Press On to Maturity
“Let us press on to maturity.”
1, 2. What opportunity to ‘flee to the mountains’ opened up for first-century Christians in Jerusalem and Judea?
WHEN Jesus was on earth, his disciples approached him and asked: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” The initial fulfillment of the prophecy that Jesus gave them in answer to their question took place in the first century. Jesus spoke of an unusual development that would signal that the end was imminent. Upon observing that development, “those in Judea [were to] begin fleeing to the mountains.” (Matt. 24:1-3, 15-22) Would Jesus’ disciples recognize the sign and act on his instructions?
2 Nearly three decades later, in 61 C.E., the apostle Paul penned a strong, sobering message to Hebrew Christians living in Jerusalem and its surroundings. Unknown to both Paul and his fellow believers, the signal marking the opening stage of a “great tribulation” was only about five years away. (Matt. 24:21) In 66 C.E., Cestius Gallus led Roman troops in a nearly successful attack on Jerusalem. But then he suddenly withdrew, leaving open a window of opportunity for endangered ones to escape to safety.
3. What exhortation did Paul give to Hebrew Christians, and why?
3 Those Christians needed keen discernment and spiritual perception to recognize the turn of events and flee. However, some had become “dull in [their] hearing.” They were like spiritual babes needing “milk.” (Read Hebrews 5:11-13.) Even some of those who had walked in the way of the truth for decades were showing signs of “drawing away from the living God.” (Heb. 3:12) Some had “the custom” of missing Christian meetings at a time when this calamitous “day [was] drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24, 25) Paul gave them timely exhortation, saying: “Now that we have left the primary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity.”
4. Why is it important to remain spiritually alert, and what will help us to do so?
4 We are living during the time of the final fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy. “The great day of Jehovah”
What Christian Maturity Is
5, 6. (a) What does spiritual maturity involve? (b) Pressing on to maturity requires effort in what two areas?
5 Paul not only encouraged the first-century Hebrew Christians to press on to maturity but also told them what spiritual maturity involves. (Read Hebrews 5:14.) “Mature people” are not content to partake only of “milk.” They take in “solid food.” Therefore, they know both “the elementary things” and “the deep things” of the truth. (1 Cor. 2:10) Moreover, their perceptive powers are trained through use
6 “It is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us,” wrote Paul, “that we may never drift away.” (Heb. 2:1) Such drifting away from the faith can happen before we realize it. We can avoid having this experience by paying “more than the usual attention” during our consideration of spiritual truths. Therefore, each of us needs to ask: ‘Am I still considering just elementary things? Could I merely be going through the motions and floating along, as it were, without my heart being fully involved with the truth? How can I make genuine spiritual progress?’ Pressing on to maturity calls for our putting forth effort in at least two areas. We must get well-acquainted with the Word of God. And we need to learn obedience.
Become Well-Acquainted With the Word
7. How can we benefit from becoming better acquainted with the Word of God?
7 “Everyone that partakes of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness,” wrote Paul, “for he is a babe.” (Heb. 5:13) To attain maturity, we must become well-acquainted with God’s word, his message to us. Since this message is contained in his Word, the Bible, we should be good students of the Scriptures and the publications of “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45-47) Absorbing God’s thinking in this way can help us to train our perceptive powers. Consider the example of a Christian named Orchid.* She says: “The reminder that has had the biggest effect on my life is the one about regular Bible reading. It took me about two years to finish the whole Bible, but it seemed that I was meeting my Creator for the first time. I learned about his ways, his likes and his dislikes, the degree of his power, and the depth of his wisdom. Reading the Bible daily has sustained me through some of the darkest moments of my life.”
8. What power can the Word of God exert on us?
8 Regularly reading a portion of God’s Word allows its message to ‘exert power’ on us. (Read Hebrews 4:12.) Such reading can mold our inner person and make us more pleasing to Jehovah. Do you have a personal need to schedule more time to read the Bible and meditate on what it says?
9, 10. What does becoming acquainted with God’s Word involve? Illustrate.
9 Becoming acquainted with the Bible involves more than being familiar with what it says. Spiritual babes of Paul’s day were not necessarily completely unfamiliar with God’s inspired Word. However, they did not personally use it and test its value by actual practice. They did not acquaint themselves with the message by allowing it to guide them in making wise decisions in their lives.
10 To become acquainted with the Word of God means to know what it says and to put that knowledge into practice. The experience of a Christian sister named Kyle shows how this can be done. Kyle had an altercation with one of her workmates. What did she do to heal the breach? She explains: “The scripture that readily came to my mind was Romans 12:18, which says: ‘As far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.’ So I made an appointment to meet this workmate after work.” The meeting was very successful, and the fellow employee was impressed that Kyle had taken that step. “I learned that we can never go wrong if we apply Bible principles,” says Kyle.
11. What shows that obedience under difficult circumstances can be a challenge?
11 Applying what we have learned from the Scriptures can be a challenge, particularly when circumstances are difficult. For example, shortly after Jehovah liberated the sons of Israel from Egyptian bondage, they “fell to quarreling with Moses” and kept “putting Jehovah to the test.” Why? Because of a lack of water to drink. (Ex. 17:1-4) Less than two months after entering into a divine covenant and agreeing to do “all the words that Jehovah [had] spoken,” they violated his law on idolatry. (Ex. 24:3, 12-18; 32:1, 2, 7-9) Was this because the prolonged absence of Moses while he was being instructed on Mount Horeb made them fearful? Did they perhaps think that the Amalekites would strike again and that the Israelites would be helpless without Moses, whose upheld hands had brought them victory earlier? (Ex. 17:8-16) That is possible, but whatever the case, the Israelites “refused to become obedient.” (Acts 7:39-41) Paul urged Christians to ‘do their utmost’ to avoid ‘falling into the same pattern of disobedience’ that the Israelites showed when they were afraid to enter the Promised Land.
12. How did Jesus learn obedience, and with what benefit?
12 Pressing on to maturity requires that we do our utmost to obey Jehovah. As exemplified by Jesus Christ, obedience is often learned from the things suffered. (Read Hebrews 5:8, 9.) Before coming to earth, Jesus was obedient to his Father. However, doing his Father’s will on earth involved physical and mental suffering. Through obedience under extreme adversity, Jesus was “made perfect” for the new position God had in mind for him, that of being King and High Priest.
13. What shows whether we have learned obedience?
13 What about us? Are we determined to obey Jehovah even when we are faced with distressful problems? (Read 1 Peter 1:6, 7.) God’s counsel regarding morals, honesty, proper use of the tongue, personal reading and study of the Scriptures, attendance at Christian meetings, and participation in the preaching work is clear. (Josh. 1:8; Matt. 28:19, 20; Eph. 4:25, 28, 29; 5:3-5; Heb. 10:24, 25) Are we obedient to Jehovah in these matters even under adversity? Our obedience is an indication that we have progressed toward maturity.
14. Illustrate how pressing on to maturity can be a protection.
14 It is a real protection for a Christian to have perceptive powers that are properly trained to distinguish right from wrong in a world that is “past all moral sense.” (Eph. 4:19) For example, a brother named James, who regularly read and deeply appreciated Scriptural publications, accepted a job where all his coworkers were women. “While many of these clearly showed a lack of moral sense,” says James, “one employee seemed to be of good character and showed interest in Bible truth. When we were alone in a production room, though, she began making sexual advances. I thought it was a joke but found it very hard to stop her. Right then I recalled an experience related in The Watchtower regarding a brother who faced a similar temptation on his job. The article used the example of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.* I promptly pushed the girl away, and she ran out.” (Gen. 39:7-12) James was thankful that nothing further happened and that he maintained a good conscience.
15. How can pressing on to maturity strengthen our figurative heart?
15 Maturity is also beneficial in that it strengthens our figurative heart and keeps us from being “carried away with various and strange teachings.” (Read Hebrews 13:9.) When we strive to make spiritual progress, our mind stays focused on “the more important things.” (Phil. 1:9, 10) We thus grow in our appreciation for God and for all the provisions he has made for our benefit. (Rom. 3:24) A Christian who is “full-grown in powers of understanding” develops such gratitude and enjoys intimacy with Jehovah.
16. What helped one sister to develop ‘firmness of heart’?
16 A sister named Louise admitted that for some time after baptism, her main concern was the impression she gave to others. “I was not doing anything wrong,” she said, “but my heart was not ablaze with the desire to serve Jehovah. I realized that I had to make some changes if I was going to feel that I was giving everything I could to Jehovah. The biggest change was to throw my whole heart into his worship.” By putting forth such effort, Louise developed ‘firmness of heart,’ and it proved to be vital when she faced a distressing health problem. (Jas. 5:8) Louise said, “I struggled greatly, but I really drew close to Jehovah.”
‘Become Obedient From the Heart’
17. Why was obedience especially vital in the first century?
17 Paul’s counsel to “press on to maturity” proved to be lifesaving to the first-century Christians living in Jerusalem and Judea. Those who heeded it had the keen spiritual discernment needed to recognize the signal Jesus had given for them to “begin fleeing to the mountains.” When they saw “the disgusting thing that causes desolation . . . standing in a holy place,” that is, the armies of Rome surrounding and penetrating Jerusalem, they knew that it was time to flee. (Matt. 24:15, 16) Heeding Jesus’ prophetic warning, Christians fled the city of Jerusalem prior to its destruction and, according to ecclesiastical historian Eusebius, settled in the city of Pella in the mountainous region of Gilead. They thereby avoided the worst disaster for Jerusalem in recorded history.
18, 19. (a) Why is obedience vital in our day? (b) What will be considered in the next article?
18 Obedience that comes from pressing on to maturity will prove to be no less lifesaving when we face the major fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that “there will be great tribulation” of unequaled magnitude. (Matt. 24:21) Will we prove to be obedient to whatever future urgent direction we may receive from “the faithful steward”? (Luke 12:42) How important it is that we learn to ‘become obedient from the heart’!
19 Our attaining maturity requires that we train our perceptive powers. We do this by putting forth effort to get better acquainted with God’s Word and by learning obedience. Growing to Christian maturity brings special challenges to youths. The following article considers how such challenges can be met successfully.
Some names have been changed.
See the article entitled “Fortified to Say No to Wrongdoing,” in the October 1, 1999, issue of The Watchtower.
What Did You Learn?
• What is spiritual maturity, and how do we attain it?
• What part does becoming acquainted with the Word of God play in our pressing on to maturity?
• How do we learn obedience?
• In what ways does maturity benefit us?
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Applying Bible counsel helps us to deal with problems in a mature way
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Following Jesus’ counsel was lifesaving for early Christians