Striving Towards Maturity
K.C. Tsai—Toronto, Canada
Chapters Two and Three of the Book
of Revelation record the seven epistles that the Lord Jesus had instructed John
to write to the churches in Asia. These reveal the different levels of maturity
in and key characteristics of each of these churches. Furthermore, the epistles
reveal the will of God: He requires the church as a whole to strive towards
maturity—to be fully prepared so that she can belong to Him forever.
The church should strive towards
perfection—prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:2). However, this
requires every believer to realize his own spiritual shortcomings and then do his
utmost to be mature. Maturity is the goal for the church but the extent to which
it can be attained depends on the individual spiritual pursuit of every
believer within the congregation (Eph 4:11–16).
BE MATURE IN UNDERSTANDING
Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be
babes, but in understanding be mature. (1 Cor 14:20)
We can determine a person’s
maturity from his understanding: whether he recognizes his weaknesses, learns God’s
word willingly, meditates on His will, and draws near to Him, thereby cultivating
his spiritual character. What are the signs of a person who is immature in
understanding? These include being jealous of or belittling others, being easily
offended, harboring hatred, bearing grudges against fellow workers, and refusing
to forgive. It is thus with good reason that Paul exhorted the believers in
Corinth to be mature in understanding and in spirituality.
An example of someone who lacked
spiritual maturity was King Saul. In the beginning, he was an outstanding young
man with a pure and humble heart. That was why God chose him to be the first
king of Israel. After taking on the role, he experienced military success and
won the hearts of the people.
Unfortunately, such success soon led
to the loss of humility, and Saul began to despise even God’s command. When Samuel
instructed Saul to proceed to Gilgal and wait seven days for him to arrive to sacrifice
the burnt offering and peace offering, Saul lost patience and made the
offerings himself (1 Sam 13:5–9). When God helped him to defeat the Amalekites,
Saul had become so complacent that he took it upon himself to spare the king of
the Amalekites along with much of the spoils of war, all of which should have
been destroyed according to God’s command (1 Sam 15:3; cf. 15:9). These
repeated acts of disobedience eventually lost him God’s favor and abidance.
Saul’s immaturity was especially obvious
in his attitude towards David. After David killed Goliath, Saul became jealous because
he felt he was no longer in the limelight (1 Sam 18:8). He became obsessed with
the thought of killing David. This incident shows that a spiritually immature
person does not understand the will of God and allows himself to be controlled
by his own desires and emotions.
Throughout the history of
salvation, God has sent countless servants to carry out His work which includes
guiding and governing His elect. God’s only requirement is that these servants realize
their mandates and work with God. After all, it is God’s work, and only He is
able to bring it to completion. What a servant needs to do is to strive towards
maturity in the course of serving God.
The Lord forbid that I should
do this thing… (1 Sam 24:6)
David was pursued by Saul and
faced continual danger. In a cave at En Gedi (1 Sam 24:1–7) and in the
wilderness of Ziph (1 Sam 26:6–12), he was presented with opportunities to kill
Saul and end the threat to his life; his followers even offered to kill Saul on
Yet David chose to fear God; he
refused to lay hands on Saul, the anointed one of God. It was not that King
Saul did not deserve to die. Rather, David believed in the righteousness of God
and chose to obey His will (1 Sam 26:10–11). This chapter in David’s life
portrayed genuine maturity.
Rehoboam, David’s grandson, failed
to heed the counsel of the elders when he became king, choosing instead to
listen to the impetuous and ruthless advice of the young men who had grown up
with him. As a result, his words caused the departure of ten tribes, and the division
of the kingdom into two (1 Kgs 12:13–14). Had Rehoboam been more mature and possessed
greater foresight, the history of the Israelites might have been altogether
When the word of God is not
planted within the heart of man, man can only see what is right before him. He
will neither be able to look beyond the obstacles that he faces nor see the
purpose of God, who is behind all things. He will make judgments based on his
own opinions, like Saul; or rely on the opinions of others, like Rehoboam.
Therefore, learning to fear God and obey His commands are the first steps to be
taken in the pursuit of spiritual maturity.
A Copy of the Law Book
Before the Israelites entered Canaan, Moses gave them the following instructions from
“When you come to the land which the Lord
your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a
king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely
set a king over you whom the Lord
your God chooses; … when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall
write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the
priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the
days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this
law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his
brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to
the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children
in the midst of Israel.”
God was the king of the Israelites
(1 Sam 12:12); His people need not have followed the other nations in appointing
a king to govern them (1 Sam 8:4–9). Nevertheless, before they entered the Promised
Land, God already knew that the Israelites would ask for a king. So He instructed
that the king should make a copy of the law for himself and read it all the
days of his life. This ensured that the human ruler of God’s people would learn
to fear the Lord his God and to
observe the law and the statutes. He would be able to use the word of God to
examine himself and to discern the counsel of men. He would also be able to use
the word of God as his guide so that all his decisions would be pleasing to God.
The fear of the Lord is
the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Prov 9:10)
Wisdom stems from the knowledge of
God and from a God-fearing heart. A person who does not fear God will do things
that displease God and thus reveal his immaturity.
INCREASE IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
Spiritual growth should occur in
tandem with physical growth.
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to
pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will
in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the
Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in
the knowledge of God. (Col 1:9–10)
Paul interceded for the believers
in Colossae, asking God to fill them with the knowledge of His will and with
spiritual understanding. In this way, they would be able to make decisions according
to God’s will. A person with such resolve will seek to please God in all things
and to increase in the knowledge of God. To “increase” signifies a process of
growth—with a starting point and an ultimate goal. Similarly, spiritual
maturity is attained through step-by-step learning.
And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and
the grace of God was upon Him. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature
(or: age), and in favor with God and men. (Lk 2:40,52)
After Jesus was born, He grew in
wisdom and stature, exemplifying the growth of a person who loves God. Physical
maturity can be observed outwardly; spiritual maturity is, however, an inner transformation
that can only be gauged by oneself.
Spiritual maturity is not
determined by the number of years we have believed in the Lord, but by the
effort we put in to learn God’s word and to transform ourselves in accordance with
His teachings (Col 2:6–7). Therefore, our chronological age is irrelevant. Instead,
maturity is based on how well we use our time to learn to view situations
holistically and to comprehend our lowliness before God.
In addition, maturity in our service
to God is not just about efficiency at completing a job, but even more importantly,
it is the need for foresight, the ability to control our temper, and the
ability to curb our impulsiveness (Ex 14:11–14).
Maturity can also be seen from the
level of commitment and responsibility we bring to the roles and duties— no
matter how small — assigned to us. For example, there are some believers assigned
with church work, be it religious education, hymn leading, or church cleaning, who
do not turn up for their duties. While there may be genuine reasons for their
oversight, such as prior commitments, the responsible thing to do is to inform
others in advance or make alternative arrangements. In contrast, there are exemplary
believers who carry out every assigned duty faithfully. They need no repeated
reminders to carry out their duties; they do their best, endeavor to resolve
any issues along the way and do not shirk responsibility. Such workers are a
great comfort to the church.
CONCLUSION: DEPART FROM THE FIRST PRINCIPLES OF THE
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to
teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come
to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is
unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food
belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have
their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
(Heb 5: 12–14)
The author of the book of Hebrews exhorts
believers to become of full age in terms of the truth and not stop at the stage
of “the first principles of the oracles of God.” The latter refer to the basic
faith, which includes repentance, belief in God, the sacraments, resurrection, judgment,
and so forth—analogized by “milk for babes.” The author encourages the believers
to progress from these teachings and to grow up. Then they will partake of solid
food, which is for those who “by reason of use have their senses exercised to
discern both good and evil” (Heb 5:14).
Those who are of “full age” are
skillful in the word of righteousness. A truly mature person meditates on the
word of God daily and uses it to make his decisions. With God’s word, he
overcomes hardships and trials and remains unshaken in his faith. Therefore, let
us strive to join the ranks of such mature Christians.