I was recently discouraged about myself, frustrated at my lack of personal growth. I realized with a start that I had been living with a set of attitudes for a couple of weeks which were quite ugly. Unbelief in my heart was manifesting as irritability, isolation, and self pity. What discouraged me about this was that it was an old pattern, a set of ungodly beliefs which I thought I had dealt with years ago. When I saw that I was falling back into that old rut, I grew angry with myself and, to be honest, I began to agree with the voice of the Accuser. That’s not good!
Thankfully the Holy Spirit spoke to my mind with the thought of, “I am content to work in you over the course of decades. Why aren’t you?” I immediately felt peace flood over me as I realized that, in fact, God has been working in me day after day, year after year. From his perspective, he’s happy and encouraged about me. This interaction itself became a massive leap forward in my maturity. In hearing the Spirit’s kindness, it led me to change how I thought, which in turn moved me forward in my walk with him.
We all want to walk in maturity. We want to grow up, to be fruitful, to walk in personal holiness, and to look more like Jesus. Yet so often it takes years, even decades to overcome certain thought patterns, sin patterns, and ungodly beliefs. I think we all need to hear this: God is content to work in each of us over the course of years. He’s more concerned with where we’re facing than in how quickly we’re getting to the goal. After all, the Bible promises that we’re predestined to be like him. We don’t need to worry over that.
Here’s what the apostle Paul said about this process of maturity:
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.
— Philippians 3:8–16
What is maturity?
If we take the whole counsel of Scripture, we find this as a definition of maturity: growing in our love for God as evidenced by our love for other people.
The book of Hebrews adds to this the element of learning to discern right from wrong, and not having to keep re-learning the basics of doctrine. Ephesians 4 echoes that when it talks about the people-gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) being given to us by Jesus in order to keep us from being tossed-about by every wind of doctrine. This idea of discernment, of stability, is certainly a market of maturity. Yet even in that, the way we grow in discernment is through our relationship with God. It’s the Holy Spirit, after all, who leads us into all truth. And how do we know that we love God? By living a lifestyle of obeying his commands. What did he command? Love one another. Consider others as better than yourself. Suffer yourselves to be defrauded. Don’t consider your own needs, but look to the needs of others. Serve others, lift them up, exhibit self-sacrificial love in the style of Jesus.
Love: our Highest Goal
The blessed John the Evangelist lived in Ephesus until extreme old age. His disciples could barely carry him to church and he could not muster the voice to speak many words. During individual gatherings he usually said nothing but, “Little children, love one another.” The disciples and brothers in attendance, annoyed because they always heard the same words, finally said, “Teacher, why do you always say this?” He replied with a line worthy of John: “Because it is the Lord’s commandment and if it alone is kept, it is sufficient.” — From Jerome’s Commentary on Galatians, 6:10.
That quote is most likely from Origen or Polycarp originally, passed down from people who were with John. The apostle John was the longest-lived of the original disciples, spending the latter part of his life in Ephesus (probably part of Timothy’s church). Many believe that he wrote his Gospel late in life and as he aged, his message became more and more clear: love one another. The Elder, as he was called, grew to value our love for one another as the most important thing in life. We should pay attention to that, let it go down deep into us, and by the power of the Spirit, change us.
Three things will endure for all eternity: faith, hope, and love. Faith will endure because God is infinite so even on the new earth in the age to come, we’ll live by faith that there’s constantly more to discover of God. Hope will endure for eternity because every moment we exist, we’ll have a greater understanding of God’s goodness and the goodness of his new creation, leading to unending hope for new and better things. And love will endure because God is love and we’ll become more and more like him for unending time, more and more loving, more loved.
And the greatest? The greatest is love. Maybe there’s more to discover about this curious word which is both noun and verb. Holy Spirit, illuminate our hearts, let us find a fresh revelation of how much we are loved by God so that we may reconcile others to your love. Shake off of us everything that clouds our understanding and experience of your love. Burn away everything that keeps us from loving others. Amen.
One last note of encouragement for you, if you’re feeling like I was. Sometimes we make leaps and bounds in our faith, jumping forward in maturity and sanctification. Other times we are walking steadily, slowly making headway in our growth. Other times we’re standing still, but if all we can do is face the right direction, that’s just as much a victory. So point yourself to the cross and even if you don’t see any growth in your life, stay faced in the right direction and you’ll be ok. As a wise gardener once said, “Slow growth is strong growth. If you want something to truly thrive, it needs to grow slowly.”
P.S. Earlier I mentioned Ephesians 4 which lists the gifts Jesus has given us, which are in fact people. We have a conference coming up which is dedicated to one of those gifts: apostles. This annual event is meant to give space for contemporary apostles to share what God is showing them. It’s also a wonderful time to meet new like-minded friends, to reconnect with others, and to pull away from normal daily life and enjoy an atmosphere of faith. voiceoftheapostles.com for more info, or watch the live webcast at globalondemand.tv