“Attain . . . the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ.”—EPH. 4:13.
1, 2. What sort of growth should every Christian strive for? Illustrate.
WHEN an experienced housewife selects fresh fruit at the market, she does not always choose the biggest pieces or the least expensive ones. Rather, she looks for items that are ripe. She wants fruit that has good taste and aroma and that offers healthy nutrients. Yes, she selects fruit that has reached a full state of growth, that is mature.
2 After a person has progressed to dedication and baptism, he continues to grow. His goal is to become a mature servant of God. The maturity we are speaking of is not physical but spiritual. The apostle Paul wrote of the need for Christians in Ephesus to grow spiritually. He encouraged them to reach out to “attain to the oneness of the faith and of the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to being a full-grown man, attaining the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ.”—Eph. 4:13.
3. What situation in the Ephesian congregation can also be found among Jehovah’s people today?
3 When Paul wrote his letter, the congregation in Ephesus had already existed for some years. Many disciples there had reached a high level of spiritual development. Some, however, still needed to press on to maturity. The situation among Jehovah’s Witnesses today is much the same. Many brothers and sisters have long served God and have advanced to spiritual maturity. But obviously not all are at that point. For example, thousands of new ones are baptized each year, so some still need to strive for maturity. What about you?—Col. 2:6, 7.
4, 5. In what ways may mature Christians differ from one another, but what do they all have in common? (See opening image.)
4 When you examine ripe fruit at the market, you see that not all the pieces are identical. Yet, they do share some characteristics that identify them as being ripe. Similarly, mature Christians may be of different nationality, background, health, age, and experience. There are even differences in personality or culture. Still, all who grow spiritually develop qualities that identify them as being mature. How so?
5 A mature servant of Jehovah builds his life around the example of Jesus, who left a model for us “to follow his steps closely.” (1 Pet. 2:21) What did Jesus highlight as being very important? Loving Jehovah with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. (Matt. 22:37-39) A mature Christian strives to live in harmony with that counsel. He has established a life pattern that shows that he gives priority to his relationship with Jehovah and he displays self-sacrificing love for others.
6, 7. (a) What are some qualities that identify a mature Christian? (b) What will we consider?
6 We understand, though, that love is just one aspect of the fruitage of the spirit that a mature Christian displays. (Gal. 5:22, 23) Other aspects—such as mildness, self-control, and patience—are important too. They can help him to handle difficult situations without becoming irritated and to endure heartbreaking disappointments without losing hope. In his program of personal study, he continually searches for Scriptural principles that can help him to distinguish right from wrong. Thereafter, when he makes decisions, he gives evidence of spiritual maturity. For instance, he listens to his Bible-trained conscience. The mature Christian shows humility in that he recognizes that Jehovah’s ways and standards are always better than his own.a He zealously preaches the good news and contributes to the unity of the congregation.
7 No matter how long we have been serving Jehovah, each of us can ask, ‘Are there areas where I yet should model myself more closely after Jesus, thus continuing to progress spiritually?’
“SOLID FOOD BELONGS TO MATURE PEOPLE”
8. What can be said about Jesus’ knowledge of the Scriptures and his understanding of them?
8 Jesus Christ had an excellent grasp of God’s Word. Even when he was just 12 years old, he was able to discuss Scriptural matters with teachers in the temple. “All those listening to him were in constant amazement at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46, 47) Later, during his earthly ministry, Jesus silenced his opponents with appropriate references to God’s Word.—Matt. 22:41-46.
9. (a) What Bible study habits are important for someone who wants to grow spiritually? (b) What is the purpose of Bible study?
9 In line with the model Jesus provided, a Christian who wants to grow spiritually will not be satisfied with a superficial knowledge of the Bible. He will regularly dig deeply into its contents, realizing that “solid food belongs to mature people.” (Heb. 5:14) Clearly, a mature Christian wants to have “accurate knowledge of the Son of God.” (Eph. 4:13) Do you schedule daily Bible reading? Do you follow a routine of personal study, making every effort to set aside time each week for family worship? As you consider God’s Word, be alert to Scriptural principles that will help you to see more clearly how Jehovah thinks and feels. Then try to apply Bible principles, relying on them when you make decisions, thus drawing ever closer to Jehovah.
10. How does a mature Christian’s knowledge influence him in everyday life?
10 A mature Christian understands that more is involved than knowledge. In addition to what he knows, how much does he love what he knows of God’s ways and principles? One reflection of such love is the setting of priorities in life that are in accord with Jehovah’s will rather than human inclinations. Moreover, the Christian has no doubt worked to “put away” his former attitudes and conduct. As a Christian makes that change, he puts on the new Christlike personality, which is “created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” (Read Ephesians 4:22-24.) The Bible was written under the direction of God’s holy spirit. While a Christian deepens his knowledge of and love for the Bible’s standards, he opens his heart and mind to the influence of holy spirit. That contributes to spiritual growth.
JOINED TOGETHER IN UNITY
11. Jesus experienced what in his dealings with his family and his disciples?
11 During his life on earth as a perfect man, Jesus was surrounded by imperfect humans. He was raised by imperfect parents, and he spent years at home with imperfect relatives. Even his closest followers were influenced by the ambitious, manipulative spirit common around them. For example, on the evening before Jesus was executed, there “arose a heated dispute among them over which one of them was considered to be the greatest.” (Luke 22:24) But Jesus was confident that his imperfect followers could grow spiritually and form a united congregation. That same evening, Jesus prayed for the loving unity of his apostles, asking his heavenly Father: “May [they] all be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you, that they also may be in union with us, . . . in order that they may be one just as we are one.”—John 17:21, 22.
12, 13. (a) How does Ephesians 4:15, 16 highlight the need to promote unity in the congregation? (b) How did one brother overcome a weakness and thus learn to work toward unity?
12 A mature servant of Jehovah promotes unity within the congregation. (Read Ephesians 4:1-6, 15, 16.) It is our goal that God’s people be “harmoniously joined together” and that all members cooperate with one another. According to Jehovah’s Word, to achieve this unity, we need humility. A mature brother or sister has the humility to work for unity, even when facing the imperfections of others. How do you react when confronted with the imperfection of a brother or sister in the congregation? Or what if you personally are wronged by someone in the congregation? Is it your inclination, or even your pattern, to build a wall, so to speak, that separates you from the offender? Or do you try to construct a bridge across the gap between the two of you? A mature Christian wants to—yes, strives to—build bridges, not walls.
13 Consider the example of Uwe. In the past, he tended to let the imperfections of fellow believers upset him. Then he decided to use the Bible and Insight on the Scriptures to study the life of David. Why David? Uwe explains: “David witnessed the unscriptural behavior of some fellow believers. For example, King Saul tried to kill him, some of the people wanted to stone him, and even David’s own wife mocked him. (1 Sam. 19:9-11; 30:1-6; 2 Sam. 6:14-22) But David never allowed the conduct of others to dampen his love for Jehovah. Also, David had a merciful heart, something I needed to cultivate. What I learned through my study changed my view of the imperfections of fellow believers. I no longer keep a chronicle of mistakes. Rather, I strive to contribute to the unity of the congregation.” Do you likewise have the goal of promoting unity in the congregation?
FRIENDS AMONG THOSE DOING GOD’S WILL
14. Jesus chose what sort of individuals as his friends?
14 Jesus Christ was friendly toward people in general. Individuals of all sorts felt at ease in his company—men, women, young, old, even children. But in choosing close friends, Jesus was selective. He said to his faithful apostles: “You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you.” (John 15:14) Jesus chose such friends from among those who loyally followed him and served Jehovah wholeheartedly. Do you similarly select your close friends from among those who serve Jehovah unreservedly? Why is this important?
15. How can young ones benefit from association with mature Christians?
15 Many types of fruit ripen best in warm sunlight. Similarly, the warmth of our brotherhood can help you to progress to maturity. Perhaps you are a young person who is trying to decide what course you will pursue in life. How wise you are if you associate with fellow believers who have considerable experience in serving Jehovah and in contributing to the unity of the congregation! Over the years, they may have had some ups and downs in life and may even have faced challenges in serving God. Such ones can help you to choose the best way of life. Warm, upbuilding association with such brothers and sisters can help you to make your own wise decisions and to press on to maturity.—Read Hebrews 5:14.
16. How did older ones in the congregation help one young sister?
16 Helga, for instance, recalls that during her final year at school, the students in her class were comparing their personal goals. Many of them were reaching out for a university education as a stepping-stone to what they hoped would be a promising career. Helga discussed the situation with friends in her congregation. “Many of them were older than I was,” she relates, “and they helped me a lot. They encouraged me to take up the full-time ministry. Thereafter, I was able to spend five years in the pioneer service. Now, years later, I am happy that I focused much of my youth on Jehovah’s service. I have no reason to regret having done so.”
17, 18. How can spiritual maturity help us to fulfill our purpose in life?
17 Trying to focus our lives on the example Jesus set will help us in our Christian growth. We will draw closer to Jehovah, and we will grow in our desire to serve him to the greatest extent possible. A servant of God can give Jehovah his best when he has reached full spiritual growth, when he is a mature Christian. Jesus encouraged his followers: “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.”—Matt. 5:16.
18 As noted, a mature Christian can be a powerful influence for good in the congregation. And such spiritual maturity is reflected in how a Christian uses his God-given conscience. How can our conscience help us to make wise decisions? And how can we respect the conscientious decisions of fellow believers? We will consider these points in the following article.
a For example, older, experienced brothers may be asked to step aside from certain responsibilities and to lend support to younger brothers as they take on those responsibilities.