If I were called on to put my finger on the most pressing need of our age, I would unhesitatingly say—maturity.” These words of an old preacher of the past are no less relevant in the wonder-world of the space age. It almost seems that as technology and knowledge advance, maturity recedes.
The low level of spiritual life in the Corinthian church occasioned acute distress for Paul. Their underlying problem was neither heresy nor apostasy but worldliness and spiritual immaturity. For the length of time they had been in possession of the truth, they should have been mature Christians. But to his dismay Paul discovered that they were still plagued with carnality. As a church they had been endowed not only with spiritual blessings but also with every spiritual gift. “You do not lack any spiritual gift,” he told them (1 Cor. 1:7).
The Corinthian believers seemed to have a penchant for the spectacular and flamboyant, but they failed to evidence a maturity matching their gifts and claims. They majored in the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit, but they were sadly deficient in the fruit of the Spirit. Consequently the apostle had to tell them, “I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1). In some way their spiritual growth had been arrested, and their legitimate spiritual infancy had become unduly protracted.
This problem is by no means confined to the early church; it is a major concern in many churches in our own day. There are too many adult-infants in our church rolls.
Should the pastor venture to launch into teaching some of the deeper truths of Scripture, a section of his congregation will complain that he is preaching over their heads. So he is on the horns of a dilemma. If he continues to feed them on little else than the milk of the Word, he leaves behind the more mature section of his congregation, while the others remain spiritual infants.
Paul stated the final objective of preaching in an exceedingly important verse that epitomizes the goal of the ministry of the Word: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect [mature] in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:28, italics mine). It will be the aim of the wise pastor to give teaching that will be relevant to people of all stages of spiritual development, and this is no easy task.
A Legitimate Spiritual Infancy
The new life enters the new Christian in embryo form, and it must grow and develop as does an infant. For this desirable development to take place, congenial conditions for spiritual growth must be provided, and this is the responsibility of the one who disciples the new Christian. The environment and nourishment should be provided in the fellowship of the local church.
We often unintentionally discourage young Christians by entertaining unrealistic expectations. Every mother expects her baby to act and react like a baby. She does not look for adult behavior. Similarly we should be understanding and sympathetic with the early falls and struggles of a spiritual babe. In Hosea’s prophecy, God is represented as acting in that way: “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms” (Hos. 11:3).
Within the right limits, babyhood is magic, but when it is unduly prolonged, it becomes tragic. It is wonderful to be a baby, but it is disastrous to remain one. It is to believers in this condition that Paul refers in the passages at the head of this chapter.
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