What It Means to Grow as a Christian (Session 8)
Purpose: It is the purpose of this reading to provide understanding for the disciple in order that he might know what spiritual maturity is.
1. The disciple will know that maturing spiritually is a process.
2. The disciple will understand that we all develop uniquely.
3. The disciple will understand the difference between maturity and spirituality.
4. The disciple will understand aspects of spiritual maturity that he can work toward.
5. The disciple will see that spiritual maturity is always relative.
6. The disciple will understand the purpose and importance of stress in his life.
So that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects - bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God.
1. Prayer and mutual accountability.
2. Discuss spiritual maturity.
3. Discuss of new terms.
4. Share Scripture memory.
5. Discuss applicability of the session in your own life.
What It Means To Grow as a Christian
by Emery Nester, Ed.D., D.Min.
"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both nowand to the day of eternity. Amen." 2 Peter 3:18
Growing is a natural part of life for every living thing. We watch plants grow from tiny seeds into grandiose displays of color. Little animals greet life with enthusiasm and develop into robust pets. And as parents and grandparents, we are fascinated as we observe our children and their offspring move from childhood, through adolescence and become adults.
Sometimes the process is thwarted; it is not allowed to progress in its normal course. Such was the case of a young cousin years ago. My aunt and uncle had wanted a daughter for many years. Not that their two boys were unloved and lacked appreciation, but they had hoped that their third child would be a girl. Their dreams seemed fulfilled with the birth of little Lynn. She was a lovely yellow-haired little girl with so much promise for happiness for her family.
But spinal meningitis ravaged this little girl during the first year of her life. Her growth, both mentally and physically, was stunted. She would never learn what healthy children learn and experience during her early growth processes—to walk, to talk and to play. The disease abruptly eliminated these.
One's growth is not confined to physical processes. Growth also takes place emotionally and spiritually. We are urged to grow into mature persons who bear Christ's likeness. This, too, should be a natural process, but often the process fails. It does not seem to "just happen.” We do not become mature simply because years pass by. Job says in Job 32:9 (NIV), "It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right."
This statement implies that there is more to growing than passively experiencing years that go by. That there is something we must do in order to make the process of development toward maturity a reality for us. Other Scriptures affirm our need to grow. 1 Peter 2:2 says, "Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation."
The writer of the epistle to Hebrews remembered the readers of his letter and their immaturity and said:
On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
So important is this matter that Paul speaks of it as one of the primary goals of Christian ministry in Ephesians 4:13, "until we attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."
The mature man in this text refers to the fully developed man — one who has grown emotionally and spiritually. Surely these texts present to us the importance of growing in the life I now have in Christ. This is the theme of this first section.
Some general considerations of maturity are necessary for our understanding of this crucial subject. They are essential if we are to clearly differentiate between maturity and spirituality.
Maturity Is Relative
The first important consideration is that maturity is always understood in terms of degrees. It is a human condition or quality that is reasonably measured from one point on a scale from infancy, or immaturity, to adulthood, or maturity. None of us is ever totally mature in this life. It is even possible in relation to processes that make us mature, to lose some of our maturity and become less mature. Therefore, we are each one more or less mature. Nor will any of us ever become totally mature—as mature as we might ever be--in this life. Maturity will become complete at glorification, just as our standing was completed at justification.
Maturity as Process
Process coupled with maturity suggests that it takes time to grow. We do not see growth from day to day as a rule. Audrey (not her real name) is a woman I knew years ago. She was in her early forties, a high school graduate, whose husband divorced her. She made some important decisions about her life while in counseling. These included going back to school and getting a degree. Finding herself able to do academic work quite successfully, she continued in graduate school and eventually obtained a master's degree and became a marriage and family counselor. She continued her counseling during most of that time, working to understand her inner dynamics and the will of God for her life. It would be difficult to see Audrey grow from day to day, or even week by week. Her maturing had to be measured in "chunks of time.” But over the longer term, she had become a different person. Her life, seven years later, was nothing like it had been in the beginning of our acquaintance. Her growth was process-oriented, not specific.
Yet time alone is not enough for growth to take place. It is possible for me to live many years, and yet be as defensive, rigid, and unaware as in my earlier years. Part of the process of maturing involves improving ways of interacting with stress. I make my functioning in the world more efficient by applying my increased knowledge to the situations faced in my life. The more I am aware of reality, the more able I am to handle problems successfully.
Maturity and Uniqueness
Maturity develops in ways that are just a little different in each of us. We are unique! Each is intelligent in ways that are unlike the intelligence of another. Some are mechanical. Others are artistically gifted. Some are mathematical, while others are blessed with verbal skills. Each of these differences impacts our maturity and causes our development to proceed in unique ways.
Personality is another factor of significance. Differences in personalities probably cause us to move into different types of experiences. If I am a person-oriented individual, I will undoubtedly be more involved with people. My experiences, then, will move me toward greater maturation in areas that relate to interpersonal relationships, as opposed to those with scientific orientations who spend much time alone or working with things. In these situations, one may be more highly developed in skills that involve working alone. Loneliness may not be a problem for such a person, as it might be for one who is person-oriented.
Another factor of personality that possibly directs trends of growth is self-concept. I tend to interpret my environment through the "grid" of how I see myself. As my self-concept is unique, my interpretations become unique. One whose self-concept is negative will make interpretations that are less likely to be associated with growth. On the other hand, if I am somewhat positive about how I see myself, these concepts of self will aid in my growth process. I remember Ted (not his real name) who had many problems in interpersonal relationships. He simply could not make a friendship last. He saw himself as basically unliked by others and generally inadequate. Although he would try in some circumstances to extend himself and be friendly, it was easy for him to misjudge statements made by his would-be friends. He tended to be somewhat paranoid and would often set up self-fulfilling prophecies that would insure his failure. As hard as he would try, he just couldn't have a good experience. He would fail every time. And so his maturity was hindered—his growth blocked.
Each person's environment is also somewhat different from another's, and this can affect how maturity takes place. We live in different places geographically. One is the first-born in any family. If there is more than one child, one is in last place, or somewhere in the middle. Again, the unique differences of a couple without children, as compared with one with children, will cause differences in experiences that in turn affect the nature of one's growth. Even the Father's unique way of dealing with me and my personal needs will affect my growth, my maturation.
A final word about maturity needs to include a brief word about the uniqueness of spiritual maturity. For those who know Jesus Christ, maturity is always more complex or multidimensional when compared with that of an ordinary person in the world. Surely, unbelievers can mature as persons. Many reach a higher level of maturity than some Christians reach, it is sad to report. A professor in my graduate school was not a Christian, but he had grown throughout his lifetime into a well-rounded, mature person who had many virtues and human goodnesses. He could deal effectively with problems he encountered day by day, and he was highly skilled in interpersonal relationships. His effective behavior enabled him through the years to develop admirably as a human. Yet for all of his development, he knew nothing of spiritual maturity.
In the case of a Christian, not only are emotional and intellectual qualities involved in maturity, but spiritual qualities as well. These unique aspects include knowledge of Scripture, dealing with the unseen world, the present world system, the development of hope, and efficient ways of handling stress. Each of these is crucial in the Christian's quest for maturity.
The Spiritually Mature Person
A description of a person who is spiritually mature must include characteristics that are those of any emotionally mature person, as well as descriptions that are specifically those pertaining to Christians. In this section, therefore, both classes of conditions will be merged as a composite in describing or depicting one who is spiritually mature. The first description is that of...
One Who Is Well Aware
As one grows older, experiences accumulate, and we might reasonably think that anyone who has lived longer will be more mature in knowledge. The passing of many years is usually in the favor of maturing as far as information is concerned. We travel, read, listen to lectures, experience varied things in our lives. And as these experiences take place, barring injury or some other unusual circumstance, we increase in awareness. For this reason, Jung, a disciple of Freud, felt that none could begin to mature until he had reached at least fifty years of age. It takes this long to accumulate adequate information to apply to the rest of life so one can be relatively mature. Life prior to fifty is simply filled with too many extraneous things that hinder real growth, such as rearing children, earning a living, and keeping one's self together in early adulthood and into the middle years.
There are, of course, many other experiences that younger people experience that are crucial for maturing. Rearing children, earning a living, and other everyday experiences are maturing in themselves. Yet it is true that with respect to increased awareness of the world in which we live, years must pass in order for me to accumulate and analyze information that enables me to live more efficiently. And, of course, for you and me who are Christians, awareness of my world includes in a very central way, the Word of God—the Scriptures. Without Scripture, there can never be spiritual maturity. Indeed, the Word makes the difference between mediocrity and productivity.
A spiritually mature person finds leadership for his life, not only in his awareness of the world about him, but also and centrally, in the Bible. This is my primary guide for daily living. Without an awareness of the Word of God, all of my use of information in the world will only lead me to living a life that is earthbound and wise according to men, but not God. As years pass, with diligent and systematic efforts we build "line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10), until our awareness has increased significantly and we have a basis for efficient living. This foundation becomes the matrix out of which springs...
A Well-Defined Philosophy of Life
This variable is a requirement in the lives of both Christians and non-Christians alike, when maturity is considered. But this basic characteristic of structure for living will vary rather profoundly when Christians and non-Christians are compared. A life with no anchoring “philosophy of life” is like a ship without a compass or chart. I set sail with no direction and basically drift with whatever wind may blow me about, and often end upon the rocks of ruin. I suppose this would not be so crucial if life were no more than a grasshopper dance off to oblivion. But it is not that simple. Existence is characterized by turmoil and pain—by games people play with us, by dishonesty and the dehumanizing of each other, as well as by tragedy over which none of us has much control.
An adequate philosophy of life helps me know where I am going, and how I am going to get there. It gives me direction along the way, and enables me to make my life more than random effort.
The mature person, therefore, has thought much about the issues of life and what governs his behavior. Having organized his life's direction well, much of the usual ambiguity he struggles with is gone. He knows where he is going.
With a clearer understanding of these principles, the maturing person is better able to deal with the struggles and stressful problems of life. These are, of course, the "warp and woof" of our lives and the maturing process. There is no way of escape from them. We can only learn to handle them more effectively if our lives are to become more efficient. With a mature, adequate, biblically-based philosophy of life, I am able to understand the "whys" and "hows" of pressured situations. With these mysteries no longer present, I deal with my pressures and go on. And as this process takes place, if I am maturing, it is important to have, a...
Relatively Positive Self-Concept
Self-concept is another variable related to maturity. One who is spiritually mature is characterized by a relatively positive and healthy self-concept. He feels good about himself. He doesn't feel "normal,” "average,” or "necessarily” superior. But he feels adequate. Adequate refers to an awareness of what one is as being "enough.” This may appear strange at first, yet when union with Christ is understood, and when I experience His adequacy in connection with my own functioning, I begin to see myself as enough. For some reasons difficult for me to understand, self-concept is often neglected in approaches to spiritual maturity. Yet it is most important to consider in relation to the spiritually mature person.
Perhaps one of the most hackneyed statements from pulpits today is the statement that "once I become a Christian and understand who I am, I will never have an inadequate or negative self-concept again." Such statements are inaccurate, and misleading. The church is filled with believers who are negative in ways they feel about themselves, and often in ways that lead them to be very confused and disillusioned. They should feel good about themselves, but they don't. They read about adequacy, "positive self-images,” but they do not have them. Often poor self-images are equated with humility, but this, too, is wrong. Humility is seeing oneself as he truly is. It is an accurate understanding one's abilities as well as liabilities. Humility is to see myself realistically. And humility involves my self-concept and how I feel about myself.
Understanding what constitutes self-concept is vitally important. Many descriptions of this variable are at best hazy or ambiguous. Self-concept or self-image are terms common to most all Americans today. Educators, psychologists, ministers, and teachers everywhere talk of it and suggest strongly its importance. But few understand what goes into its makeup.
Let me try to enlarge upon this for you. Self-concept is made up of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of concepts of self. These are individual, discreet concepts of self. I see myself in hundreds of ways. These concepts vary in clarity with each other. Some are clear and others not so clear. Some are more central than others. Some are important and others not so important. There are concepts of self vitally related to who I am and what I am about. Other aspects of "me” are not so important. But each way I see myself is part of the perceptual organization of my self-concept. Each is relatively positive or negative.
I illustrate this in the following way. What I am about to say are individual, discreet ways in which I see myself. I am a male and a senior citizen. These two aspects of myself are fairly central. I feel good about being a male, but perhaps not so good about being a senior citizen (although I qualify for those outstanding senior citizen menus in certain restaurants). I am average in height. That's not too central. How tall I am is really not all that important. I am a Christian! Ah, this is the most central and pivotal aspect of my life. The reality that transformed me from a hopeless wretch into a prince, a child of God, is of supreme importance to me. Another concept of self—I am a good Christian, is not quite so clear. I am not sure I really understand all that a good Christian is. And if I did, I am terribly frightened that I would fail the criteria involved. I like and own a good bicycle—a Paramount with "campy" parts. I also have a thing with German automobiles. I love little Schnauzers and most other dogs. I have an adequate income. I am a teacher and psychotherapist. I desire to be a servant...more than anything else to be as Barnabas, a "son of consolation,” a helper in the lives of others. I am a father. Big deal! Just about any male can become a father. A good father? Well now, that is not quite so clear. There are yet echoes of my failures as a father. So one can readily see that each of these concepts of self varies in centrality or importance, and each differs in clarity. The total organization of these becomes my self-concept which is more or less positive—or negative.
Self-concept has a significant effect upon my relationship with the world in which I live. I tend to behave in ways consistent with how I see myself. If my perceptions are somewhat negative, then I will tend to act in ways that confirm those negative feelings. Conversely, if how I feel about myself is somewhat positive, I will tend to act in ways that will confirm and be consistent with these feelings. A relatively positive self-concept, which is related to maturity, will enable me to be more efficient in my behavior and act more maturely.
Other aspects of self-concept include its stability once it is organized, and its fluidity or ability to be changed, although it is characterized by stability. These characteristics are actually opposites, although each is true of self-concept. Stability means the self-concept tends to maintain its present structure and preserve what characteristics of self are presently true. This is the case whether the characteristics are positive or negative. Hence there is a stability about self-concept. One theorist (Combs) has gone so far as to say that the one supreme need of human personality is to "preserve and enhance the self-concept that is.”
It is equally true that no concept of self is so set in concrete that change cannot take place. It is probably true that to simply concentrate on what I am like—to attempt to study my own self-concept—will cause its fluidity to become apparent. There will be movement. The interaction I have with my environment on a continual basis, will cause change to take place as well.
Self-concept develops as a result of my interaction with my environment. I see myself in a particular way because I have had experiences in my world that have caused me to feel "able" or "unable.” For instance, I am a singer. That is another concept of self for me, incidentally. I like to sing. Earlier in my life I sang in a male quartet, in duets and on occasion, solos. I got moderately good feedback. I felt that I sang relatively well. I felt somewhat positive about the concept of self "I am a singer.” That has changed in more recent years. When I sing, no one asks me to sing again. When I sing in a church congregation, I am not always in tune with what's happening. Let's face it, I am not the singer I used to be. I now feel somewhat negatively about the whole idea of my being a singer. I still love music, but I would really rather hear it than make it.
The principle of the importance of interaction with the environment is true in every way I see myself. I do not develop certain ways of perceiving myself, as a general rule, by simply thinking about those things that pertain to me. Thinking may give me enough encouragement to attempt something new, but it will never change my self-concept. Therefore, "self talk" really makes little difference in any change. I can assure myself forever that I am able to become a writer, but I will never see myself as a writer until I am successful in publishing. This is why simply understanding my position in Christ does little, in itself, to change my views of myself. I may as a result of understanding that position reach out to the world in new ways and experience something new and different, but it is the experience and not the understanding that truly makes the difference. To experience love, being valued and accepted will generally enable me to consider myself lovable, valuable and acceptable. Nothing else will do that for me. Therefore, in summary, we might say that the quality of my self-concept will heavily rest upon the nature of my experience with my particular world—my phenomenal environment. And self-concept usually deals with concepts involving "being able and being worthwhile.”
A final consideration of self-concept in this section involves the effect of my self-concept upon my behavior in everyday life. This turns out to be pretty much the same, whether one is a Christian or not. The effect is simply that I tend to behave in ways consistent with how I see myself. If I believe I am a failure, I will tend to be a failure. This will happen because I not only distort the reality of my ability, but I create self-fulfilling prophecies and end up making them true. If I feel I am a poor witness for the Savior, I will either not witness at all, or witness poorly, never expecting to introduce anyone to the Savior. If I feel I am a poor husband, unworthy of my spouse, I will act like an unworthy spouse, behaving poorly. I remember Giavini—how he hated his big nose and felt he had "lucked out" in winning the love of his pretty wife. Instead of thanking the Lord he was truly loved by such a person, and understanding that noses do not constitute bases for happiness in marriage, he would on occasion become terribly threatened by her friendships with her fellow workers. He would frequently pull great clumps of hair from her head because of his jealousy.
It is therefore quite easy to understand how the nature of one's self-concept can accelerate or decelerate growth or movement toward maturity. I have a friend who has experienced love and acceptance most of his life. He could probably be best described as being a little above average because of the success of his life. Surely he is not overly capable, but you couldn't impress him with that fact. He puts himself into the middle of situations where even angels would tremble to be and somehow comes out "smelling like a rose.” Because of the goodness of most of his experiences, and his willingness to involve himself in almost every kind of task, he has become a very mature, capable person. He is an effective servant of God. Most people who know him would agree that his strongly positive self-concept has enabled him to grow at an accelerated rate as compared with the person who feels bad about himself. Self-concept is a significant factor in growing more mature.
Spiritual Maturity and Relative Openness
One of the more difficult things to be dealt with in the maturing process is the lack of relative openness among Christians. As a child, I was aware that my father had most of the information available in the world. He never faulted in his understanding—was always correct in his assessments. I remember feeling that he was the most knowledgeable, intelligent man in the world. But the more I matured, the more I realized the dogmatism that characterized my father's insistence that he had all the answers. I have also found that dogmatic thinking is characteristic of the world in which I have been reared. Dogmatic thinking is just one area in our lives that relates to relative openness.
Closely associated with dogmatic thinking is our own defensiveness—our ability or inability to see ourselves realistically and accept responsibility for successes and failures. Relative openness means that I am willing to see myself pretty much as I am. This is, of course, nothing more than true self-acceptance. Not necessarily liking myself, but at least letting me see what is really happening with me, and how I really am.
A mature person moves from dogmatic positions to more flexible or open positions. This certainly does not mean that we give up our firm convictions that we have held precious to our faith in the Lord Jesus. It does mean that we become willing to investigate and question traditional positions. It means that we learn to admit into our awareness, perceptions that are different than our own, with a minimum amount of distortion from our own perceptions.
When I was interviewed by the graduate faculty of the Department of Counseling Psychology at Arizona State University many years ago, one of the esteemed faculty said to me, "Nester, when we're through with you, you won't be a Christian." Perhaps this was half joking, and perhaps it was somewhat serious. After all, no minister had up to that time ever finished the doctoral program in that department. I thought about that statement for several weeks. Could it be possible that the commitment I had made some 20 years previous could be inferior to some other commitment? Could it be possible that I would find in my studies in psychology something superior to the commitment I had made to the Lord Jesus? A commitment that had turned my life from despair to hope? One that gave me meaning I had never known? I was determined to finish my doctorate in that field, and I made a decision to look at other commitments and evaluate them for their superiority to Jesus. Alas, I found nothing that could compare with Him! But I was open, and I emerged stronger as a Christian than I had been before. My commitment could endure open evaluation. This seems to be a movement toward openness.
A mature person is also relatively non-defensive. This is necessary for growth, change, and maturation. If I am wrong, it is important that I admit my wrong and take responsibility for my part in whatever is involved. The Apostle Paul and David are two examples of those who readily took responsibility for their sins. In doing this, they preserved their growth and maturational processes.
See David, the king of Israel, guilty of both adultery and murder. Nathan approaches him with a message from God concerning his sin. In order to help him see his sin more realistically, Nathan tells a story and clarifies the situation the king found himself in. David's immediate response was, "I have sinned." He took responsibility and admitted his failure. The same was true of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 23:1-5 NIV we read: “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’ At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!’ Those who were standing near Paul said, ‘You dare to insult God's high priest?’
Paul replied, ‘Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: 'Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’’”
Possibly Paul could have been excused because of poor vision. There seems to be strong evidence that he was afflicted by an eye disease that not only caused him to be rather repulsive to look at, but also to have seriously impaired vision. He said in his defense, "I did not realize that he was the high priest." Then he condemns his actions by referring to Old Testament Scripture. He took responsibility for his conduct—his behavior. Such openness or non-defensiveness must be characteristic of the life that is relatively mature, or the life that wishes to be mature. Characteristically, we work to defend ourselves against being responsible for behavior that is interpreted negatively by ourselves or others. Ready admission of responsibility will open the door to forgiveness and personal growth.
Sometimes it is as difficult to experience success as it is to know failure. Success can create conditions of omnipotence in my life. I will see myself unrealistically and perhaps forget that who and what I am as a Christian, is the result of my personal relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit's control of my life. On the other hand, successes can help improve my self-concept and my overall behavior. It is important to keep an awareness of my position in the world under the Lordship of Christ. What I have, I have received. What I accomplish is the result of grace in my life, not my own dynamic resources. I am only a servant functioning under the suzerainty of Christ.
Spiritual Maturity and Inner-Directedness
One of the most important concepts involved in the whole problem of emotional maturity is the matter of inner-directedness. Numerous writers agree that one cannot become mature without learning to be, and being willing to be, one’s self. Basic in this concept for the Christian is my willingness to develop as the Father has made me. Turning from the common practice of patterning my life after the directions and feelings of others, I experience what can be uniquely "me.”
As I become committed to this aspect of what is necessary to grow, I will shun standards that are not "me.” Simply behaving in a certain way because this is expected of me does not produce spiritual or emotional maturity. My true potential for development is blocked, if not completely stopped.
Writers speak of the necessity of moving away from the "shoulds" and the "oughts.” To do this completely is probably not a realistic goal. "Men ought always to pray." We can only affirm that Scriptural statements such as these are entirely appropriate and healthy for spiritual growth. But to engage in a type of behavior, religious or otherwise, simply because there are those out there that feel I "ought" or "should" do something is not a biblical or healthy psychological basis for behavior. It is to deny myself the experience of growing uniquely into a person who can fit into the Body of Christ in the way He has designed. And it hinders me in the whole maturing process.
Saint Augustine spoke of "loving God and doing as I please.” Some are shocked by such a statement. How can I ever "do as I please"? But this statement is consistent with the idea of the Spirit-controlled life. When I am practicing spirituality as developed in the next sessions of this manual, I am basically able to "do as I please.” My actions will be those that please God, even though they come from within me, because my life is lived in concert with the Holy Spirit. Such a life moves me away from "other-directedness" and toward an "inner-directedness" that produces maturity and psychological health. I begin to feel a sense of personal dignity related to the special and unique gifts given to me individually as a person.
Of course, there are problems related to this style of living. One might ask, “What about Scripture that emphasizes 'becoming all things to all men?’” And this is certainly a legitimate question. We are urged to be willing to become all things to all men so that we by all means might win some. There is certainly no point in doing this if we are not motivated to do so from within. To simply do this because we ought is not the proper tact to take in evangelizing the lost. I have an inner urging to introduce someone to the Savior, and I am willing to extend myself in order to do this. This is consistent with moving away from the "shoulds” and the “oughts.”
What about the practice of liberty urged in Galatians 5:1, and the constraints put on this practice relative to the "law of love" and the "weaker brother?” I am not to do anything that would cause a weaker brother to stumble—anything through which or because of which he would be offended. This certainly seems to indicate that some behavior might legitimately be "other-directed.” And again, this is true. If I am to understand this truth correctly, I need to understand the meaning of the word translated "offend.” The idea inherent in the word "offend" is that of falling on one's face, never again getting on one's feet to walk with the Lord. There are not many things I can think of that would cause one to never again walk with the Lord simply because I might do them. But there are probably some, and I should know each behavior and its effect on a brother who doesn't understand liberty. There will be an elaboration of this principle and these subjects later in Session 32.
Mark this: Inner-directedness as a style in life is consistent with biblical concepts of the Christian life and the practice of spirituality. With the Holy Spirit in control of me, I can safely "do as I please.” This style of living is truly healthy for me as an individual and enables me to become all I can be in the direction of my spiritual gifts and unique personality. The long-range impact upon the Body of Christ is its growth and ultimate benefit because I as a member will fit strategically into the purposes He has planned for me. Therefore, for both the Body of Christ and me as a person, "inner-directedness" becomes the badge of psychological and spiritual health.
Spiritual Maturity and Effective Interpersonal Relations
For both believers and nonbelievers, growing effectiveness in interpersonal relationships becomes a mark of maturational processes being highly developed. One who is mature will be able to relate well to others. And this is crucial in our fulfilling our purpose in the world in which we live. We are in the world as witnesses for the Lord Jesus. We are here to serve Him in the reaching of mankind. Just as a maturing nonbeliever is able to develop more highly his skills in interpersonal relating, even so is a believer able to develop more highly his interpersonal skills because of his unique assets as a Christian.
Basic to all effective interpersonal relationships is grace lived by me on a consistent day-by-day basis. In the psychological world, one might refer to acceptance. In the theological world, the word is much more beautiful—grace, grace, grace! Grace is more than a doctrine. It is a way of relating to others. Perhaps its basis is in doctrine—"unmerited kindness,” "everything for nothing, to those who don't deserve anything.” But it is also an attitude that puts the doctrine into action for me.
Grace is characterized by moving away from the position of being an evaluator or judge of others. It is accepting people without any qualifications—as they are. It makes no demands on another to change in order for me to care for them. When my life is characterized by grace, I will not force another into my "rubric.” I do not insist upon my unique standards to qualify them for my love and acceptance. I allow others to be themselves.
Many years ago, I pastored a small church in the foothills of the Cascades Mountains in Oregon. A woman lived in this community who was considered somewhat strange and who probably had some intellectual deficits. She rode a bicycle around the little community where we lived. Her son, who was about twelve or thirteen years of age, was also somewhat retarded. He accompanied her on the bike as a rule.
This little woman would fish the village creek and come around to the parsonage and tithe her fish to us. She did have a spirit of generosity and was very kind, though so odd. One day during a ladies meeting at the church, she was being casually discussed. One by one those present gave their impressions of strange Ruthie. Then one dear lady ventured her thoughts and said, "Every time I see Ruthie, I think of the Scripture that says we should entertain strangers, because in so doing some have entertained angels unawares."
This was truly a woman who had grown in grace—her attitude of acceptance in receiving an unlovely person considered queer by the community. Surely this characteristic of maturity enhances interpersonal relationships and demonstrates as nothing else, God in one's life.
Acceptance sets the climate for knowing and loving people. It gives basis for a sound interpersonal relationship with others. It releases others to grow and love me. When I learn to relate to others in this way, I demonstrate the greatest gift of Jesus after the giving of His life—unconditional acceptance just as we are.
Questions for Review and Discussion
1. How would you describe growth as a human and growth as a Christian?
2. We believe that reproduction is an indication of spiritual maturity. What things must be combined with spiritual maturity that would enable one to be reproductive?
3. When comparing a spiritually mature Christian with an emotionally mature unbeliever, what are the differences?
Related Topics: Discipleship