The Complete Man
Mr. Finny Jacob
Watching a program on the Animal Planet the other day, I wondered what kind of animal man is. Why does it take so long for a human being to develop into an adult? A young giraffe was seen getting up on all fours minutes after it was born and soon taking its first tentative steps. In a few minutes, it was up and running! A human child takes more than a year to do that. Add to that several years for him to develop into a physiological adult. Still, he would be far from being considered a mature person: the mind needs much more time to grow.
Maturity, in common parlance, refers to the state of being wherein a person’s mental faculties are fully developed. The person has reached a certain stage of growth in which he is able to subject every passing thought and feeling to the scrutiny of a balanced, discerning mind. His words and actions do not spring from thoughtless impulses or ill-informed judgment. His perspectives are developed and his reasoning is sound. While he is capable of passionate involvement, he is still able to judge his own passions somewhat dispassionately.
Just as mental maturity does not automatically result from the passage of time, it takes more than time to develop a spiritually mature person. Remember the admonition in Hebrews that if one were to judge by their time spent as Christians, they should have matured into teachers. Clearly, that had not happened and Paul had to feed them with milk instead of solid food (Heb. 5:11-14). Writing to the Corinthians, Paul regretfully reminds them that he would have to address them as babes in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1).
Here I focus on four aspects of spiritual maturity based on four expressions from Hebrews 5:14. “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
If Paul’s problem was weaning the early Christians from milk-food, our problem seems to be junk food. Are our sermons generally designed to build up “spiritual muscles” or do they end up just tickling the soft tissues? Paul’s objective in life was to “present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28) for which he considered it necessary to “teach every one with all wisdom”.
Solid food habits mark a mature person. How often do we meet in church for a one hour solid Bible study? In fact, Bible studies are a passé, too old fashioned, and their space is usually taken over by pop corn vendors.
I am not arguing the lost case of the dry expositor who hangs on to the ninth meaning of the Greek word until the last of those awake in the audience give up their fight to keep their eyelids apart. They themselves should have lost all “delight” in the Word of God. I am sure there are still many who, like Jeremiah would say, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jer. 15:16).
A favorite New Testament imagery of the Church is the garden — where God wants His planted trees to grow to their fullest. It certainly should not be a bonsai garden, where promoting stunted growth is an art form.
By this expression, the author probably refers to the habitual application of the Scripture in day-to-day life. The purpose of the Word of God is to edify and transform. It is not meant as art for art’s sake.
I believe that it is by “constant use” that the Christian character is formed. In the day-to-day walk with God, one experiences the expounded Word of God as light and the applied Word of God as power.
Obviously, God wants his children to be steadfast. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever; godly character in man logically should be goodness and steadfastness. Inconstancy goes with immaturity. Through “joys and snares, pain and sorrow”, we see the glory of Christian life most appreciably.
Here is the key to personal growth. While training by others is necessary and good, that is not enough. A lot of training and practice need self-administration.
How is this possible? Not many probably knew the dynamics of this process until Jesus Christ explained it. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things...” (John 14:26), he said. “When He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
Therefore, this training and practice is not exactly self-administered, but Spirit administered.
While I am delighted by the easy availability of voluminous Christian literature, I have a lurking fear that some might substitute it for the practice of sitting at His feet and learning from Him.
“Distinguish Good from Evil”
The capacity to distinguish good from evil is truly the ultimate mark of an adult. The Pauline epistles characterize the Old Testament Law as a “school master” to bring one to Christ (Galatians 3:24) and the new life in Christ as the “Law of the Spirit of Life”. Both distinguish good and evil, but in radically different ways. The former illuminates while the latter empowers.
Paul exhorts Galatians, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of sinful nature… The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.”
Fleshly tendencies in us, always rearing their heads, remind us that we are still babes who need to grow to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13). That thought sets the ideal, fills us with humility and gets us going.