I want to talk about growing from immaturity to maturity. Growing is a part of life. One of my children was studying about living things in their science curriculum, and they were learning that anything that’s alive grows. If it’s no longer growing, it’s no longer alive.
Not long ago I heard a good message on growth and change. We want to grow, and growth involves change. On the one hand, we don’t want to necessarily keep changing things for the sake of change, but when something is alive, it will grow and change.
Consider a tree—it starts as a little seedling and slowly becomes a sapling. When a harvested forest is newly replanted with saplings, it might take awhile before you notice the young trees among the brush. But once the trees get above that, they are clear to grow quickly. They end up shading out the undergrowth, and the woods return. All that growth is what happens when things are alive.
We went to see the Sequoias—huge trees, thousands of years old. Their tops may have been blown off by lightning long ago, or maybe some branches have rotted and fallen off, but they’re still growing, still producing life. It may seem so slow and hardly noticeable, but they’re alive and so they grow.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” and verse 11 says, “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Everything God made He made it beautiful in its time. It’s God’s plan.
We have three lambs this year. Newborn lambs are totally dependent on their mother. Soon after being born, they tried eating her wool—they were looking for milk, but couldn’t even see yet. Now they’re starting to eat a little bit of grain and a little bit of grass. When they grow big enough, their mother will start kicking them away and won’t let them nurse anymore. Then they’ll be eating grass on their own too, and eventually they’re going to grow up to a point where they’ll be able to reproduce—they’ll be mature enough to be fruitful. In the same way, God has planned that immature, newborn baby lambs in His church will grow into mature, productive, fruitful sheep in the pasture of God, in His fold.
1 Peter 2:2, speaking to the believers, says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” If you’ve ever have a little baby, you mothers know that when they are newborn, especially the ones that really like to eat (we’ve got a couple of those)—when they want to nurse, they’ll be crying and kicking. Then, when they finally start drinking in that nourishing milk, it turns into appreciative grunts—umpf, umpf, umpf—and they’re wiggling and kicking their feet, their whole body saying, “Oh, so good!” Peter’s telling us, “In that same way, desire the sincere milk of the word.” If you’re new in the faith, if you’ve recently given your life to the Lord Jesus, desire God’s word, store it up in your heart, read it, study it, memorize it, copy it down, put it up on your walls, copy verses and chapters and whole books. Desire that Word so that you can grow.
In 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, speaking of growth, the apostle Paul said, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” I’m pulling out of this scripture the thought that babies need milk, but mature children need solid food. With a lot of babies, there comes a time when that milk from their mother doesn’t satisfy them. They’re getting too big, they need something else to supplement it, something more substantial. And here the apostle Paul reproves the Corinthians, reminding them, “You’re supposed to be growing up, but I had to keep giving you this milk because you’re not maturing, you’re not ready for more growth.”
I’m going to be using at least one other word for maturity. In many scriptures, the word perfect is used to describe someone or something that is mature or complete. In Colossians 1:28, Paul describes how they preached Christ: “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we”—speaking of the apostles specifically—“may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Every leader and teacher in the Lord’s church should have that same goal to present every person perfect, mature, in Christ Jesus. The job of the teachers in the church is to feed the flock. Not so that the flock will always rely on the teacher, but in order that they would grow up and be mature. Paul said to Timothy, “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) “The things I’ve taught you, teach others, who shall be able to teach others.” The Lord wants His church to be mature and fruitful, accomplishing the work of spiritual reproduction.
Hebrews 5:13-14 speaks of maturity: “For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” One of my sons is about a year and a half old. He can walk; he can put one foot in front of the other. He can see things, and know what’s going on—he knows there’s something over there that he wants, but if we don’t watch him, he’ll head to the river, he’ll head to the road. He’s just barely able to even comprehend these things, but he moves so fast! We had another child like that—before they were even able to comprehend good and evil, before they knew the difference between the sandbox and an electrical outlet, they were already moving.
The writer is talking about growth: as we grow and mature, we learn more and more to discern good and evil. It’s like teaching a child to ride a bike; you don’t just turn them loose, or they will fall and crash. You go with them, teaching them how to move their legs to pedal. You hold it for them, helping them get a feel for balance by turning left and right. There comes a time when you let them go, but it’s all in season, it’s how growth works.
The goal of growing is to be like Jesus. It’s why He saved us—to make us like Him, “that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29) In Ephesians 4:12-13, Paul tells us that God’s giftings in the body are “For the perfecting of the saints,” that they become mature and complete, fulfilling God’s goal: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, into a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” I have a little card next to my desk that says, “Maturity: the goal of pastoral ministry.” And you could say, “Maturity: the goal of parental ministry”; “Maturity: the goal of school teaching.” The goal of discipleship is to grow from immaturity to maturity.
Now let us consider several specific points of growth: