Paul has been a great baby! God has really blessed us with such a wonderful boy! We are a little concerned however, about his progress in potty training. He just can’t seem to get interested in going on a big boy potty. Buying diapers is getting a little old because it seems that he should have gotten the potty thing down by now. We don‘t want to push him, you know, just let him develop at his own pace, but he is a little behind his peers. This fictitious story probably sounds normal until you find out that Paul is 14 years old. Now we know there is a problem.
Why does it seem that spiritual maturity is so elusive for many Christians? Why do they start out in seasons focused on growth only to lapse into spiritual cruise control? Paul lays out the importance of maturity in Philippians.
Php 3:12-16 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (13) Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (15) Let us therefore, as many as are perfect (Gk full adult, full age, complete, mature) have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you;
Self Improvement Is Not Necessarily Spiritual Maturity
I don’t know all the reasons why people don’t mature, but I think a misunderstanding of what maturity is can be a big deterrent. The popularity of the therapeutic, self-help, and self-improvement industry is now a multi-billion dollar business. There are multitudes of voices in modern media that call us to grow, expand, learn, develop, broaden our horizons, and reach for the stars. Relentless attempts are made to pressure us to make constant improvements to our diet, our body, our marriage, our love-making, our communications, our leadership skills, our parenting, our career management, our investment portfolio, and on and on. It is full of catch phrases designed to inspire us to “become a better you.” Remember, “You may not be able to direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails” so “let’s get growing.”
We must understand that self-help and self-improvement is not necessarily spiritual maturity. You can improve your weight, eat healthier, and even discipline your schedule to fit in Bible reading and still not be maturing spiritually. I like the Message translation of Luke 9:24 because it really lays out the true essence of spiritual maturity.
Luk 9:24 Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, My way, to finding yourself, your true self. Any thing we do, even good things, that had a motive of self in it can lead to problems.
Paul’s exhortation of Phil 3:12-16 can be taken and used by the self help craze of our narcissistic culture. Unfortunately, many of the leading voices in the Christian community in America would go no deeper than the average humanist in the interpretation or the application of Paul’s words in Philippians 2.
A rousing speech on the necessity of goal setting and dreaming big dreams would be standard fare in many pulpits today. Much of the Christianized self-help teaching simply produces adult babies pursuing a better life under the guise of maturity. Paul and Jesus are after something much deeper.
I think we could be witnessing a devaluing of maturity into a celebration of childishness. Personal development and improvement does not have to be a spiritual endeavor. People outside of Christ do it all the time. Personal growth and professional development that leads to the goal of material success, prestige, and riche isn’t spiritual maturity. Here is a perspective from Paul on spiritual maturity that I think gets at the heart of what it is.
1Co 13:11-13 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
Three Things That Reveal Spiritual Maturity
Your inner desires: In the natural realm you notice that your childhood toys no longer interest you. I think spiritual maturity works in a similar way. When you are growing in Christ, the world’s pleasures that are often wrapped up in things lose their appeal. At the same time your hunger for God increases. You want to be with Him (prayer etc) and you become more motivated and sustained with making Him known. You want more of Him moving in and through your life. That desire gradually begins to overshadow all others (like Jesus said the Kingdom would do in the parable of the mustard seed Mt 13:31-32).
Your understanding: When you were young, your understanding of the world was very limited. As you grew up you began to see the world from a broader, more mature perspective. It works the same way spiritually. As you grow you begin to see life from God’s perspective. You evaluate opportunities as well as temptations from a bigger perspective. It becomes more difficult to be pulled into things that have no real eternal value. Serving God becomes the most important thing in this life and everything else takes a back seat.
Self-centeredness: One of the most obvious traits of infancy and childhood is selfishness. Babies want their way and they want it now! Mature Christians are more submissive to the Lord. They become more concerned with His world than their own. They are willing to sacrifice and wait for Him. More and more of their life source is found in Him and His world, rather than their own. Instead of God existing to bless their world a mature perspective takes over and they begin to see that they exist to serve His world.
If we are going to “press on” and grow to maturity we have to be willing to put away “childish things.” Let’s not mistake me-centered, or self-help spirituality for genuine spiritual maturity lest our worship of God ends up being like the following .
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