Be Mature!   
Matthew 5:43-48, Ephesians 4:11-14,
Philippians 3:12-15, James 3:1-2

By Paul Robison

The death of a child or a teen is usually a difficult time for us.  It's not that such deaths don't happen, but they're not the norm.  We often think, “Here was a budding life, but now we will never see the potential that person had become a reality in the future.”  Another tragedy is one that touches me daily: that's watching someone grow up physically, but he or she remains an infant,  mentally.  Most all of you know that our youngest son has the body of a teen but the mind of a child.  This was because of a genetic defect in the development of the fetus.  And you probably have seen other examples of someone who has an adult body but is very delayed mentally.  But perhaps even more tragic than these examples is the Christian who grows up physically, mentally, and socially, but he or she remains an infant spiritually.  There are some members who have been going to church all their lives, but they remain baby Christians.  They are similar to members in the Corinthian church to whom the apostle Paul wrote.  Our challenge today is “Be Mature!”
 
Note what he says to those infant members in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk and not with solid food ....”  Now there is nothing wrong with those who are babes in Christ because they haven't been converted very long.  But something is very abnormal and tragic if one has been a Christian for numerous years, but still acts very infantile and selfish in their conduct.  Before we look at some ways that we need to be mature, please allow just a little more explanation about this word “mature”.  We saw in our passage that Paul calls the Corinthians “babes in Christ”.  “Babes” means infant, immature, untaught, and unskilled.  Now the opposite of this is one who is full-grown, mature, taught, and skilled.  In the King James Version, this term is sometimes translated “mature,” and sometimes it is translated “perfect.”  The term “perfect” here is not referring to a sinless Christian.  For example, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:6 in the King James Version that “we speak wisdom among them that are perfect” (and if you know anything about the members in Corinth, you know that they weren't sinless disciples).  The New Kings James Version reads at that verse: “We speak wisdom among those who are mature.”  The point is that all the passages we'll look at this morning have the Greek word for “mature” in them.  These passages are showing four ways in which you can show maturity as a Christian.  Be mature!  
 
Recall our reading in Matthew 5:43-48.  “You have heard it was said: 'You shall love your neighbors and hate your enemy.'”  The expression “hate your enemy” is not found in the Old Testament.  The Jewish religious teachers probably added this idea.  Notice Jesus' authority in verse 44, where again He says, “But I say to you ...” Jesus prohibits hate and replaces it with actions going beyond a sentimental feeling.  We are to pray for our enemies, which shows that we have their spiritual best interest at heart (now that's real love, the kind that God shows to all mankind, both to sinners and to saints).  As His sons, we share in our Father's character, and that character is to give blessings to all people.  When Jesus asks in verse 47, “What do you more than others,” we see that He challenges us as disciples to be different in our relationships than to uphold just those back-scratching relationships so common in our world.  We don't just love other Christians; we are to strive to love all people, the nice and the not so nice! Notice what several commentators say about verse 48: “We are to manifest towards our enemies that same loving, kind, and forgiving spirit that God exercised towards us while we were his enemies.  Jesus means for us to have the same kind of maturity which God has” (Kelcy); “'Whole' or 'mature' is nearer its meaning, ... the complete love that includes enemies ... like God's love” (Lewis); “It is an ideal, not a special status of sinless perfection” (France).  So how mature are you in your relationships?  Isn't it astounding that Jesus has reversed the old proverb: “One bad apple spoils the whole barrel”, and it now reads: “One good apple can inspire the whole barrel”?  President Lincoln was known widely for his forgiveness and for turning enemies into friends.  Here are three quick examples.  He told Mrs. Lincoln: “Do good to those who hate you and turn their ill will to friendship.”  He not only said this, but he practiced it.  Mr. Chase, his Secretary of Treasury, hardly had a kind word for Lincoln.  Lincoln had several options in dealing with him, but he chose to “... simply let him alone ... until Mr. Chase resigned once too often, and then, ... he accepted his resignation” (Behn).  When a reporter asked Lincoln how he would treat those of the South after the Civil War had ended, he replied: “I will treat them as if they had never been away” (Barclay).  Here's another example maturity.  There was a famous singer and hymn writer on a ship going down the Delaware River.  Recognizing him, some passengers asked him to sing one of his hymns.  He said that he preferred to sing Bradbury's hymn “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”  He asked all to join him.  One stanza goes: “We are Thine, do Thou befriend us; be the guardian of our way.”  After singing, a man came out of the crowd and asked the singer if he had served in the Union Army and done guard duty in Maryland in 1862?  He replied, “Yes!”  Then the man said, “I was in the Confederate Army.  I saw you one night while you were on guard duty and had you in my gun sight in the light of a full moon.  But you started singing this very hymn, and you asked God to be the guardian of your way, and being God-fearing myself, I couldn't shoot you” (Larson-Elshof).  Romans 12:21 exhorts us: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Be mature in your relationships!  Be mature!
 
Recall our reading in Ephesians 4:11-14.  Individual maturity only takes place in the context of the body (Weed).  The equipping of each member is a joint effort of the leadership.  There is to be unity of faith and knowledge about Jesus.  Paul says the goal of this growth is “a perfect man” or “a mature group,” which attains “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  What is meant by this fullness?  Here's what three commentators say: 1) Christ's fullness is “the complete possession of the gifts and grace of Christ that He seeks to impart to humanity” (Foulkes); 2) A “well-founded fidelity to the Gospel and to Christ Himself is required. ... The Christian is to grow out of a gullibility into maturity” (Dunnam); 3) “Disciples love, give, sacrifice, and hurt for others as Jesus did” (Bullard).  These commentators show that Christian’s maturity means knowing, growing, and showing.  Growing in His grace, knowing His teaching, and showing His loving actions.  Does Jesus really have the first priority in your life?  Someone has said: “Discipleship is anything that causes what is believed in the heart to have observable consequences in daily life” (Peterson).  Your maturity “begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself” (McNaughton). Here's a little poem to consider: “If He should come today and find my hand so full of future plans, however fair, in which my Savior has no share.  What would He say?  If He should come today and find my love so cold, my faith so very weak and dim, I had not ever looked for Him. What would He say?  If He should come today and find that I had not told one soul about my heavenly Friend Whose blessings all my way attend, what would He say?” ( Troy in Swindoll “Jesus”).  Jesus once washed His disciples’ feet and then encouraged them to wash one another's feet.  How many others have you helped lately?  Be mature in your relationships and in your discipleship!  Be mature!
 
Recall now the text in Philippians 3:12-15.  “But one thing I do, forgetting those thing which are behind, and reaching forward to the things ahead, I press on toward to goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!”  Paul did not let his past overshadow his present and his future (Coffman).  Paul kept his eye on the spiritual finish line and was determined to keep advancing towards the tape (Ibid).  If Paul had preached this text, he might say it this way: “Run with your eyes on the course!  Keep your attention on your present steps!  Do not rest on your laurels!  Press on for the victory ahead!” (Modified, Dunnam).  Verse 15 states that those who are mature will share Paul's view.  One commentator states: “The only mature Christian is one who keeps striving for the prize realizing his ever present imperfection” (Weed).  Another observes: “The mature Christian is greatly dissatisfied and longs for greater heights, so he or she sets their eyes on the goal, looks towards the prize, and bends all their energies toward realizing that great objective” (Kelcy)!  Do we this same focus that Paul had?  Do we have our eyes on the goal of heaven?  Someone has noted that when a lion trainer enters the cage, he carries three things: a pistol, a whip, and a stool.  The most important is the stool.  By putting the legs before the lion, he tries to focus on each leg at once, and a kind of paralysis overcomes the animal.  It becomes weak because is attention is fragmented (Larson-Elshof).  Now before we think the lion is really foolish, notice how someone else has described us: “The outward distractions of our interests reflect an inner lack of integration in our own selves.  We are trying to be several selves at once without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us” (Kelly).  Be mature in your focus!  During the Apollo 13 mission, a critical course correction needed to be made, or the astronauts might never return to earth.  To conserve power, the on board computer that steered the craft was shut down.  But then how to steer became the problem.  Astronaut Jim Lovell determined that if a reference point could be followed, the craft could be steered manually.  The earth outside their tiny window became his focal point for 39 agonizing seconds while the correction was made.  With that focus, disaster was avoided.  Hebrews 12:1-2 admonishes us: “... let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher our faith ...” Be mature in your relationships, in your discipleship, and in your focus.  Heaven will surely be worth it all!  “Set your mind on this above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).  Keep looking upward!  Be mature!
 
Recall the last passage in James 3:1-2.  “Concern about believers flocking to this teaching ministry for the wrong reasons probably lies behind James' warning that not many become teachers ... The ministry must not be entered into for frivolous or selfish reasons” (Moo).  The importance of teaching is shown by the fact that teachers will be judged more strictly, or will be held accountable that their lives match up to their words.  In regards to James' “perfect man,” note what two commentators have to say: 1) “The person who can control his tongue is no longer a babe, but an adult. ... The one who swears, lies, or gossips has not grown up, and our other religious acts are rendered vain. ... The wrong kind of speech is proof that the person from whose tongue it comes is immature” (Kelcy). 2) “Ethically it means a 'mature,' a 'full grown,' person.  Specifically it means that the kind of character which God is trying to develop in all of us as we grow into the image of Christ has been achieved” (Roberts).  Someone has remarked: “It take two years to learn to talk, and then 70 to learn to control it” (Unknown, Rowell).  Another person said factitiously, “Give that blasting speech when you're angry and tell them off in a few minutes!  And then realize that you'll live a lifetime always regretting it” (Peter in Rowell)!  Here's a little poem that notes the importance and influence of our speech:  “I lost a very little word only the other day.  It was a very nasty word that I had not meant to say; But then, it was not really lost, as from my lips it flew, My little brother picked it up, and now he says it too” (King in Swindoll)!  Da Vinci once said that the tongue has more muscles in it because it has so many more movements that it must make” (Swindoll).  James tells us in this same chapter in verse 10 that blessing and cursing coming from the same mouth ought not to be so!  Many people joke about their course language, but Jesus' teaching in Matthew 12:37 should keep us serious: “For by your words, you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned.”  And this is taking about the final judgment and its eternal consequences.  Let's strive to tame our tongues and be mature in our speech!
 
At the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986, there were two electrical engineers who were playing around with the reactor.  The Soviets later described it as an unauthorized experiment.  They were trying to see how long the turbine would freewheel when they took the power away.  This was very immature behavior as they ignored the safety of millions, just to satisfy their own personal curiosity.  Taking power off a reactor is very dangerous because it can create a deadly instability.  To perform their experiment, these engineers ignored six separate computer driven alarm system.  Each computer warned: “Stop! Danger!  Go no further!”  Rather than stopping, they shut off the alarms and manually overrode each system.  You know the result: nuclear fallout that was recorded all around the world from the largest industrial accident ever to occur in the world.  How foolish were those immature engineers (Tripp in Rowell)!  But also what is foolish are those in this audience who hear yet another warning from God's Word: “Grow up!  Love your enemies!  Imitate the Lord!  Focus on heaven! Tame your tongue!  Be mature!”  Yet, you will ignore this invitation to improve.  You will not ask for the prayers of others to help you mature spiritually!  You'll keep overriding every invitation offered to keep up your personal experiments, despite the harm it may bring to others.  Those of you who are not disciples of Jesus, why do you keep on ignoring the flashing danger sign: “Go no further on your own!”  The first step toward maturity is to acknowledge that you need a Savior; a Helper who can change your conduct to be more mature.  Let's all wise up!  Let's be mature!
 
Let's pray: “Lord, thank you for challenging us.  Help us be mature Christians.  Forgive us when we act so immature.  In Jesus' name, Amen.”
 
“Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20)!  In your understanding be mature.  Be mature in your relationships, in your discipleship, in your focus, and in you speech.  Quit being childish, and take your responsibility before God seriously!  Let Jesus and others help you.  Don't keep flirting with danger by yourself!  Heed the warnings and show your maturity to all by responding to Jesus' invitation now.