The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Scary, Delicious Maturity

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//groups.northwestern.edu/asterik/Current_Members/father-time.jpgWhat’s maturity?

Early in my own pursuit of Jesus, I might have thought maturity was found in someone who had been a Christian for a long time. Someone who knew a whole, whole, lot of the Bible. Someone who could explain theologically complex things in understandable language. Someone who really knew the right answers. Perhaps it was my training as a university professor; perhaps it was merely the pervasive influence of modernism’s conviction that mastery of information is the way to truth. But I think otherwise now.
The Apostle Paul is no modernist, and certainly no westerner like me. Listen to how he describes maturity (Last week, I delayed the first part of Ephesians 4 till this Sunday. Here ’tis. I’ll explain the colors in a minute.):

Ephesians 4:1-16To Be Mature

1-3In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.4-6You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

Hmm: I was called to travel on the same road and in the same direction as the others here. I am to stay together with them both in what we do and in what we are. They and I have the same master, the same faith, the same baptism, the same God and Father, who rules them and rules me, works through them works through me, and is present in them and present in me. Everything I am and think, I want to be saturated with Oneness with them.

Unique:

7-13But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

But I won’t look like them, talk like them, or act like them. Because Jesus is generous, he has given each of us special ways of doing things … I am to train and be trained in doing skilled servant-work in the church, work that helps us fit together beautifully rather than separates us.

Expectations:

14-16No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

Two things to notice: First, look how very Christ-focused this description of maturity is. Mention of him is shoehorned into every thought. Watch Paul drench these paragraphs with Jesus (these are the blue words), then bring him home to our own to-be-transformed passions:

Maturity = like Christ

one Master

generosity of Christ

He handed out gifts

filled heaven with his gifts

filled earth with his gifts

He handed out gifts (again)

to train Christ’s followers

working within Christ’s body the church

efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son;

fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ

like Christ in everything

We take our lead from Christ

His very breath and blood flow through us

Whatever else maturity may be, it is incontrovertibly about being like Christ.

Second, he has begun his case that being like Christ means deeply sharing life with others who follow him. Watch him make it crystal clear (these are the lavender words):

Maturity = Oneness with each other

pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love

alert at noticing differences

quick at mending fences

one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God

and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all

Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness

until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other

in step with each other

healthy in God, robust in love

Wow, this is demanding!

I’ve been the pastor of one church for nearly twenty years. Many have come and gone. Especially disappointing have been those who came to us with a “Christian” background, stayed a few years, then got mad (again) and disappeared, leaving only a few scars behind. Many have fled the responsibility of growing up into loving well, under cover of some issue that drew the searchlight away from love. Perhaps the idea that maturity is about loving just hasn’t gotten across among us in the West. Certainly it hadn’t with me in the beginning.

Even now, as I look at my own heart, I am not sure there is anything more costly – and more wonderful – than growing up in love. There are times when I can say, “Oh! Look at that! I didn’t used to be able to be kind in this situation!”

And then there are the other times – the times of a word too harsh, an attitude too judgmental – and ugh! Here we are again.

So OK, Jesus, pour it on. I like loving well. Grow me up into a man who does it more passionately, more automatically, more consistently, to all whom you love (no exclusions, I guess!) whose path somehow intersects my own. Give me courage to let you display and heal those corners of the heart where I tolerate less than love.

Whew! Scary!

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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