When I went to junior school, I thought I was really grown up. I would no longer have milk in a little bottle or throw my toys out of the pram. Now I would chew my food and sort out my quarrels and squabbles. Years later, when I went back to visit the school, I realised how small I was back then: I couldn’t even fit into the seats as they were so tiny. I had thought I was mature but I was only a child.
I wonder, are you mature? Spiritually mature?
The answer to that question may be a little more nuanced than you think. You see, the Bible says that all Christians are mature but that sometimes we can also be immature.
All Christians are mature
In 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 Paul explains how all Christians are mature in that they have all received a message of wisdom. What is that wisdom? The message of the gospel. It seems foolish and weak to the world, but to those who trust in it, it is the power of God for salvation. Paul is teaching the Corinthians that, whilst the message of the cross may seem inferior and lesser than the ‘wise’ philosophies of the day, it is actually true wisdom. Therefore, Christians, those who trust in the gospel, are mature compared to the most impressive minds in the world. For we have the mind of Christ.
This maturity is an incredibly humbling one as it is a revealed wisdom, a gift of God. We need to be clear, this maturity in the wisdom of the gospel ‘never means “intellectual.” It always means someone under the influence of the Holy Spirit’ (Charles Hodge). That is, the revelation of the Spirit in the Bible. Moreover, it is an awesomely inviting wisdom as ‘the Spirit opens up entire vistas of understanding that would otherwise remain opaque to us’ (Don Carson). The Spirit investigated the deep things of God, inspired the Bible writers to record them and now illuminates our hearts to receive them.
So, are you mature? If you are a Christian, compared to the world, yes.
But, whilst all Christians are mature…
Not all Christians live maturely
This is the sting of 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. After declaring all the Corinthian Christians mature he goes on to say that he has to talk to them as babies! Why is that? Because they were not living in the maturity that was theirs in Christ. They needed to mature within the maturity. They weren’t growing in the vistas of gospel understanding and living that were theirs by the Spirit. They were like a child going to ‘big’ school but still drinking milk and throwing their toys out of the pram. Paul describes maturity in two ways:
Firstly, maturity is about chewing, not just drinking milk. We need to be very careful in how we understand this biblical analogy. On one level, there is no difference between milk and solid food. Paul is not drawing a distinction between two different things – in ‘what’ is taught. Rather he is drawing a distinction between ‘how’ it is taught. Think about it: What is milk? Pre-digested food. Someone else has done the chewing. As Gordon Fee explains: ‘For Paul the gospel of the crucified One is both milk and solid food. As milk, it is the good news of salvation; as solid food, it is understanding that the entire Christian life is predicated on the same reality.’
Do you see? Maturity is not leaving the gospel – but going deeper into the gospel, chewing it. As a child, I can say ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ That is brilliant and true! As an adult, I can say ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Word of God shows to me the propitiation of Christ that takes away the wrath of God and cleanses me from all my sin.’ It is exactly the same truth – but one goes deeper. The mature Christian digests his own food. He chews on the gospel. As John Calvin said: ‘Christ, is milk for infants, and strong meat for men.’
Secondly, maturity is about changing, not just listening. It isn’t just a matter of belief but knows that the Corinthians are acting like children by the way they are quarrelling. Christians should grow in the fruit of the Spirit as they mature. With each passing year, we should see our lives being transformed by the gospel of grace.
Growing in maturity
So, how do we grow in the maturity that is ours in Christ Jesus?
Firstly, learn to chew. Move from milk to meat. Don’t move on from the gospel but deeper into it. Don’t just listen to sermons on a Sunday, dig deep and chew over them. Read your Bible, study it closely, and grow in your knowledge of the gospel. Don’t just expect your pastor to digest everything for you, start to chew over things yourself. Indeed, the author of the Hebrews would say that you should start to teach others.
Secondly, don’t spew. That’s what quarrelling and other such sins are – throwing your toys out of the pram when things don’t go your way. Learn to apply the gospel to every situation, struggle and sin. Don’t just be a hearer of the word, be a doer (James 1:22). Be more like Jesus. Work out your salvation and live in the light of the gospel that teaches you to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and live a self-controlled life (Titus 2:12).
Growing up is a funny thing. Every time I think I have grown up, I realise there is more growing to do. That is the reality of Christian maturity. We are mature in Christ but there is always more maturing to do. And who wouldn’t want to be more mature when it is all about going deeper into Christ and becoming more like Him?
Lord, I am mature, help my immaturity.