Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's Like Cheese, Only Different

Part 2 of Christian Maturity. For part 1 click here.

I love cheese. To make cheese takes time. It has to mature. Below is a time lapsed video in which you can watch cheese mature.

If you would like to watch cheese mature in real time click here.

To get a good cheese one must be patient and realize the final product is worth the wait. Additionally, there are periodic tests to see if the cheese is "done" and ready to consume.

This is similar to the Christian life. It takes time to mature and, while one will never be "done" maturing on earth, there are earmarks of maturity. Paul says it this way:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitter and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. Eph. 4:11-16

This passage shows Paul's desire to see the church mature more than anything else. First he says that God gave the church leaders for the purpose of equipping believers. This is the issue of maturity. The words used throughout this passage are pregnant with this meaning: "building up," "mature man," "measure of the stature," grow up," "growth." Paul's concern is about mature.

But what does maturity look like. Gary Bredfeldt, in his book Great Leader Great Teacher: Recovering the Biblical Vision for Leadership, uses this verse to summarize maturity:
Maturity is marked by increased unity, knowledge, and Christlikeness, as well as a lessening vulnerability to the deceptions of false teachers. pg. 18

What a great summary of this passage in Ephesians! Paul says that if believers are maturing there will be unity. This is not unity at any cost. A quick glance through Galatians and one will recognize that Paul would reject unity with those preaching a false gospel and a false Christ (Gal. 1:8-10, 5:10-12, etc.). However, for those who hold to the truth, there should be increasing unity.

There should also be a growing knowledge of Christ. In today's terms, this is considered theology. What one believes about God, about Christ, about salvation, or any other aspect of the Christian life is truly their theology. I hear so many people say, "I do not want to hear all that theology. I just want to hear about Jesus." I realize this is an attempt to sound very spiritual, but it shows how little one truly understands the implications of their beliefs. What Jesus do they want to hear about? Do they want to hear about the Mormon Jesus who is Satan's brother and was conceived by the literal sex act between God and Mary? Or do they want to hear the Oneness-Pentacostal Jesus who is God, but not God at the same time the Father and Spirit is God? Or do they want to hear about the Jesus the Scripture reveals? What they "hear" about Jesus is real theology and this must be ever increasing if one wants to mature.

In addition to unity and knowledge, Christlikeness is a mark of Christian maturity. Paul summarizes this concept in Philippians 2:1-11. It could be summarized as humility or selflessness. It could also be summarized by holiness (1 Pet. 1:14-15). Maturity meand becoming more and more like Christ.

Finally, maturity also means recognizing false teachers and falst teachings when one hears it. This is perhaps the most insidious problem in the church today. Today, many are swayed by every novel and shiny fad that is packaged as the Christian faith. In reality, most of these are teachers are simply preying on the immaturity of the average believer. Recognizing false teaching is an essential element of Christian maturity.

None of these aspects are instaneous but there should always be movement closer and closer to the goal of maturity. Cheese will come to a place in the maturation process where it is ready to go on the market to be consumed. The believer, however, is never "done." The Christian is always maturing, always growing, and forever becoming like the One he loves.