I Peter 2:1-3, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” There’s a number of things you can learn from these verses about spiritual growth. You can see it involves putting aside the vices mentioned in v1, all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander. You can also see that like physical growth, spiritual growth requires regular nourishment. So Peter tells us as newborn babies crave their mother’s milk we should crave for the pure milk of the word. It’s a primary means by which we grow. And you can also see here how essential spiritual growth is to the Christian life. The phrase that my version renders “in respect to” is one word in the Greek text. It’s the preposition eis. It usually has the sense of “into” or “unto”. It’s the term you see in Acts 2:38 translated “for”. You remember Peter in Acts 2:38 saying, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” or “unto the forgiveness of your sins.” As we are baptized in the name of Christ unto the forgiveness of our sins, we are to then grow from there unto salvation. He means unto the ultimate salvation when Christ comes back in all His glory (I Pt 1:5). We will experience salvation on that day as long as we’ve just kept growing spiritually to end of our days on earth. And thankfully that’s all God requires. Not that we be perfect. Not that we never sin after we’re baptized, or we’d never make it. But just that we keep growing, keep progressing spiritually. So Christianity is sort of like riding a bike without training wheels. Have you ever tried to sit on a bike with your feet on the peddles and no kickstand without moving? Can’t do it. How do you stay on a bike? You have to keep moving forward. It’s the same in our relationship with the Lord. We stay in His grace as we don’t let ourselves stagnate, as we never decide we’re good enough or have done enough, but we keep trying to know Him better and to be more like Him. And what should really make spiritual growth a want to for us, not a have to, is what Peter mentions in v3, the kindness of the Lord that we’ve already experienced. As you’ve come to know the Lord, you’ve come to have hope and joy and peace. You have something to get you through the hard times. You have meaning and purpose in life. Probably you get along better with people now. Probably you feel much better about how you’re living now. The fact that it has so blessed us to come as far as we have in our relationship with the Lord should assure us that it will just bless us and our families all the more as we progress further in our relationship with Him; it will just increase our joy and deepen our sense of security and purpose. And it will also please the Lord who has been so kind to us. So spiritual growth should be something that we’re passionate about it.
Well, what exactly is spiritual maturity? It is to be like Christ. But more specifically what is it? What’s a spiritually mature person? And what will help us become that? We find answers to those questions in our text in Colossians. Let’s turn there and read it to begin, Colossians 1:28-2:5….
Notice at the end of 1:28 the goal of Paul’s ministry. It is to “present every man complete [or it could be “fully mature”] in Christ.” Paul was not just out to convert people and then leave them in spiritual immaturity and hope they grow and stay faithful on their own. Rather his goal was to bring people to a state of full maturity in a relationship with the Lord.
The Kind of Preachers who Help Us Attain Spiritual Maturity (1:28-2:1)
In the first few verses we read Paul summarizes what he does to bring people to spiritual maturity. This would tell the Colossians the kind of preacher that they should be listening to, whether they should be listening to Epaphras who converted them to Christ or whether they should be listening to these other teachers in their midst who have some fine sounding arguments. So Paul says, “Here’s what I do to bring people to maturity in Christ.” This is what you want in a preacher.
v28, “We proclaim Him [Christ], admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man mature in Christ.” Christ on earth was everything God wants us to be, and in what He’s done and His teachings and promises we find the motivations we need to change our hearts to be like Him. So to bring people to spiritual maturity, Paul would proclaim Christ, which would involve teaching and admonishing; imparting the truths, imparting the doctrine and theology about Christ, and then making the personal applications of the truth to people’s lives, telling people what they need to do about it specifically. And he would use wisdom received from the Lord to say things in the right way and to make the right applications to people’s lives. The preacher that’s going to help us attain spiritual maturity is not a philosopher or psychologist or one who comes with wisdom out of Harvard or Yale. He is one who simply helps us better understand Christ and the implications He has on our personal lives.
And then Paul talks about how he labors and strives and struggles to bring people to maturity. 1:29-2:1, “For this purpose [to bring people to maturity] also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. [Christ supplies him all the energy and ability and motivation.] For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf [Colossians] and for those who are at Laodicea [a city just 12 miles away in the same valley], and for all those who have not personally seen my face,” The word for “labor” means to work to the point of exhaustion. And the word “striving” in 1:29 and “struggle” in 2:1 have the same root word in the Greek, agon, from which we get out words agony and agonize. It was often used to refer to the effort put forth by athletes in the public games, where they fully exert themselves, giving it everything they have. So Paul wasn’t just putting in forty hours a week at a Jesus job. He was giving it all he had, all that the Lord supplied him with, to bring people to Christ and then bring them to spiritual maturity. He was preaching and teaching publically and from house to house when he wasn’t in prison, sometimes til midnight, working to provide for himself and his assistants, enduring persecution constantly, picking his hurting aching body up and dragging it to the next town to preach more. And he was working hard to be an example to his converts, to model the generosity and self-control and patience and kindness of Christ. But there was more to his struggling than that. Look at 2:1 again. “I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face“. Paul had never met the Christians in the Lycus River Valley, in Colossae and Laodicea. And at the time he wrote this he was a thousand miles away in prison in Rome. So how could he have a great struggle on their behalf? Was it a great struggle to write this letter to them? Well, he probably did put a lot of work into this letter. But I think the language here is too strong for just his efforts in writing this letter. How did he have a great struggle on their behalf? Well, you find the same Greek word again in Colossians in 4:12, where it says, “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, [and then this is where we have the same word in the Greek text] always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.” And I think that’s probably primarily how Paul had a great struggle on behalf of these Colossians. He was doing what Epaphras was doing for them. He was laboring earnestly for them in his prayers.
Now, you think about that. When was the last time that you prayed for Christians that you’ve never seen before, let alone wrestled and struggled and labored for them in prayer? When is the last time that you prayed for Christians of a another church that you’ve never been to? When was the last time that you prayed for Christians in another part of the world who are facing difficulties?
And how come Paul prayed so hard and fervently? I mean why didn’t he just say “Lord, would you please help the Christians in Colossae, help them to be for sure about you and your will and to stay on the right track and keep growing spiritually.” Why didn’t Paul just make that request and leave it at that? Why did he struggle and labor in prayer for them? Well, Jesus taught us that persistent wrestling kind of prayer can be more effective than just a quick one time request. He told a couple parables to emphasize the point. One is in Luke 11 about the man who had unexpected company come visit him late at night and he had no food to set before them. And so the man went over to a friend’s house at midnight and knocked on the door and said, “Hey, buddy it’s me. Listen, I’ve some company come in from out of town and I have no food for them. Can you loan me a few loaves of bread? And I’ll pay you back. I promise.” “Are you kidding me? Do you know what time it is? No way am I going to go turn on lights and go through the cupboards to get you bread right now. Go home.” “But I have to have some bread for them.” “The answer is no. Get out of here.” Knock, knock, knock. “Stop that! I told you no. It took me an hour to get the kids to sleep and if they wake up I won’t get any sleep tonight. Go home!” Knock, knock, knock. “Would you quit that?! You’re going to wake the wife up and if she wakes up we’ll both be in trouble. Now go home!” Knock, knock, knock. “Ahhhh! Alright! Stop that dreadful knocking and I’ll get you some bread.” And then Jesus makes the application of the parable and He says, “You keeping asking and it will be given to you, keeping seeking and you will find, keep knocking and it will be opened to you.” The point of the parable is not that we’re bugging God or a nuisance to Him when we ask Him for things. You have to be careful about allegorizing parables and making every detail illustrate something. The parable is presenting one main point, that boldness and persistence in prayer gets results more than just a quick one time request. There are blessings that God is willing to give us or others, but He may require to that we wrestle with Him in prayer before He will give them. And then another parable to teach the same principle is in Luke 18 about an unrighteous judge who did not fear God nor respect man. And a widow came to him and asked him for legal protection from her opponent. At first he just shrugged her off, because he didn’t care about her and he didn’t fear God. But the widow kept coming to him and kept asking him and eventually the judge said “This widow is going to wear me out” and so he finally granted her request. The point again is not that we’re bugging or annoying God when we ask for things. But sometimes God wants us to be persistent and to wrestle with Him in prayer. And so that’s why Paul had a great struggle in prayer for these Christians.
So wherever you are in your prayer life, you’d do well to pray more often, pray harder, pray more fervently, pray for more people, pray for people you haven’t seen before.
Now, let’s notice in 2:2-5…
What Maturity in Christ Involves (2:2-5)
I see here 6 elements or 6 ingredients of a spiritually mature person. Let’s start with the 2 in 2:5, because they’re like first steps toward maturity. There Paul points out 2 qualities that he is rejoicing to see in these Colossian Christians.
The first is…
He says, “I am rejoicing to see your good discipline…” Or most other versions have something like “I’m rejoicing to see your good order,” or “I’m rejoicing to see how orderly you are.” The Greek term means to be in order, to be arranged in the proper place. The word was used in military contexts to refer to soldiers being arranged in their ranks and marching in line in their proper places. What does he mean I’m rejoicing to see how orderly you are? Like you’re all marching in line?
Well, I discovered something that I think probably sheds some light on it. You find this same word in II Thessalonians 3 only with the letter alpha in the Greek text at the beginning of it. When you put an alpha on the front of a word in Greek it means the opposite of the word. It means dis-whatever or un-whatever. So in II Thessalonians 3 it means disorderly or undisciplined. You see it in 3:6 of II Thessalonians. “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly [disorderly] life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.” So a disorderly Christian is one who is not living according to, not marching in line, with the traditions of the apostles. The word tradition just means something passed down or handed down from one to another. Paul is talking about the teachings and instructions that were handed down by the Lord to him and the other apostles, and then the apostles handed them down to us (II Thess 2:15; I Cor 11:2). A Christian that is marching in line, that’s in good order, in his proper place, is one that’s following the traditions. So we must be traditional in a sense. Not in the sense that we must follow man-made traditions. But in the sense that we must hold to and follow the traditions that the Lord handed down to His apostles and the apostles to us. So like what? Well, like observance of the Lord’s Supper. I Corinthians 11:23 Paul says, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you [that’s the language of a tradition], that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me” and so forth. Well that’s one of the traditions the apostles handed down to us. It would be disorderly for a Christian to say “That’s not important. I’m not going to do that.” In II Thessalonians 3 where he talks about some who are living disorderly and not according to the tradition, Paul explains he has in mind more specifically certain Christians who are being lazy and not working to earn a living for themselves. They depending on other Christians to provide for them. They’re taking advantage of the goodness of their fellow Christians. That’s disorderly conduct, because it’s totally contrary what the Lord has handed down to us through the apostles about how we’re to conduct ourselves. So obedience basically is the idea here, obedience to what the apostles have handed down to us, obedience to the NT teachings. That’s a first step toward maturity.
A second element of spiritual maturity is…
A stable faith in Christ
Paul says in v5, “I’m rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.” He’s writing this letter to give them more stability. But he’s rejoicing to see the level of stability that they have, that they’ve not yet embraced the false teaching that they’re hearing.
A stable faith is when you have deep settled convictions about the Lord, when you know what you believe and why you believe it and why it’s right. And it means if you’re a Christian kid who goes off to college you’re not going to come back an unbeliever because a professor mocked your beliefs and mentioned a couple clever arguments against the existence of God. If you get cancer, if life’s hard, it doesn’t convince you that Christ isn’t there or that He doesn’t love you. If an intelligent, well educated, eloquent preacher has fine sounding arguments that there are many roads to heaven or that homosexuality is just a generic issue not a moral issue or things like that, you’re not influenced by that if your faith is stable.
Then look at 2:2 where we find 3 more elements of spiritual maturity. And the first one there is…
An encouraged heart
As opposed to a discouraged, weary, apathetic heart. Galatians 6:10 exhorts us to this, I think, when it says, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” And II Thessalonians 3:13, “Brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.” I think that’s the idea. When your heart does not grow weary of doing good.
Did you know that every week the same few people give their time to prepare and put on the children’s church that’s going on down stairs? They don’t get paid. They don’t hardly get any recognition for it. And then there are people that every week give time to prepare to teach children’s classes on Sundays and Wednesdays and they spend their gas and time to come here and just serve kids. Some of them have been doing that every week for years. And you know somebody gives their time to prepare the communion every week. Every week somebody mows the lawn and changes light bulbs and gives his time on the phone with the company that put the air conditioning unit in here and tries to get that working for us and fixes the baptistery… for no pay or recognition. And somebody gives their time to handle the church finances and get all the bills paid. There are ladies here that give a lot of time each week to writing cards of encouragement to people. There are people here who just of their own initiative and their own money bought a bunch of Bibles and had me store them in my office so that if we ever have anybody who needs a Bible we can give them a Bible. Every week some are giving up a big chunk of an evening and spending their money to feed the folks at the Samaritan house and build relationships with them. Every week some encourage us by driving an hour or more just to be with us and worship with us. Many are going out of their way to be a Christian influence on co-workers or on family members and nobody else knows about. And some are spending their own money to help missionaries or to help somebody in need and nobody else knows about it. People are spending their evenings and their Saturdays sometimes just serving. There’s lots of doing good. And when you’re doing that, doing what good you can with your own abilities and circumstances, and you just keep on when it’s been months since anybody has even acknowledged what you do and thanked you. And then when somebody criticizes you for how you’re doing the good thing that you’re doing that you don’t even have to do in the first place, and you just take it and keep on doing good. And then when you face disappointments, when you’re not seeing the results you were hoping for, the people you were trying to influence haven’t changed at all or you’re not seeing anybody come to the Lord, and you just keep on. And Satan can’t manage to discourage or weary you of doing good. I think that’s the heart Paul’s talking about, when he speaks here of an encouraged heart. That’s part of spiritual maturity.
The next element of maturity is…
Knitted to your Christian brothers and sisters in love
You’ve seen the bumper stickers today, “Jesus, Yes! Church, No!” You don’t find those bumper stickers on the cars of the spiritually mature. Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for her. The spiritually mature like Christ love the church, their fellow Christians. They so love them that they knitted together with them.
Do we so love one another that we’re knitted together? What does that mean? Knitted together I think is more than just attends church and sits next to them. I think it’s when your life is intertwined with theirs. It’s the kind of relationship you have with your family. And it would take great forces out of your control to pull you apart from them.
Don Hawkins a couple weeks ago on a Sunday night said that there was a couple that visited us that Sunday morning from down south somewhere. They came up here to see the Glacier National Park. And they were overwhelmed at the outpouring of love that they saw. All the visiting in the pews and in the foyer, all the hugging and smiling and laughing, the noise. And somebody invited them to lunch. And they said that they wish their congregation back home was like that. And Don said, “So we must be doing something right.” Yeah, must be. When Christians are knitted together in love that’s a mark of spiritual maturity. And as we grow, so will our relationships with one another.
Another element of spiritual maturity in v2 is…
Understanding Christ with full assurance
You understand Christ as Christ really is and you know that what you know is right. And so you know the answers to the the big questions. You’re one who can say, “I know where it all comes from. I know where it’s all going. I know what it’s all about. I know why I’m here. I know why you’re here. I know how we should live our lives.”
And that will make you strange in our culture, and you’ll probably be looked down on in our culture, because you know that our culture says that nobody can be for sure about anything when it comes to God and religion and morals. And so anyone who says “I know,” is looked down on as arrogant and unintelligent. The Bible disagrees. The Bible assumes God has left us plenty of signs, pointers, evidence so that we can be for sure about those things. A mature Christian has read the signs and is for sure.
And that will make you wealthy. You see how Paul words it, “I want you to attain to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding in the truth knowledge of God’s mystery, that is Christ Himself.” You know, if you’re driving somewhere through the mountains or through some scenic area, the only way you can really just enjoy the ride and enjoy the scenery is if you know you’re on the right road to the destination you want to be at. If you’re thinking that you may have taken a wrong turn back there somewhere and you may not end up at the destination you want to be at at the time you want to be there, your anxiety about that keeps you from enjoying the scenery. If you ever go repelling, like in a harness with a rope attached and you leap backwards off a cliff and bounce yourself down the cliff side to the bottom. That can be a very pleasant enjoyable experience, the bird’s eye view of the valley below and the feeling of floating as you bounce down the cliff, if you know that the rope is going to hold and the bolt going to hold and the person below is not going to let go of the rope and you’re going to be alright. The less sure you are about that the less enjoyable the ride down to the bottom is going to be. Life is like that. The only way you can really enjoy the ride is if you have assurance that you’re on the right road and you’re going to be alright at the end of it. So there’s wealth that comes from a full assurance of understanding. It also makes you wealthy because gives you that encouraged heart. It gives you the motivation to just keep on serving, keep on doing good for no pay, no recognition. When you know what the Lord has done for you and has in store for you it keeps you motivated. Full assurance also makes you wealthy because it knits you to your fellow Christians in love, because when you know the truth you know how valuable their souls are to God and you know how important it is that they stay faithful; it helps you be committed to them. But also I think it makes us rich because, as v3 suggests, it will give us treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The simplest Christian who knows Christ knows more than the most brilliant scientist, the greatest artist, the most intellectual philosopher that ever lived. They may know a lot about how nature works, how chemicals react, they know what the planets and the stars are made of and physics and math and arts and music, but ask them about the biggest questions, like what are we doing on this earth, what is the meaning of life, how should we live, those kind of questions, and they don’t have a clue. But in knowing and understanding Christ with full assurance you have that wisdom and understanding, and the peace and the significance and security that comes with it. So it makes you wealthy to understand Christ with full assurance.
And then one last element of spiritual maturity that I see here is…
Impervious to false teaching
Because you realize v3 that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. So when a very intelligent and impressive individual comes your way with persuasive, fine sounding arguments, but contrary to the word of Christ, you hang on to the word of Christ. Even if you can’t see the flaw in the person’s logic, even if you can’t disprove what they are saying, you just hang on to the word of the Lord, because you know that Christ knows best, that in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. You know that, so you’re never going to buy into something that is contrary to His word.
So this is spiritual maturity. This is the direction in which we need to be moving. Good discipline or obedience, stable faith in Christ, encouraged in heart, knit to our Christian brothers and sisters in love, understanding Christ with full assurance, and impervious to false teaching. And I plan to keep preaching simply Christ and praying for you, and I ask that you pray for me and for one another that we might get there.
– James Williams