NOTE: Please know that this is not a quick read. It will take about 15-20 minutes.
What comes to mind when you hear the words “spiritual maturity”?
John Wimber wrote: “Many of us treat church life like immature adolescents. From other Christians we want thrills, constant exhilaration and to have our needs met. When Christian brothers and sisters fall short of our expectations, when they are boring and imperfect and fail to meet our needs for strokes, we pout, turn away and isolate ourselves from them. Jesus calls us to mature commitment of love for his people – the very people in our fellowship!”
This is our third look at 1 John…He’s been contrasting the New Age Movement of his day (very similar to our own) with the Truth… But we’ve noticed a significant difference…
New Age thinking = “spiritual knowledge” (enlightenment)
New Testament thinking = “spiritual maturity” (love)
John’s message is that spiritual maturity is expressed through love. That’s what empowers us. By contrast, the message of the New Age is that spiritual enlightenment is what empowers us. Those two ways of looking at life are worlds apart. The Bible says: “Knowledge makes [us] arrogant…Love edifies [us]…” (1Cor. 8:1)
What we’ve learned so far in I John is…
- That ALL of life begins and ends with Jesus Christ.
- That Jesus Christ – the man – was GOD in human flesh. That He is the “Word of Life.”
- That fellowship is (friendship/partnership) w/God & His people – IF we “walk in the light”
- And to “walk in the light” means keeping Jesus’ commandments
In the passage we’ll cover in this blog, John offers us a test to measure the degree of our “spiritual maturity.”
1 John contains six tests, where he addresses and refutes the New Agers of his day. They were known as Gnostics. They were the know-it-all so-called-Christians who said that they alone had been spiritually enlightened. And that their enlightenment set them head and shoulders above the rest of the believers.
The first test in 1 John that refutes that kind of thinking is…
The TEST of a relationship with God. The test of fellowship with God and His people is based on accepting Jesus as God in the flesh and receiving Him as the One and Only “Word of Life.” We’ve already looked at that test in 1 John.
The second test is the TEST of spiritual maturity (2:7-17). We’ll discover what that is in this blog. (The third is the TEST of truth [2:19-28]…The fourth is the TEST of righteousness [2:29-3:10]…The fifth is the TEST of love [3:11-5:3]…The sixth and final test in 1 John is the TEST of confidence and assurance of faith is Jesus [5:4-2]). We explore each of them in future blogs.
In this blog we’re going to discover the test of spiritual maturity.
“Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.” I John 2:7-8
John begins by contrasting an “old commandment” with a “new commandment.” What does that mean? Well, they’re actually one and the same. The “old commandment” was what Jesus taught His disciples throughout His earthly ministry. John recorded it for us in the Upper Room Discourse in John 13:34-35 & John 15:10-12:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
This was Jesus expounding on the will of God. Love the Lord your God & love your neighbor as yourself. It was an “old” commandment to his disciples. They were familiar with the commands of what we’d call the “old” testament. And it was also “old” because it was given prior to Christ’s death on the cross.
But it becomes “new” as John repeats it on this side of the cross. It was “new” because now they had the Holy Spirit to guide them in exhibiting that love. (John has lots more to say later in chap. 3-5 about how to live a life of love).
Listen to how John applies it in the next three verses.
“The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” I John 2:9-11
John says the mark of a genuinely spiritual person, a spiritually mature person, is that they will love their sisters and brothers. That’s another way of saying everybody you meet.
If you want a test for spiritual maturity, this is it. If you’re spiritually mature you’ll love the people around you. If you’re “walking and abiding in the light” – then you’ll show it by loving the people around you – especially your brothers and your sisters in Christ.
And by contrast IF we let so-called “spiritually enlightened” people lead us – who are really spiritually blind – they’ll lead us into a place of darkness.
Jesus said about the Pharisees who claimed to know the truth – but didn’t: “…they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14). Spiritual blindness always leads us into a pit!
John’s point is that spiritual blindness comes from first hating God (His revealed truth found in the Bible) and then hating our brother (by not living in the truth ourselves and leading them astray with our teaching and lifestyle).
BUT, again by contrast, John says, to love is to have spiritual sight (“walking in the Light”). And when you walk in the light, you won’t stumble around falling into a pit of untruth, and taking those you influence with you.
How do we “stumble”? One way is by being unaware of our “blind spots” – that cause other people to stumble, too.
I heard of a pastor who instead of a tip left a snarky note for her waitress which read: “I give God 10 percent why do you get 18?” It made the news because a photo of the receipt was posted online and it went viral. The server was fired and after her stinginess was exposed in the social media, the pastor issued a public apology. It was a big deal for a few days.
Now, do you think that maybe that pastor could have addressed that situation a little more graciously? Could she have shown a bit more love to her fellow man?
Tipping isn’t the only thing that makes some Christians bad witnesses. Alcohol is another. Many American Christians consider abstention from alcohol as a mark of strong faith—and it often is, especially for those in recovery – but some seem to think that dramatic displays of that abstention in restaurants are a further sign of strong faith.
A student waitress tells this story: “One Sunday afternoon, I asked a lady, “What can I get you to drink today?” and she looked horrified and said, “I don’t drink! I am a Christian, and it is Sunday, and my goodness it’s 12:30 in the afternoon!”
After an awkward silence, her husband said, “I’d like a Diet Coke, please…”
By contrast a couple had a bad experience at a restaurant. The server was terrible. She was distracted and she made errors with their order. But instead of leaving a very small tip or nothing at all, the couple left a $20 tip on their $15 bill with a note that said something like: “It seems you’re having a bad day, hopefully this will help a little.”
The server caught up to them as they were in the parking lot and told them how she had recently experienced a tragedy in her family but couldn’t afford not to work. Their action had made a world of difference to her. What this couple did sounds a lot like what Jesus would do – and what John is saying we should also do.
“The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
In the next three verses, John shows us how to determine our level of spiritual depth and maturity.
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” I John 2:12-14
I blogged on this topic a few blogs back for Father’s Day, but I believe it bears repeating in the context of the whole book of 1 John.
John says that here are basically three levels of spiritual maturity… “children” …“young men”…“fathers.” And they have nothing to do with gender or how long you claim to have been a Christian. But they have everything to do with your capacity to love people.
One thing all kids have in common is that they can’t wait to grow up. Ask any kid what they want to be when they grow up and they’ll say, “When I grow up, I’m gonna be….” EVERY KID WANTS (AND NEEDS) TO GROW UP!
The words in this passage for “little children” (vs. 12) and “children” (vs. 13) are two different Greek words with two different meanings.
In verse 12, teknia or “little born ones” refers to all Christians, regardless of age or maturity level. So, John is addressing ALL believers who are reading his letter, as teknia – all of God’s born-again children (“little born ones”).
However, in verse 13, John is addressing paidia or “immature little folk” – spiritual children who know that their sins are forgiven and that they know the Father. They are sure of their salvation – but they’re almost entirely dependent on others for spiritual care.
I want to be careful not to condemn people young in their faith. Patients who have undergone organ transplants are placed in intensive care units. The care they receive is while they’re in “critical, but stable condition.” Under constant watch, they stay there until they’re strong enough to be transferred out of ICU. New believers are similar. They’ve undergone a spiritual “heart transplant” and are in spiritually critical, but stable condition. The care they need and get in the spiritual ICU is vital to their spiritual maturity.
The issue is not that spiritual children are immature. That’s their normal state. The real issue is when the time to grow up arrives – and they don’t want to grow up!
When a mother eagle builds her nest, she starts with thorns, broken branches, sharp rocks. But then she lines the nest with a thick padding of wool, feathers, and fur from animals she’s killed, making it soft and comfortable for her eggs – and the baby eaglets to come. The issue with the cozy nest is that it eventually makes the young eaglets reluctant to leave when they reach flying age. The comfort and warmth of the nest makes the baby eagles reluctant to leave. So, the mother eagle begins “stirring up the nest.” She starts pulling up the thick carpet of fur and feathers, bringing the sharp rocks and branches to the surface. As the nest becomes more and more uncomfortable for the young eaglets, they are prompted to leave the comfort of the nest and learn to fly.
John says spiritual maturity is like that. Our spiritual maturity level should progress from “children” to “young men.” From dependent to independent. But unfortunately for the Church, a vast majority of God’s people want to remain paidia – “immature little folk.”
YOUNG MEN is the next level of spiritual maturity. John tells us: “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one…I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” Spiritual “young men” are adept at “spiritual warfare.” They can fight the devil and his temptations and come out winners. Why? Because they know the Word of God. It’s their primary defense.
Spiritually mature “young men” have begun to master the spiritual disciplines of prayer, personal Bible study, and fellowship. They discover the deep spiritual strength found in letting God develop character (the fruit of the Spirit) in their lives, along with learning to lead by serving, and sharing their faith in Jesus Christ. And those spiritual disciplines only develop through time and discipline and determination. Fewer believers are “young men” in their spiritual maturity level.
The third level of spiritual maturity is what John calls FATHERS. Men and women who are intimate with God. “I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning.” Spiritual fathers know Jesus intimately. They are constantly maturing in their relationship with Him. They know how to “hear” God the Father. And that discipline is acquired through patience and suffering and obedience (in that order) while God’s Word is “sown” in their lives over time. Far fewer people in the Church have learned to live as spiritual fathers.
James spoke of this level of maturity when he said: “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” James 5:7-11
Spiritual children are dependent (“I need your help”). Spiritual young men are independent (“I can do it alone – if I must”). Spiritual fathers have learned the value of being interdependent (“I am strong enough to do it myself – but I need you, too”).
John ends this passage by warning us about what will hinder our spiritual maturity. He does that by contrasting loving the world with loving God. There are three things, which, when “loved” by Christians are a sign that the love of God is not in us and thus, spiritually immature. We know we love the “world” more than we love God when we get “wrapped up” in pursuing and satisfying these things.
- “the lust of the flesh” – Life’s physical addictions (food, drugs, alcohol, sex, possessions) – anything physical that we can become addicted to. These things can be “good” in and of themselves. But if we take them to extremes…they become “loves” & “addictions.”
- “the lusts of the eyes” – Life’s mental addictions (unbridled quest for knowledge) – the desire and demand to know everything. We seek to probe into the occult, and the world of the future. But there are certain limits to these. There are limits within nature, and there are limits within revelation. There are certain extremes of knowledge of which God has said, we, as fallen men and women, are forbidden to enter into because they’re dangerous. This is the lust of the eyes.
- “the boastful pride of life” – Basically, this is the desire to envy other people or to get them to praise us for our accomplishments in life. The pride of life seeks to create a sense of envy, rivalry, and jealousy in the hearts of others and gives us pleasure in doing this to them. It’s the desire to outshine or to out rank someone else.
These are the three appeals of the “world” [cosmos]. They comprise a worldview that’s essentially anti-God. And when we make satisfying our appetites our goal in life, it leads to a distorted view of life, and it’s never truly satisfying.
John ends this passage by saying not to love these things because God doesn’t love them and because they’re not going to exist one day. “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:17
Love for the world and love for God are mutually exclusive. And not only does loving the world exclude the love of God in our lives, it’s an utterly foolish choice – because the world is passing away. It’s only a temporary thing. But by contrast “the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
Martin Luther wrote, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But the things I have placed in God’s hands I still possess.”
So, John tells us in this passage what God’s will is. God’s will is that we “Love Him and love one another.” And we do that by letting His love help us discern between the love of God and the love of the world. That’s the path to spiritual fatherhood.
John says, in effect: “It’s not about how spiritually enlightened you are. It’s about how spiritually mature you will allow God to make you – who you allow God to love through you with what He’s given you.”
Read more about Spiritual Maturity and How to Develop It in my book Every Man Jack available on Amazon (//www.amazon.com/Every-Man-Jack…/dp/1973680386), WestBow Press (www.westbowpress.com), and wherever books are sold.