Maturity is a tough construct to measure. I mean it’s relative – when one makes a claim that a person is mature or immature, by what standard are we making this claim really? Given that I am a SPED teacher, I always check for my students’ abilities to be able to do things in different aspects of their development, and those with disorders seem to be lacking in multiple areas of life such as the ability to empathize, manage themselves, handle pressure, read and so on.
Coming off a discussion in class last week, my professor mentioned that learning can be divided generally in three categories: cognitive learning, affective learning and psychomotor learning. Without getting too technical, the first one deals with how we absorb and process information on the head level. Say, a philosophy class for someone cognitively mature will find it easier to connect the dots than someone who is still fresh of high school used to regurgitating spoonfed information from an instructor. Affective learning deals with how we process our emotions. This is important, and is very close to the idea of “emotional quotient” or “adversity quotient.” One could say, be very intelligent but would totally freeze up or make an irrational decision given too much pain or pleasure from something. Lastly, psychomotor learning deals with how we move to say, learn how to dribble a basketball or shuffle a pack of cards.
The problem with the word maturity is that it tends to be a gamut of all of these perspectives plus at least a dozen more frameworks – and it keeps on growing. Bloom’s taxonomy, Piaget’s cognitive development, Erikson’s psychosocial development and Barkley’s executive functioning all sound like technically intimidating terms, but actually have great implications on some of the biggest transitions we have in life. This includes transitioning from high school to university, then to the workplace. This especially includes getting married and starting one’s own family. We’re not even into success literature or how continuously evolving technology has influenced us in so many ways and then looking into my beloved area of neurological disorders, which research seems to implicate almost 1 out of 10 of us suffering from one (I have ADHD!) and we may not know it too.
Complicated isn’t it?
Now I’m not one to discredit all the hard work these accomplished people have made. I for one, deal with executive skills intervention, which in summary, is an intricate framework that tries to counteract the ill effects of our “instant gratification” world with old fashioned organization and discipline among coachees (and it helped me deal with these issues quite a bit too!). However, a recent devotional changed the way I looked at maturity:
It’s a fairly famous narrative found in Philippians 3:1-16 (the word MATURE in all caps for emphasis):
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.”
“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are MATURE think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”
(English Standard Version)
What I find quite amazing about the whole narrative above, is how intricate and actually deceptively complex it is. In fact, this devotional seems like it’s going to be the longest entry by far on my blog, and yet I feel that I’m only starting to scratch the surface on this. But with a little more understanding we can see the framework here given by St. Paul on the aspect of maturity. It seems long, but compared to theories typically created by psychologists and educators it’s just a fraction of the length, though I’d argue it has more value in the practical aspects of our daily lives than semesters worth of studies in the construct of maturity.
In terms of how it describes maturity, let’s break it down!
First of all, Paul describes maturity as a contrast and not as a spectrum. A basic truth in the Word of God is that the Holy Spirit has an interesting job, among other things: sanctification. One thing we do know about those who truly “worship in the Spirit” is that this person is going through a sanctification process of letting every aspect of one’s life be exposed and cleansed by God, through the Spirit, based upon His word. In essence then, the Christian life can be termed as well as a process of sanctification. However, notice how maturity here is not defined as how far someone is along in this process but rather, a distinction between two things: those who are confident in the flesh and those that are not.
In verses 2-11, Paul writes about this distinction between his old way of thinking and his new way of thinking. His old ways involved how much he concentrated on his ability to obey the law, which he had in spades and was qualified in every way to boast of his track record. And yet, he throws this away given that all of those things he’s done was not done for Jesus by faith. Upon being convicted of his faith, he is now in a new process that began a true circumcision – one that isn’t physical, but a circumcision of the heart.
Many times, we find many Christians who hold on to the past, and is especially true when one has achieved much in this aspect. While they declare themselves to be Christian by faith, which could be true, they have not yet reached a point where their confidence in themselves have been rid of and have completely surrendered these things to the Lord. I suspect that signs of this include a boasting in many aspects of life such as achievements or awards, placed unnecessarily in conversation, as if they need to convince themselves or others of their capacity to do something, such as succeed in their chosen field of career. I also see this frequently in men, who seem to be giving their testimony in terms of their “Christian transformation” from sexual immorality, but are actually boasting about their “track records” (I hope I don’t have to elaborate about this one) in disguise. Many Christians learn to term this as “glorifying the sin” which is different from “boasting in our weakness”.
Maturity then, is a submission of one’s heart in humility to this process of sanctification. It is not perfection, but an attitude of humility before the Lord Jesus, particularly in the areas of right and wrong. (v. 12). Paul clearly states that he is not perfect, but it is the standard we adhere to, knowing that we might break God’s rules and the commitment we made to Him, and yet still pushing forward. It is not a lax attitude we as collective Christians, are sometimes known for “doing whatever we want because we’re saved anyway.” In terms of marriage, this is perfectly reflected in a blog as a friend reposted it saying that it’s not enough that he’s Christian and it’s not enough that she’s Christian in terms of a mature Christian person looking for suitable lifetime partner. Sure, we’re always told to find someone “mature” enough for us and that’s true as well in the secular view. But it seems the true measure of maturity of the secular world lies so much in contrast to the Christian one. One emphasizes a boasting of oneself, while the other in contrast, admits to being an empty shell as Paul had written.
Lastly, maturity is knowing to turn away from the past willfully and willingly. To illustrate how difficult this is, Paul even uses the word “forget”. They say it’s possible to forgive, which is a willful act to absolving someone for the wrong he or she has done to you, but how about forgetting? One sign of immaturity it seems, is when you don’t do something based on how much you’re still attached to your past. If you look at my other writings on this blog, you’ll find it clear that I advocate for Godly men who would do the right things in pursuit of a woman, perfectly intending for marriage or it’s a no go. Have I been guilty of not doing this in the past? Surely, but I write as if I have not as Paul does, for Jesus died for me precisely for this amazing and undeserved privilege! I am not afraid for some person telling me that I’m a hypocrite, because my mind had already been completely transformed and I willfully turn away from my old belief systems and patterns of thinking & behavior. If one thinks that he or she is not qualified to do so, then it is the lie of the enemy who still wishes to bound you to your past. This is equivalent to the lie that the cross is not enough, or negating the statement of Jesus Himself when he said “It is finished”! One psychological view on maturity is one’s ability to forego something comfortable in place of something that’s right. No wonder then, that a mature Christian man is able to love and be loyal to his wife despite the stresses of providing for her, despite how the rest of the world depicts a man who just slacks off at home and strokes his ego based on how many women he’s been with. In tandem, a mature Christian woman is able to submit and respect her husband despite the world telling her otherwise, through supposed views of “equality” such as feminist views on “empowered” sexuality and the like.
Paul then states, that those who are mature in the faith think this way. A complete turnaround, with clear-cut standards. A Christian then, is mature and immature based on his or her ability to forego his or herself completely and submit oneself to the pursuit of the standard of Jesus. Will we ever attain it? That’s an interesting question, and that’s when we add the fact that it’s the beauty of grace that in our pursuit of this impossible standard, those who do can look forward ultimately, to the eternal reward of heaven for the price for our iniquities have already been paid. We celebrate this fact by honoring Him with our bodies and dedicating our lives to Him with every opportunity we get.
I would like to end this piece with a story that inspired me, also stated in another one of my blog entries. It’s about a husband who was a guest in our small group and I was conducting a Bible study on Hezekiah. He opened up about how he had a “girl best friend” since college, and that his wife had expressed feelings of jealousy, even if he had in his heart, no feelings of attraction towards said friend and was deemed “harmless”. He couldn’t find it in his heart to let go of this friend, and the wisdom of maturity is shown in his reaction: he sought the advice of a church elder who thenasked him a simple question on the matter: “Who is more important to you? Your wife or your friend?” He felt the pangs of the realization that letting go was the right decision – for it was accompanied by a conviction in him by the Spirit overcame him, he made the right decision and did not hesitate to let the friend go. Was this a demonstration of immaturity on the part of his wife who became jealous? That’s how the world thinks – and would ask questions such as “How possessive of her!” or “Doesn’t she trust her husband?” The truth is that the bigger picture was that it was a demonstration of maturity on the part of the man, amid the supposed “wisdom” of the world that has a soaring rate of divorce among married couples. I am sure she respected him even more for his capacity to submit himself to God’s word, and that’s an awesome reward most men of the world don’t get anymore. In the process, he adhered to the practice of respecting that as he owns his wife’s body, so does she his own body, and that if he loved his own body he would love his wife’s (Portions of Ephesians 5 in paraphrase). Was he perfect then? No, otherwise he would have readily concurred to the wife’s request. Was she perfect as well? Probably not! But he showed maturity by ultimately turning away from his own pride, a pride that was tempered by the world and turned towards one of God’s commands to be the best husband he could be.
A mature Christian is an imperfect human being who submits humbly & readily to the perfect righteousness of God.