, in private discussion or in plain gossip without confronting this ungodly treatment. Truth has suffered inconsiderate handling by churches who permit cynical and sarcastic opposition by brethren who are, at best, untaught and, at the worst, agnostic. One or two caustic brethren can embroil a preacher in more defeatist jousting than a full year of Bible study with non-Christians. A mature church will not permit this kind of action to continue unchallenged by someone other than the preacher.
When churches have mature Christians, they will be known for the peace and harmony that prevails. We have had more than enough of churches that split and splinter over every conceivable kind of opinion. The Lord recognized an area where brethren may differ and still maintain local fellowship without compromising doctrinal purity. Evidently, we have not learned how to properly use Romans 14 when every opinion is the occasion of a church split. While recognizing that we must "contend for the faith" (Jude 3) without apology, there still remains an area of "doubtful disputations" in which I must not judge, but allow a brother to differ from me while yet worshiping with him. It is not the point of this article to discuss which items fall into Romans 14, but it cannot be successfully denied that this is the proper use of this chapter. When churches over the nation have split over every shade of opinion, it is evident that we are not applying this part of truth to our maturity. For a full generation, we have had to fight liberalism, etc. and I offer no criticism of those who fought, and still fight. But a church cannot be built on fighting alone. Nor, having defeated liberalism within the congregation, must we be so used to fighting that we continue the fight with our local brethren just because we don't know anything else but fighting. Fight we must, but we also must "give diligence to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). Mature Christians will know how to love, honor, prefer one another, consider others better than self and serve the needs of others as well as fight error.
When churches have mature Christians, they will try to convert the lost, for they were once unconverted themselves.
When churches have mature Christians, they will watch out for the weak and needy, the hopeless and helpless, the weak brother or sister, the backsliding, the one "overtaken in a fault."
When churches have mature Christians, the worship service will be orderly and well-planned so as to provide occasion for worship and edification for all. Brethren will be used who are trained for service and able to impart leadership and fellowship to the whole church.
When churches have mature Christians, prior arrangements will have been made so that all things are ready as needs arise. The baptistry will be full, with garments in readiness if a sinner wishes to be baptized. The Lord's table will be spread and ready for this important part of the worship. The song service will not be thrown together as the song leader walks down the aisle. Bible class teachers and material will be prepared ahead of time to be best taken advantage of an hour of study. The building will be ready for its use by the church as a place of assembly. Maturity suggests good stewardship of both great and small things in the Lord's kingdom.
Are you a mature Christian? Are you still a babe when you ought to be grown up? Is the church where you worship mature or still having to deal with "every wind of doctrine" due to a lack of qualified leadership? Quite evidently, the Lord intended for us all to achieve a ,'measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). If we have not done so, how long will it be before we "are about our Father's business"? "The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light" (Rom. 13:12).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 24, pp. 746-747