Recently, I was leading a large group of adults in a study of 1 Corinthians 3, in which Paul bemoans the lack of spiritual maturity in the church. So I asked the group three questions:
- What are the marks of spiritual maturity?
- How long does it take?
- Do you consider yourself spiritually mature?
I wrote their responses in one column on a whiteboard. The answers to the first question were along the lines of developing the Fruit of the Spirit, developing hunger for God’s word, practicing spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study and so forth. When I asked about how long it takes, responses were all variations on the theme of “Well, it’s an ongoing process.” Similarly, very few adults were willing to say, “Yes, I am spiritually mature.”
It was a very humble group.
Then I changed the question. I said, “So, what if instead of a group of Christians, we were a group of biologists, trying to decide when an animal was biologically mature? What would be on the list?”
This time, the list was pretty short:
- No longer depends on mother’s milk
- Capable of reproducing
Which has got me thinking: are we overthinking spiritual maturity? Granted, everything on the list we compiled are good things. But are they the main things?
- Are believers in your small group studying God’s Word for themselves, or are they wholly dependent on a teacher breaking it down for them?
- Are they reproducing?
If so, they are mature. If not, they aren’t.
Could it really be that simple? I know no one wants to put themselves out on a limb and say, “Yes, I’m mature.” As one precious senior adult in our group put it, “Well, even the Apostle Paul said he had not already obtained the goal or was already perfect (see Philippians 3:12-14), so how could I say I’m spiritually mature?”
I appreciate the heart behind that statement. At the same time, it would be easy to allow false modesty to keep us from fulfilling the reasonable expectations of spiritual adulthood (maybe the conversation would change if we put it in those terms—not “Are you spiritually mature?” but “Are you a spiritual adult?”
Let me give you two examples from the animal kingdom. When I Googled the phrase “fastest animal to maturity,” I learned about the African Annual Fish. These little guys spend their entire lives in a rain puddle left behind after the rainy season in East Africa. They hatch from eggs that have been dormant in the mud since last season. Within seventeen days, they are capable of laying and fertilizing eggs of their own. And when the puddle dries up, they are gone.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Olm salamander, which is found in the secure, isolated caves of Eastern Europe. They can live for as long as 100 years, but don’t begin reproducing until around 16 years of age.
The lesson? When time is short, we get busy. When we feel like we have all the time in the world, we take our time.
The problem in the church is that we would like our churches to be more like caves—secure, protected, cool, comfortable, and separated from the rest of the world. However, the Bible describes the world and our place in it much more like a rain puddle. Consider these verses:
- “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15)
- “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Col. 4:5)
- “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12)
- “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:13)
I wonder if it’s time for us to own up to the responsibilities that come with being grown-ups? The writer of Hebrews seemed to think so:
Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature —for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
Keep that in mind as you prepare to lead this week!