It is not wrong for a new believer to be immature any more than it is wrong for a child to be childish. Puerility is only annoying in an adult. When a four year old dons a cape and wears his underwear over his pants, claiming x-ray vision, it is cute. When his dad does that, it is concerning. Likewise, when a person has been a Christian for many years, lack of Christian maturity should also be concerning. What Bible verses speak of Christian maturity and how do we get it?
“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.” (Hebrews 6:1-4)
Every time we see the word “therefore” we must ask; what is the “therefore” there for? It is always about what came just prior to that word. In this case, it was Hebrews chapter five which was a warning against apostasy. Apostasy is a revolt or a leaving of the basic truths and principles of the Bible and biblical teachings about salvation. The way to spot apostasy is to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ” and to “go on to maturity.” The author of Hebrews is telling us to move on from what we already know about the essential doctrines of grace and to not go backwards into man made rules and regulations such as those contained in the Mosaic Laws. He wants them to move on from that onto those things that will help them to identify apostate teachings when they encounter them.
“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” (1 Corinthians 14:20)
Here is where Paul contrasts maturity to that of being children but not in being child-like. We are to be like Children as far as our faith (Matt 18:2-4) but not childish in the sense of being foolish like children are at a young age (Prov 22:15). The context of chapter 14 is that the church at Corinth was trying to say that they were superior to others because they had certain gifts that the others didn’t. This is similar to two young boys saying “my dad can beat your dad up.” Paul doesn’t want the Corinthians to feel superior to the others who had what they thought were superior gifts compared to the other church members. At the same time, he wanted them to be child-like regarding what is evil in the sense that they were to avoid it but in their thinking, act like an adult and not like children who can sometimes argue over who is best.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)
These verses precede the verses in Hebrews 6:1-4 which we read earlier about moving on to maturity. Many in the church were apparently satisfied with the “basic principles of the oracles (teachings) of God” and in comparing them to babies still drinking milk they were not growing up in “the word of righteousness.” This was a type of laziness. This may have been due to the fact that they were not reading or studying the Scriptures on a regular basis. Anyone still drinking milk is not going to grow and will forever remain “unskilled in the word of righteousness” and by remaining immature, they will not be able to “distinguish good from evil” or sound biblical doctrine from apostate or evil teachings of the many false teachers that were around in that day and perhaps are more prevalent in our day today. Regular, consistent Bible study gives us spiritual discernment and the ability to distinguish true biblical teachings from those that are false.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14)
Once more maturity is invaluable for our ability to avoid being “tossed to and from by the waves (of false teachings) and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Who can help us avoid being deceived by false teachers and their teachings? God provides the church with teachers, evangelists, and shepherds (priests and pastors) and this helps to build “up the body of Christ (the church), until we attain to the unity of faith [and] to mature manhood.” We cannot do it alone. We need the church’s leadership and their teachings to take us beyond the milk of the word and to the meat and this creates discernment in order that we can avoid the “craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
“There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:16-18)
The Bible is difficult to understand in places. Those who are ignorant of the Scriptures can take text out of context to create a pretext and a false one at that. One way to avoid this is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord” which means to know Christ more clearly, and more fully; to know him so as to be more like him, and to love him better. Since Jesus is the Word (John 1), we need to be in the Word. If we are in the Bible, the Bible gets into us and then we can rightly divide and discern what the context means when reading difficult verses.
“Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.” (1 Corinthians 2:6)
Wisdom comes from other, more mature teachers and that is why every Timothy needs a Paul but this is not a worldly “wisdom of this age of the rulers” because they “are doomed to pass away.” This wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit, from the Word of God and from teachers who diligently study the Word on a regular basis. Maturity does not happen automatically. It is hard work but we can also ask God for wisdom and there is no reason that He won’t grant it to us (James 1:5).
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9-10)
What I love about Paul’s passion is that he was a praying man and for the Colossians, he didn’t stop praying for the church and what did he ask for? He prayed for them to be “filled with the knowledge of his (God’s) will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as (or in order to) walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” That is an awesome thing to pray for when we pray for others and for those who are our teachers, pastors, elders, and deacons.
The supreme goal of the church is not evangelism, important and indispensable as that ministry is. The ultimate goal is stated by Paul when he wrote: “We proclaim him, teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect [mature] in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). God’s purpose is to produce disciples who reflect the perfect humanity of His Son, people who are able to react to the exigencies and trials of life in an adult and not in a childish manner—meeting adult situations with adult reactions. In short, God’s purpose is to produce people who fulfill their humanity and become what God designed for them.
According to the Apostle Paul, Christian maturity is an ongoing process that will never end in this life. In Philippians 3:12-14, speaking of full knowledge of Christ, he tells his readers that he himself has not “already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. Like Paul, we have to press continually toward deeper knowledge of God in Christ.
Let us ask the Lord to be our vision with the song “Be Thou My Vision”: