Last night we continued our summer studies. Here are the notes:
Endless Youth, and the Goal of Maturity / 8.8.2016
These studies have ended up going together and leading into each other way more than I originally realized. We began by looking at the lie of the possibility of human limitlessness. This led into a discussion of the American idol of freedom. We turned then to examine one of the outgrowths of our idolization of a certain concept of freedom—our idea of authenticity as the highest moral quality a human can exhibit. Then in our last study in the series we examined a practical effect of all this in our daily lives—the loss of awareness of one this unbreakable principle in our world of sowing and reaping. Combining all of these things together leads into our next three studies almost automatically. They’re really three parts of one study. For this first part we’ll look at a fruit of all of this faulty thinking and how it bears directly on young adults in our culture. Tonight we’ll examine the idol of a life of endless youth. What does the bible have to say about this?
1. God’s Goal for humanity is a mature humanity.
Ephesians 4:11-15. The main point of this passage is that God has huge purposes for humanity, located in the church: A unified family, a whole body, which is joined to Christ. That’s the final, completed form of humanity. But hidden in that big main point is a smaller, assumed point: In order for Christians to one day collectively reach the eternal form of human maturity Paul is describing, we need to be actively pursuing personal, regular growth towards what the Bible defines as mature manhood and womanhood. To say it shorter—We see here God will one day, in eternity make humanity a perfect, unified family. Part of the way He’s doing that now is by maturing us each, individually. That’s what the ministry of church leaders is for. And so that’s part of what our regular, ordinary church life is for. So, point one is: maturity is God’s purpose for humanity.
A second thing we have in this passage is God’s ultimate standard for what mature humanity is. It’s the glorified humanity—body and soul—of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what we’re aiming at. But notice, even though that goal is out of our reach (we can’t get there by our own efforts), the work of getting there is what God’s all about in this life. God is using this life (and here we see he’s using church leadership) to get us to maturity—in other words, to make us like Jesus. (Which is exactly what Paul says in Romans 8:29—“Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Or, check out the picture of a humanity we’re all supposed to aim at in Philippians 2:5-11.)
Now we shouldn’t get weirded out by all this cosmic, eternal; language, because the main two ways we’re conformed into the image of Christ in this present life is in our character, and in our fellowship with the God the Father through the Holy Spirit. And those things we can see right in the accounts of Jesus’ life in the four biographies that start off the New Testament. We can read those books and see what he was like, and see our pattern. (As far as the rest of the picture, Paul and John tell us that our actual bodies will be made like his glorified body after we are raptured or we’re raised from the dead. See Philippians 3:21, and 1 John 3:2)
So to sum this up, we see from these passages:
- God’s aim for us is maturity.
- The standard for maturity it the resurrected Christ.
- Right now God is using this life to make us like Jesus, especially in his character and closeness to God.
2. So…Christians who have God’s word, and the Spirit of God making us like Jesus, should be growing.
Hebrews 5:12-14. The writer here says: you’re still basically immature in these areas. And you should be adults! Here it says that being mature would mean they could handle the strong, important things in the Bible which they need to help them grow (like eating meat), and that they can tell the difference between good and evil as they move through their lives, because they have experience distinguishing between the two.
2 Timothy 2:22. Paul tells Timothy that he needs to run away from the desires of his youth, like his life depended on it. And running from these desires will include pursuing righteousness, faith , love, peace, and relationships with people who have this same mindset. That’s how Timothy was supposed to think about life: it was a chase, and the goal was clear. What are you pursuing?
1 Timothy 4:12. Here Paul answers the question: When you’re young, how should you act? He says, you should live like an example of a real Christian who’s not defined by their youth, but by the fact that they’re a follower of Christ. So in our culture, “young” is an identity, but the bible says that youth shouldn’t be part of how we define ourselves. It’s not something to be proud of, or something to control how we think or act. Instead, we should think, how should a true follower of Jesus act? And that’s how we should make decisions. YOLO culture, live for the moment—these things have no place in a follower of Christ’s life.
1 Corinthians 13:11. Paul is making a point here that doesn’t have to do with our study, about how the spiritual gift of tongues will function when we’re in the resurrection. But to make his point he tosses out this statement which he assumed his readers would agree with, as an example, to prove a larger and more controversial point. And the point he assumed in this sentence is exactly what we’re looking at tonight—Paul assumes that there’s a difference between childhood and adulthood, and that there are things associated with childhood that we actively put away when we become adults. So the question is, do we assume life is like that? Or do we assume that we can bring all our favorite parts of our childhood into adulthood, and keep them intact, with the only difference being that we have more freedom to spend more money on them and be more serious about them? This is a plague and an epidemic in our culture, and for many followers of Christ, it’s something we’ve uncritically bought into, without ever letting God’s word speak to it. Let me ask tonight: What have you put away that defined you as a kid or teenager, and now it isn’t part of your life anymore? Unless you were an incredibly mature teenager, there should be a list of things—interests, hobbies, loves, desires, fantasies, dreams, expenses…music, games, shops, styles, habits, grudges, obsessions… What have you left behind? If we’re not careful, we can view the transition to adulthood as a chance to solidify our youthful interests as part of our lives and our identities, rather than as a chance to grow up and shed these old things that consume so much time, money, and passion.
1 Corinthians 14:20. In response to this verse, let me also ask you: are you growing in your understanding of life, your own purpose, the bible, God, spiritual truths, the world…? All other things being equal, if we’re not legally children, and we’re not biologically children, we have no excuse for being mental children or especially spiritual children. Be children in evil. That makes sense. But where God calls us to grow up, we need to grow up.
1 Corinthians 2:6, 2:13-3:3. Paul says wisdom is for the mature. The opposite here is being “carnal,” which for Paul means something like, “driven by desires rooted in our regular human nature without God.” So we can’t really know God’s wisdom until we begin to mature. The ultimate wisdom for Paul is the wisdom God displayed on the cross as Jesus died for our sins. But this connection of wisdom and maturity gives us a clue into how we’re going to find more practical teaching on what it means to be mature in our daily life. What does it mean to be mature in our families and at our jobs and with our bodies and our futures? The bible calls the answers to these questions wisdom.
Philippians 3:7-15. Notice that last sentence. Paul says that mature people think like this—that is, they don’t hold on to old things, especially the things that characterized their lives before they became followers of Christ and experienced new spiritual life. Instead they press forward, leaving that old life behind. And why?
This is so important. So far it might sound like we’re just talking about maturity as a bunch of negative things. Things to get rid of. Things to walk away from. But the whole point is that there are huge, life-giving, eternally important things for us to give ourselves to which we can’t ever get to if we don’t mature.
What is Paul after here? Look at verse 10—he wants to know Jesus, he wants to know his power, and he even wants to close personal friendship of being in the inner circle with his sufferings. (How’s that for mature thought?) He wants to get to the resurrection of the dead. Paul’s thinking about eternity here, and he’s seeing his life from that big perspective. He’s talking like an athlete, like some kind of sprinter or something. In verse 14 he’s talking about the goal, ands the prize. It’s like an Olympic runner talking. Imagine being a toddler and trying to understand him. That’s what happens if we’re not mature and we read verses like that.
And that’s really the point of all this. Behind all these thoughts in the scriptures is the assumption that there’s a purpose to our lives. Our Creator has a point for humanity. He has a goal, a purpose. He’s making us a certain kind of people for that purpose. And in this life, he has huge things for us to be part of—things for us to do. We need to seek God’s kingdom. We need to preach the message of the gospel. We need to teach others how to follow Christ. We need to work and build and make money and raise families and rescue orphans and help the oppressed and start businesses and shelter strangers and feed the hungry and stand for righteousness and cultivate churches and pass down the knowledge of the truth and translate the scriptures and brave hostile territory and endure suffering…and ten thousand other things that only mature adults can do.
There’s one other things that needs to be said: Most of all, we’re given the offer Paul staked his whole life on—as he wrote in verse 10, “that I might know him.” The highest blessing of all in being made in the image of God is that we have the invitation to eternal friendship with God himself. And it is simply a fact that a mature adult is capable of a deeper, more meaningful relationship than a child. My three-year-old might like girls, but he wouldn’t make a good husband. And either would any of us when we were in, say, junior high. And God calls us to mature, so that we can share in the highest existence any created thing can ever know—koinonia—relationship with God the Father, God and Son, and God the Holy Spirit—full union with God. God took a human body to himself, and came as Jesus of Nazareth, so that everyone could be offered this full union with God. It’s the destiny of humanity, and everyone’s invited.
So what does all this mean? It means that, as we get older, we can’t take our cues for how to get older from the culture around us. We need to learn how to grow from Christ, through the scriptures. There are spiritual forces at work to keep you from maturing, and as we’ve seen there are very specific reasons for that. We need to press on, to mature, to know God and do his will, for ever.