Spiritual Discernment—an Evidence of Christian Maturity
1, 2. (a) What is necessary for a young child as it faces new situations, yet what will the wise parent work for? (b) What is the most important kind of maturity?
A YOUNG child needs help and guidance. The parents who are concerned with the welfare of the child are always ready to give the needed help and advice as the growing child faces new situations. At first the parents have to make decisions on behalf of the child: what is good or what is bad; what to eat or what not to eat; when to sleep or when to play; where the child can go in safety and what places to avoid as dangerous; what literature is within the child’s scope and beneficial for its upbringing and what would tend to confuse or would be bad for spiritual and moral growth. But as the child progresses in years the wise parent trains his child to think for himself, to discern what is good and bad, wise and foolish. Then as adulthood in years is reached so also is mental maturity.
2 It is important for parents to appreciate the need for mental and spiritual growth in their children, particularly the latter growth. The term “maturity” can be applied to many features of growth, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, but it is the last-named kind, spiritual maturity, that is the most important, and yet as far as this world is concerned, it is the one most neglected.
3. (a) How should the wise instructor train those with whom he studies? (b) What is the evidence of Christian maturity?
3 Our illustration of the child well applies to the growth to Christian maturity of a person newly coming to a knowledge of the truth. At first he needs help in how to study God’s Word, the personal help and guidance of a mature Christian. He needs to be fed. But the wise instructor will train his student to think and reason things out for himself so that he can soon begin to feed himself and grow in powers of discernment. Just as the evidence of true adulthood is in demonstrating adult understanding and appreciation, so Christian maturity is demonstrated by one’s powers of spiritual discernment, the ability to arrive at right decisions, keenly discerning right from wrong on the basis of Bible principles. Paul well expressed this: “For everyone that partakes of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong. For this reason, now that we have left the elementary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity.”—Heb. 5:13 to 6:1.
4. (a) What encouragement is there for those newly acquainted with the truth? (b) What is the chief factor in making progress toward maturity?
4 Some readers of this magazine may have begun a study of the Bible with the help of Watch Tower study aids just in recent weeks or months. Such may feel “unacquainted with the word,” being babes, as it were, from the spiritual viewpoint. To such ones we would say, Continue in your diligent study of God’s Word, confident that by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness you can grow to Christian maturity. Attaining to Christian maturity does not necessarily take many years, as it does for a child to attain maturity in a physical way. Rather than depend solely on the amount of time spent in study, the chief factor that it depends on is depth of heart devotion to Jehovah and appreciation for his “word of righteousness.” One needs to be meek and teachable and anxious to make progress. After assimilating the elementary doctrines one must make progress toward understanding the “solid food” of truth, thus demonstrating advancement to maturity.
5. To whom actually are the words at Hebrews 5:13 to 6:1 addressed, and why?
5 But the apostle in writing the words quoted above to the Hebrews was not writing to ones newly associating with the Christian congregation. He was, in fact, writing to persons who had been “in the truth” for some time but had failed to advance to maturity and were still babes as to spiritual discernment. They were not demonstrating the qualities of “full-grown men” that were so much needed for the work of teaching to be done, so he wrote to them that they “ought to be teachers in view of the time.” There was need for these ones “to show . . . industriousness so as to have the full assurance of the hope down to the end, in order that [they might] not become sluggish, but be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”—Heb. 6:11, 12.
6. Why do we need to continue ‘pressing on to maturity’?
6 Maturity is not something that, once attained, stays with us without further effort on our part. The Christian organization is constantly on the advance. The light of truth shining upon it and through it gets steadily brighter. This is especially true now in this day when Jehovah has come to his temple, for “when there are judgments from [him] for the earth, righteousness is what the inhabitants of the productive land will certainly learn.” Not only is there an advancement in knowledge and understanding, but, since this is the day for the preaching of “this good news of the kingdom,” Jehovah is training his witnesses as never before to accomplish this work in the most effective manner possible. Constantly, by means of his theocratic organization, he provides new methods and equipment for this work. To keep up with the advancing maturity of the organization in spiritual understanding and ministerial ability means a constant ‘pressing on to maturity.’—Malachi chapter 3; Isa. 26:9; Matt. 24:14.
7. What should one discern in connection with the ministry? How only can we continue to make progress?
7 The need is for each one of Jehovah’s witnesses to discern his relationship to the advancement being made by the organization. It may be that one has been long associated with the truth, having been active many years in the ministry. Such steadfastness is well-pleasing to Jehovah. But there is a need at the same time to discern that one is keeping pace with the New World society. If you are in the happy position of having had many years in Jehovah’s service, then you will be anxious about the effectiveness of your ministry. Does it produce fruit? Does it help new ones by teaching them and making disciples out of them? As mentioned previously, one of the basic essentials of maturity and spiritual discernment is humility. To be able to discern accurately how we are making progress we need to take an honest, humble look at ourselves. If we are not making the desired progress, then we should not be too proud to seek help, or resent it when one of the overseers comes to us offering assistance. We must discern our needs if we are to continue to make progress.—Phil. 3:16.
8. (a) Where does spiritual discernment begin? (b) What relationship or association is most important for the Christian?
8 The evidence of this growth in Christian maturity is in the discernment one shows of each step to be taken, of each decision to be made. It begins right with dedication. The one considering dedication must understand first that his dedication is being made, not to some man, nor to please some person, be it husband or wife, mother or father. It is not a dedication to an organization, not even to the New World society. It is a dedication to the Supreme Personage in the universe, Jehovah God, with the determination to do his will and please him, just as Jesus expressed it: “I am come . . . to do your will, O God.” The dedicated one appreciates, then, that the most cherished association or relationship is that which he now enters into with Jehovah. That is a holy, precious and “intimate” relationship into which Jehovah invites his creatures by means of his undeserved kindness through Jesus Christ, a relationship not to be lightly broken.—Heb. 10:7; Ps. 25:14.
9. Why is dedication to a work a mistake, and what can having an unbalanced view of the ministry lead to?
9 One who dedicates himself just to do a certain work, such as preaching, makes a mistake. When the going gets rough he easily becomes discouraged. If he sees only the physical association with the organization and its members as the most important thing to be guarded he is lacking in spiritual discernment. Work in preaching the good news, and physical association with the New World society, are not enough in themselves and do not guarantee salvation. There is no salvation on the basis of works alone. To have this view of things would place one in the same danger as those under the Mosaic law who sought to “establish their own [righteousness].” It can lead to becoming “egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another” over having a good record of preaching service.—Rom. 10:1-3; Gal. 5:26.
10. What helps to keep the right view of the Kingdom work?
10 Does this mean that God’s work is unimportant? Not at all! To the contrary, the mature Christian spiritually discerns that his dedication to Jehovah calls for him to love Jehovah with his whole heart, soul, mind and strength. He remembers the words of James that “faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself.” By always being conscious of his dedicated relationship to Jehovah he is able to take the right view of his work and engage in it with the right motive; because of love for his heavenly Father, out of a desire to exalt His name, out of love for his neighbor and sharing with him the same privileges and blessings. A mature understanding of the initial step of dedication paves the way for mature worship “with spirit and truth.”—Mark 12:30; Jas. 2:17; John 4:23.
11. How could a married man show a lack of spiritual discernment?
11 Spiritual discernment, then, results in having the mature view of the ministry that takes into account the other responsibilities one may have as a dedicated servant of Jehovah. A man who is married, with children, has many blessed privileges and responsibilities. It would show a lack of spiritual discernment for him to neglect family obligations just to build up an outstanding record of service in the field. Not only must the Christian provide for the necessary material needs of his family, but he will be alert to “provide for those who are his own” in a spiritual way, studying with them and aiding them to become mature in God’s service. To fail to give such proper attention to “those who are members of his household” is the same as ‘disowning the faith.’—1 Tim. 5:8.
12. What will the mature Christian discern as to his preaching activity, and as to any necessary secular work?
12 A record of service in preaching the good news is not in itself the proof of maturity. Of what avail would such be if, at the same time, one failed to walk in harmony with the Bible principles of morality, or in some other way practiced what was hurtful in the congregation. This would not be walking worthily of Jehovah, not fully pleasing him. While working diligently in God’s service, telling others of the good news, the Christian discerns the need to pursue the course of integrity in every part of his life if he is to serve for the vindication of Jehovah’s name. At all times the mature person remembers he is dedicated to do the divine will and always he will want to please the One whose servant he is, Jehovah. He will not be doing things just to please men, whether when engaged in congregational activities or in his secular work, but he will do all things honestly, “with sincerity of heart,” working “whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men.”—Col. 3:22-24.
13. (a) How does the mature publisher pursue a balanced ministry? (b) What is the secret of being truly joyful in the ministry?
13 In the ministerial work itself the discerning publisher of the good news keeps a proper balance, always having in mind the more important things of the ministry. He is not content with just house-to-house work distributing literature. He sees it is not enough just to be able to preach. He discerns that now is the time he ought to be a teacher, able to feed the sheep and help them find the way to eternal life. So he is diligent to keep a record of any interest he has found and to call back. When he makes his return visits he is prepared with interesting Bible sermons and is alert to arrange a home Bible study with those persons of good will. Being filled with accurate knowledge of God’s Word, with love for Jehovah the Great Shepherd, for the good Undershepherd Christ Jesus and with love for the other sheep, the Christian minister moves out in the service with a burning desire to find and feed the sheep—out of love and not just from a sense of duty. That is the secret of being truly joyful in the ministry.—Heb. 5:12; John 21:15-17.
14, 15. (a) What blessings result from Christian maturity? (b) What must be guarded against? How?
14 Spiritual maturity brings with it untold joys and blessings. His being filled with accurate knowledge and spiritual discernment makes the Christian strong, able to ward off attacks of the enemy, Satan, able to identify his subtle snares of materialism and fear of men and to resist them. He escapes the frustrations, worries and self-inflicted pains that come from unwisely following senseless and hurtful desires and avoids foolish actions that lead to self-reproach and a guilt-heavy conscience.—1 Tim. 6:9, 10.
15 While enjoying the blessings such maturity brings we must guard against overconfidence and always remember that Christian maturity and spiritual discernment do not result from just our own efforts but come about by the operation of Jehovah’s spirit in expression of his loving-kindness to us. So we will continue to look to Jehovah in prayer to help us continue serving him in a mature way, to hold us back from any presumptuous acts, that ‘the sayings of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts may become pleasurable to Jehovah’ at all times.—Ps. 19:13, 14.
16, 17. In what way can each one share in the spirit of joyful optimism of the New World society?
16 The faithful servant of Jehovah moves forward confidently, happy and contented as he works under the direction of the reigning King, Christ Jesus, and the visible theocratic organization that God has established in the earth. His Christian maturity enables him to strengthen and build up his brothers and persons of good will so that they also may attain to full Christian manhood and share the same joy and blessings.
17 The happy, confident outlook demonstrated by the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses is an evidence of its maturity. Each one can share in that spirit of joyful optimism by reaching out for the goal of Christian maturity, and getting filled with spiritual discernment. By our doing so unnumbered joys and privileges can be our portion both now and in the new world just ahead, “provided, of course, that you continue in the faith, established on the foundation and steadfast and not being shifted away from the hope of that good news which you heard, and which was preached in all creation that is under heaven.”—Col. 1:23.