Do you remember the sudden change? Do you remember thinking, "Wow! So this is what it feels like to be an adult," or a wife, or a mother, or a Christian? Do you remember how different the world looked, and how different you felt inside?
No, I don't either. What I remember feeling was a little disappointed. I saw the same world with the same eyes, had the same feelings, and thought the same thoughts. But my status had changed. Finally, I realized it was up to me to change with it. It was my job to be that Christian, that wife, that mother, that adult, and somehow along the way I figured out how. Well, let me help you with at least one of those things this morning.
…till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: Eph 4:13.
Do you see that word "fullgrown" in the verse above? The ESV translates it "mature manhood," in other words, an adult. I looked up the word and was in for a shock. You know all those times the Bible talks about being "perfect?" (At least many of those times.) It's the same word. You could easily substitute "mature" for "perfect." Sometimes it is translated "complete," and we often hang our hats on that peg in order to avoid the cop-out, "I can't be perfect," which we think excuses us from even trying. But try substituting "mature" instead. While every one of us will deny we are "perfect," if we have been Christians for any length of time, we all want to think we are mature instead of the oft maligned, "babes in Christ."
So I looked up passages that use that word and did my little substitution trick and suddenly I had a list by which to gauge my spiritual growth. That list also did more than step on my toes; it veritably stomped them to mush. Come limp along with me this morning.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 'But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:43-48)
Look at the end of that passage. "Be perfect." There is the word, the one that is translated fullgrown or mature in Ephesians 4. One way to see if you have matured in Christ is how you treat your enemies. And may I suggest that it also applies to how you treat a brother you may have a problem with. The things I see on Facebook in the political season tell me that some still have a lot of growing up to do.
Here is another: Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt 19:21).
There it is again, "if you would be perfect." Substitute mature and you have it. Obviously Jesus does not teach that it is wrong to be rich. Many wealthy people helped him survive during his ministry. Paul talks about how the rich brethren should live in 1 Tim 6. But this young man, the one we commonly call the rich, young ruler, had an obvious attachment to his wealth and property. What Jesus is teaching us here is that our earthly attachments can tell tales about our lack of spiritual maturity. It might not be wealth. It might be a career. It might be a person. It might be status and power. Paul counted these things "as loss" when he became a Christian, and he had far more to lose than many of us. If you would draw a line anywhere in your service to God, he will sooner or later bring you to that line and demand that you cross it. That is your test of spiritual maturity.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas 1:2-4)
Do you want to show your maturity in Christ? Then you must endure trials and come through them with your faith intact. You may ask why, you may complain—Job did that--but his faith and trust in God never wavered, not even when the one who was supposed to be his helper encouraged him to "curse God and die." And you will be tested. When God said we would have thorns, thistles, toil, labor, sweat, and pain, he was not talking about planting a garden—he was talking about life! To expect anything else is also a sign of immaturity. Only children expect fairy tales.
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. (Jas 3:2).
And yet another way we can measure our spiritual growth is by whether or not we control our tongues. Yes, that word "perfect" is the one we have been discussing. If you are able to control your tongue, you are mature. Children will react, but a mature adult will think before he speaks.
And this is only part of the list I found. Check with me tomorrow morning and see the rest.
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col 1:28)