Maturity in Christ

As all of you know, there are many different types of sermons.  There are good ones and bad ones, both good and bad being relative and subjective terms.  There are feel good sermons and there are fire and brimstone sermons, sometimes known as “turn or burn.”  There are sermons on practical matters and there are sermons on deep theology.  And of course everyone has their own preferences for their own reasons.

In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to hit some of the most practical issues that we can discuss today.  They are timeless issues that speak not only to an issue of Paul’s day but are relevant for Christians all throughout the ages.

This week we will look at maturity in Christ and what it actually means.  I’ll give you a hint to start by saying that maturity in Christ is not the same as just being mature physically or mentally.

Let’s jump in by examining the first couple of verses in Ephesians 4.

Verses 1-6

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit —just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Paul starts out by urging the Ephesians to live a life worthy of their calling.  In doing so however, he reminds them of his life and sets himself up as an example because he identifies himself as a prisoner for the Lord.

Now, Paul is not implying that every Christian needs to go to jail for their beliefs.  What he is saying is that everyone should be prepared to sacrifice in their service to the Lord.  Sometimes we become too focused on other people’s calling that we forget that we have one too.  It’s all too easy to talk about what other people should be doing with their lives instead of examining yourself to be sure that you’re fulfilling your purpose.

I went to a Bible college that was very big on missions.  Every year they would run at least a dozen missions trips and there was an entire week in January devoted to missions.  This was great because a lot of people got involved in missions and undoubtedly some people’s lives were altered because of the experience, to say nothing of the missions work that was accomplished during the trips.

There became a problem however because people into missions became like pushy salespeople.  They would push missions on you as if you had to do it because your life would be forever changed.  A small minority gave off the impression that they didn’t think you were as good of a Christian as they were because you didn’t go on missions trips.

That is not the point that Paul is making here.  Not everyone is called to suffer the way that he suffered for Christ.  But we are all called to something.  Some people are called to great things.  They may be called overseas or they may be called to work with people in need nearby.  Or you may simply be called to live the best life that you can possibly live as an example for others.  It’s not an issue of what your calling is but a question of whether you are living up to it.

Paul goes on to give an example of what our calling is regardless whatever else it may be.  Paul begins to describe a mature Christian – humble and gentle, patient, loving, peaceful.  If that sounds like a partial list of the fruit of the Spirit, it’s no coincidence because a mature Christian is one who is guided by the Holy Spirit and who lives according to the Spirit.  We’ll come back to the maturity issue in a bit but let’s jump down to verse 11.

Vs 11-13

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

It’s no coincidence that Paul speaks of spiritual gifts here since he just got through discussing one’s calling.  These are some of the examples of lifestyles that a Christian may be called to.  This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list as there are three other lists as well.  We discussed these fairly recently when we worked our way through Exodus so I’m not going to bother with specifics now.

What I want to point out though is the whole reason for spiritual gifts.  They are “so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  God gave us gifts and He has called us to use them not for ourselves but for the building of His Kingdom.  You’ve probably seen an awards show, whether it’s for actors or athletes or musicians.  And the winner may thank God and then three weeks later you’ll hear that they were arrested for beating their girlfriend or wife.

Now obviously most of the people who do these things at awards shows are Christians to begin with but God doesn’t give gifts just so a person can be rich and famous.  On the other hand, God may have given that person a gift so they could use their position to help others and show the love of Christ.

There’s two parts in this passage.  We are to be using our spiritual gifts for others, but we’re also to be receiving the benefit of other’s gifts.  We use our gifts “until we all reach unity in the faith” and “become mature.”  So, while we’re helping others, we also need to be focusing on ourselves.

It is easy to become busy with church.  But unfortunately it is easy to confuse busyness with accomplishment.  Being busy isn’t the goal.  My mother has so many different roles in the church that often she makes me tired just telling me what she did in the past week.  There have been weeks when she has something church related four nights throughout the week.  I’m not about to judge the value of all of that work, but only make the point that so much work can lead to burnout.  It’s great to be using the gifts that God gave you but you must also be careful to be tending to your own spiritual welfare as well.

I love the church and I actually love being at church.  I know for a fact that in the last five years I have only missed church twice.  Once was when I was on my honeymoon, and the other time was when I was recovering from hernia surgery and couldn’t have walked across the parking lot if I had wanted to.  If there were more church events to be at, I’d be at them because I just like being at church and with church people.

That being said, I’m also conscious of the fact that everyone has lives outside of church.  It’s easy to say that it’s my job to be at church and that it’s easy to be there all of the time when I don’t have anything else going on.  That much is true but I can also tell you that I had such devotion when I was working a full time job outside of the church and was working as an associate pastor for $50 a week.  Regardless though, everyone needs time to focus on themselves.  That’s one reason why I don’t plan much over the summer.  People are here and there and it’s hard to get everyone to come to something anyway but ultimately I don’t want anyone burning themselves out on church.  Everyone needs to spend time using their gifts but they also need to spend time focusing on their own spiritual life.

And that’s the thought that we’re going to close on with the next few verses.  Spending time focusing on ourselves does not mean sleeping in on Sunday morning.  It means spiritual growth.

Vs 14-16

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Why will we no longer be infants?  The answer was in the previous verse.  It is because we have reached unity in faith and become mature.  Paul’s description of infant Christians is quite good but much of it is probably lost on modern readers.

15 years ago I was in the Florida Keys with the Boy Scouts.  We got to do all kinds of incredible things on the trip including deep sea fishing and snorkeling in an abandoned stone quarry at night.  I caught a shark and came within feet of a six foot stingray.  One of the other things that we got to do was go boating.  We were able to go out on two person sailboats for a few hours.

There’s a few things that I remember about sailboating.  The main thing is that it is quite hard.  If the wind is going in the exact direction that you want to go it, then it’s great because you just open the sail and let it take you.  But if you wanted to go in any other direction, then there was a lot of work involved.  And if you wanted to go against the wind, it was almost impossible because you couldn’t go directly into the wind.  You had to zig zag back and worth and go about three times the distance you would if you were going in a straight line.

Paul says that an infant Christian is like a person on a boat with no sailing knowledge.  You are at the mercy of wherever the wind chooses to take you.  You might be brought right back to shore by the waves or you might be carried out to sea.  You are dependent upon other forces because you have no knowledge of your own.

If you don’t know the Bible, you’re dependent on what I tell you.  I am the wind.  I might get you where you want to go or I might lead you astray.  You might like what I have to say and decide to live your life accordingly.  Then you might hear a preacher on tv and decide that what says makes sense and you change direction accordingly.  Without knowledge to determine for yourself what is truth, you are at the mercy of whatever anyone tells you.

On the other hand, if you know your Bible and you’ve studied commentaries and other things, you might hear a preacher on tv and realize that what he’s selling is a load of bunk and you know it’s garbage because scripture contradicts what he’s saying.

What makes things even more difficult is the sailing analogy once again.  The wind and the waves may seem fairly random, particularly to a small boat.  But we know that these spiritual wind and waves are not random but it is Satan working against us with cunning and craftiness and deceitful scheming.  That wind and those waves aren’t blowing randomly, they are going in the exact opposite way from where you want to be.  And only an experienced sailor is going to be able to navigate against them and get where he wants to be.  In my afternoon out, I seem to remember that I couldn’t do it.  I think I ended up jumping out and pulling the boat to shore.

Fortunately we’re given instructions on how to reach maturity and be kept from drifting.  Verse 15 gives us one good idea and we’re going to see some more next week.  We are told to speak the truth in love.  A lot of Christians don’t have a problem telling the truth.  The problem is that we believe that we have a mandate to speak the truth and therefore “tell it like it is.”

There is a vast difference between speaking the truth and speaking the truth in love.  For starters, let me be clear that love is not deceitful.  You don’t twist the truth in order to keep from hurting someone’s feelings.  But there are obviously certain ways that that things can be stated that are more loving than others.  And quite often, things don’t need to be said at all.

A number of years ago my grandmother felt the need to blurt out that she thought I could use a bra.  Now, I was about twenty five pounds heavier than I am now and I’m sure that I met the medical definition of being overweight.  The fact that I was overweight wasn’t in need of debate.  However, pointing it out and certainly pointing it out in such a way was far from loving.

My weight didn’t need to be pointed out and a little bit of thought probably would have reached the conclusion that doing so would have been hurtful.  Now, if I was a hundred pounds heavier than I am now, there might have been reason to point out this truth.  And it still may have been hurtful.  But it could have been done in a loving way.  It could have been something like “I’m concerned about your health because of your weight.  Is there anything I can do for you to help?”

We all have times where we are less than loving with our words.  In my grandmother’s defense she now has dementia and this could have been an early sign.  Of course my family also has a long history of saying stupid things without thinking so that is more likely the case.

When it comes to speaking the truth in love, there is actually a pretty easy filter.  We could ask if the statement needs to be made or if it is hurtful but that could actually prevent us from speaking at times when we should say something.

Instead, this ties in perfectly with the topic of spiritual gifts that we started with.  Spiritual gifts are “so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  This is the best test to speaking the truth in love.  Sometimes we need to say something that will hurt someone but it is for their benefit.  Quite often though the things that we say are truthful but they don’t build others up so they don’t need to be said.  Love builds up.  We need to be truthful and loving.  If we can’t be both, we need to just keep our mouths shut.

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