Adulthood

Preaching and Worship Resources about Adulthood

"Adulthood" refers to a legal status, an emotional maturity or a collected set of responsibilities. While often understood as a developmental or psychological term, adulthood also is applied by metaphor to one's spiritual state.

In Scripture

Responsibility "The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after [the Israelites] had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company. A man from each tribe shall be with you, each man the head of his ancestral house" (Num. 1:1 - 4).

Obedience "If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, `This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid" (Deut. 21:18 - 21).

Knowing and being known "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to my childhood ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Cor. 13:11 - 12).

Spiritual maturity "Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian" (Gal. 3:23 - 25).

Obedience to God "The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Eph. 4:11 - 15).

Set an example "Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12).

Maturity in understanding "Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment" (Heb. 6:1 - 2).

Maturity through God's word "Like newborn babies, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" (1 Pet. 2:2 - 3).

Maturity not linked to age "I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, because you have conquered the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one" (1 John 2:13 - 14).

Points to Ponder

Scriptural overview: The Scriptural picture is one in which the focus is less on adulthood as a developmental or psychological stage or age and more as the attainment of spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is found in Christ (Gal. 3:23 - 25), in obedience to God (Deut. 21:18 - 21; Eph. 4:11 - 15) and in study of Scripture (Heb. 6:1 - 2; 1 Pet. 2:2 - 3). These signs of spiritual maturity are accessible to all, regardless of one's actual age (1 Tim. 4:12; 1 John 2:13 - 14).

Changing landscapes: Scripture's indifference to age is an important reminder as today's world wrestles with the concept of "emerging adulthood," often understood as prolonged adolescence. For older folks concerned about the perceived laziness of younger folks, we are reminded to avoid proof-texting our expectations of how certain ages are supposed to act. For younger folks navigating the realities of a changing world, we are reminded that God expects all believers, young and old alike, to grow in spiritual maturity.

Children welcome too: While Scripture suggests that we should move beyond elementary matters to a more mature, deeper faith (Heb. 6:1 - 2), we are reminded that Jesus praises the faith of children and invites them to him (Luke 18:17). Jesus tells us that we are to become like children (Matt. 18:2). God ordains praise from the lips of children and infants (Psalm 8:2). While we desire to grow in spiritual maturity, we should not lose the childlike wonder of faith.

Practical realities: The census of God's people in the early chapters of Numbers demonstrates that the people of Israel were to be aware of practical realities and differences between children and adults during their wandering in the desert. They were to take into consideration how many adult men would be available for the wars they would face (Num. 1:3). Levites were given specific instructions for ages of eligible priestly service (Num. 8:24 - 25). Churches do well to consider these practical realities when considering communal life. Young people may be spiritually mature but, due to unfamiliarity with budgets, decide it best to withhold voting rights until reaching a certain age. An individual may be wise beyond their years, but contextual expectations may mean that it is best not to allow such an individual to serve on council. As God expected Israel to take practical considerations into account, so too should our churches.

Covenantal reminders: In the midst of the census data of Numbers, the Levites are counted not from fighting age, but from birth (Num. 3:15). The Levites, representative of God's people in their service to the tabernacle and temple, were also a reminder of the covenantal promises of God given to the whole household (Acts 2:39). As churches wrestle with the practical distinctions of youth and adulthood, we are reminded that God's covenant is not just with adults, but with children as well.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.