Perhaps it is because I’m a guy, but something in me wants to be the best: the top of the class, the fastest runner, the tallest, the winner of every game, the most spiritually mature, and the most humble. It took me years to realize that an ambition for spiritual maturity and humility is often the greatest handicap.
So what is spiritual maturity and can we ever achieve it? A few lifestyles have traditionally been associated with spiritual stature. Embracing those disciplines could well help one to grow in maturity, but these practices are not necessary for spiritual maturity and do not represent the essence of spiritual maturity.
- A perennial favorite is seclusion. The monastic lifestyle certainly can help people to focus on spiritual things, but unless we apply our contemplative insights to life, it does not equal maturity.
- What about intense religious activities like prayer and Bible study? Does it help if we devote our lives to missionary work or social causes? Certainly any activity that helps us understand the heart of God, and any attempt to spread the message and experience of the kingdom of God has value. But if spiritual maturity was all about a performance quota, we would be better off spinning prayer wheels and chalking up sorties against social ills.
- Special powers to heal, deliver, lead people to the Lord etc. are often signs of spiritual maturity, but they are not the essence of it.
Paul wrote about cultivating spiritual maturity as one of the responsibilities of church leaders. God gives us leaders for
the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-15)
Paul pointed to Jesus as our model of spiritual maturity. Jesus never lived in a monastery; he worked as a carpenter in a rough country during rough times. Jesus certainly knew God well—as well as any son can know his father—but He knew men well too. Jesus’ relationship with God steered and energized His life in a hurting world. He knew the will of the Father and He obeyed it. Peter could not dissuade Jesus. Threats from religious authorities could not deflect Him from obedience. For Jesus, spiritual maturity meant taking His knowledge of God and applying every drop of it to His everyday life—no compromise, no inconsistencies, no holding back.
Jesus never trumpeted His maturity. An ambition to become mature in Christ is never a bad thing, but as maturity develops, that ambition should be replaced by what someone called un-self-consciousness. “Un-self-consciousness” means taking my focus off myself and my spiritual growth. Instead, we fix our attention on God and other people. We become a channel of God’s love, truth, and power. We become a catalyst for what He wants to do in the lives of others. Spiritual maturity might be discerned by onlookers, but the truly mature are likely to be unaware of it and would blush at the suggestion.
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