It should be stressed at the outset that this subject is being addressed, not because this writer sees himself as the perfect example of a Christian leader or of maturity, but because this is one of the most lacking elements in the church today, and because the qualities of spiritual maturity are so determinative to the life of the church and society as a whole. This series of studies was originally developed because I recognized the need of these qualities in my own life and ministry as one in a position of leadership as a pastor or teaching elder and leader of men.
These studies were developed in a team training environment where men were being trained for their role as church leaders, as fathers, and as effective members of a society that desperately needs to see what authentic, biblical Christianity looks like. One of the motivations for this was a series of tapes I purchased called, Motivation/Leadership, by one of my former teachers at Dallas Seminary, Dr. Howard Hendricks. One of the tapes was titled, “Characteristics of a Christian Leader.” And, as the title of the tape suggests, this was tremendously motivational to me and moved me to develop a series of studies on this very subject.
The qualities that should characterize Christian leaders are also the marks of spiritual maturity as described in the Bible. While all of the qualities that will be discussed in this series are not unique to Christianity and are often promoted and taught in the secular world, many of them are, by their very nature, distinctive to the Bible or biblical Christianity. Thus, the characteristics that should mark out a Christian leader are also the marks of biblical maturity which are in essence the product of true spirituality. In fact, biblical spirituality can be described by the term maturity since Christian maturity is the result of growth produced by the ministry of the Spirit in the light of the Word over time.1 It is this biblical/spiritual element, at least in part, that makes the marks of Christian leadership distinctively Christian.
However, as we consider these marks of maturity, we are confronted with the reality that they are qualities that should be found in the life of every believer—man or woman. So let it be emphasized that this study has application to all of us regardless of our particular roles in the church or in society. As members of the body of Christ, we are all potential leaders to some degree whether a husband or wife, a father or mother, or a fellow worker in an office. As Christian men and women, we have a leadership role as we seek to lead others to Christ and as we seek to function as salt and light within society. For men or women these are qualities which will enhance their capacity as husbands or wives, as fathers or mothers, or as co-laborers in the gospel of Christ whether in ministries like AWANA, Sunday school, or in a home Bible study.
One of Paul’s primary personal goals and ministry objectives was to reach greater and greater levels of spiritual maturity and to see all Christians do the same. The goal of evangelism is never just seeing people come to Christ. Indeed, the primary command of the Great Commission is not evangelism, but making disciples. Making disciples naturally includes evangelism, but it goes far beyond that.2
That spiritual maturity was a major concern and a key objective of Paul and other writers of the New Testament epistles is clearly seen in the following passages (see Eph. 4:12f; Phil. 3:12f; Col. 1:28; 4:12; 1 Cor. 2:6, 16f; Jam. 1:2; Rom. 8:28-29; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).
One of the key Greek words used here is teleios, “having attained the end, purpose, complete, perfect.” It was used of a full-grown, mature adult. A comparison of Hebrews 5:13 with 14 and 1 Corinthians 2:6 with 3:1 we find an instructive contrast. Teleios, “mature,” is contrasted with the word for “babe,” nepios in both of these passages. Thus, in a spiritual sense, teleios speaks of one who is fully developed, spiritually mature according to the spiritual qualities detailed in the New Testament.
Thus, spiritual growth and greater and greater levels of maturity are key objectives of Scripture and a key responsibility for church leaders (Eph. 4:11f) and for individuals to be concerned about in their own lives (1 Pet. 2:2; Jam. 1:2f).
Growth and maturity do not occur by naturally. The babe in Christ requires sound and consistent ‘spiritual pediatrics’ and there are certain agents God uses to bring about spiritual growth to bring us to deeper and deeper maturity in Christ:
1. The Word is obviously a key and necessary element for spiritual growth (1 Pet. 1:23-2:3; 2 Pet. 1:3-4; 3:18; John 17:17). In John 17:17 the Lord prayed for the church and said, “sanctify them through your word, your word is truth.” The reference to “sanctify” or sanctification is fundamentally a synonym for growth and maturity and expresses the Lord’s objective for all believers.
2. Church leaders (Eph. 4:11ff; 1 Thess. 5:12; Jam. 5:14).3
3. The care and concern of the body of Christ as a whole (Eph. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:11ff).
4. Suffering or the trials of life (Jam. 1:2-5; 1 Pet. 1:6; Ps. 119:67, 71, 75, 92)
5. Last, but not least, the indwelling and teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:16f; 1 Cor. 2:6-3:4)
So, exactly what does a mature Christian look like? A mature Christian is a believer whose life begins to take on the character of Christ-likeness. But what exactly is that? What are the specific qualities that mark out a person as Christ-like? This is the focus and point of this study, but before we begin to consider some of these qualities, there are a number of other things that we want to cover as a foundation before actually defining and looking at the qualities of maturity.
In general, how may we define the marks of spiritual maturity? These marks, as used in this study, involve three things:
(1) They are goals and provide us with a target for which every Christian should earnestly aim. Here are goals for which—if we mean business with Jesus Christ—we will strive like an athlete reaching for the tape at the finish line. In essence this should encompass part of our purpose for living because as these marks are realized, we will also be attaining other goals God has for our lives.
As we have seen, spiritual growth and maturity are important themes of the New Testament, but there are two passages which approach spiritual growth and maturity from the standpoint of goals or targets for which we should aim.
12 Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which I also was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: forgetting the things behind and reaching out for the things ahead, 14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. 16 Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained (Phil. 3:12-16).
In this passage the apostle describes his constant striving for growth toward spiritual perfection (spiritual maturity), and though we never arrive at total maturity as long as we are in this earthly body, this pursuit is presented as a goal (skopos, “a goal, a mark on which to fix the eye”). To stress his earnestness in this pursuit, the apostle used two picturesque words. The first is seen in 3:12 with the term “strive.” This is the Greek dioko, which means “to run after, pursue, hasten toward,” and so, “strive for, seek after.” The other word is found in verse 13, “reaching out.” This is the Greek ep-ek-teinomai, a triple compound word used in the middle voice which literally means, “to stretch oneself out toward something.” The metaphor behind the words used here is that of a foot race probably drawn from the Isthmian games of ancient Greece. The terms used portray a runner bent forward with his body and his hands outstretched toward the goal with his eye fastened on reaching it.
3 As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to spread false teachings, 4 nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. These promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith. 5 But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. 6 Some have strayed from these and turned away to empty discussion (1 Timothy 1:3-6).
Here we again see the idea of a goal, but verse 6 approaches this from a negative standpoint by showing what happens when one fails to keep focused on the right goals or aim. “But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have strayed from these and turned away to empty discussion” (1 Tim. 1:5-6).
As a Christian leader, Timothy was charged with the responsibility to instruct the false teachers he was facing in Ephesus against being occupied with what amounts to man’s religious and futile speculations. Two reasons are given:
The first reason is that such speculations are useless and fail to promote the administration of God. This refers to God’s redemptive plan which includes spiritual growth and maturity which is by faith in the truth of the gospel, the Word (vs. 4).
But the second reason is a gross failure to both understand and pursue biblical goals. The goals mentioned in this text are two-fold: (a) that which promotes God’s redemptive plan or the stewardship of promoting the message of Christ and (b) that which is to be the result of accurate biblical teaching—authentic Christian (agape) love.
In relation to this aim, Paul asserts that these false teachers had strayed. In verse 6, “have strayed” is astocheo, “to fail to aim carefully,” and so, “to miss the mark.” Not only must we have biblical goals, but we need to stay focused on them, like a runner focusing and stretching toward the finish line. One of the greatest dangers we all face is that of failing to stay alert and focused on biblical goals. It is too easy to become sidetracked by the varied problems of life and by the allurements of the world.
(2) The marks of maturity are also marks of identification and confirmation. They identify and confirm the reality of Christ in one’s life. As such, they make us people marked with the brand of Christ emblazoned across our lives. Again, it should be stressed that no one ever totally arrives here; there will always be room for growth, so these are things that we must ever keep in focus (cf. 2 Pet. 1:12-15). Today, the church has, to a very large degree, lost its distinctiveness. It’s often very hard to tell believers from unbelievers from the standpoint of their character, values, priorities, and pursuits.
(3) As marks of identification and confirmation, they make the possessor of these qualities an example, a pattern to follow. These qualities demonstrate the reality of Christ and make believers truly influential in the right way. So one of the great goals and products of aiming at the marks of maturity is that these marks enable Christians to become examples of the Christian life and of the life-changing power that is available in the person and work of Jesus Christ. All Christians, but especially those involved in roles of leadership, must come to recognize that God has called them to become models of Christ-likeness. More will be said on this issue below.
2 There is only one main verb in this verse, “make disciples” (matheteusate, an aorist imperative of matheteuo, “be or become a disciple,” “make a disciple, teach.” “Go…baptizing…teaching” are all participles. The first participle fits all the characteristics of an attendant circumstance participle which gets its mood from the main verb that follows. It has an imperatival emphasis, but the fact Jesus used the participle shows his main emphasis is on making disciples. The following participles, “baptizing…teaching” are adverbial participles of means and tell us how we are to make disciple, by baptizing (this includes evangelism) and by teaching. For a detailed explanation, see Daniel Wallace’s B. Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1996, pp. 640-645.
3 James 5:14 is used here because there is good evidence that this passage may refer not to physical sickness, but to those who are spiritually weak and need the encouragement, edification, and help of church leaders in their growth and victory over sin. For a detailed explanation of this view, see Daniel R. Hayden’s article in Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 138, # 551, July 1981, pp. 258f.