Preaching and Worship Resources about Christian Maturity
Christian maturity is a state of relatively advanced wisdom, sanctification, and spiritual wholeness. Spiritually whole people fit God's design for flourishing. They long in certain classic ways. They are students of the Word. They possess character consistency. Their motives include faith and gratitude. They practice spiritual disciplines and enjoy some of the freedom and virtues to be derived from them. Their lives glorify God.
"[The righteous] are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper" (Ps. 1:3).
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long" (Ps. 23).
"The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap" (Ps. 92:12 - 14).
"Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor" (Luke 2:52).
"Among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish" (1 Cor. 2:6).
"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 childish ways" (1 Cor. 13:11).
"Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults" (1 Cor. 14:20).
"We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16).
"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).
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. . . . Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you" (Phil. 3:10 - 12, 15).
"Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil" (Heb. 5:12 - 14).
"Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18).
Points to Ponder
A spiritually whole person fits God's design for flourishing. She (our exemplar here happens to be a woman, but she might just as well have been a man) functions as God intends in the range of her relationships to God, others, nature, and self. She possesses the resources, motives, purposes, and character typical of someone who functions smoothly inside God's design. A spiritually whole person is one who combines strengths and flexibilities, disciplines and freedoms, all working together from a renewable source of vitality — namely, the energy of the Holy Spirit. This is a Psalm 1 person who flourishes like a fine sapling rooted into the bank of a dependable stream.
Longing: What are some features of this flourishing? As Christians see her, a spiritually whole person longs in certain classic ways. She longs for God and the beauty of God, for Christ and Christlikeness, for the quiet ferment of the Holy Spirit within her. She longs for spiritual wholeness itself — and not just as a consolation prize when she cannot be rich and envied instead. She longs for other human beings; she wants to love them and to be loved by them. She hungers for social justice. She longs for nature, for its beauties and graces, for the sheer particularity of the way of a squirrel with a nut. Expectedly, her longings ebb or increase from season to season. When they dim, she longs to long again.
She is a person of the Word. She absorbs God's Word in Scripture and preaching in solid increments that build across many years. She is rooted deeply enough in the Word that when the winds of heresy blow she might bend, but she won't break.
She is a person of character consistency, a person who rings true wherever you tap her. She is reliable. She keeps promises. She shows up when you need her. She weeps with those who weep and, perhaps more impressively, rejoices with those who rejoice. She does all these things in ways that express her own personality and culture, but also with a general "mind of Christ" that is cross-culturally unmistakable.
Her motives include faith — a quiet confidence in God and in the mercies of God that radiate from the self-giving work of Jesus Christ. She knows God is good; she also feels assured that God is good to her. Her faith secures her against the ceaseless oscillations of pride and despair familiar to every human being who has taken refuge in the cave of her own being and tried there to bury all her insecurities under a mound of achievements. When her faith slips, she retains faith enough to believe that the Spirit of God, whose energy is her renewable resource, will one day secure her faith again.
Her faith, since it fastens on God's benevolence, triggers gratitude, which in turn prompts risk-taking in the service of others. Grateful people want to let themselves go; faithful people dare to do it. People tethered to God by faith can let themselves go because they know they will get themselves back.
The classic longings motivate a sound life; so do faith and gratitude. Of course, all these things fail from time to time. Spiritually mature people know very well the drag of sloth and doubt. They know about spiritual depression. They know what it is like to feel keenly that the world has been emptied of God. That is why a spiritually whole person disciplines her life by such spiritual exercises as prayer, study, fasting, confession, worship, and reflective walks through cemeteries. She visits boring persons and tries to take an interest in them, ponders the lives of saints and compares them to her own, spends time and money on just and charitable causes. She is willing to be obscure.
Just as in sports and music, discipline within spiritual wholeness has a point. Anybody can play, but only a disciplined person can play freely. Discipline is the basis of both freedom and power.
Relaxed power: A basketball forward who does a spin move in the lane and a concert pianist who rips off a fortissimo run in octaves need strength to do these things, but they also need fluidity. They need what we might call "powerful relaxation" or "relaxed power"; they need strong fluidity or fluid strength. They are playing, but playing within themselves. Behind their masterly mix of power and freedom lie hours and hours of disciplined concentration. This is work for play. People who practice spin moves eventually make them part of their game. People who work for years on scales and arpeggios one day begin to play music.
Free and disciplined lives are a kind of music we offer to our parents, to our teachers, to friends and family and fellow workers. By offering the music to them we also offer it to God. The offerings differ from person to person and from culture to culture, at least as much as violins differ from snare drums. In any case, what makes them musical is that they bring satisfaction and delight, that they please and glorify God.
A mature believer covets the virtues and character strengths that Christians since Paul have always prized — compassion, for example, and patience. Through her practice of spiritual discipline, she pursues these and other excellences: endurance, hope, humility, forthrightness, hospitality. She then tries to work them into a routine, always aware that in order to grow in these excellences she needs both to strive for them and to fail in her striving so that she understands anew her need of God's grace. Because God's grace is a major part of God's reputation, believers who reach for grace and live from it are instrumental in glorifying God. They enhance God's reputation.
The goal of human life, says the opening of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, is "to glorify God and to enjoy him forever." This famous claim, filed in language with all the "spareness, strength, and clarity of fine ironwork," was written as a kind of pre-life orientation for children. By writing documents like this, the church was trying to stake and guide a child's life so that it would point toward God. Only then could it be sturdy, fragrant, and fruitful. A child may learn God's Word and speak of it tenderly, respect God's reputation and enhance it faithfully. She may place her very life in the hands of God and trust what those hands might do to it. She may shun emotional and religious junk food that might spoil her appetite for God and her hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Spiritual wholeness includes ends like these -- goals, purposes, primary intended consequences. The point of our lives is not to get smart, or to get rich, or even to get happy. The point is to discover God's purposes for us and to make them our own. The point is to learn ways of loving God above all and our neighbor as ourselves, and then to use these loves the way a golfer uses certain checkpoints to set up for a drive. The point is to be lined up right, to seek first the kingdom of God, to try above all to increase the net amount of shalom in the world.
To glorify God is to do these things and, by doing them, to make God's intentions in the world more luminous and God's reputation more lustrous. To enjoy God forever is to cultivate a taste for this project, to become more and more the sort of person for whom eternal life with God will be sheer heaven.
|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.|