What would you do if your 2 year old wasn’t walking, or your 4 year old still wasn’t speaking, or your 6 year old didn’t have any of her teeth? You’d be at your pediatrician’s office having tests run to see why they weren’t developing normally. They’d be on vitamin supplements, seeing specialists – we’d want to get to the bottom of it.
How would you feel if your 25 year old son still lived at home, didn’t have a job, couldn’t feed himself, had to be told to brush his teeth, and sat around all day watching cartoons? You’d think, something’s wrong with his development, something has happened that kept him from progressing normally.
We have certain milestones that we look for in development, standards of normal development that we look at to tell us whether something is wrong with our child that needs to be looked into. And there are certain expectations that we have for our children that tell us they are maturing and growing like they are supposed to. We do it physically, academically, socially, emotionally – and when they aren’t where they ought to be, we recognize that something has gone wrong and needs to be addressed.
Take academics for example –
In Kindergarten, a child not only needs to be able to count but recognize numbers to 100.
In 3rd grade they know their times tables and should be adding, subtracting, and multiplying fractions.
By the end of 6th grade a child should be doing pre-algebra equations.
By 12th they can be doing conceptual math analysis and calculus.
We don’t expect a Kindergartener to be doing calculus, but if a 7th grader can’t multiply 7x7 without using his fingers, something’s wrong.
Elementary schools use a system of points called Accelerated Reader to determine the grade level and difficulty of a book. Little children are reading books like Clifford and 6th graders are reading My Side of the Mountain. We don’t expect a 1st grader to be reading Shakespeare, but if a Junior in high school is struggling with Cat in the Hat, there’s something that has really been missed.
We understand that there are certain developmental processes that a child goes through in becoming an adult. There are learning processes, physical development, social changes. And we don’t expect a child to think or act like an adult. We let them be kids, we allow for immaturity, we know they grow up. But we also look for that development to take place and when it doesn’t we want to find the problems and correct them.
There are some of those same dynamics in the spiritual life. A new Christian has to grow up in the faith. We can’t expect a baby in Christ (even if he is 40 years old) to understand and act with the spiritual maturity of a Christian who has years of faith under his belt.
But when someone has been a Christian for 20 years and still has to be coaxed to read his Bible and spend time in prayer – who is selfish and impatient and demands to have his way – who doesn’t get involved and doesn’t have a place of serving in the body – who doesn’t come to Bible class and doesn’t exhibit any signs of spiritual maturity – something has gone wrong with their development spiritually – and we should be frantic with concern about what to do.
I’m concerned this morning that we don’t really recognize this in the body of Christ. What seems obvious in our physical bodies, we don’t recognize in our spiritual body. But Paul did: It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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. 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. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 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)
Four myths of spiritual maturity:
Myth #1 Spiritual growth is automatic.
Fact: Spiritual growth is intentional.
Spiritual growth does not “just happen,” once you are baptized, even if you attend church every time the doors are open.
Churches are filled with people who have attended church services their entire lives, yet are still spiritual babies. But that is something that is as old as the first century church. The writer of the Hebrews letter wrote to people who had been Christians for years, but still needed to grow up: “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:12-14)
Every church has members, whose names have been on the membership roles for years, yet who are not much more than permanent visitors. They dutifully fulfill an obligation to be inside the church building regularly, but they do nothing to serve the Lord. They’ve never served in any ministry, they’ve never made any effort to build any relationships in the body, their offering is less than they tip the waitress at the restaurant after church.
Is it that they are bad people? No – they are spiritual babies. They act like we would expect immature Christians to act. They wait for something to happen to them – for somebody else to make them grow, and ironically, resist when somebody tries.
And spiritual growth doesn’t happen, because spiritual growth is intentional. You only reap a harvest from a crop you’ve planted. You can only make withdrawals from an account in which you’ve made deposits. And for some the well is dry. And the well is dry because they’ve never sunk their roots down into the life-giving source where they will find the water of life. They are like that Samaritan woman at the well who came out day after day in the heat and dust to draw from a well that wouldn’t quench her real thirst. And then Jesus said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (Jn 4:10)
Myth #2 Spiritual maturity is measured by what you know.
Fact: Spiritual maturity is measured as much by how you live as by what you know.
We are a people of the book – we pride ourselves on correct doctrine. But in the process, we have convinced ourselves that all one needs to do to be a good Christian is believe the right things. However, while knowledge of the Bible is foundational to spiritual maturity, it isn’t the total measurement of it.
The truth is that spiritual maturity is measured as much by behavior as by beliefs. The Christian life isn’t just a matter of correct doctrine and strongly held convictions; it includes conduct and character. Beliefs must be backed up by how you live.
The NT repeatedly teaches that our actions and attitudes reveal our maturity far more than our words. James writes: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says….
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 1:22, 2:14-18)
If your faith hasn’t changed the way you live, the way you act, the way you treat people, then your faith isn’t worth much. In every book in the NT, the importance of practicing what we believe is driven home with a sledge hammer.
There is a real danger in making right beliefs the sum of your spiritual maturity. Paul reminds us in 1 Cor. 8:1 “Knowledge puffs up, love builds up.” Some of the most carnal Christians I’ve known were encyclopedias of biblical knowledge. They could explain any passage and defend any doctrine, but they were mean-spirited, self-righteous and judgmental.
We don’t truly start to mature until we start applying what we know – living what we believe.
Myth #3 Spiritual maturity occurs with more frequent church attendance.
Fact: When your Christianity is all intake and no outflow in ministry, your faith will stagnate.
Now, I’m going to be one of the first and loudest to encourage people to be faithful in attendance when the church gathers for worship, for Bible classes, for fellowship events and workdays. I believe it is absolutely essential to our spiritual growth. But folks, some of us think that the only time church is going on is when the building is open. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Christianity was never intended to be a building centered religion. Yet, we seem to think that our duty as Christians is to come, to sit, to listen, to leave – until next week.
The Great Commission was not “Come to the building.” It was “Go into all the world.”
What we do at the building is important, and its purposes are twofold: First, it centers our lives – it reminds us of who is in control and who deserves all the glory as we worship God. Secondly, it prepares us – through our fellowship and through the word, God is recharging us and renewing us so that he can send us back into the world to be his servants, his ministers to the world.
Myth #4 People are too busy to give more of themselves to the Lord.
Fact: People want to give themselves to something significant.
This is a myth we have used to convince ourselves of how busy we are, and justify ourselves for how little we do. The truth is that people make time for what is most important in their lives. It is not a matter of scheduling, but of priorities.
Because it is a matter of priorities, people have to be very selective of what they do give their time to. It’s not that people are too busy to give more of themselves to the Lord, it’s that they want to give themselves to something significant. And I’ll have to admit, for most people, spending more time in a church building and more time sitting in a pew isn’t significant – they want to make a difference. They want to invest themselves in something worth giving their lives to. And to that I say amen.
I believe God made us for more –not more time in a pew – but more of what makes life significant.
We were designed to grow up into servants.
God never made us to stay where we are at – inert, stagnant – spiritual couch potatoes. He made us to grow up!
Listen to what the Bible has to say about spiritual growth:
1 Peter 2:2 “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”
2 Cor. 3:18 “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” God made us to grow up – to mature and change – into the likeness of Christ – to be fed and nourished by the Word, to be molded and transformed by the Holy Spirit.
When we began this morning, we read the passage in Ephesians 4. Do you remember what God said the purpose of leadership in the body is?: “…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up …” (Eph. 4:12)
God made us to grow up – as individuals – as a congregation – for the purpose of becoming servants, so that we can build up the body. Spiritual growth isn’t just about me – it’s about what I can give to others.
We have somehow bought into the idea that building up the body is the work of the elders and ministers. But that’s not what Paul was saying. The leaders’ job is to equip each of you for serving others and building each other up.
What keeps us from growing up? Satan is always at work. But let’s admit – we like being babies. Everybody looks after us, takes care of our needs. If we cry loud enough we get our way. There are lots of advantages to being a big spiritual baby. But it costs – it costs us and the body.
Think of all the images God uses for the church and the kingdom – the body, a seed planted, a newborn baby – they were all meant to grow – and if they don’t, something is wrong. It’s time to grow up!
Made for ministry
God didn’t just make us for pew-sitting, he made us for ministry. Did you hear what Paul was saying? If you want to grow, you have to be involved in ministry – “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” You were made for ministry.
Look back in Eph. 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We were made for ministry.
1 Peter 2:9-10 “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” You were made for ministry.
God never intended for our modern clergy-laity mentality. We are all ministers, priests in a royal priesthood – In 2 Cor., Paul called us “God’s fellow workers.”
Ministry is using whatever gifts and talents God has given us to serve him and tell the good news. Not professional – just surrendered. That means we make ourselves available to him 24/7. We begin every day by praying, “Lord, open my eyes - make me aware of the opportunities you will put in front of me today.”
I realize that for some of you I’m speaking a foreign language. You’ve never thought of yourself as a minister. Church is, for you, a place, a building where you come and be religious one or two hours a week. Jesus demands more. He has made you his minister – he is calling you to service – every moment of every day, everywhere you are.
Just because you have not, does not mean you cannot. There will never be a better moment than right now to decide that’s what you want to do with your life.