Other Christians think that they are spiritually matured because they have been serving God for a long period of time, and as such, they think that the number of years they have served God means they have done a lot of spiritual services. Is length of service an indicator for being spiritually matured? Spiritually matured means the attainment of a higher level of spiritual development.
Spiritual development does not happen overnight or in such short period of time. Yes, it will take time or years for us to develop and mature spiritually. Apostle Peter did not display such maturity on the night when JESUS was arrested, but later have shown his faith and courage to face his own death for the sake of his faith in Christ. Offering our lives for faith’s sake is a sign of spiritual maturity.
We are also the same as Apostle Peter was before in many instances of our lives. We continue to throw temper tantrums and find it impossible to keep a lid on our anger. We still demonstrate faithlessness, jealousy, lust and other works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). At the same time, we display precious little of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). In rare moments of introspection we may wonder, “What have I done with all of these years? I seem as carnal today as when I started.” We may even question the validity of our own conversion.
In a way, the very willingness to ask such questions is itself an indicator of at least some spiritual growth. It takes a degree of maturity and humility to recognize and acknowledge one’s spiritual shortcomings. If we find ourselves thinking this way from time to time, we ‘re probably on the right path. None of us should ever be satisfied with the state of our spirituality. We should be leveling up always and not being stagnant. We are called to bear fruits, the fruit of the Spirit.
On the other hand, those who believe that they have “arrived” spiritually, and that they are now fully mature in the Lord, may be in some trouble. None of us is as mature in the faith as we ought to be – at least not when measured by the standard of Jesus Christ.
In this topic we try to understand ways to achieve spiritual maturity as something that we should aim always while serving God.
How do we know that we are developing spiritually?
As we are created in the image and likeness of God, and as God called us to perfection as He is perfect in all ways, we can tell that there has been an improvement in our faith and spiritual life when we attain the character of God to love in His ways. God’s love is of highest degree, and it was evident when He manifest Himself in the flesh through Jesus Christ. He showed us an unconditional type of love. If we learn to love this way, if we learn to imitate God, then somehow we attain spiritual maturity. Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, ” Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
There is nothing wrong with imitating God’s character. This is different from wanting to become God or one of the gods like others believe, in order to attain salvation.
The apostle John wrote, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love ” (1John 4:8). To know and love like God is to have developed a capacity for godly love. The Spirit of God influences us to love. It stands to reason then that the more of the Holy Spirit we have, the greater will be our capacity and inclination to love in a godly manner. Paul wrote that the ” . . . love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5, KJV).
The main doctrine of the true church of God shows that love must be expressed unconditionally, not only to the faithful and believers, but as well as to others who do not have faith. Love must be shown not only through lips, saying “we love each others as Christians,” but we should show love by deeds in emotional ways as possible.
When Jesus talked to His disciples, he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). If the disciples of Jesus did not openly show their love to one another, how will the others know that they are His disciples?
The way the first Christians treated each other in public was the visible sign that they were Christians. Their interpersonal relationships were wholesome, selfless, giving, forgiving, and mutually supportive. Unlike much of the Church today, they were not competitive enemies. They were “in it together.” At the same time, they had their occasional disagreements. After appropriate prayer and haggling, they worked out their differences and moved in unison ahead (Acts 15). Love, like faith, without works or manifestation, is dead. If we say we have love, but we do nothing that demonstrates it, we have no reason to claim it.
The word used for love in the Greek Gospel that preserved Jesus’ originally Hebrew words is agape. Its basic meaning is “love.” Nothing in the Greek-English Lexicon suggests that it means primarily a display of emotion or affection, yet that need not be excluded. The word itself can mean “human love,” “the love of God and Christ” (toward men, or of Christ to the Father), or it can refer to the “love feasts” of the early Church (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 5-6).
In short, Jesus taught that if one is a true Christian, one loves one’s fellow Christians. How this love is manifested is determined by the need of the moment. Love is the antonym for hate. True Christians do not hate other Christians for any reason. If they do so, it is a symptom of spiritual immaturity. It is one thing to disagree on a point, it is quite another to hate. There is no room in the Christian’s emotional vocabulary for hatred.
It doesn’t mean that if we are baptized a long time ago, going to church every week, have knowledge of the fundamental doctrines and knows a lot of the church’s teachings are indications that we have attained spiritual maturity.
It doesn’t mean also, that if we have a spiritual duty in the church like deacons, deaconesses, minister, preacher, evangelist or a teacher, we have attained spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity should be based on consistency of one’s faith to face every trial, test and chastening.
In the first part, we learned that if we imitate God’s love and show it and express it to others, that’s a sign that we are going in the right direction of having a development in the spiritual part of our lives. If there is one example in the Bible that typifies spiritual development, it is Apostle Paul. Paul was concerned for the spiritual maturity of the churches under his care.
In his own experience, Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish things behind me” (1Corinthians 13:11).
This experience of Paul shows us one of the best analogies we could ever have to understand the concept of development. Development means positive change.
There was a process involved in the development to attain the positive change and this was discussed by Apostle Paul as he used himself as an example, a little child who eventually rose to be a fine man. Each of us experienced childhood and as a child, we have a tendency to be self-centred, thinking only of ourselves, our needs, comfort and wants.
But as we grow older, we became aware of the people around us and their needs as well. We eventually learn that not all toys belong to us, some belong to other kids. As we continue to mature, physically, mentally and emotionally, we learned that there is a larger world outside us, then we learned to socialize with others.
Some Christians tend to behave childish behaviour in spiritual aspect. Just like babies do, they seek attention to get something they want.
We find Christians who have been baptized for years but still behaving like a child. We can confirm that there was no development in terms of the spiritual aspect of their lives. If we find ourselves fighting the same old problems we fought when we were first converted, we may be suffering from it ourselves. How do we know that there are no spiritual developments happening to us or to some Christians?
There are many signs that confirm to non-spiritual development. If we can’t show love, care and concern for others, if we still have a problem with our lack of control when it comes to temper and temptations, if we still feel spiritually powerless, if we still look on our selves and not for others, being self-centred and self-seeking, if we have long periods of time without communications with God, if we still put down others to make ourselves better, if anger, hatred and jealousy is always evident in our personality and if our lives reflect more on the works of flesh rather than the fruit of the Spirit, then until now, we are still childish Christians.
Apostle Paul, after explaining that he had put away childish things, goes on to show that, ” . . . love is not self-seeking” (1Corinthians 13:4). So the trajectory from immaturity to maturity leads outward from self. Mature love is selfless love. Immature love is self-love. Furthermore, Paul goes on to explain that no matter what else we can do – speak in angelic or human tongues we didn’t learn, demonstrate the gift of prophecy, fathom mysteries like Daniel did, or even exercise mountain-moving faith – if we can’t express love, spiritually we’re nothing.
Appropriate, godly love then is at the heart of spiritual maturity. Knowing that, isn’t it something we ought to be actively seeking to achieve and express? Love is the first-listed fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). As Paul also taught, every Christian should, “Follow the way of love…” (1Corinthians 14:1).
When Paul describes to the Corinthian congregation the ways in which godly love is manifested, he is providing a treatise on spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is characterized by patience, good manners (civility), lack of envy, humility and a temper that is well under control. The spiritually mature person is not preoccupied with himself or herself. He or she has died to self.
Those who have reached a high level of spiritual maturity are no longer interested in keeping track of other people’s mistakes, sins and faults (1Corinthians 13:5). As Paul puts it, “they keep no record of wrongs.” They have no war chest of offenses to unload on those over whom they wish to gain a psychological advantage in an argument.
A mature Christian rejoices in every new discovery of truth. He or she actively seeks out truth and follows it wherever it leads. Those who have reached higher plains of maturity take no delight in evil. They do not view other’s evil as a way of making themselves look good by contrast. (One of the standard techniques of an emotionally immature person is to provoke another person to anger, and then attack them for the anger. This perfectly reflects the mind of Satan.)
Those who are spiritually mature seek to protect others who are vulnerable in a dangerous world. Just as Jesus said to Peter, “Satan has desired to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you,” (Luke 22:31)
Mature Christians spend much time in intercessory prayer for others (Luke 22:31; 1Thessalonians 5:17). They are more “other oriented” than self-oriented.
One of the most important characteristics of mature Christian love is that it “never fails” (1Corinthians 13:8). Like the love of God itself, it is constant, unwavering, always there. A fully mature Christian has achieved a steady state of love. This kind of love is far greater than either faith or hope. It is the most concrete expression of spiritual maturity there is. Just as God never gives up on us (Philippians 1:6), we must learn not to give up on each other. We can’t “write each other off” simply because we disagree on a point of doctrine, or an interpretation of facts or acts.
May we all achieve spiritual maturity… Amen