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GROWING IN SPIRITUAL MATURITY

Ephesians 4:13-16
5th October 2003

I was speaking to a young person at a college where I was to deliver the graduation address. She looked about 17 years of age. Try to be friendly, I asked, "What are you going to do when you leave school?" She replied, "I have. I'm the teacher!" It is a sign of growing older when policemen and school teachers look too young! Sometimes it is difficult to recognise that someone has grown up and is in fact a mature person.

There are those who live with stunted growth. Two of my grandchildren enjoy their tiny pony that will never grow any bigger. I am always intrigued with the twisted beauty of bonsai. I am always sad meeting the little people, normal people in every way except they are dwarves. Some Christians suffer from stunted growth! Like Peter Pan they never grow up. Many Christian men and women stop short! They grow older, yes, but long ago they ceased any inner development. They have put forth no fresh ideas for years. They have flowered in no new interests or understanding. They are, spiritually, dead wood. They are spiritually immature and often this is seen in their un-Christian attitudes or behaviour. Growth in a human being, is a matter of striving. By our own will we must push through the hard crust of accustomed ideas, and reach into the light of greater wisdom. Even the aged may flourish verdantly to the end. The power lies in us. It is a miraculous power that makes Christians grow from spiritual infancy to maturity until they share the full stature of Christ. As Paul writes to the Colossians: 3:10 "Put on the new self. This is the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in His own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of Himself."

Growing to maturity, becoming perfect as Jesus said, is not being sinless. Christians are sinners saved by grace, constantly being forgiven, but continually growing to maturity in Christ. Perfection will be completed in heaven when we shall be as He is. Perfection is completed only in eternity but here our personal best is our goal. 2 Cor. 7: 1 "Let us purify ourselves from everything that makes body or soul unclean, and let us be completely holy by living in awe of God." Maturity is found in heaven so how will we grow to maturity here in earth?

God has given us ministers - "the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastor-teachers" - the task of "equipping God's people for work in His service for the building up of the body of Christ." Part of my task as a pastor-teacher is to help you identify your gift and build you up so you are useful in the Kingdom of God. We are to work together building up the body of Christ: until Ephesians 4:13 "we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature." Maturity requires personal self-discipline, moral behaviour, living a life like Christ and measuring up to the standard of Jesus Himself. We cannot have Christians not making the attempt, not behaving, and living immoral, unworthy lives. That is why we Evangelicals told Church leaders to stress Biblical commands and standards, to help believers "become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature." When you commit your life to Jesus Christ, you are to believe and behave, use His gift to you in building up the body of Christ, and become mature to His full stature. I pity the Peter Pans of this world, especially the spiritual Peter Pans.

They have never grown up to any kind of maturity. They may hold high office in the land. Newspapers expose some politician, judge, or lawyer, associated with corruption, immorality, or trying to influence the course of justice. They are spiritually immature. They may be intellectually competent, physically grown, but spiritually their ethics are bankrupt. Money has mastered their morals. Their ethics are kindergarten ethics. They have as much spiritual maturity as Paddington Bear!

Patrick White the Australian novelist said: "The moral crimes committed by important members of society, get passed on into the rest of the community like a contagious disease that spreads through every level of society. When the moral standards of so many people have rotted, how can we renew ourselves?" White, an atheist, has no cure. In fact he said, "All I can suggest is we think through the issue more." That is not an answer.

The first Church Secretary of our congregation back in 1812 had been an Irish convict, a solicitor who forged documents. Through a woman who visited him in the prison hulks on the Thames, who testified to the power of the gospel, he found new life and became a brand new person. That is the answer the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to allow people to become new in Christ and spiritually grown up. We want to encourage you to grow up all your life, to become mature spiritually. You young people who are growing up so beautifully, make sure you grow up spiritually. Those of you who have grown up so competent intellectually, make sure you become mature people in your spirit, in your morals, in the way you relate with other people.

Ephesians 4:13-17 "And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature. Then we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teaching of deceitful people, who lead others into error by the tricks they invent. Instead, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head. Under His control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love."

1. THE PROMISE OF MATURITY

Paul writes, Ephesians 4:13 "So we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature." Intellectually disabled people can spiritually understand the fact that "Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so." No intellectual giant has greater understanding than that. Even the intellectually disabled can understand love and warmth and God's care. There is a promise given here that all of us can reach spiritual maturity. We can become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature.

2. PREPARATION FOR MATURITY

Until v14 Paul says, "then we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teaching of deceitful people, who lead others into error by the tricks they invent."

There is a preparation for that spiritual maturity. We know children have the joy in growing up of going here and there, and trying out all sorts of things. We do not expect children to have a full sense of responsibility straight away. Paul says, like children, we need to grow in our faith. Every one of us starts as a child in our faith. Jesus says we are born anew like a little baby. Peter says that we are like children who need spiritual milk to help us grow. Paul told us to cease being spiritual children in our thinking and to grow to maturity. Here in Ephesians he says, "Don't be like a little child, just like a little boat in a storm tossed sea, tossed about by every wave and every wind of doctrine, by cunning men who use deceitful wiles to trick you."

There are people in this world who "use deceitful wiles to trick you." Some have television shows. Some promise you wealth and prosperity. Some entertain you with great musical shows and entertaining talks. Every spiritual babe, I believe, is tempted to go off with this particular religious leader or that particular sect. Many people fall in their spiritual lives because of the deceitfulness of people who promise good things and say you are modern and trendy.

Sometimes we don't recognise that children take time to mature. We hurry their maturity, like that mother who dresses her eight year old daughter in padded bras and sexy clothes and make-up. Or that father this week who gave his 12 year old daughter in marriage to a fifteen year old husband. Children need to be children until there are ready for maturity. This week I interviewed Melissa Baker for my radio program tonight. Melissa lived on our north shore with a respectable family.

By nine she was chubby child with bright personality and she was found sexually desirable by her father. She was abused and by ten she was drinking her father's alcohol to deaden some of the pain. The sexual abuse and drinking continued and each man she trusted, abused her. By fifteen she trusted no-one and had become a homeless streetkid stealing and abusing alcohol and drugs. Melissa lived with other homeless kids beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge. During the next six months she was regularly abused, raped, threatened, cold, hungry and constantly frightened. In her mess she contemplated suicide. She motivated herself to ring our YouthLine counselling service and came to see one of Wesley Mission's youth counsellors, Chris Patchett.

Chris quietly and steadily talked with her for six months while she still lived on the streets, until she felt she trusted him. Wesley Mission arranged safe accommodation and long term support. Melissa Baker matured. She felt God calling her to Himself. She became a Christian. We went to Morling College and studied to become a minister in spite of the fact she had dropped out of school. She graduated with her Bachelor of Theology, then did her Master of Theology. Today she is a lecturer at Morling and a candidate completing her Doctor of Philosophy! Her book, "Jade's Story" has been published.

3. PRACTICE OF MATURITY

v15 " Instead, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head." When I meet Christians who, in their words, are envious, nasty or bitter to other people, I always note that by their own words they have indicated the immaturity of their life. Paul says, "Speak the truth in love."

That is the way you are going to grow yourself and build yourself and go on to help others. You will be known by the way you speak. Christians need to become mature, speaking the truth in love. "...we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the Head." He tells us how we are to grow: v.16 "Under His control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love." You are one part of the body of Christ. You belong. You must be fitted together to function properly. If you are a Christian you belong to His body, the church, and you have a role in the church, and you need to fit into your role. You are held together within the church, each a different person with a different background and yet tied with the bonds of Christian love, held together by every joint with which it is provided, so that each part works together. God gave us His gifts in order that we might work together in the service of Jesus Christ.

You belong and you need to work together for the sake of the Kingdom. You will grow up, building the body through love. That is spiritual maturity: we grow together, fit together, and God uses us in His service. Christian, have you found your place within the church? Are you working to serve Jesus Christ, properly bound together in fellowship within the church and growing strong in service? Let me ask you who are not a Christian, are you like Peter Pan, spiritually immature, not growing up? Make a step. Decide to do something about it, and come to be part of the body of Jesus. Speak with one of our counsellors now. Grow to spiritual maturity.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.