Christian Maturity—Necessary for Life
“Stay awake, stand firm in the faith, carry on as men, grow mighty.”—1 Cor. 16:13.
1. How is growth related to life?
GROWING up is natural for all earthly forms of life that are made up of more than one cell. Insects, birds, fishes, amphibians and mammals have their own small beginnings, and then, in their divinely appointed way, grow until they reach maturity, to fulfill the purpose for which their Creator, in his infinite wisdom, gave them existence. Humans, too, are not born full-grown, either physically or mentally. And we expect children to grow up, to reach the physical, mental and emotional stature of responsible adults. Clearly, life in God’s arrangement of things involves growth.
2. What is the right view about gaining spiritual maturity, and why?
2 There is also a growth for Christians from spiritual childhood into spiritual adulthood, Christian maturity. This spiritual maturity is not an unattainable, elusive goal, nor something to be reached only by a select few. Just as physical maturity is anticipated as a natural attainment for living creatures, so spiritual maturity should be anticipated and sought after by every Christian “babe.” It is within the reach of all who put forth the needed effort. One’s place of residence, experience, abilities or educational background are not the determining factors. The apostle Paul exhorted Christians who had not yet become spiritual adults to “press on to maturity.” (Heb. 6:1) In order to do so they first had to recognize their true spiritual condition and then work to make progress.
IDENTIFYING SPIRITUAL IMMATURITY
3. Describe an immature, “fleshly” Christian.
3 According to the Bible, an immature Christian is “fleshly,” that is, he usually acts according to principles followed by men alienated from God and Christ. Back in the first century there were such immature Christians in the congregation at Corinth. Paul was unable to speak to them “as to spiritual men,” but had to speak to them “as to fleshly men, as to babes in Christ.” He fed them only “milk” of Christian truth, for they were not “strong enough.” Because of their being “fleshly,” jealousy, strife and sectarianism existed among them.—1 Cor. 3:1-4.
4. What questions might we ask about ourselves to determine whether we are “fleshly” or not?
4 Are any of us like that—unstable, still inclined to follow men? Are some “fleshly” or worldly in their thinking, usually critical of their brothers and the work they are doing rather than working harmoniously with them under the headship of Christ? Are there some who have not as yet developed the love that motivates one to expend oneself for the upbuilding of the Christian congregation? Then they do indeed need to strive to attain Christian maturity.
5. Why did the apostle Paul urge certain Christians to “press on to maturity”?
5 Also in the first century, some Christians had failed to progress beyond the “elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God.” This was despite the fact that adequate time had passed for them to have grown sufficiently, not only to have acquired a solid and mature faith, but also to have gained the qualifications to teach others in a general way. Note the apostle Paul’s strong words to them: “Although you ought to be teachers in view of the time, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God; and you have become such as need milk, not solid food. 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 primary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying a foundation again.”—Heb. 5:12–6:1.
6. How might some today be in need of similar admonition?
6 Are there any among us who have been associated with the Christian congregation for years and yet are not able to teach others the basic doctrines of the Bible? After years of association with God’s people, do some still have difficulty in letting their conscience distinguish right from wrong? Do they still want others to make decisions for them in matters of conscience? Any who find themselves still needing instruction in the basics of Christian teaching and living should certainly be working hard to acquire maturity. Christians should not be like builders who never get beyond the foundation of the building, the “foundation” in this case being elementary or primary doctrines about Christ. They should press on to complete the building or the superstructure that rests upon that foundation, namely, the more advanced teaching about God’s purpose as revealed through his Son.
7. Why is the immature Christian who fails to exert himself to grow up spiritually in a dangerous position?
7 The immature Christian who fails to exert himself to become firm in faith, progressing no farther than the elementary things of God’s Word, stands in grave danger. He does not really have the strength to resist the pressure of error and false worldly reasoning and therefore may be “tossed about as by waves” and carried to a disastrous end. (Eph. 4:14; Heb. 6:4-8) Those who remain “fleshly,” harboring jealousies, envies and enmities, are likewise in a dangerous position before Jehovah God. Such traits are among the works of the sinful flesh that can keep one from gaining life. As the apostle Paul put it: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, and they are fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism, enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects, envies, drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these. As to these things I am forewarning you, the same way as I did forewarn you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.”—Gal. 5:19-21.
ATTAINING SPIRITUAL MATURITY
8. How does the attaining of spiritual maturity differ from gaining physical maturity?
8 But how can one cease to be a “fleshly” man and attain spiritual maturity? Unlike physical maturity, which is automatic, spiritual adulthood is attained through sincere effort. It requires humility and a genuine desire to conform one’s life to the pattern outlined for Christians in God’s Word. It involves study and meditation to acquire a deep understanding of God’s will and purpose, learning to rely on him instead of on human reasoning. Have you thus applied yourself with a view to spiritual growth? Are you acting in accord with the Scriptural counsel to “stay awake, stand firm in the faith, carry on as men, grow mighty”?—1 Cor. 16:13; Heb. 5:14.
9. What effect does study and application of God’s Word have on the Christian “babe”?
9 As the Christian “babe” continues studying the Scriptures and applies what he learns, his advancement in appreciation of God’s truth and more difficult doctrines is accompanied by a corresponding growth in his spiritual outlook and Christian personality. Changes take place in his thinking, in his viewpoint, and in his life. He finds that his interests and motivations are becoming related to spiritual matters, for God’s truth is having a profound and beneficial effect on his life. He is following the exhortation from God’s Word to “quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”—Rom. 12:2.
10. What changes take place as the maturing Christian ‘makes his mind over’?
10 This ‘making over of the mind’ has a profound effect on the personality of the maturing Christian. The worldly outlook, with its reasonings, its emphasis on material things and worldly pleasures, is progressively replaced with an interest in spiritual matters and in doing the will of Jehovah God. In place of the works of the flesh, the fruitage of God’s spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness and self-control—becomes more and more apparent. A new force or dominant spirit is at work within him. He is heeding the Bible’s counsel: “Put away the old personality which conforms to your former course of conduct and which is being corrupted according to his deceptive desires; but . . . you should be made new in the force actuating your mind, and should put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.”—Eph. 4:22-24; Gal. 5:19-23.
11. What is the “force” actuating the mind of a mature Christian, and how does it cause him to react to situations calling for moral decisions?
11 When the old personality is put away and a new force or dominant spirit is actuating the mind, the Christian has attained maturity. Formerly the force actuating his mind was the one that had resulted from the things taught and experienced in the world. These things fed into the mind developed in him certain patterns of thinking and heart motivation. Thus, when he heard a matter requiring a moral decision, this force within his mind directed him in a worldly direction. But, as a mature Christian, he has a new force or spirit impelling him to act. As a result of his regular, prayerful study of God’s Word of truth and the operation of God’s spirit, this actuating force inclines him in a righteous direction. Hence, when a matter is presented to him involving a moral decision, his mind is bent by this new “force” or dominant attitude toward a righteous, spiritual course. He thus preserves a fine relationship with Jehovah God and can rest assured of gaining the reward of everlasting life.
12. What is the role of elders in helping members of the congregation to attain maturity?
12 One of the primary aims of the Christian congregation, with its “gifts in men,” elders serving as shepherds and teachers, is to help all to attain this maturity, to be firmly rooted in Christian truth and to live in harmony therewith. In this regard, note the apostle Paul’s words at Ephesians 4:11-15: “He [Jesus Christ, the head of the Christian congregation] gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ, until we all attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ; in order that we should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error. But speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.” So, in addition to personal study and application of God’s Word, response to the Bible-based teaching of Christian elders can be a real aid in making progress to maturity.
DANGERS TO MATURE AND MATURING CHRISTIANS
13. (a) Is it possible for a mature Christian to become immature? (b) What can happen to a mature Christian if he does not watch his conduct?
13 Once having attained maturity, Christians have to be careful that they do not go bad or become delinquent. Just as a man cannot become a child by acting in a childish way, the mature Christian does not become immature through wrong actions. But he can become corrupt and lose his approved standing with God. All Christians, therefore, need to take to heart the inspired words: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.”—1 Cor. 10:12.
14. In what sense should Christians be as babes and at the same time as adults?
14 We must be on guard against letting the world influence our thinking, beclouding it and causing us to act foolishly. The Bible exhorts us: “Do not become young children in powers of understanding, but be babes as to badness; yet become full-grown in powers of understanding.” (1 Cor. 14:20) Certainly Christians do not need experience in badness and wrongdoing, nor should they want or seek such. When it comes to dishonest dealings with others, playing the role of a hypocrite, or pursuing sexually immoral or perverted associations, Christians ought to be as babes, innocent and inexperienced. Yet in distinguishing right from wrong, they should be as adults that are firm for what is right and not easily swayed by smooth talk.
15. What forms can “bad associations” take, and why can even the mature Christian be corrupted by them?
15 Unclean and immoral worldly thinking can ruin even the mature Christian. No one is immune to temptation. All must fight the sinful tendencies of the flesh and avoid things that whip up fleshly desires. It is wise, therefore, to heed the counsel from God’s Word: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33) That means avoiding the company of those without faith, persons of evil or perverted inclinations, desires or conduct—fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, drunkards and sadists. Would it not also include keeping them out of one’s thoughts by not meditating on such types, by not reading about them for sensual pleasure, by not viewing them for entertainment on the television screen or on a motion-picture screen? Likewise, the use of vulgar speech and the telling of obscene jokes and stories, which many worldlings consider “adult” conduct, would be weakening to mature Christians and detrimental to those seeking to attain Christian maturity. Such things should be shunned, as God’s Word counsels: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming.”—Eph. 5:3, 4; 4:29-31; Col. 3:5-10.
16. (a) What worldly attitude toward material things must be guarded against? (b) Why is knowledge of the transitoriness of material things not enough to combat greed for money?
16 The world’s insatiable greed for money and material gain is something else that must be resisted. A recognition of the transitoriness of material riches, however, is not enough to combat this greed. Many persons in the world know full well and freely admit that beyond the basic necessities of life money cannot buy the really important things—joy, good health, human understanding. Yet they feverishly pursue materialistic goals. Were a Christian to allow this spirit to take hold of him, it would subtly undermine his appreciation for spiritual things. It could even destroy his faith. The Bible says: “The love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”—1 Tim. 6:10.
17. What must be done to resist being ruined by undue concern over the anxieties of life or by a desire for riches?
17 To prevent this from happening to us, we must continue to reflect appreciatively on the far greater worth of spiritual riches. We should not let undue concern for the necessities of life rob us of the comforting conviction that Jehovah God cares for his people. Jesus Christ gave this assurance: “Your heavenly Father knows you need all these things [food, clothing and shelter]. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you. So, never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties.” (Matt. 6:32-34) Yes, we should be content with the necessities of life. Not perishable material riches, but godly devotion results in lasting gain. Our godly devotion enables us to enjoy spiritual health and contentment and holds forth the promise of everlasting life.—1 Tim. 4:8; 6:6-8.
18. (a) What kind of doubts may arise in the mind of mature and maturing Christians? (b) What effect can such doubts have on the Christian?
18 Doubts, too, can have a damaging effect on mature as well as maturing Christians. Even mature Christians may at times not fully understand a Scriptural point. If they were to allow this to rob them of their peace of mind and contentment, they could easily be distracted from the truly important thing, that is, serving Jehovah God faithfully. Others sometimes come up with personal theories regarding the explanation of certain scriptures. Because the congregation of God’s people today does not acknowledge such explanations as truth, they begin to find fault and to doubt Jehovah’s backing of his people. (Compare John 6:53, 66-69; Luke 12:42-44.) Still others get overly concerned about the attitudes or actions of some fellow believers. They start looking at imperfect humans, judge the whole congregation on that basis and soon lose their joy in teaching the truth to others. They begin to doubt that those with whom they enjoyed pleasant spiritual fellowship are really God’s devoted people.—Compare Colossians 3:13, 14.
19. What can be done if one begins to have doubts about the Christian congregation?
19 Should doubts of this nature arise in your mind, what can you do? Humbly appeal to Jehovah God for wisdom. You can rest assured that he will give you the needed wisdom to cope with any trialsome situation. As the disciple James wrote: “If any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching; and it will be given him.” (Jas. 1:5) Also, avail yourself of the help that elders in the congregation of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses can give. By talking to someone having a good understanding of God’s Word, you will often find that his objective comments will aid you to clear away doubts and to find again real joy in your service to God.
20. What should mature and maturing Christians do because of having everlasting life in view?
20 So then if any have not as yet reached Christian maturity, let them “press on” to it, guarding against the unwholesome influence of the world. If we are already mature Christians, “let us go on walking orderly in this same routine,” not allowing ourselves to become corrupted. Let us use our maturity to good advantage, ‘carrying on as men, growing mighty,’ aiding others who have yet to reach the goal of Christian maturity, so that together we may all reach our final goal—God’s approval to eternal life.—Phil. 3:12, 14-16; Gal. 6:1, 2; 1 Cor. 16:13, 14.