Accepting the Challenge of Christian Maturity
“Speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.”—EPHESIANS 4:15.
1, 2. (a) In what ways is ‘the fruitage of the belly’ a reward? (b) What is expected of newborn infants?
A HEALTHY, bouncing baby is truly a bundle of joy. Few people can resist its amusing antics. It is a source of endless excitement and delight, the center of attention wherever it goes. Understandably, parents love it as their ‘pride and joy’ in spite of all the toil and turmoil it brings. Indeed, “the fruitage of the belly is a reward.”—Psalm 127:3.
2 Lovable as a baby may be, however, what happens if it fails to give any sign of growth? If it remains in that state after months or perhaps even years of loving care from the parents, then clearly something is seriously wrong. Indeed, growth has come to be synonymous with life; we expect it of all living things. It is a testimony to Jehovah’s creative power and wisdom.—Luke 2:52.
Spiritual Growth Essential
3. What growth was foretold by Jesus, and what fulfillment is seen?
3 True to Jesus’ prophecy, growth of another kind is taking place. Around the world, a spiritual “harvest” is in progress. (Matthew 9:37) During the 1984 service year, for example, six countries reported averages of over a hundred thousand Kingdom publishers. Just three years earlier, in 1981, only two countries did. In the last six years, 827,144 new witnesses of Jehovah got baptized and over 5,000 new congregations were formed. Jehovah has speeded up his work.—Isaiah 60:22.
4. What has been the result of the worldwide growth among Jehovah’s people?
4 These figures show that about one in every three persons who regularly associate with Jehovah’s people and share in the preaching work today got baptized within the last six years. Are you one of them? If so, you have been a source of great joy to those who assisted you in learning the truth, to all your Christian associates, and to your heavenly Father, Jehovah God. (Proverbs 27:11) Like the first step taken by an infant, the step you have taken to dedicate yourself to Jehovah was an exciting event. It signified a forward, progressive move on your part. It was a sign of growth.
5. What questions should each individual ask himself? What can help in finding the answers?
5 What about since then? With the loving attention of your fellow Christians, are you showing evidence of steady spiritual growth? ‘How can I tell?’ you may ask. Well, recall what the apostle Paul said about growth: “When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a babe.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) So, it was not just the passing of time but the doing away with “the traits of a babe” that made him a mature man. What are these traits?
6, 7. (a) Describe one ‘trait of a babe’ and the danger it poses. (b) How is this trait manifest? What can be the outcome?
6 One thing about infants is that they have a very short attention span. Though they are curious about everything around them, they are also unpredictable, changeable, and unsettled. Obviously, anyone remaining in such a state is in grave spiritual danger. He is likely to be “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,” as the apostle Paul described it at Ephesians 4:14.
7 Waves and wind can break forth as quickly as they dissipate. Today, when it is planned for things to go obsolete, trends, fads, and fashions come and go. Things that were considered essential just a short while ago are completely outdated and forgotten. Whether it is in the field of entertainment, dress and grooming, or anything else, how unwise—and childish—it is to be caught up in always wanting or getting the latest in everything, only to be outclassed and disappointed quickly. In spiritual matters, the consequence of such unsteadiness can be disastrous.—Compare James 1:6-8.
8. What is another ‘trait’ of spiritual babes, and what danger does it present?
8 Another ‘trait of babes’ is that they have very little conception of what is good or bad, right or wrong. Similarly, spiritual babes have not yet had their “perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong,” and that is why the apostle Paul urged his fellow Christians to “press on to maturity, not laying a foundation again.” (Hebrews 5:14; 6:1) Those who are spiritual babes need constant reassurance that what they have accepted as truth is indeed truth, and what they have been taught to do is indeed what they ought to do. They need help in even the most fundamental things. Otherwise they are easily confused, frustrated, and overtaken by doubts that can damage their faith.
9. Why must we accept the challenge of Christian maturity?
9 Have you ever noticed that children are always eager to do what they see adults do? To them, of course, it is only a game. Part of the fun, no doubt, is in being able to do what they want to do without having to accept the responsibility that goes with it. That, after all, is what a child’s life is all about. (See Matthew 11:16, 17.) But with growth and development come duty and responsibility. It is a challenge that a child must be helped to accept. How well he responds to it will determine, to a large extent, his success or failure in later life. Spiritually, it is even more important that each one of us seriously consider the challenge of Christian maturity. Are you willing, even eager, to accept the responsibility that comes with being a full-grown, mature, spiritual person? Or do you merely coast along, letting others shoulder your responsibility for you?—Galatians 6:4, 5.
Christian Maturity—What Is It?
10. Why did Paul urge the Hebrew Christians to “press on to maturity”?
10 When the apostle Paul urged Christians to “press on to maturity,” what did he have in mind? (Hebrews 6:1) The context shows that Paul originally had much to say to the Hebrew Christians concerning the “high priest according to the manner of Melchizedek,” Jesus Christ. But he felt that they were not ready for it because what he had in mind was “hard to be explained.” (Hebrews 5:10, 11) Instead, he reminded them: “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.”—Hebrews 5:12-14; compare Jude 3.
11. What does being mature signify?
11 Does this mean, then, that maturity is just a matter of having knowledge of the deeper things of the Bible? While Christian maturity includes knowledge and understanding of the Bible, there is much more to it. An understanding of the words used by the apostle Paul will help us see the matter more clearly. The Greek word translated “maturity” is te·lei·oʹtes, and the adjective “mature” is translated from teʹlei·os. These words are related to teʹlos, which means “end.” W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, therefore, explains that being mature (teʹlei·os) “signifies having reached its end (teʹlos), finished, complete, perfect.” Thus, a mature Christian is one who has reached a certain end, or goal. What is this goal?
12. According to Ephesians 4:11-13, what does maturity involve?
12 The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 4:11-13, explained that Christ Jesus, as the head of the Christian congregation, has made many provisions to help the “holy ones” to reach that goal, namely, that “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.” Here, being mature, or full-grown (Greek, teʹlei·os), is related not only to having “accurate knowledge” but also to “oneness in the faith” and to measuring ourselves according to the stature attained by Christ.
13. Why can there be no Christian maturity without “oneness in the faith”?
13 “Oneness in the faith” signifies unity. Before a person comes to learn of the “one faith,” he may have his own ideas and opinions about how things should be done, about what is right and what is wrong, and so on. (Ephesians 4:4, 5.) If he allows such ideas to persist, he will find it very difficult to grow spiritually. Paul once called the Christians in the ancient Corinthian congregation “babes in Christ” and “fleshly” because they were torn by “jealousy and strife,” some claiming to follow Paul, others Apollos. (1 Corinthians 3:1-4) It can easily be seen, therefore, that unity, or “oneness in the faith,” goes hand in hand with Christian maturity. There cannot be one without the other. So we must ask ourselves: Have we abandoned our former worldly ways of thinking? Do we see the importance of unity in thought and action with Jehovah’s people? “Oneness in the faith” is an indispensable ingredient of Christian maturity.—Ephesians 4:2, 3.
14. To what else is maturity related?
14 Christian maturity is also related to having “the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ.” What does this mean? Paul goes on to say that those who reach this stature are no longer babes, “tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men” who cunningly contrive error. Rather, they have an accurate knowledge of the truth. They have grown up in the love of the Christ, and they show forth other godly qualities, such as wisdom, righteousness, and power. (Ephesians 4:13, 14; John 15:12, 13; 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30; 2:7, 8; Proverbs 8:1, 22-31) While we, as imperfect humans, may not be able to attain completely to the ‘stature of the Christ,’ we can certainly make him our Exemplar, setting for ourselves the end, or goal, of developing the same kind of godly personality. (Colossians 3:9) To the extent that we reach out for this goal we become mature.
Grow Up by Love
15. What is the first step in the quest for maturity?
15 Having considered the meaning embodied in the term “Christian maturity,” we need to know how we can attain it. As we have seen, Hebrews 6:1 shows that in the quest for Christian maturity there is a certain foundation on which we must build. Once this is done, further efforts can be directed toward pressing on to maturity. First among the various elements making up that foundation is “repentance from dead works.”
16. From what “dead works” must we repent?
16 Obviously, “dead works” would include works of the fallen flesh, which, if unchecked, will lead to death. We readily come to recognize outright transgressions such as fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, and spiritism as sinful, and we shun them. But the works of the flesh, “dead works,” also include what some might call personality traits such as enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects, and envies. (Galatians 5:19-21) Unless such personality traits are stripped off and replaced by “the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty,” it is very unlikely that one will make any headway toward attaining Christian maturity.—Ephesians 4:22-24.
17. What else can be considered “dead works”? Why?
17 Besides the works of the flesh, the “dead works” of which we must divest ourselves also include works and pursuits that are spiritually dead, vain, and fruitless. They may be money-making, get-rich-quick schemes. They may be ambitious and time-consuming plans for advanced education, or they may be worldly movements for social reform, peace, and so on. All these things may appear to have some merit in themselves, but they are “dead works” because they may spell spiritual death for those who become entangled in them. All those who are interested in attaining Christian maturity must ‘repent from’ or desist from pursuing, such “dead works” and follow Jesus’ admonition to “keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and [God’s] righteousness.”—Matthew 6:33.
18, 19. (a) In Ephesians 4:15, what is meant by “speaking the truth”? (b) How is it related to Christian maturity?
18 Once the foundation is built upon, what then? Paul advises: “But speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15) First of all, we note that Paul mentions the need for “speaking the truth.” This expression evidently involves much more than just speech; it actually means “maintaining truth.” (Kingdom Interlinear) Other translations render it as “live by the truth”; “lovingly follow the truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly”.—Ephesians 4:15, The Jerusalem Bible; The Living Bible.
19 Thus, the pursuit of Christian maturity requires that we maintain, or uphold, the truth by the way we live, speak, act, and deal with others. This means putting to use in our everyday affairs the Bible knowledge we have gained and thus come to be among “those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Hebrews 5:14) Are you doing this? Do you reason along the lines of Bible principles each time you are faced with a decision? Do you accept the challenge of becoming a mature Christian, upholding the truth by word and deed, or would you rather remain a spiritual babe, free from responsibilities and free to pursue your own desires and wishes?
20, 21. (a) How is love involved in growing to maturity? (b) What questions await further discussion?
20 Paul says: “Let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15) Here, Paul points to the heart of the matter—the motivation. At 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 he shows that works that might otherwise be of value become totally profitless if they are done without the proper motivation. Thus we must examine our motive for everything that we do. Is it done to be viewed by others, to impress them so that they will think we are mature? Or, rather, is it done out of love for God and love for our neighbor? When love is our motive, we will “grow up in all things,” becoming balanced, dependable, mature Christians, in full recognition of “him who is the head, Christ.”
21 While striving to reach Christian maturity is a worthwhile goal, it is not the end. Once a person has reached this goal, is there something more for him to do? What about those who have been in the truth for a number of years and have attained the goal of Christian maturity? This we will consider in the next article.
Can You Explain?
□ What are some “traits of a babe,” and what dangers do they pose?
□ How are “oneness in the faith” and “fullness of the Christ” related to maturity?
□ To reach Christian maturity, what “dead works” must we abandon?
□ How does one “by love grow up”?
[Blurb on page 9]
IN THE PAST SIX YEARS
—827,144 new Witnesses got baptized
—Over 5,000 new congregations were formed
—Of those who now share in the preaching work, one in every three got baptized during this time
[Blurb on page 9]
During the 1984 service year, six countries averaged over a hundred thousand Kingdom publishers
[Picture on page 11]
Many today choose the ministry above materialistic pursuits