Humans develop. That is such a common understanding that most of the time we assume everyone knows this. After birth, there is infancy, toddler status, childhood, adolescence, young adults, middle-aged adults, and older adults. We even acknowledge the divisions in our efforts to educate. When I was young, there was elementary, junior high, and high school. In time, that was not enough, so there was kindergarten, elementary, junior high, and high school. Then there was pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, primary, middle school, and high school. Then there were additional remedial classes and special classes. That does not even acknowledge the college and university divisions of pre-graduate, graduate, and post-graduate classes, or acknowledge the divisions in trade schools. The point is not the fact that different classes exist, but that we grasp there are different levels of development.
Just as there are different levels of maturity in physical development, there are different levels of maturity in spiritual development. Peter spoke of spiritual newborn babes in 1 Peter 2:2 with the instruction to long for the pure milk of the word that they might grow in respect to salvation. Paul said to the Christians at Ephesus that unity of faith, the knowledge of the son of God, spiritual maturity, and the fullness of the stature of Christ were companions. He urged those Christians not to be children who were easily influenced by evil or deceived by human trickery. He said they should grow in all aspects into Christ, and that this individual development would result in the churchs growth and building up in love (Ephesians 4:13-16). Paul instructed Christians at Corinth (in regard to the Spirits work) not to think like childrenbe infants in their knowledge of evil, but be mature in their spiritual thinking (1 Corinthians 14:20). He told the same church in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 that spiritual maturity could be physically destructive. Paul told the Christians at Colossae that his objective in Christ was to present every person (to God) as complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). Epaphras prayed that the Christians at Colossae would stand perfect (stand firm as spiritually complete or mature) in assurance of all of Gods will (Colossians 4:12). The spiritual destructiveness of a refusal to seek spiritual maturity is declared in Hebrews 5:11-6:11.
These emphases are focused in this lesson on this truth: the person in Christ should expect to develop from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. No one, not even the Jew who was devoutly committed to scripture, was spiritually born fully mature in Christ. There were different growth rates, and different develop rates. For example, some quickly understood there was one God, and some did not (see 1 Corinthians 8), some quickly understood there was no dietary code and no ritual days, and some did not (see Romans 14:1-15:6). Some understood that spirituality was more than a matter of enforced control, and some did not (see 1 Timothy 4:1-5).
In every living congregation (unless it is extremely small) there will be groups of differing levels of spiritual growth and maturity. There will be those who come from families with a history of spiritual involvement, and those who come from zero history of spiritual involvement. There will be those with knowledge of how we do things, and those who do not grasp at all why we do that. There will be those with an extensive knowledge of biblical background, and those with no background at all. There will be those with extensive knowledge of scripture, and those with limited knowledge of scripture. There will be those who know the congregations vocabulary, and those who are confused by the congregations vocabulary. There will be those who give a book, chapter, and verse but are inaccurate in their understanding of what the book, chapter, and verse declares, and those with an accurate grasp of the concepts of scripture. There will be those who oversimplify everything, and those who understand that the study of scripture involves numerous complexities.
To illustrate the truth of the existence of these spiritual maturity levels, take the time to trace your spiritual development from baptism to your present moment of spiritual existence. What did you understand spiritually when you were baptized? Did everyone you knew have your same understanding when they were baptized? What did you know the Bible said in spiritual infancy that you later learned was not in scripture? What in you spiritual childhood did you regard a big deal that you now know was purely a family preference? What in spiritual adolescence did you think was really unimportant that now in spiritual maturity you realize is of basic importance? If you now understand your spiritual concepts have grown and developed as a result of your understanding of scripture, do you now shudder when you realize that in past ignorance you influenced congregational policy and helped choose congregational leadership? In that flashback, consider a question: Do you think you can now stop spiritually growing and developing?
Consider a mystery from God: God can take all those groups and accomplish His purposes. Never did God give any human or group of humans the job of determining who is and is not spiritually mature. That is Gods job alone! All of us have the same jobgiving diligence to preserve (despite the groups!) the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).
To see the urgency of that challenge, read Ephesians 2:11-18. Though Jewish Christians and gentile Christians did notin the matter of groupsunderstand the peace God created in Jesus Christ, though they did not understand Gods reconciliation that He brought into existence through Jesus Christ, and though they did not understand that God through Christ had made Jewish Christians and gentile Christians into one new man, God through Christ already had done all of that! God, in all their differences, had made them one body through the cross. God already had destroyed the enmity that used to separate them! Their responsibility: begin acting in accordance and acceptance of what God through Christ already had done! Their responsibility was NOT to argue about their differences, but to act in faith in what God through Jesus Christ already had done.
The problem facing us Christians, the church, today continues to be a faith in what God did in Christ problem. The root of our divisions often is more of a faithless us problem rather than a God problem. God did it; we need to believe it. Asking our permission was not Gods approach to our pressing need to find peace with those in Christ who are not identical to us.
For Thought and Discussion
1. Humans do what physically and spiritually? Give an illustration.
2. There are different levels of what?
3. The person in Christ should expect what?
4. What will exist in most living congregations? Illustrate that truth.
5. What mystery of God is considered in this lesson?
6. Discuss Ephesians 2:11-18 in regard to what God did through Jesus Christ that those Christians did not grasp.
7. What is the problem facing Christians/the church today?
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 8
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