Reprinted from the December 2013 issue of “Gospel Advocate” Magazine.
A 5-year-old, while not completely independent, has chores and responsibilities. He should be able to feed and dress himself and be learning how to read and write. A 10-year-old should be more mature. He might be holding down a newspaper delivery job or mowing lawns. A 20-year-old is either in college receiving higher education or has a full-time job. A 45-year-old man should be reasonably mature. We would expect him to have a productive job, to contribute to society, and no doubt to be looking after a family.
Quickly calculate how many years you have been a Christian. Start with your current age, and subtract the age you were when you became a Christian. You won’t have to tell anybody – just do this for your own edification. I am 57 years old and was baptized at 12. I have been a Christian, then, for 45 years.
The Bible says that God expects us to grow spiritually: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 esv). It is unnatural to be a Christian for a prolonged period of time and not be taking on the responsibilities of a mature, adult Christian. “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” (Hebrews 5:12).
So what kinds of qualities can 5-year-olds, 10-year-olds and 45-year-olds look for in themselves that would indicate growing Christian maturity? Isn’t it time we – especially we baby boomers – begin to show maturity?
The Mature Edify
It is amazing how the things people say do not always match up with reality. Consider the person who begins a statement with the words, “I may be wrong, but … .” Usually he really means, “There’s no way that I could be wrong!” Consider the person who says, “I hate to say I told you so.” Of course he’s enjoying it immensely! And what about the one who says, “I’m sorry if I have done anything to upset you”? What he really means is “You’re so hypersensitive. This shouldn’t have upset you!”
There are two things young people find hard to do in sports: winning and losing. It is hard to lose gracefully, and it is hard to win graciously. It is also hard to win and lose in a family, whether it be a church family or a physical one. It is just so hard to hide that gleam of triumph when you were right after all or that satisfied smirk when your dire prediction of disaster came true.
Are you glad to see God’s people hurt? That is sad! If you are wrong, admit it; and if you are right, keep quiet. Paul said it this way: “Let
your gentleness be evident to all” (Philippians 4:5 niv84); and elsewhere, he said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21 esv).
Being right does not justify acting unkindly toward others. You can differ with another without attempting to destroy him. The question I always ask myself when speaking to another is this: Have I equipped him, enabled him, to serve God and God’s people better?
To quote Paul again, “Let all things be done for building up”
(1 Corinthians 14:26). Simply put, we should always view others as being more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:1-4). But do we?
The Mature Love the Church
I have been preaching regularly since 1977. I know that I will have to defend the church from Satan’s attack, and I understand that I will have to shield it from the enemies of the cross. I know that the “flaming arrows of the evil one” will be directed our way (Ephesians 6:16 niv84). But I will never understand why I must defend the church of Jesus Christ from the attacks of its own members.
“I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” written by Timothy Dwight in 1800, is a hymn we should sing with deep conviction: “I love Thy kingdom, Lord, the house of Thine abode, / The church our blessed Redeemer saved with His own precious blood.”
It is disheartening to have spent decades on scaffolds trying to build while watching what we have built be damaged by brethren. For what it’s worth, hurtful things said are just as hurtful when said on the Internet. Please do not give the weak, the derisive and the vulnerable the opportunity to add to your critical Facebook comment more and more negative declarations about the church for which Christ died. Some brethren act as if churches of Christ have done nothing right in 200 years. “Many members,” someone has said, “are on the critical list … they criticize everything.”
When did it stop being right to call ourselves by the name of Christ? And when did a search for Bible answers to all life’s questions become outmoded? And when did our opinions, feelings, likes and dislikes become more authoritative than God’s Word?
All our heroes seem to come from other religious groups; all our methods, from crosstown denominations. But I am proud of our brotherhood. Was there ever a TV preacher who was more loving, yet more authentic than Batsell Barrett Baxter? Was there ever a better church builder than Ira North? Was there ever a better scholar than J.W. Roberts? Was there ever a sweeter singer than our own L.O. Sanderson? Was there ever a more dedicated missionary since Paul than W.N. Short, who spent 60 years in southern Africa?
We are so hard on ourselves that we become disconsolate about our failures. Perhaps we should remember our triumphs – won by God’s grace and for His glory. We should also remember the words of Peter: “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).
Growing Beyond Spiritual Toddlerhood
Toddlers throw temper tantrums; demand their way; and say angry, hurtful things to others. They are also dependent on others for almost every aspect of their survival. Adults should be mature and responsible. They should not drain a congregation’s resources; they should contribute to them. I am not suggesting everyone must preach or teach a Bible class, but everyone who is a mature Christian should make a positive contribution to a congregation’s health and well-being. If you are a mature Christian, ask yourself these questions:
• What is my role in the church? (If you do not have one, ask when you should have one.)
• When I see a congregational weakness, do I complain about it or fill in the gaps and meet those needs?
• Am I a drain on the congregation, or do I add to its endeavors, its ability to carry out its mission?
• Do I generally get along with brethren, or am I continually at odds with others?
• Do I make people around me better, or do my words cause them to be bitter and cynical about my brethren?
It is not easy to undertake this sort of introspection, but it is needed at times. We all need improvement on the issue of Christian maturity, and we should never quit growing. o
Stan Mitchell lives in Henderson, Tenn. He may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.