Monday, May 9, 2011

Paul's Definition of Spiritual Maturity?

Reading: Ephesians 4—6   
How could Paul possibly expect Christians to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? (Ephesians 4:3) He is telling us, “Spare no effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” The “bond of peace” is that which connects us together. It can be a chain or cord that connects us; it can also mean the ligaments which connect the bones in a body. That might be a fit here. The peace of Christ, peace between fellow believers in Christ who are having difficulty getting along, should be our earnest pursuit.
How does Paul expect us to do that? Doesn't he understand that some people just don't treat us right? Or that some people simply misunderstand us so it won't help to pursue unity with them. Others don't understand what we are called to do and therefore we need to go off and do our own thing? Paul, however, had a clear grasp on what unites us and what makes us different.
He makes it clear that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father; but there are different measures of grace gifting given (Ephesians 4:4-7). Sometimes it seems to me that many would be more easily persuaded that there are many bodies, many hopes... but we all have all the grace gifting we need, as if we don't need others. We must pursue unity; one reason is that we need each other!
Right after this declaration that we have different measures of grace gifting that he informs us that some were given as apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. Then we are told what the goal of their work is (Ephesians 4:11-13). It is the last phrase that defines the goal: Christian maturity. And what is Paul's definition of Christian maturity? “... and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” What is Christian maturity? Becoming like Christ. Christ is the measure of Christian maturity! It is on this foundation that the latter half of Ephesians is built. If Christ is the measure of maturity, then Christ is the basis from which Paul calls us to live.
17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.… 20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)
When Paul tells the Ephesians they must change how they live, he doesn't tell them that they must now learn what Moses taught. He doesn't send them to the law to learn what righteousness looks like, or to mature them as believers. He sends them to Jesus Christ. He speaks of how they know Christ, heard of Him, were taught in Him, and about the truth that is in Jesus. He tells them to put on the new self. Who is this new self? In Colossians 3:10-11, Paul also speaks of the new self, and seems to be saying that the new self is Christ. In Romans 13:14 we are told to put on Jesus Christ. Paul himself gave up his ranking in the law in order to know Christ (Philippians 3:4-10).
In the rest of Ephesians, Paul begins to apply this measure of Christian maturity to the Ephesian church. It is as if he is saying, “Christ is like this,” or, “Christ did this for you,” follow with a, “so now you do this.”
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2)
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8)
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Paul doesn't mention this with every line or every statement, but since he prefaces the rest of the book with the call to maturity that is measured by Christ, with the call to live as we learn Christ and came to know Christ, it is right to read it all that way.
How can Paul expect us to pursue unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Because he is calling us to live as Christ, to forgive as Christ, to give up ourselves like Christ did, to humble ourselves as Christ. He is not talking about something easy, but something supernatural. Paul expects us to be God-dependent in order to actually succeed in it.
In fact, this whole section is prefaced by Paul's prayer for the church to to be empowered to have Christ living in them, filled to the measure of the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19). Paul knew God answering prayer was absolutely essential to Christian maturity. There is good news in that: God does answer prayer, and will give His Spirit generously to those who ask! Paul expected it because Paul was praying. We can expect it in our churches when we call on God to form Christ in us the church.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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