Spiritual Maturity

By Jady Copeland

Paul wrote, “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28, NAS). Many translations put the word “complete” here as “perfect.” It means mature, complete, or full grown. The apostle said that in proclaiming Christ and “admonishing” and “teaching” each of them, that he would “present every man complete in Christ.” Paul was the agent in the hands of Christ and the “tool” was the gospel to make men perfect or complete, or mature. At the judgment, it is our desire to be what Christ would have us be. We constantly strive toward perfection.

As children are not expected to be full-grown (in body or mind); so is the new-born babe in Christ. But as we grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, he wants us to “mature.” Some of the Hebrew Christians had not grown sufficiently (Heb. 5:12-14). They were still spiritual babes and had to have “milk” instead of “solid food.” But the solid food was for “mature” (full-grown) men who by reason of exercise were able to “discern good and evil.” “Exercise” is a term of the athletes in training. It was as if they were in a “practice game” to get ready for the real contest. The mature person not only must “know” the word of God, but he must be able to use it profitably.

Mature Christians must be constantly “adding” (2 Pet. 1:5-11). As the Christian starts with strong conviction, he then supplies or brings in besides these attributes which Peter mentions. But notice the “bottom line” – an entrance into the everlasting kingdom. From baptism until death we are constantly growing or “supplying” the many attributes or characteristics which a Christian needs to serve God, self and fellow man. Like the old alligators, the mature Christian never stops growing. Too often we see the elderly giving up, and quitting – quit growing, quit helping others, quit studying. Just when they should be able to use their great influence and maturity out of many years of study and experience to best advantage, they give up.

The mature Christian is not easily moved away from the gospel. While it is true the devil never sleeps (I Pet. 5:8-10), the Christian has matured to the point he knows what he wants, and he knows who he is. He is a child of God with his eyes set on the goal, and he knows that if he looks away he is likely to fall. Like a tight-rope walker, he never concentrates on the things below, or to the side, but keeps his eye on the goal and his attention on his objective. He realizes the devil is trying every “trick in the book” to distract him (knowing if he can, he can make him fall), but the mature Christian refuses to let things of the world attract his attention away from Christ. Too many Christians let sports, pleasure, money, family and business take so much of their attention and time, they have little time left for Christ and his work. You see Satan is clever enough to know that he does not need to get everyone to “quit the church” but if he can get them to put most of their attention elsewhere (even on the things of life that are not of themselves sinful) he knows that God will not accept such service (Matt. 6:33).

Let’s notice two groups who fall away as described in the parable of the sower.

First, those who fell away because of “tribulation or persecution” because of the word. Those in the “stony places” received the word with joy, but when objections came because of the word, they could not endure. Teachers need to prepare new converts for the inevitable – we will have rocks thrown because we became Christians. This idea that “everything in the life of a Christian is just peaches and cream” is just not so. “Yea, and all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12) has to mean something. But some are not ready to suffer for his sake. It may not be death as some in the past have suffered, but it will not always be easy. In the next place the seed that fell among thorns represents those who heard, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choked it out. I do not understand this to mean that the “cares” of this life were of themselves sinful things. But some get so busy with the “business of living” that they fall away, or if they don’t quit entirely, they become unfruitful servants.

A mature Christian is not attracted by the things of this world. His interests lie in spiritual directions. Paul wrote, “If then ye were raised together with Christ seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). Occasionally I hear one speak of a godly person, “His whole life is wrapped up in God (or the church).” Well, why should it not be? All mature Christians’ lives are. If not, they are not growing as they should. When we get to the judgment, it will matter little who was president, or whether your favorite football team won on Saturday, or whether you had money in the bank. Paul continues, “When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.” MacKnight comments, “principally on heavenly things, and not on empty perishing riches, honors, and pleasures of the earth” (MacKnight on the Epistles, Vol. 3, p. 549).

A mature Christian is not easily offended.- He is not prone to feel mistreated, neglected or left out. He is not looking for something for which to take offense. He will hasten to correct sin not only in himself (Matt. 5:23) but also in others (Matt. 18:15-17). If he does not get his way about incidentals, he will not be offended. He is not selfish about unimportant things and if brethren don’t like his way of doing things, he will work as hard to do it their way . . . as long as it is in harmony with the word. He is not childish about these matters, but is a “man.” “Brethren, do not be children in understanding, however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20, NKJ). Too many congregations have those who (in the absence of elders) want their way about everything, and if they don’t get it, they pout and rob God of the service they could otherwise give him. And such an attitude is a form of selfishness and selfishness has no-place in the kingdom of God. Furthermore a mature Christian will receive correction with grace and profit. “Whoso loveth correction loveth knowledge but he that hateth reproof is brutish” (Prov. 12:1). The King James has “instruction” here, but the idea is discipline, or correction. He will not refuse the constructive criticism which is given in the proper manner, but will, regardless of who gives it, give it serious consideration. In my personal judgment, we have far too many gospel preachers who are “know-it-alls” and refuse to even consider another’s viewpoint. Of course it sometimes hurts one’s pride to know he can learn from others, because it may make him feel inferior. But the man does not live who has learned it all, and often good information and correction comes from the most unsuspecting sources. “Give instruction to a wise man and he will yet be wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning” (Prov. 9:9). An open mind is a learning mind.

A mature Christian is dependable. Paul could depend on Timothy (Phil. 2:19-20). “Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (Phile. 21). A Christian is dependable in speech. When he says something, one can depend on his words as being honest, and when he makes promises, he will keep them. To do less is dishonest. He must be dependable in his work. When I taught school, I learned to call on the busiest student in class if I really wanted the work done. The student who said “I don’t have time” was never busy . . . at least about worthwhile things. Elders soon learn which brethren are dependable. What a waste of talent when we have capable brethren who are so lax in their attitude and work that the Lord can’t depend on them for anything good! Deacons have to be proven. Near my home during World War II, there was a “proving ground.” They tested various weapons before shipping them into the war. In a sense God is testing us today in our faith.

There are many other marks of maturity, but these will give us food for thought. Am I growing? Re-read 2 Peter 1:5-11 and see how mature you are. A child that never develops physically is a pitiful sight; a Christian that is no larger than when he “came up out of the water” is much worse. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.”

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 20, pp. 622-623
October 20, 1988