All living things are meant to grow and mature, especially people. For example, the Book of Proverbs is full of admonitions and instructions on how to raise children (Prov. 22:6) and what a mature person should act like (Prov. 11: 19, 25, 27). This is true in our walk of faith as well. The Apostle Paul was perhaps one of the most passionate people to see faith come to maturity and there was no church he was more interested in seeing this take place in than the church at Corinth. Corinth was a virtual playpen of earthly delights. Its prosperity afforded the residents the resources and leisure time to take advantage of that too. In 1 Cor. 3:1-3 Paul lets the church know he is disappointed to still be feeding them “milk”. Their obvious favoritism, immoral behavior and over-emphasis on certain spiritual gifts has revealed their level of immaturity. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul used the adult/child analogy to explain what Christian maturity looked like. He commands them to “not be children in their thinking” but to be “mature” (1 Cor. 14:20). This word, teleios is an adjective based on the noun which means goal or purpose and in this passage it basically means “something that is finished, come to an end, reached its goal or finished its term”, in other words, meaning something that is complete. In 1 Cor. 14:20 it specifically means a person who has reached adulthood and is full-grown in mind and in knowledge of the truth (see also 1 Cor. 2:6; Phil. 3:15; Heb. 5:14) and in Christian faith and virtue (Eph. 4:13) set over against those who are “babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 2:6; Heb. 5:14).
Some would argue that maturity is a relative rather than absolute concept in the New Testament. Perhaps this is because maturity is something that occurs in stages (just like a child who first crawls, then stands and holds on to the edge of a couch, and finally lets go and takes a few steps) and it will appear to be slightly different from person to person. Or it could be that no individual will actually achieve sinless perfection in this life (1 Jn. 1:8-10). But there are some characteristics that even though they will vary in appearance from individual to individual, will identify the mature/maturing Christian to someone who is not. Lawrence Richards wrote, “The mature Christian is one who by obedience to God has trained him/herself to distinguish good from evil (Heb. 5:14), presses on toward the goal of knowing Christ and becoming more like Him (Phil. 3:10-15), and makes a full commitment to do the will of God (Col. 4:22)”. Simply put like the child who says, “I want to be like _____ when I grow up!”, believers pursuing maturity say, “I want to be like Jesus when I grow up!”.
But it’s not just the Corinthians who need to be reminded that faith is not a stagnant thing; it is meant to grow and flourish. One look at the church at large today and you can easily see we face the same maturity issues they did. Indulging in disputes (I’m with Paul! Well, I’m with Apollos! 1 Cor. 3:4) and other un-Christlike behavior, such as the immoral relationship described in 1 Cor. 5 demonstrated the Corinthians were infants in Christ. Paul commanded that they put their childish behavior behind them (1 Cor. 13:11) and practice a higher love to build one another up (1 Cor. 13:7). Why should that be any different for us? Maturity is possible for all believers, but it is not a given (compare Heb. 5:11-6:1). To grow Christians must be involved in the church (Eph. 4:12-13), persevere in their faith despite trials (Jas. 1:4), and apply Scripture obediently to daily life (Col. 1:9-11; Heb. 5:14). An active prayer life, regularly giving to God’s work, and serving others in the body of Christ are also signs of a mature/maturing Christian. So now it’s up to you. When you grow up, who do you want to be like (1 Cor. 13:11-12)?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre