I remember John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard saying (only half jesting), “I hope I grow up before I grow old.” It was a big deal to him because one of the most important tasks in life is growing up. Becoming mature not just in our bodies and emotions and minds but in every way including relationships with God and other people.
Growing up was a big deal to the apostle Paul too. It was one of his favorite topics. I guess maturity was as uncommon in the first century as it is today. What does it mean to become a mature person or as Paul termed it, “growing up to the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Summing it up with the phrase, “Speaking the truth in love we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (v.15) Paul is talking about a particular “growing up” that’s supposed to happen. Growing up “into Christ”.
There are a lot of mistaken ideas about what it means to be “grown up”. Some believe this is a term for those over eighteen. I’m afraid not. But according to Paul, Christ is what a grown up – a truly mature, adulthood – looks like. He defines the mature human being.
Healthy human growth involves the total person. The same goes for growing up into Christ and becoming spiritually mature. Paul calls it growing up “in all things”. A mature person is complete and whole. No area, no zone, no feature, no part of life is left out.
What does this process of growing up involve? Paul says it involves, “speaking the truth in love”. I honestly never quite understood how that worked. How does my verbal communication bring about maturity? I found Eugene Peterson helpful here… He suggests that a better way of putting it might be “expressing the truth in love”.
Evidently this isn’t just about truth telling, but rather the fact that I gradually become a complete, fully human being, as I live like Christ, using love not just words to express myself in every area and aspect of my life. Letting my whole life – the way I follow Jesus, the way I’m a husband, father, grandfather, son, relative, friend, neighbor, coworker, citizen – speak the language of love. Letting love define who I am. Letting my life tell the story of God’s love not just my words.
I’m with Wimber, I hope I grow up before I grow old. Spiritual maturity doesn’t automatically come with age it comes as I choose to learn from him how to bring love into every part of my life. As paramount as grace is to the Christian life it doesn’t automatically cause spiritual growth. If that were the case every believer would reach maturity. Sadly that’s not the case. No, doing love the way Jesus did love is the pathway to spiritual maturity.