Throughout the book of Ephesians the apostle Paul has been teaching us about the nature of mature faith. He has helped us understand how we were saved (by grace through faith) and what God’s intention is for those who are saved (to live differently by the power of God’s Spirit in a unified community of faith that reflects the transforming power of God).
We must face the fact that no one comes to faith in Christ as a mature believer. We change our status with God the moment we believe but we change our thinking and lifestyle over the course of time. The Bible (especially Paul) likes to refer to young or immature believers as infants in faith. It’s a good analogy. We begin our faith limited in knowledge and ability. Paul will point out some similarities immature believers have with children in our text this morning and then he will contrast that with the goal of maturity. In truth, the remainder of the book of Ephesians will expand this discussion of what it means to live as mature followers of Christ.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 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. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 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. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Last week Paul told us that every believer has a place where God wants us to “plug in.” Like the human body, the church is considered healthy when all the parts of the body are working together, and considered sick when parts of the body are not working; Our goal is to become healthy and mature. In order to help us understand the concept Paul draws a picture of what this maturity looks like. He shows us what maturity is NOT and then what it is by contrast.
What Maturity is Not
Fickleness. Children are “tossed back and forth by the waves”. This is easy to observe. One day (or in some cases, one moment) children are the best of friends, the next they appear to be mortal enemies. One day they are privy to the secrets of others that are being shared, the next day they are the ones who are having their secrets exposed.
Children are like little chameleons. They tend to adopt the characteristics of their environment. When they are with one group of people they like what that group likes and when they are with another group, they like what that group likes. Children are not concerned about truth and error; they are only concerned about being liked. We tell our kids that it doesn’t matter if the other kids like them. This only leads our children to conclude that we are hopelessly out of touch. We don’t understand.
Children are constantly changing their interests. A little baby will stare at you and even engage with you for a long time. You may feel that you have really “connected”. However, suddenly you will be forgotten and their attention will be focused on something or someone else that is more “amusing”.
An immature believer is like this. Their theology (or belief system) is determined by whichever speaker they listened to or whatever conference they attended most recently. They are undiscerning. They have not learned to weigh and interact with what they hear, they lack a solid foundation.
Gulliblity. Why do little children fall for the “I’ve got your nose” trick? Why is it so easy to convince them that you have pulled a quarter out of their ear? It is because they are gullible! If you talk about monsters convincingly they will believe monsters exist and won’t be able to sleep. This is why you need to monitor what your children watch on television. They have a hard time distinguishing between truth and error; real and pretend.
I had an experience at AWANA not long ago during our opening session. One of the children said, “I lost my Awana book”. My immediate response was to give them a hard time by saying, “Well, I guess we will have to string you up and hang you from your feet!” Tears welled up in her eyes. I quickly told her I was kidding and that she did not need to worry because Marcia Stiller kept really good records and we would get her another book.
Gullibility is not confined to a certain age. We know that in a political campaign it is all about spin. It is about getting people to believe certain truths about you and your opponent. Scam artists are skilled at getting people to believe that they have won great sums of money and all that is needed is for you to give them an account number so they can deposit the funds in your account.
Immature believers are susceptible to those who are deceptive and manipulative in their teaching. They have several tactics,
- Misquote the Bible. They will quote a passage like “Judge Not, lest you be judged” and say that it means it is wrong to make moral judgments. However, if you read further n the text Jesus tells us to make more judgments! The command about judging is about our attitude (adopting a superior and judgmental attitude) rather than being discerning and making judgments. We will say it again: “You can prove anything from the Bible as long as you don’t pay any attention to context.”
- They will claim something is in the Bible. Have you ever heard someone say, “The Bible says, the Lord helps those who help themselves.” That’s not in the Bible! That is a quote from Ben Franklin
- They will point to respected “experts” (usually people you have never heard of.
- They will ridicule you and say, “No one believes that . . . “
The only way to avoid being blown about by the winds of religious fads is to mature in your faith is to anchor ourselves to the truth. We must know the Word of God as it is rightly interpreted. We must “check it out”!
What Maturity Is
Using your spiritual gifts for God’s glory. Remember the context of our passage? Paul has been arguing that the mature person is the One who is doing what God has called them to do. The mature believer knows God has called them to take an active part in the family of God. They have found (or are looking for) the contribution they can make and are serving in a way that brings honor to Him and health to the community of faith. I direct your attention to last week’s message for more on this issue.
Speaking the Truth in Love. This involves speaking, living, and doing the truth. We should be truth-tellers because God is true. We should reflect His character.
This truth-telling is especially applicable when sharing the truth of the gospel. The gospel is the good news that God will make us new through Christ. Part of this truth is bad and hard to hear (that we are sinful and cannot ever save ourselves). However, people must understand the bad news about our sin before they can hear and appreciate the good news about forgiveness and new life through the sacrifice of Christ.
Paul addressed the reality that immature people tend to embrace two opposite errors. The first error is speaking truth, but without love. They “blast away” at people without any semblance of love. They seem almost delighted to point out your faults and failings. Sometimes they say, “I’m only telling you the truth because I love you”. But you certainly don’t feel any compassion in the words spoken.
The second error is to withhold the truth because you feel it is the loving thing to do. In truth, we are not really withholding these words because it is loving; we are doing it because it is EASIER! We don’t want conflict or even hurt feelings so we withhold truth. However, if you see someone doing something destructive, and you don’t say something, is that really loving? Of course not! The loving person acts with the best interest of the person at heart. They would rather risk a “difficult conversation” if that is what is needed.
You can see these extremes in some families. On one extreme is the parent who is always criticizing their child. They are harsh and if you look closely you can see the spirit of the child draining. This parent lacks love. On the other hand you see parents who never discipline their child. They say they want their child to feel loved and supported. The truth however is that the parent wants to be liked. We want to say to such parents: you are supposed to be the parent and at times, when you are doing what parents are supposed to do, your children aren’t going to like you. Your job is not to be their friend but to help them grow and mature!
Truth telling is about balance. We are to speak uncompromising truth with compassion and love. When Jesus sent out the disciples, He said: “be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) This is the balance you will find in a mature believer.
There is one more factor here. We who desire to speak the truth in love must also be willing to receive loving truth from others. Rather than immediately become defensive we must ask if we need to hear what is being spoken. That leads to the last point.
Living an Increasingly Christ-Controlled Life. You will frequently here a child saying, “Mine” or “It’s my turn” or “Give it to me”. Why? Because in a child’s mind, the only thing that matters is what I want right now. The mature person is able to see beyond themselves. They see the impact of their choices on others. They are willing to surrender their will to the will of God.
You see this in believers and a church when
- A Loving welcome is extended to all whether they are believers or not. Mature believers see potential rather than failures; beauty rather than the scars.
- There is an uncompromising yet joyful love of the truth of God’s Word. They are no longer interested in bending the Bible to support what they believe; they are interested in changing their lives to the truth revealed in the Word of God.
- There is a spirit of service. They are no longer so wrapped up in themselves. They now can see the heartache and need of those around them. They become more generous because they see their resources as gifts of God meant to serve others. They build up rather than tear down.
- There is a deep and heartfelt worship of the Lord because they see Him (rather than their desires) as the center of life. They see how small they really are and in contrast how big and wonderful He is.
- They have learned to listen with their eyes and with their hearts. They no longer approach conversations focused on “when they will be able to talk next” and instead are truly concerned about what another has to say.
- They are eager to learn. They want to learn from others but even more they want to spend time learning from the Lord of life. Consequently, prayer becomes less a chore and more like an audience with the most important person you know.
- They are not threatened by correction from others because they long to grow in maturity.
This is what the healthy and growing believer (and church) looks like. Mature people check their egos at the door. They have come to see that they are most fulfilled when they are most caught up in the person and work of Christ.
The question that remains is a practical one: “What do we need to do to mature in our faith? As one who continues that process let me comment on what I have observed so far.
First, we will grow in maturity only by spending time with the Lord. We will see where we suffer from immaturity most clearly by contrasting our lives with His standards and with His heart. It is not only important THAT we read the Word of God, it is also important HOW we read the Word of God.
We must hear God’s Word like we would listen to the advice of a professional athlete about the sport we play. We need to listen to God’s Word like we would listen to the keynote speaker at a conference on something we cared about deeply. We listen like we would to our cherished mentor or closest friend. In other words, we do not listen to fulfill an obligation or assignment…we listen for guidance, and for information we can use. We listen to the Bible’s diagnosis of our problems because we know we are listening to the “specialist” on the soul. In other words, we should be tuned in. We must interact with what we are hearing.
It is the same with prayer. We do not talk with God as if it were a meeting with the principal at school; we talk with God as we would someone we love and care for. We long to connect not simply talk. We cannot grow up into Christ until we truly get to know Christ!
Second, study those who appear to be more mature in the faith. A little child learns to walk and talk by mimicking others. They do what they see others doing (sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad). In the same way, we will mature by following good models. So, look for someone who models the character of Christ. Look for someone who seems to be mature in faith. Then when you find someone like that, listen to them. Learn from them. Follow their example. Become their “apprentice” in the faith.
Brandon Marshall, a football player and excellent receiver for the Chicago Bears says when he came to his first football camp he found the receiver that did what he wanted to be able to do and then did everything he did. He says he still studies the best receivers in football and tries to learn everything he can from them.
I have several people that I look up to. I read everything they write. When they speak, I listen. When they teach, I take notes. I watch what they do and try to learn from their example. We are visual people; we learn by seeing as much as by hearing. Work hard to find good people to follow, because believe me, there is likely someone who is following you.
Third, expand your spiritual ability. We mark growth in maturity by milestones that are reached and skills that are mastered. Let me illustrate.
- We celebrate the first steps of our babies as a step toward mobility (which we will often lament for the next several years!)
- We listen for a child’s first words because it shows they have reached a new level of communication.
- We mark the first day of school as a milestone because it is a step forward in education and socialization.
- We note a first boyfriend or girlfriend because it indicates a new level of maturity.
- We celebrate (cautiously) the day our child gets their drivers license because it is a step toward independence.
These are all markers that signal that a person may be maturing. We need to look for similar milestones in our Christian walk.
Here are some Milestones to look for
- When we develop a daily time with God
- When we fully share our faith with someone
- When we begin to give to the Lord cheerfully rather than out of duty.
- When we start reading out to those who are hurting. In other words we step out of our comfort zone and reach out. It may be a mission trip. It may be taking in an abandoned or abused child. It may be a visit to someone at home or the hospital, it may be taking time to pray with someone facing a crisis, or it may be as simple as putting on your work clothes to pitch in to address a need. It is when compassion becomes practical rather then theoretical.
- When we begin to use our gifts in the building of God’s Kingdom
- When we become willing to forgive. In other words, when we choose to leave the hurt, bitterness, and resentment with the Lord and move beyond the pain.
These are like road signs that indicate we are headed in the right direction. Look for progress in your life. Pursue maturity diligently.
God doesn’t expect a new believer to act like a mature believer. But He also doesn’t expect someone who has followed Christ for awhile to continue to act like an infant. God wants us to grow, mature, contribute, and be an example of what Christ can and will do in the human heart.
Take a good look at your life. Evaluate your spiritual maturity and then instead of making excuses, start moving forward.