And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.
-Ephesians 4:11-14, CSB
Maturity isn’t always desirable. Exhibit A: the recently coined verb, “to adult,” which is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as, “The practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.” So we find sentences like this on social media, “Doing laundry today, ugh. #adulting” This is where we are as a culture.
This allergy to responsibility has tempered our expectations of spiritual growth as Christians. We’ve lost the goal of Christian maturity, and have replaced it with the goal of the bare minimum. It’s not new to want the benefits of faith in Jesus without being willing to count the cost (check out Luke 14:28); what’s new is the cultural default of embracing immaturity as acceptable. Brothers and sisters, Jesus calls us to so much more than just barely making it.
In Ephesians 4:11-14 (a gloriously long sentence in the original), the Apostle Paul teaches us that God gifted leaders to the church to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (note: the work of the ministry is the work of all Christians, not just leaders). What is the point of the work of the ministry, of these leaders and non-leaders working in the church? Maturity.
Paul says this work is meant “to build up the body of Christ.” Here the idea of building up is a powerful visual. We lived in Florida during the Great Recession and saw countless half-built homes abandoned by bankrupt builders. They were uninhabitable. A spiritually immature church is a church at risk. This is why the church must be built up. What does a built up church look like? It is unified in faith and possesses mature knowledge of Jesus.
Paul then shifts the metaphor to physical maturity: our maturity is measured in comparison with Christ’s fullness. He is both the means of our growth and the end goal. Just like we watch children grow up resembling their parents, so Christians must grow in maturity, each day resembling Jesus more and more.
What are the benefits of this spiritual growth? A stability anchored by strong faith in Jesus. Paul says as we mature, we won’t be kids anymore, subject to the fads of new teachings. We won’t be tossed around like a ship on the ocean, or blown around by the wind. In short, we will stand firm in the faith.
So how can we reclaim the goal of spiritual maturity?
Make Spiritual Maturity a Stated Goal
We need to explicitly say, “I want to grow as a Christian, and I will make it a daily priority.” I often think that books like Oswald Chambers’ classic “My Utmost for His Highest” would never have taken off if published in the last decade. Maybe something like “My Reasonable Effort for His Highest” would be more realistic. If we don’t plan to pursue Christian maturity, we shouldn’t expect to grow. The Spirit is at work in us, but we can quench him, resist him, and ignore him.
Measure Your Maturity by Jesus
Jesus must be our standard. We grow in our knowledge of him. We grow our capacity to live according to his word. We grow in our awareness of false expressions of Christianity. This means we must resist the temptation to measure our spiritual growth by comparing ourselves to others around us.
Prioritize the Church
If we want to pursue spiritual maturity, we can’t do it outside of the church. That’s Paul’s whole argument. The church matures together. In a day when everything seems more important than relationships within the church, we have to constantly remind ourselves that God says otherwise. He says it’s worth it to sacrifice the time, energy, and money needed to be an integral part of the local body of believers.
Resist Christian Fads
The winds of “new teaching” are always blowing. Here’s a tip when it comes to Christian teaching: if it’s not old, be suspicious. Antiquity doesn’t automatically mean a teaching is right, but the foundations of Christian teaching are encapsulated in God’s Word, and have been passed down from generation to generation. Yes, we advance in clarity in our understanding of God’s Word, but if that clarity results in changing the clear teaching of the Bible, we have a problem.
Enjoy the Benefits of Maturity
Mature Christians, living in active relationships with one another in the church, enjoy stability. Spiritual stability—we avoid false teaching. Emotional stability—we rest on Jesus and our brothers and sisters in times of trial. Cultural stability—we endure the ups and downs of our society and culture without panic. In all of this, Jesus is the center.
Brothers and sisters, let’s reclaim the goal of Christian maturity. We will all benefit from the results.