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Spiritual Maturity…”Think Like this”

“Therefore those who are mature will think thus. And, if you think differently in something, God will also make that known to you.”

(Philippians 3:15)

From a pastor’s perspective, this verse is one that I would love to see painted over every doorpost, placed by every bathroom mirror, and embossed on decorations throughout the homes of my people. This is not the first time that Paul has given such a piece of instruction, but here he is short and succinct. He has spoken of living for Christ and not for self and he has spoken of how (as a believer) he makes nothing of his own work. And then, in the wake of these very powerful Christian teachings, he makes this statement… “Those who are mature will think this way.”

Wham. Right there, we see Paul take the majority of the western church today to the mat. Paul is essentially saying, Do you think that you are mature — then how do you live your life? Are you proud of your own accomplishments? If so, you are not a mature believer. Do you seek to draw attention to yourself? If so, you are immature in your faith. Do you wish to do things your way instead of the way God teaches in the Bible? If so, you are immature in your faith. Are you not studying the Word with the intention of applying the Word to guide your every action? Yep, you guessed it, that is a sign of your immaturity. Do you consider your own needs more important than the needs of others? Yes, you too fall into the category of the immature. Are you willing to sacrifice…not just give of your excess, but really sacrifice…for the wellbeing of the church? If not, you are being childish in your faith…and notice that I said, “childish” and not “childlike.” There is a huge difference. If as a church, you only focus on the “milk” of the Word (that which is easy to swallow and digest), then yes, you too are not mature as a church body.

As a pastor, I often engage with people who are in conflict. And truth be told, after some sermons, that conflict has been directed towards me! My grandfather, who was also a minister, used to say, “if you don’t step on some toes, you are not preaching.” Jesus said that if we belong to him, the world will hate us (John 15:18-21). And yes, Jesus also reminded us that there will be unbelievers (people of the world) who will be a part of the visible institution of the church (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). The point being, don’t be surprised when persecution comes from within the church, there are unbelievers mixed amongst the immature…and sometimes the two can be difficult to tell apart.

Yet, in times of conflict, after we have prayed, I typically begin by showing them what the Bible says concerning a given struggle that is being had and what the Bible says about resolving and working towards reconciliation. How often people respond by saying, “I know the Bible says that, but…” And I say, “sorry, there are no ‘buts’ about it.” Paul would say that when people will not submit to the plain teaching of scripture, they are immature. So, where are you this day? Are you making excuses for your spiritual immaturity? Don’t. Instead, apply the word to your life and grow mature. Are you struggling to grow mature but the abuse and discouragement of growing up alongside of the weeds is weighing upon you? Then remember Peter’s words, “God knows how to rescue the godly from trials while keeping the unrighteous under punishment…” (2 Peter 2:9). Be encouraged, you are being refined in the Lord’s hands. Are you a leader in a church surrounded by the spiritually immature? Take the council of the author of Hebrews:

“For everyone who partakes of milk is unpracticed in the word of righteousness since he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have been trained in the practice of discernment, distinguishing good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not again building a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” (Hebrews 5:13 — 6:1).

Really Good Fruit

“Even now, they prosper in their gray hair;

They are plump and juicy.”

(Psalm 92:15 {verse 14 in English translations})

While I can’t say that I know anyone who would like to be described as “plump and juicy,” we must remember that the analogy of the tree bearing good fruit is still before us. Thus the “plump and juicy” is a reference to those who are mature in their faith bearing the fruit of faith that is rich and desirable — pleasing to those in their midst. Such fruit, the psalmist reminds us, belongs to the grey hairs in our midst, who have made their lifestyle one marked by walking in faith and obedience.

How radically different the Biblical perception of age is from the current western perception of age. Now in my mid-forties, I am still a comparatively young man (though it definitely depends on who you talk to). Even so, I (and those of my age) often look back and focus on all the things that I am no longer able to do, that I used to be able to do when I was in my twenties. Back when I was a younger man, I was stronger and had better endurance than I do today. In fact, while I was never in the running to win “Athlete of the Year” or anything remotely like that, I was in probably the best shape of my life and I was able to do things then that, when I try to do them now, leave me sore and regretting the action for days. Yet, these are all physical things.

The Bible presents a different picture. The physical is not bad…indeed it has some value (1 Timothy 4:8)…but the spiritual is more profitable for us. Thus, instead of looking back at what we used to be able to do physically, the Bible presents us as looking forward to the spiritual maturity that we will one day have if we remain faithful in our walk of faith. And the gray hairs do not signify wasting away, but instead they signify growth and maturity…dare I say…they are something to be celebrated, not detested. This is the reward for a life of faithfulness. And this is how one grows good fruit…really good fruit.

He died with Good Grey Hair

“These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived: one-hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham perished and died with good grey hair, an old man and fulfilled. And he was gathered to his people.”

(Genesis 25:8)

 

These are the final words recorded in the narrative of the life of Abraham. What follows relates his burial and the transition in God’s covenant story from Abraham’s life to that of Isaac. Even so, here we have the scriptural epitaph for this man of God. His days were full and long, he died with a full head of grey hair (a sign of maturity), and he was gathered to his people — his spirit joined the spirits of all those other believers who had passed on ahead of him in the presence of their almighty God. Though it is brief (as are all epitaphs), as far as epitaphs go, this is just about as good as it gets.

There is something that we have lost in our modern pursuit of youth, and that is the respect and honor due to those elders in our midst. Too often we see them as slow, not up to date, and a burden, when we ought to see them as a great treasure and repository of wisdom. Those grey hairs were earned and thus things to be held in honor, not hidden under layers of dye or relegated to being “old fashioned.” That grey head of Abraham signifies more than his old age — it signifies the wisdom that those many years brought to his life. His death marked not only the passing on of the covenant responsibility from himself to his son, but the passing away of wisdom and experience from this world — something that must be mourned.

Notice that the passing away of one with great wisdom is a community affair — all recognize their corporate loss as well as the family’s immediate loss. Again, in a culture that glamorizes the vibrancy of youth, often the wisdom of maturity is neglected. Yet, as the word of God brings a close to Abraham’s life, it does so with great dignity and grace and from that we can learn as we honor the passing of those in our own midst.