Spiritual Maturity – The Goal of our Faith
Hebrews 5:11-6:3 (The Message)
11-14 I have a lot more to say about this,
[the writer had been explaining Christ’s Role
but it is hard to get it across to you
since you've picked up this bad habit of not listening.
By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves,
yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you
and go over the basics on God again,
starting from square one—baby's milk,
when you should have been on solid food long ago!
Milk is for beginners,
inexperienced in God's ways;
solid food is for the mature,
who have some practice in telling right from wrong.
1-3 So come on,
let's leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ
and get on with the grand work of art.
Grow up in Christ.
The basic foundational truths are in place:
turning your back on "salvation by self-help"
and turning in trust toward God;
laying on of hands;
resurrection of the dead;
God helping us,
we'll stay true to all that.
But there's so much more.
Let's get on with it!
In the past months
our preaching has focused on God’s desire
to reconcile us to Himself
and to invite the Church
into partnership with God
to bring healing and hope into the world.
It is our conviction that God wants to raise us up
into mature and responsible followers of Jesus Christ.
And yet, we so often bring forth the marks
of a very immature Christian life.
Who do you think of
when you think about spiritually mature people?
What constitutes a spiritually mature person?
ILL.: [WASHED UP PERFECTION]
A man once came up to C. H. Spurgeon,
the great English Preacher,
at a Christian retreat,
and said that he had reached a state of spiritual perfection.
Without a word
Spurgeon picked up a pitcher of ice-cold water
and poured it on the man's head.
When the man became angry
and reacted like any normal person would
if cold water were poured on his head,
"Well, now I know exactly
what spiritual perfection you've come to!"
In Philippians 3:12ff
Paul makes the confession
that he has not yet reached the goal of perfection in Christ.
But, he is determined to forget what is behind him
and set his heart on the goal that is before him.
That is also the theme
that we want to focus on today.
In the spiritual life,
As in other aspects of life,
If we don’t grow
We go backwards.
Today as we engage the topic of Spiritual Growth and Maturity
we encounter a text from the book of Hebrews
that holds up a mirror for us.
This is not an easy passage to preach on,
And still we want to see what we can get out of it.
When we look at much of what is happening in our world
we must say that the writer of Hebrews
makes an important point in this challenging passage.
He says, “Come on folks! Grow up already!”
A week ago I attended a Seminar at CMU entitled,
“Talking about the tough stuff in congregational life”.
This was a hands on,
Practical course that looked at Dialogue in the congregation
About issues that can (and usually do) divide the church.
One thing that struck me
Is that our church is not unique.
Every congregation from a variety of different denominations
That was represented has to deal with “tough issues”.
One congregation was trying to figure out
How to deal with a stubborn staff member
Who would hijack the worship style of the church.
Another congregation was struggling to find a way through
On the issue of homosexuality.
And yet another, was looking for a way to relate
To their multi-faith neighbours.
Another church yet,
was dealing with conflict among members.
As I was interacting with these colleagues
It became clear to me that we are all in this together.
God has called His church
To be an agent of change and transformation
In the world…
And yet, there is so much…
In all of Christianity…
We don’t even need to look at any other religion and say,
“Look at them. They don’t know what it’s about.”
No, all we need to do is look at our own churches…
We only need to look at ourselves…
The writer to the Hebrews say’s,
“It’s really hard to get this simple truth across to you,
Because you are dense!
You have picked up this bad habit of not listening.”
The actual word that he uses to describe them is “nothros”,
Which means something like,
“slow-moving in mind” – or retarded…
Or “pretty dull people”…
The writer had already taught them the Christian truths
For a long time.
But, they were taking no responsibility
for changing their own habits
and for growing in their faith
while also teaching others.
His complaint is that his hearers
have been Christians for many years,
but in their understanding and behaviour
they are still at the early stages of infancy.
They haven’t learnt and grown a bit!
The contrast between the immature Christian and the child,
Between receiving milk as a newborn
And solid spiritual nourishment
Can be found often in the New Testament.
Speaking to new believers,
The apostle Peter says (1 Peter 2:2),
1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit,
hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.
2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk,
so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,
3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
It all begins in our spiritual infancy
with getting the pure spiritual milk.
But, then there comes a time when the spiritual infant
Becomes a toddler
And begins to consume and digest solids
Which then enable his bones and muscles to grow.
In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul laments,
1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly —
mere infants in Christ.
2 I gave you milk, not solid food,
for you were not yet ready for it.
Indeed, you are still not ready.
3You are still worldly.
For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you,
are you not worldly?
Are you not acting like mere men?
What the writer to the Hebrews says is that by now,
Having been fed soooo much spiritual milk…
They should be able to articulate their faith quite well,
And get with the program of inviting others
To become part of God’s plan of reconciliation.
And yet, they are just as immature as ever.
Much of the complaining in our society
Is a clear description of the spiritual immaturity
That we still suffer from today:
People quit going to church,
Or they go to the mega-church
That has the flashy programs and dynamic preacher
“My needs aren’t being met at my old church...”
“I’m not being fed...”
“That little ‘Happy-Meal-Shaped-Vacuum-in-my-Soul’
Is not getting filled.”
Take responsibility for your own spiritual maturity!
And, get involved in helping those who are in real need.”
By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves,
yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you
and go over the basics on God again,
You ought to be teachers yourselves.
Most of us,
If not all of us,
Have gone to Sunday School…
Almost everyone has attended Bible study or Small groups
For support, recovery, encouragement
And being equipped in our Christian faith.
We suffer from a bad case of spiritual inadequacy.
So often we hear people say,
“I can’t do that.”
“I can’t share my faith with others…”
“I can’t be a role model to our young boys and girls…”
“I can’t serve our church as a deacon or Council member…”
“I just don’t know enough about that sort of thing.”
The writer to the Hebrews didn’t buy that excuse…
“By now you should be able to teach and lead others…”
And yet, you are stuck
In spiritual infancy.
Ill.: This reminds me of the dad
who was criticising his teenage son for being lazy:
“Son, at your age Abraham Lincoln
Was working two jobs after School!”
And the son replied,
“Dad, at your age Abraham Lincoln
Was the President of the United States.”
As Christians we sometimes refuse to grow up
In the knowledge of Christ and his Truth.
We claim ignorance as bliss.
“I didn’t know that ‘salvation’ and ‘discipleship’ go hand in hand.”
“I thought all I had to do was say the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’.”
“I didn’t know that you have to treat your neighbour with respect
And not fight with your fellow church member...”
How much more basic can it get?!
This passage is not only about knowing all the right stuff
About the Christian faith.
Its also about right behaviours.
It may be acceptable for a child to be sulking…
to throw a temper tantrum…
to refuse to play along if things don’t go his way…
or to pick up his marbles and go home.
But, that kind of behaviour is not acceptable
For people who are supposedly grown up in the faith.
But, before we point the finger at others
We do well to look at ourselves
And see where we need to continue to grow.
In chapter 6 the writer of Hebrews pleads with the church,
“So, then, let us leave elementary teachings
About Christ behind us,
And let us move on to full maturity…”
What does he mean by this maturity?
As a person grows in understanding and spiritual maturity
one should be able to articulate one’s faith convictions
One should be able to move past the pet peaves
That we so much like to argue about
And look at the things that really matter.
That doesn’t mean that we abandon
All the convictions we once had
About baptism, church membership,
Heaven and hell, and so on.
But it means that we integrate
our spiritual insight and understanding
into an ever expanding awareness
of God’s activity in the world and in the church.
There can be no standing still in the Christian life.
If we stop getting better in our faith
We stop being good.
If the quality of our faith is not improving
And we begin to backslide.
Eugene Roehlkepartain has identified a number of
Influences on Faith Maturity:
The greatest influences on a person’s growth in faith are:
· Lifetime involvement in church,
· A families dedication and involvement in church (Youth),
· Lifetime involvement in Christian education,
· Sunday School, Youth events, Adult educational events, the faith of important family members and friends, experiencing a caring church community, involvement in religious activities outside of church, serving others.
Unfortunately there are a number of Myths that muddle
Our conviction that learning and growing
Are lifetime activities:
1. Christian Education is for children –
How many of you went out to celebrate
When the book came out “All I ever need to know
I learnt in Kindergarten”?
Well, that attitude is prevalent today.
I know all I’m going to need to know.
The Bible does indeed exhort us to
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”,
And we can only do that,
When we are willing to wrestle with the hard questions
That do not have easy answers.
This is best done in a supportive community of faith
Where questions are encouraged.
So, what does a mature faith look like?
Allow me to offer a few indicators of a mature faith:
Trusting and Believing:
People of mature faith
Trust in God’s saving grace
And believe in Jesus’ humanity and divinity.
A person of mature faith trusts in God’s daily leading
And follows God’s will in obedience.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated,
“Only he who believes is obedient,
and he who is obedient believes.”
Experiencing the Fruits of Faith:
People of mature faith experience a sense of personal well-being,
security, and peace that grows out of their faith.
It is the “life in all its fulness that Jesus offers.”
This inner peace gives us the energy and hope
To work actively for change in the church and in the world.
Integrating Faith and Life:
The faith of mature Christians is the filter
Through which they evaluate everything.
Their faith is integrated into their vocation, family life,
Financial, political, moral and ethical decision-making.
Seeking Spiritual Growth:
People of mature faith know that faith is a journey.
It grows through study, reflection, prayer
And discussion with others on the journey.
Nurturing Faith in Community
Our ability to pray, to do justice and love mercy
Has to be tested in community.
In community we witness to our faith
And we nurture one another in our faith.
Holding life-affirming values
Life is good and should be affirmed
Because God is in control.
Off course, there are times when this assumption
Is challenged to the core.
We were reminded this week
of one good example of this principle:
After 23 years of waiting for answers
Cliff and Wilma Derksen were finally able to put a face
To the mystery of who killed their daughter Candace.
In spite of the most trying circumstances,
The Derksens never gave up hope,
And the papers reproted
that “their Faith is stronger than ever”.
A few years ago
Wilma Derksen wrote a book on “forgiveness”.
The Derksens know that this is not going to be an easy process,
And they are humble and realistic enough to admit
That they don’t know whether in the end
They will be able to forgive the killer…
But that is the value that they hold.
They know that if they cannot or will not forgive
They will become bitter people.
Advocating Social Change:
The Christian faith is not a passive faith.
People of mature faith advocate for social and global change
To bring about greater social justice,
Including the reduction of poverty
And improving the quality of life for less fortunate people.
The Church belongs in the public arena
To stand with those who cannot stand alone
And speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
One such example to take note of comes from MC Cananda.
Earlier this month all MCCanada Churches
received the following email,
encouraging us to observe May 20-21
as Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia.
“Churches in Colombia are calling for their North American sisters and brothers to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in their country.
Colombia is home to the world’s second largest internally displaced population, after Sudan. The region has been devastated by a 50+ year internal war which claims an average of 3,000 lives a year. Colombia is also a world leader in the recruitment of child soldiers for its various paramilitary and illegal armed groups.
The Letter also exhorts Canadian Mennonites to challenge the Canadian government on its policy of unconditional support of the Colombian government in its negotiations with paramilitary groups, and to advocate for federal legislation to better govern Canadian multi-national firms involved in the resource extraction industry in Colombia – which in turn increases the number of displaced persons.
Mennonite Church Canada Leadership has also sent a letter
To Prime Minister Stephen Harper
To request government to allow for the
Conscientious Objection to the payment of those taxes
Designated for military support.
Advocating for social change is an indicator of a growing faith.
Acting and Serving:
People of mature faith not only advocate for change,
They also become personally involved
Becoming the change that they want to see.
A Mature Faith grows in two dimensions.
It gives evidence to a growing
and life-transforming relationship with God…
And it also shows a consistent devotion to serve others…
Helping people in need,
Becoming involved in social action,
And showing responsibility for God’s creation.
I don’t know about you,
But, looking at that list we have to admit that
Much of our spiritual diet consists
of the most basic compononents.
May we be inspired to look at the bigger picture
Of what God is doing in the world.
May our first concern be
To consider God’s kingdom,
And to be the people of Faith that God wants us to be.
And everything else will be added to us.
So, let us leave the more elementary teachings behind,
And let us go on to maturity in Christ!