How do we know when someone has grown up? How do we know when we ourselves have grown up?
I remember being 15 years old and wanting desperately to be 16 so that I could drive. The young want to grow quickly because they believe grown-ups have it so good. Well, I turned 40 last fall and I found myself starting to wish I were young again because as you get older you believe the young have it so good.
But growing up must be more than just celebrating birthdays. What about maturity? What does it mean to be mature? How do we gain maturity? And are we sure we want to?
Well, for starters, let’s differentiate between worldly maturity and Christian maturity. The world says we’re mature when we gain independence and we’re on our own. The Bible, on the other hand, talks about maturity within the context of community.
For the Christian, maturity is about more than “driving cars and being on my own,” it’s about living faithfully among God’s people. For the Christian, the opposite of maturity is not immaturity, but isolation.
Isolation is the worst thing that can happen to a human being. Studies have shown that it doesn’t take very long for prisoners in solitary confinement to begin losing their minds. Insanity is the end result of true isolation. Isolation leads human beings to talk to volleyballs. What we fear the most, in the deepest recesses of our soul, is being completely alone, abandoned, living in the absence of others.
Scripture tells us that we were created to be in relationship. We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another, and it is only in relationship that we grow and prosper, that we grow up and become the people God intends us to be.
When Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to the top of the mountain and was transfigured before their eyes, they had a communal experience that would ultimately help them grow into full faithful discipleship. What happened on top of that mountain could not, cannot, be “explained.” But that doesn’t make it meaningless. Most of our formative, transformative, life-changing experiences are not “explainable” in the worldly scientific sense. Love is a good example. I cannot explain to you why I love my wife and my son, but I can tell you why such love is a meaningful and fulfilling experience in my life that helps to make me a whole person. Worship is another experience that cannot be explained but must be participated in among community in our human quest for meaning and wholeness.
And the concept of “wholeness” is closer to what the Bible means by “maturity.” To be whole we need one another. As the Body of Christ, we are parts of something greater than our individual selves. Without others in our lives we are just fragments of what God intends us to be. To be whole requires experience among community, family, the church. Literally what Paul says in Ephesians is that maturity is attained through the knowledge of Christ that comes from being faithfully “undivided” (Ephesians 4:13, teleion).
When I was in highschool I learned “how to be” and “how to act” around different groups of people. There was a certain language and certain behaviors one used when associating with the jocks, the nerds, the preppies, the stoners, the piston-heads. All of this led to a significant degree of adolescent schizophrenia. I soon discovered that I was a very divided person. I discovered I didn’t know who “I” was anymore. But I also learned that these kinds of experimental experiences among different groups of people were a necessary part of growing up. I had to find out who I was not, before I could figure out who I was, and who I was meant to be.
To be undivided, to be whole, is to be who we were made to be, it is to be ourselves, it is to understand our worth as unique children of God created in the image of God to live and love within the community of God’s people.
Elisha learned how to be a prophet from his mentor Elijah. He learned how to be faithful from being in relationship with Elijah and the whole company of prophets. So when the mantle was passed, Elisha was ready not go out on his own, but to go back into the midst of God’s people as a servant of the Lord. Elisha not only needed his mentor Elijah, but he needed the people as well if he was to be whole, if he was to be the servant God intended him to be.
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We cannot grow up apart from one another. We cannot mature apart from the Body of Christ. Here in the Church we experience community, family, a place to grow up whatever age we are. Here in the Church we experience a safe place to be vulnerable, to laugh and cry and be human, free from masks the world would have us wear; free from the divisions our competitive world tries to force upon us. We live divided lives apart from this community, this family. Maturity in the Spirit comes to us as we gather together here in the presence of Christ, as we learn what it means to love, as we learn what it means to sacrifice, as we learn what it means to holy and human.
Copyright 2003, Jeffrey K. London. Used by permission.