The Marks of Christian Maturity
The Marks of Christian Maturity (Ephesians 4:14-16)
Having described the gifts of leadership showered upon the church by the risen Christ, Paul continues to delineate the impact of these gifts upon the life of the body. He gives us some clearly understandable signs of spiritual maturity and its absence. Paul took it for granted that every believer was interested in spiritual maturity. Are you?
The Attitudes of Spiritual Immaturity
Under divine inspiration, the apostle describes three attitudes that timelessly betray the presence of spiritual immaturity. Sometimes these very attitudes appear to those who self-consciously preen themselves as being spiritual. There is childish juvenility, "Then we will no longer be infants" (v. 14). The word refers to minors or the untaught; it could even carry the meaning of infantile or stupid. Paul intends believers to move toward an ideal whose great features are adulthood and stability in personal, family, and church life. Some attain this early. Others never attain it.
There is a constant instability. Their spiritual lives never show any grounded or rooted quality. Moving from preacher to preacher, conference to conference, one popular movement to another—one never knows where they will be next. Paul used both a nautical and a meteorological metaphor to describe their instability. On the one hand they are like wave-tossed ships. The apostle well knew the instability of the sea; some believers impressed him as equally unstable. On the other hand they are like the changing trade winds. They blow now this and now that wind of doctrine, every kind and degree of it. Easy prey of religious propagandists, they never recognize stability when they see it.
Finally, they demonstrate a credulous gullibility. They are ready to swallow anything as long as it bears the name Christian. Their gullibility is taken in by dexterous deception, "deceitful scheming." The word really refers to dice-playing, and it is related to our word cube. Just as some men may "load the dice," infantile believers are duped by the dexterity of deceivers. Immature believers are further the objects of deliberate deception. Those who would deceive them are clever, shrewd, and crafty at all the arts of leading astray. Such is also designed deception, "cunning and craftiness" (v. 14). The word means to pursue a plan, to use methods, and to deal with deceptive strategy. Paul describes a word of agile and able spiritual deceivers.
The Atmosphere of Spiritual Maturity
Before Paul describes the actual attributes of spiritual maturity, he suggests the atmosphere in which it flourishes. There is a guilelessness described, "speaking the truth in love." The very opposite of the deceptive roguery above, believers confess the truth in a loving way. There is a growth delineated, "grow up into him." In a loving maturity, we are to grow until we are wholly incorporated in Him, as the center and circumference of our lives. There is a goal defined as the direction of this growth, "the Head, that is, Christ" (v. 15). Just as a baby's body grows until it catches up proportionately with its head, so we are to grow out of the infantile until we reach the maturity of our great Head, even Christ.
The Attributes of Spiritual Maturity
In the most complicated verse of the epistle, Paul discussed the qualities of spiritual maturity. Such maturity is defined totally in relationship to the corporate Christian body. There is no room for "Lone Rangers" in the arena of maturity. Mature believers are willing parties to the ongoing process of harmony in the body, "joined and held together" (v. 16). They display a willingness to live in harmony and inner adaptation with other believers. Mature believers are part of a living process of vitality, "by every supporting ligament" (v. 16). They know that they cannot live simply by contact with other limbs in the body, any more than the hand can live because it is connected to the arm. Each as part of the corporate whole is nevertheless vitally related to the Head Himself. From Him they find a liberal supply, according to the efficiency of each individual member to appropriate. Thus New Testament spiritual maturity is defined first in terms of the quality of one's relationship to the corporate body. It can never be merely individual or isolated.