The Maturing Process
“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up into all aspects
of Him, who is the Head, even Christ.”
Ephesians 4:15, NASB
Hearing God’s voice produces faith in us (Rom. 10:17). But for what purpose? Is faith an end in itself? When we stand before God, will He use a heavenly faith-ometer to measure our faith and give us rewards based upon how many words we heard from God or how much faith we have accumulated? No, the practical consequence of faith is spiritual authority and with it comes many responsibilities. Hence, men will be judged according to their works (Rev. 20:12), which is their obedience to the word that they had heard.
When one receives a word from God, that word carries with it the responsibility to be obedient. If anyone questions whether or not he has the authority to do what God says to do, let it be known that the word itself gives the authority to do it. Whether or not the person is obedient, the person is accountable before God. For this reason, we ought primarily to seek to know for certain whether a word is from God or not. This may involve seeking a double witness, which, according to the divine law (Deut. 19:15), is what establishes all truth and divine revelation. Once we know for sure, we are accountable to Him to be obedient.
Next, we must seek the Father’s heart to know how to fulfill the word in the manner that Jesus would have done. The method of obedience is nearly as important as the obedience itself. For example, one may receive a word to give some criticism or correction to a brother in Christ. An immature Christian might go to that person and beat him with that word. A more mature Christian might correct the brother gently and with meekness, as Paul counsels in Gal. 6:1.
Love: The Measure of Spiritual Maturity
As we learn to utilize the authority by the mind of Christ, we mature spiritually as well. Maturity is measured primarily by our capacity to love. In the Greek language of the New Testament, there were three or four Greek words that were all translated “love” into the English language. Each word, however, has a distinct application of love that is not set forth in the English word “love.”
The first, eros, does not actually appear in the New Testament. It means physical attraction and is the lowest form of love—a selfish kind of love that is more like “I need you” than “I love you.” A baby has no ability to modify his demands according to the situation. A baby does not care if the mother is tired at night—or even if she is dead! The baby only knows its own need and demands that it be met.
The second, phileo, means brotherly love. It is a greater form of love that is depicted by brothers and sisters in a family. It is a legal type of love, where people treat each other with equal justice toward all. Yet it is a 50/50 relationship, a conditional love that incorporates the idea of fairness. When children are being raised in a family, everything must be fair. That is the kind of love we find in phileo.
The third, agape, is the kind of unconditional love that God shows through Jesus Christ. It is most characterized by the statement in Rom. 5:6-10, where the love (agape) of God is manifested in that Christ died for the ungodly and reconciled His enemies. He did not do this after they became godly and friends. He did this while they were yet ungodly and enemies. This is what characterizes the mature believer, the overcomer.
A new believer who has experienced Passover by being justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb is called a Christian. But in that stage of his spiritual development, his relationship with God is generally that of a baby to its mother. The baby does not really know how to love its mother. The baby needs his mother. The baby is entirely self-referencing, and the mother responds to its needs. When Christians make demands upon God or others, it shows immaturity.
When a Christian begins to mature and to learn obedience, he is like a child who reaches the age when he is capable of learning to be obedient. He begins to learn the meaning of NO. The biblical term is “Thou shalt not.” Like a child who is learning to respect the property of others (particularly siblings), Christians in this stage of spiritual development also must learn the law. The law teaches people to respect the rights of others in a judicial relationship. This is phileo love. This is also the experience of Pentecost, which was the biblical feast celebrating the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.
When a Christian reaches some level of spiritual maturity and has learned to hear and obey the voice of God, he starts to enter the experience of the final feast of Israel, that of the Feast of Tabernacles. This is the realm of agape love. Overcomers are forgivers (Matt. 6:12 and 18:21-35.) They do not hold grudges, for the Lev. 19:18 says,
18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
They have learned from Deut. 32:35 that “to Me [God] belongeth vengeance and recompense.” In Rom. 12:19 the apostle Paul quotes this and adds in verses 20 and 21,
20 But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. 21 Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The average Christian does not truly comprehend this principle. It takes real spiritual maturity to live by it. Any religion can teach men to love a good man. Jews are taught to love Moses and even to die for him. And they would be happy to take some of Moses’ enemies with them. Muslims are taught to love Mohammed, and many would die for him, because they believe he was a good man and a great prophet. And they would be happy to take some of Allah’s enemies with them. Many Christians would die for Jesus, because they believe that He was God in the flesh or at least a good man. And, unfortunately, they would be happy to take as many of Jesus’ enemies and other heretics with them.
In Moses’ day, the magicians of Egypt could match a few of Moses’ miracles (Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:7, 18), but there came a point where they fell short (Ex. 9:11). Even so, all the religions of the world can teach men to love others, but they can go no further than eros and phileo. None can match the love of Christ, the love called agape. Such love is not rational.
How many would die for those that they believe are ungodly? How many would die for those that they believe are “enemies” of their God or enemies of the founder of their religion? Only those the Bible calls overcomers would dare to do such a thing. To all others, it would be irrational to expect such love. And so, the love of God, as defined by Paul in Romans 5, is not for the average person, nor even for the average Christian. It is reserved for those who can see beyond the rational and into the mind of Christ.
Mathematically, the love of God is manifested in the tabernacle of Moses, where we find the golden lamp stand that represents the light of God and His word. The lamp stand has a center post with six branches on it, for a total of seven. On the lamp stand are 22 almonds, which represent the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet—which in turn represent the word, since letters make up all words.
The seven branches and the 22 words form 22/7, a mathematical fraction that represents pi (3.14). Pi is the main feature of a circle, because the circumference of a circle is the diameter multiplied by pi. A circle represents eternity, because of its never-ending cycle. Pi itself is the sixteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, and sixteen is the biblical number of love. Thus, the “word” portrayed in the lamp stand is summarized by a single word: love. Love is eternal and stands as the light of the world.
Moreover, pi is also never-ending, because the fraction of 22/7 never ends. It is 3.14159… and has no ending or repeat, even to a hundred trillion calculations, as modern computers have shown. Thus, it is called an irrational number, because the love of God itself is irrational to the human mind.
The three types of love also correspond with Israel’s main feast days: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. These festivals represent levels of our relationship with God, and hence, spiritual maturity. Thus, agape love characterizes those who strive to go beyond Pentecost and experience the feast of Tabernacles. It is not surprising, then, that the last great day of that feast, the eighth day of that feast, is always held on the 22nd day of the 7th month. This again manifests the 22/7 relation of pi.
We are all victimized at times by evil men or by evil govern-ments. It is therefore an easy matter to justify hatred. Not many would be kind to their enemies. Our immediate reaction is to attempt to overcome such evil and injustice by the principle of vengeance. Of course, Christians would always do it with “righteous indignation.”
A striking recent example of this is the American reaction to the destruction of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Many people demanded vengeance, instead of correcting the injustices that provoked such an attack in the first place. It is common for governments—and the Church itself—to suppress revolt and to crush all uprisings under the assumption that no enemy or citizen has the right to revolt or to protest violently. But injustice is the breeding ground for discontent, and to ignore the non-violent protests is to promote a feeling of frustration and anger among non-overcomers.
President Bush accommodated the vengeance-seekers, with much support from the Christian community as well. But he has not even attempted to solve the underlying problem of injustice that the Israelis have perpetrated upon the Palestinians with the support of America. (See our book, The Struggle for the Birthright.) Instead, he chose to overcome evil with more evil.
To put forth the idea of overcoming evil with good would have been laughable, even in the eyes of most Christians. But then, most Christians are not very mature spiritually. They are too rational and practical for that. The irrational overcomers are in the minority. And so this method of overcoming evil is seldom done or even taught with any real understanding in the Church today. The Christianity that the Church practices is hardly different in this area from other religions that teach the virtue of vengeance. This is primarily because too many Christians do not really know or have the mind of Christ, and so they do not know how to practice agape love.
Understanding Through Experience
Spiritual maturity is measured also by one’s understanding that comes only through broadened experience in life. As we learn to hear His voice, God often will speak words that we do not understand. Or perhaps we think we understand, but after a time we discover that we did not really understand Him at all. God is always teaching, and we must assume from the beginning that our ways are not His ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). If they were, God would not need to teach us, for we would know everything already.
Hence, our present understanding—as students of Christ—is flawed or immature and in need of alteration. For this reason Prov. 3:5 says,
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Understanding is important, but it must be according to the mind of Christ. This is the type of understanding that comes by following the leading of the Spirit and hearing His voice daily. This is what Solomon meant when he wrote in Prov. 4:5-7,
5 Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. 6 Do not forget her, and she will guard you; love her, and she will watch over you. 7 The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring, get understanding.
One should not need to understand before one obeys. But once one has obeyed, God always gives understanding at some point, because that is one of the primary purposes of obedience. Each time God speaks, and each time we obey, we gain experience. That experience is designed to give us understanding, or to alter our perception in a way that gives us a better understanding of the ways of God. Therefore, one’s understanding of the mind of Christ is one way in which we might measure spiritual maturity.
Heart Idols Overthrown
Thirdly, spiritual maturity is also measured by the number of heart idols that have been overthrown in our minds. For that reason, we recommend reading our other book, Hearing God’s Voice, before reading this one. The first book was designed to show first that God does indeed speak to men, and secondly a little about how to begin to hear God’s voice. The second chapter is entitled, “Hearing Without Idols.” The Bible has much to say about the concept of heart idolatry and how it affects our ability to hear God.
If one has not dealt with heart idolatry and the carnal way of thinking and viewing one’s enemies (or God’s enemies), such a person will probably end up delivering curses, rather than delivering those who are cursed. Their spiritual condition will therefore become worse, rather than better, and the world will not be improved at all by such efforts.
This book on spiritual warfare is more practical than theoretical. It has to do with applying what one has heard, rather than in developing the ability to hear. There are people who lack the confidence that they actually hear God—when in fact everyone hears the voice of God on some level, as Psalm 19 illustrates. Some lack the confidence when they do hear. Others have more confidence than they ought to have. Some still have serious idols of understanding in their hearts that are hidden to them. A few have followed the Lord long enough to develop the wisdom and understanding that make them valuable assets to the Kingdom of heaven.
Mature Christians and Christian Zealots
A mature Christian is not the same as a zealous Christian. A zealot is often known as a fanatic. A zealot is one who has a partial understanding of a situation and of the Word of God, but is ready to die and to kill anyone else who gets in his way to accomplish his goal. It is a good thing to believe firmly and strongly in God and the truth, but without spiritual maturity, such zealous Christians end up doing more harm than good. Without having the ability to see people and situations through the eyes of Christ, creeds become more important than people. Zealots sacrifice men on the altar of their creeds. They justify the destruction on the grounds that one must remove the evil before one can build the good. In practice, however, the destruction never ceases, and the good is never built.
Throughout history, men have fought wars of extermination, first with one side killing everyone within reach, and then the other side following their example. Communism under Lenin and Stalin destroyed middle- and upper-class Russia in order to rebuild the nation under its own model of socialism. Millions of Ukrainian farmers were starved to death for a “greater good.” The end always justified the means in their eyes. What good did it do? By the end of the twentieth century, communism had been totally exposed as an ideological failure. But meanwhile, the communist experiment had already killed millions of people and caused much suffering and oppression. Even apologies cannot bring their victims back to life.
One would think that Christian people, who could read the words of Jesus in the gospels, might be able to avoid the carnal way of overcoming evil. However, the Church, beginning in the fourth century A.D., began to adopt these same carnal ways in adopting their creeds, or belief systems. The creeds of orthodoxy in “mainstream Christianity,” were not determined by prayer or by hearing the voice of God. From the first church council in 325 A.D. that established the doctrine of the Trinity, through all of the later councils that attempted to determine the precise nature of Jesus Christ, carnal methods reigned supreme. The back-room arm twisting, the threats, and the bribes did far more to establish Church creeds than divine revelation.
The methods by which orthodox “truth” was established in the fourth-century Church Councils and afterward render the creeds entirely polluted, like a fly in the soup. Even if the facts were correct, nothing is truth apart from the Holy Spirit. Truth is a Person—not a set of facts or creeds. Truth is a revelation, not a political statement.
In 382 A.D. Gregory of Nazianzen, one of the most revered bishops in the early Church, wrote shortly after the ecumenical council held a year earlier,
“To tell the truth, I am inclined to shun every collection of bishops, because I have never yet seen that a synod came to a good end, or abated evils instead of increasing them. For in those assemblies (and I do not think I express myself too strongly here) indescribable contentiousness and ambition prevail, and it is easier for one to incur the reproach of wishing to set himself up as judge of the wickedness of others, than to attain any success in putting the wickedness away. Therefore I have withdrawn myself, and have found rest to my soul only in solitude.” [from Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, page 347.]
Philip Schaff then makes the comment on the same page,
“Yet there remains enough in his many unfavorable pictures of the bishops and synods of his time, to dispel all illusions of their immaculate purity. . . . In the fifth century it was no better, but rather worse. At the third general council, at Ephesus, 431, all accounts agree that shameful intrigue, uncharitable lust of condemnation, and coarse violence of conduct were almost as prevalent as in the notorious robber-council of Ephesus in 449. . .”
While these Church Councils were not overt declarations of war in the usual sense of the word, they were certainly based upon the same type of carnal politics as one might find among worldly people. It shows clearly that just because a man is well regarded as a great leader of the Church and full of learning, this does not necessarily mean that he is at all spiritually mature.
Hence, this is not a book of theology to teach men the precise nature of Christ and the relationship between his earthly body and the divinity of His being. If anyone thinks that he, in his carnal mind, has comprehended the precise nature of Jesus Christ, he ought to be mature about his belief and allow others the right to think differently, even if their view may be “wrong.”
How to Handle Differences of Opinion
Peter and Paul had differences of opinion. James differed from Paul as well. Yet all were steadfast believers, and all wrote portions of the New Testament under divine inspiration. Their revelations only appear to be contradictory. It takes spiritual maturity to be able to take two seemingly contradictory ideas and see the truth in both sides.
For example, when one compares Romans 4:1-5 with James 2:21-24, the immature believers might be tempted to choose sides, as if there were a religious war between the apostles. Paul quotes Gen. 15:6 to show that Abraham’s faith was the basis of his justification. James quotes the same verse to show that Abraham was justified not only by faith, but a combination of faith and works. So which apostle was right? BOTH OF THEM.
Paul was showing the root of justification, which is faith. James was showing us that in actual practice it is not enough to espouse faith with one’s mouth. Anyone can do that. True faith is not a dead “confession of faith.” A man must be a doer of the word, and not merely a hearer (James 1:22). The Hebrew word, shama, means both “to hear” and “to obey.” If a person says he has heard God, yet does not obey, he has not really heard at all. Obedience is the proof that one has indeed heard.
Some will read Paul and will misunderstand him. Such people will become lawless, thinking Paul put away the law and despised “works” (i.e., obedience). But Paul never said obedience was unimportant. He merely made the distinction between justification and sanctification. Paul made a distinction between Passover and Pentecost. Passover means one is justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb. Pentecost is obedience training, which Israel began to learn at the foot of Mount Sinai, the place where the law was given. But the way to the Promised Land must always go through Sinai, for that is the biblical pattern. Both feast days are important.
Hence, Paul is correct in saying that one’s justification is by faith and distinct from works. But James is also correct in saying that one cannot claim to have faith if he is lawless, attempting to go directly from Egypt to the Promised Land without going through Sinai.
There is no contradiction here. One must read both Paul and James to achieve the balance of truth. Paul and James each portray a portion of the divine revelation. To know the complete truth in this matter, one must understand the reconciliation of Paul and James.
The spiritually mature believer will pray to understand the truth in both writings. He will not love one and despise the other. Some Bible commentators have not been able to reconcile the two views, and so they leave men thinking that God has two irreconcilable means of justification—the doctrine of justification by works (for Jews) and the doctrine of free grace for everyone else. Such a teaching makes it impossible for a Jew to be justified, because no Jew is perfect. All have sinned (Rom. 3:23) including every Jew. If his justification depends upon his works, he is lost forever.
And likewise, such a teaching tends to give lawless Christians a clean conscience. They think that accepting the free gift of grace that came by Jesus’ Christ means that they are now free to violate God’s law with full immunity. They sin that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1).
This is merely an example of how Christians may differ (or at least seem to differ) in their thinking. But this book is not intended to solve these differences. Until we are fully mature and are in the Image of Christ, we will differ with each other. The apostles themselves differed. This book is intended to promote spiritual maturity, so that Christians can be more charitable toward those who differ with them.
It is not necessary to destroy our opponents in doctrine. The world ought to be an open forum. If any man has a viewpoint, he should be free to express it and to discuss it with others. Ideally, if men disagree, they ought to be able to appeal to the divine court and receive an answer from God Himself. It is largely because we lack the ability to hear God’s voice distinctly that our differences remain. And it is the lack of love that keeps us divided.