TV commercials often say more than they intend, as they reflect as well as shape our culture. The trend in selling merchandise in recent years is to by-pass intelligence and embrace nostalgia. A few years ago Toys R Us re-released their successful ad campaign from the early 80s with kids playing with toys singing the familiar jingle from Peter Pan, "I dont want to grow up, Im a Toys R Us kid..." and cut from those old pictures to the same children, now grown adults, still playing with toys. Its a great ploy being copied in other fields. Life cereal is still getting great mileage out of the fact that Mikey likes it; so much so, they are reusing the same ads from 1971 as well as having adults portraying juvenile characters gobbling down the cereal. Even Mr. Whipple is not allowed to mature, as they bring the octogenarian out of retirement to hustle toilet paper.
The success of these ads is due to the belief by many adults that they were robbed of their childhood through broken homes and a media celebrating the pleasures of adulthood. Or it just may be that people enjoy being immature. For whatever reason, sales of pacifiers, teddy bears, and jammies with feet have grown, resulting in what one sociologist called the "New Infantilization" in which people old enough to vote are acting and dressing like people young enough to be burped. For baby boomers (who never wanted to grow up anyway) to busters and X-ers, people are getting in touch with the child inside them. While we may cry out that people ought to act their age, such a demand only begs the question: their chronological or emotional age?
We live in an age which refuses to grow up. We live at a time which grasps at youthfulness. The Peter Pan Syndrome, men who live like irresponsible boys, can be applied not only to our day, but unfortunately the Church. The constant whine of self-centered, perpetually immature believers is what often drives worship, book sales, conferences and music. We come to the place where we play at our worship and worship our play. The payoff, though, is that we remain spiritual infants. God will not play a Wendy to our desire to be Peter. Growth and maturity are the hallmarks of the Christian life. There is a goal we are to move toward and God has provided the means to reach that goal.
Paul, in Ephesians 4 describes that goal as maturity in the faith. As weve seen in weeks past, God established the goal of Christian unity by making all those who are His "one." As the triune God is one essence while three Persons, we too, though many, are one because of Christs work for us. The means by which God brings this realized unification to pass is by giving the church a variety of gifted leaders: apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. Their job is to equip Gods people so that all the church can do the works God has prepared for them to do. That work is to see the church mature.
While the culture around us may desire to get in touch with the inner-child, while some may struggle with the weight of responsibility and dream of a simpler time when we were younger, God wants us to look toward maturity and growth, to become more like Christ.
Just as we might say in response to some childish antic or immature action: "Oh, grow up!" we have a goal in mind. In Ephesians 4 Paul wants the believers to mature in their Christian life and he has a goal in mind. That goal is unity and maturity, but there is a problem in reaching that goal. So Paul tell us how we might avoid the pitfalls of immaturity.
What is to be our goal? - verse 13
UnityBack in 4:3 Paul commands us to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. There we saw that unity was not something manufactured by well meaning people, but that which God decrees to exist. Our job is not to destroy the unity God has established. In verse 13 this unity God created through His Spirit is the goal which we are to attain. Notice how he characterizes this unity. It is to be:
As before, faith here is not the subjective "believe." It is not that we are all to have faith, but rather faith here refers to the objective content of the Gospel. Just as in verse 5 we are told we have "one faith," so here Paul is saying the ultimate goal of the Christian life is unity in what we believe. While the church remains divided on certain issues revealed in Gods Word, we are to be growing toward unity here, just as Jude reminds us to "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." So are we to grow up, be more mature in what we believe. This goal should keep us from refusing to engage our minds in serious, biblical reflection.
Whereas faith is the objective content of what we believe, the word used here for knowledge emphasizes the subjective aspect of knowing. The knowledge mentioned here is experiential, moving beyond a mere acceptance of a collection of dogmas, to embracing a relationship with the Son of God. Just as Paul said in Philippians 3:10 that he wants to "know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering" so here the knowledge involves every aspect of his life. The goal for the Church is that as much as we are unified by Gods decree, we should also be unified in what we confess to be true.
MaturityOur goal is not just unity, but a unity which leads to maturity. It is not enough to think that if we all agree, the jobs done. Our goal is not only to reach unity, but also to become mature. Literally, Paul says "a complete man." Again we see a picture of the many becoming one. All of us are to mature to the point that all of us are one in completeness. It does little good for one to mature, while another remains infantile. This maturity is measuring up to the perfect one, Jesus Christ.
The picture of growth here is that of people meeting someone on the road. The word "reach" in verse 13 was used of the oriental ritual of receiving a King as he approaches the city by sending ambassadors out to greet him. This word was also used of the bridal party who leaves the city to meet the bridegroom as he comes for the bride. The image then is that we look to Christ as the only hope for our development. Our growth will only come as we are made like Him.
Maturity then is not about chronological age, intelligence, biblical knowledge, giftedness or influence. Rather maturity described here is when the body of Christ reflects the character of Christ.
What growth have you seen in your life...recently? Do you understand the Christian faith better today than you did a year ago, two years ago? Is your love of Christ deeper today than before? Are you maturing in the faith or just resting where youve been? Remember, if you are coasting, youre only going one direction...downhill.
What stops us from reaching this goal? - verse 14
In opposition to the maturity we are to aspire toward is the immaturity of an infant. What happens when we refuse to grow up, when we would rather stay spiritual infants? This is described in verse 14.Babies are great. What happens when a new mom brings the baby to church for the first time? Smiles widen and a crowd forms, as people swarm around to see and to touch and to coo and to beg for permission to hold this little package of joy in their arms. Theyre still quite fun as the months turn to years. What better entertainment than to watch a toddler patter around and explore his world, and before he knows how to talk, to hear him giggle for glee when you play with him? Just as we get excited about a newborn, just as no one would walk into the nursery and cry in horror at the deformed creatures with oversized heads, drooling mouths, other parts leaking everywhere so God brings us into this world as spiritual babies. Likewise there is an excitement about a person who is new to the faith. There is a fervor to one who for the first time is reading Gods Word, discovering how gracious God is. But nobody thinks it's cute when a person remains a baby for too long. If a small child never learns to walk and talk, never figures out how to feed himself, never outgrows his need for diapers, it's a sign that something is terribly wrong. If your baby stops growing, you'd call it a tragedy; you'd be on the phone looking for professional help. Why? Because although we all love babies, we expect those babies to grow. Growth and maturity must mark our lives as well. The trouble is, too often weve adopted the bumper sticker mindset: "You are only young once, but you can stay immature forever." What are the marks of one still in infancy? Instability Paul moves from toddler to tossing sea. The one who refuses to grow up, to mature in Christ, is unstable, in a precarious position as they are unable to control themselves, but are controlled by external forces. In the first century oceans were feared, for the unpredictable and violent nature of the sea took many lives. Just as a boat could not withstand the onslaught of the sea, so an immature believer would have a hard time against false teaching. Instability is demonstrated by degree of vacillation This instability due to immaturity is best evidenced by a lack of self-control. How much self control is evidenced by an infant? Theyll be sure to let you know they want something no matter the hour, no matter what else you are doing. Not only that, they can be laughing one minute and the next screaming bloody murder. Whatever is happening at that particular moment will dictate their particular response at that moment. The same is true with a spiritual child whose anger is easily aroused, who becomes discouraged easily, for whom temptation is impossible to resist. His life is a roller coaster. He is susceptible to the variety of religious fads which come down the pike. Immature Christians are always riding the crest of a new fad, forever picking up the newest thing that has hit. A mark of immaturity which shows instability is the running from book to book, conference to conference, church to church in search of the next exciting teacher who has an answer to every spiritual problem. This person, unlike any of the last 2000 years, has grasped the basic and central truth which changes everything. There may be vacillation in doctrine. Whatever the hippest wave there youll find the groupies. There are prophecy groupies, spiritual life groupies, reformation groupies, too. People make a great deal of these, shifting from one thing to another, constantly changing. That is a mark of childishness, immaturity. Ever take a kid to Baskin Robbins or the Chocolate Factory? Watch them as they try to decide. What happens when theyve made up their mind and then they see what their sibling got? They regret their decision. That is what happens with unstable, baby Christians as they can never decide how to serve Christ, what exactly to believe. Another mark of immaturity is seen in their actions. Are they dependable, or do they drop the ball at every turn? Perhaps they begin a new venture with enthusiasm and commitment, but soon their interest wanes, the steam goes out, and theyre discouraged. Perhaps when they first came to a knowledge of Christ they could not get enough of Gods Word, but as time goes on what they think is maturing, is just a deadening sense of apathy. Impressibility
What are the wind and waves which make evident who are mature and who are still spiritual infants? When they are knocked about by wind and waves of a variety of doctrines, spiritual immaturity is evidenced by an inability to discern, by susceptibility. The wind that blows young Christians off course is the false teachings, the cunning words of those who are out to deceive.
Again, Pauls imagery is so expressive. The word "cunning" comes from the Greek "kubov" from which we get the word "cube," but was used of the those playing with dice. The picture is of the cunning trickster with loaded dice swindling money from unsuspecting dupes. I recall walking through Times Square as a teenager and the variety of shell games being played. Theyll let you win a hand or two, but then with slight of hand take everything youve got. The flash of a few C-notes draws in those easily impressed with quick gain. In the same way, the immature are attracted to the promises of power and success by spiritual charlatans of our day.
This is another characteristic of a child: they are trusting to a fault, lacking the ability to discern. So when a pair of well dressed young people comes to their door, they are cunning enough not to say, "Hi - we're from a cult that doesn't believe in salvation by grace alone, and we also deny the Trinity, so we'd like you to listen to us twist the Scriptures in order to pull you out of your church and into ours."
Instead, theyll say: "We are Christians in your neighborhood talking to people about Jesus Christ, and we'd like to come into your home to study the Bible with you."
They are like children playing in the street, ignoring the warnings, not hearing the car horns, blissfully enjoying themselves while their lives are in danger. Maturity knows that our enemy is subtle and we are easily diverted, easily trapped.
The gullibility of Christians may be due in part to their desire to love and serve, but it also may be due to a lack of discernment due to a refusal to believe in humanitys depravity. Swindlers come down the pike with every scheme imaginable. A few years back many Christian Colleges and denominations lost millions in the New Era ponzi scheme. More recently many Christians became Chicken Littles over Y2K, buying the books and supplies since they were unable to discern for themselves what was true and what was false. Do you know Scripture well enough to distinguish truth from error or are you easily impressed with an emotional argument?
How can we avoid these pitfalls? - verse 15-16
Truthing in love - verse 15
Instead of the lies told by deceivers, there must be truth. The path to maturity, to reaching unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God is through truth. Note it says speaking the truth, not your opinions. Some have taken this passage to be a license for blurting out whatever unfounded, or poorly informed opinions they may have on any subject. It is not speaking the truth to bash someone or trample on their feelings. Nor is it speaking the truth merely sharing your emotional reactions. While truth is necessary, we live in a world of deception.
The ancient philosopher Diogenes went on a journey with a lantern looking for an honest man. Blaise Pascal complained that human life is nothing but perpetual delusion and that human relations are based on mutual deception. Theologian Martin Buber wrote of the uncanny game of hide and seek we play in the obscurity of our souls in which the soul seeks to hide from itself. Thomas Merton charged that our minds are deformed with a kind of contempt for reality, but that in defiling the truth we defile our own souls (Snodgrass, Ephesians, p 215). What philosophers, ethicists and theologians all lament is what is best summed up by the words of Jeremiah: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure." A recent poll asked us if we lied. 91% of us lie regularly, mostly to friends and relatives. 31% of us believe that we have been lied to by our doctors. 42% of us believe that our lawyers have lied to us. (Patterson and Kim, The Day America Told the Truth). A University of Virginia psychologist has subjects keep a diary recording the lies that they told and concludes that "People tell about two lies a day, or at least that is how many they admit to." (Bella Depaulo in the New York Times, 2/12/85 p.17). We are, an article in Time says, "A huckstering, show-busy world, jangling with hype, hullabaloo, hooey, bull, baloney, and bamboozlement." By the time we reach adolescence, we have been bombarded with so many advertisements claiming wealth, peace, happiness, and instant joy, that the truth becomes rare to us. How do you square this with the observation that, at the same time, we appear to live in a tell-all culture? What was once reserved for the priest's confessional in the church now becomes standard fare on day time TV and political hopefuls. The psychological strip-tease is now a standard commodity in our culture.. When someone comes on television and reveals some secret to millions, this person seems open, honest, and frank, but in reality we live in a schizophrenic environment where we are stretched between deceit and tell-all confession. Honesty is more than spilling our guts, unloading everything we think about someone on them. Rather, true honesty, Aristotle said: "is speaking the right truth to right person at the right time in the right way for the right reasons." (From a sermon by William Wildmon, To Tell the Truth, 11/15/98) While we live in a world that is full of illusions, lies and deceit, we are called to be truth tellers. But the truth we tell is modified, not nullified by "in love." The goal of our speech is to be constructive, helpful, not to belittle or tear down - truth and love, merged, fused, woven together. It sounds easy, but it's not. It means, never let your truth be unloving, and never let your love be untruthful. Neither is to be compromised, slighted or neglected. It's not either/or, but both/and. That's hard.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together (p107), makes this incisive statement: "Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin."For us to mature, for there to be growth in the Church so that we are not childish, susceptible to every wind and wave of doctrine, to the cunning of deceivers; we must be willing to hear painful news at times. We must be allow for our sin to be pointed out. But this must be motivated only by love. What is the result of this? Growth we will grow up into Christ who is our head Youve noticed how a baby's head is much larger in proportion to its body than is that of a grown-up person. Growing up may thus be seen as bringing the body into the right proportion with the head. Working in love - verse 16 It is from our head, Jesus Christ, that we can then mature. As we speak the truth in love, as we recognize our sinfulness and our need of a savior, as we look to Christ and Christ alone for our salvation, then maturity will come. The body, the Church, will build itself in love. Notice maturity is not something we can conjure up on our own; it is not our creation. As we, the body, are joined to Christ the head, it is He who will build us. Just as in our justification, our sanctification is by grace alone through faith alone. But how has God decreed that He will grow His church? From Christ the head, the body grows, not as independent little bodies, but as a unified whole. For this to happen, each part of the body must do its work. Instead of crafty people serving themselves, loving people serving each other. The trouble is, we dont like to serve others; we like to be served. That is our desire for immaturity. We are like the little girl who had been trying for months to learn the art of tying her shoes. She final grasped the knack and was able to do it by herself. Her parents expected delight in the child but were surprised by her disappointment. Her father asked why she was crying. She sobbed, "I just learned how to tie my shoes." He said, "That's wonderful, honey. Why then are you crying?" She replied, "Because now I'll have to do it all by myself for the rest of my life." While maturity is growing toward Christ, Christ is at work in His Church growing us through our contact with each other. That is the meaning of this last verse. Paul, in talking about the body, uses building terms of shaping the stone and wood to fit properly. The body is built as the different parts of the building are shaped to fit properly. But as the parts are joined together, their interaction will produce further growth. Each part will add to the whole. Like the athlete stretching his muscles and lifting weights in order to compete better, so each member of the Church is mutually dependent on the others as Gods chosen tools to nourish each other. It's the joints and ligaments that connect us with other parts of the Body as we rub up against each other and lean on each other and cooperate in serving each other. But many of us know first hand when the body breaks down, what happens. Everyone needs a good broken bone story, this is mine. It was 10th grade gym class. Our teacher, Mr. Barshinger was an ex-Marine drill sergeant who devised games for gym that any 15 year old male would love. His only rules were "No hitting, punching, spitting or gouging of eyes." Otherwise, everything was fair. On this particular April day, this game involved a buck surrounded by wrestling mat and two teams of four guys. The objective? To get three of your men straddling the buck while the other team pulls you off and puts their men on. I made it on the buck and to insure my security, I wrapped my arms around the apparatus. Frank Linky had an idea. Pull my legs off, so that from my knee down, my leg was off the buck. Frank then jumped on my leg, causing my knee to bend in a most peculiar fashion. The knee cap cracked, the ligaments tore. I know what it means to have a part of my body not function. It surprisingly affects the rest of the body. What had to happen for me to function as I should was to exercise those muscles. Each part of my body had to do its job. In a much more important way, the body of Christ is like our human bodies. Each part has to do its own work or mayhem results. The question I leave you with today is, "Are you doing your part?" Or are you like that broken knee, dangling oddly in midair? We dont give up, but keep on serving, keep on maturing and encouraging others to likewise grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. We never reach a plateau in which further growth becomes optional. Pablo Casals was asked "Why keep practicing 6 hours a day at 95?"
"Because I think I'm making progress."
But our growth individually impacts the growth corporately. So are you growing or are you staying a child?