“How do you eat an elephant?” It’s a strange question, especially when talking about maturity. But it is a vital question when addressing the topic. How? Keep reading to find out. 😊
I am a pastor of teenagers. For many this means that I am not a real “pastor” (see Babylon Bee), but I don’t listen to them. I have been given the role to shepherd the hearts of these young adults, and that makes me a real pastor.
Now, being a pastor for youth, I have learned much about their state of mind. The #1 thing I believe they want more than anything else they pursue is to be treated as older than they are. They want to be seen as mature. They are not children or kids. Yet, they are also not adults, but they want people (parents, teachers, a boss, etc.) to think of them as adults. They want others to listen to them speak and respect their opinion. They want adults to give consideration to their ideas and actions. Of course, this does not mean I (or any adult) should agree with their opinions and ideas, but on the whole I believe teenagers want to grow up and want to be seen as mature. Don’t you remember being a teenager and desiring adults to respect you? Yet, all they kept saying is “grow up!” or “you need to act more mature!”
Well, this desire to grow up is a good one. Unfortunately, I believe many Christians do not have the same desire for their spiritual life. They are saved by the grace of God through Christ by faith, but when it comes to growing up, they haven’t done it. They are like the believers in Hebrews 5, where the writer says, “12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” I have seen many adults who have been believers for decades and they are still immature Christians. It is sad. They cannot discern truth from error and are tossed around from one emotional high to the next (cf. Eph 4:14-15). Sounds like an infant, huh? A physical baby believes whatever you tell them and is highly emotional and thinks only of self and if everyone around is not thinking of them, they are moody/angry/emotional. But throughout life, they learn to be discerning (know what is right and wrong) and be less emotional. So also needs to be the case in our spiritual life, our growth in godly maturity.
Now, let me first talk about what godly maturity looks like and then I will give you the “How-To Grow in Godly Maturity.”
Godly maturity is laid out in Scripture by teaching and then by example. The teaching of
godly maturity can be found in many places, but most succinctly in 1 John 2:12-14
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
The Apostle John begins with the assurance that all children of God “have been forgiven” (v. 12) And then launches into the spiritual stages of growth.
- v. 13c, Children-in-faith have a basic awareness of God and their need to grow (just like a physical baby).
- vv. 13b & 14b, Young-men-in-faith have learned God’s truth and seek to believe it, defend it, and live by it (just like physical young men). They have a pattern of overcoming the evil one because they know God’s truth.
- vv. 13a & 14a, Fathers-in-faith know God intimately. They know His truth and love it, but what sets them apart from young men is the same as physical growth; experience and life. Spiritual fathers have lived a lot of life and have experienced God’s goodness and faithfulness throughout their life. They have seen God answer prayer, change hard-hearts, do what seems impossible, and provide in every situation. They have seen the sin in their own life and seen God forgive time and time again. They know that God works all things together for out good (Rom 8:28), and they know by experience the promise that Jesus made before he left that He would never leave for forsake His own (Mat 28:18-20).
Now, this list John made did not just come out of the blue one night. Rather he had examples that he was drawing on throughout Scripture. Men like Abraham, Moses, David, Boaz, Joshua, Ezra, Daniel, and especially Jesus. John also had women, like Hannah, Ruth, Deborah, and of course Jesus’ mother Mary, whom he took care of after Jesus died and rose again. If you study these characters of the Bible, you will see clearly what godly maturity looks like. Yes, they had flaws and were sinners. But God worked in each of them to bring them to a place of godly maturity—the same place God wants to take you, O Christian.
Now, this list in 1 John and these examples about might seem intimidating. “How will I ever get to that level of maturity?” For the answer, I give you a helpful quote from Amy Carmichael (a missionary to the children of India in the early 1900s):
“Sometimes when we read the words of those who have been more than conquerors, we feel almost despondent. I feel that I shall never be like that. But they won through step by step, by little bits of wills, little denials of self, little inward victories, by faithfulness in very little things they became what they are. No one sees these little hidden steps. They only see the accomplishment, but even so, those small steps were taken. There is no sudden triumph to spiritual maturity. That is the work of the moment.”
That is a gem of a quote! Here is the how-to in becoming spiritually mature. You commit yourself to day-by-day, moment-by-moment, step-by-step godliness—putting off sin, putting on righteousness, learning the Scriptures, keeping in church-fellowship, maintaining a heart of prayer, evangelizing, giving of your time and resources to help gospel-centered-church-focused ministries, etc., etc. And in time you will mature in these little steps because in these steps, you walk like Christ, and becoming like Christ is the goal of your salvation (1 John 2:6; Phil 2:5).
Now back to the elephant: as I was considering seminary back in 2008, the biggest hang-up was learning Hebrew. I voiced this concern to a Master’s Seminary grad and he said, “Greg, how do you eat an elephant?” A very strange question to ask when talking about learning Hebrew in seminary, so I just stared back at him. Expecting my response, his answer: “one bite at a time. You don’t eat the whole elephant in one sitting. So also with learning Hebrew. Take it one letter at a time, one word at a time, one parsing at a time, one homework assignment at a time. And over time, you will learn the elephant of Hebrew.” He was right and this elephant-eating picture has become the illustration in my own life when it comes to godly maturity. Take it one study at a time, one theological truth at a time, one step of saying “no!” to sin at a time, one step of obedience at a time, one step to committing my life to my local church at a time, one discipling opportunity at a time, etc., etc. Commit to one step at a time for you lifetime, and in all these steps you will grow up. Then in God’s timing, you will be a spiritual father in the faith, to God’s honor and glory.
Will you commit to step-by-step faith unto godly maturity?
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 Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat, (Nashville: Word Books Publisher, 1987), 130.