We have been designed by God to grow mature. Just a quick glance around creation illustrates that. We see that in His design for humanity. We see that in His design for plant life. We see that in His design for animals. In the natural realm, the Lord has designed us to progress from infancy to maturity.
In the spiritual sense, this is also true. When we first come to Christ, we operate like infants. Everything is new to us. We begin the process of learning the Scriptures. We practice the process of walking by faith in Christ. We are strengthened by Him in the midst of trials and adversity. And by His grace, we have the privilege to grow spiritually mature.
One of the shocking realities that occurred to me when I was a new believer was the fact that many professing Christians don't place a high value on their spiritual maturity. It isn't one of their major priorities, nor is it a priority they attempt to model to their children. As a result, it feels like something is missing. Young believers aren't benefiting from the example of older believers and older believers aren't experiencing the joy of helping younger believers learn how to walk with Christ.
Thankfully, God's word gives us a picture of what spiritual maturity really looks like. Whether you feel like you've been blessed with great examples in your life to copy or not, we can all look to this section of 1 Peter 3 to find the picture and the pattern we're being invited to adopt as our own.
1. Live as family, not as adversaries
This past week, my family was blessed with the opportunity to take a long-weekend together. We took some time off and drove to New England to enjoy the Autumn weather and tour some of the historical sites in Boston, Concord, and several other places. All six of us shared a small hotel room together, which can be a challenge and a blessing at the same time. It forced us to get along, make each other laugh, compromise our schedules, and spend some time together. We loved it.
Getting along with other people can be a real challenge though, even among fellow Christians. We all have different personalities and preferences. We come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences that have influenced our approach to life. But for all of our differences, we also have much in common. We share a common Savior. We share a common hope. And we share a common future. We're going to be spending a lot of time together, so we might as well learn to get along now.
It can be challenging to get along, however, when you're under stress. That was something the people Peter was originally writing this letter to would have certainly understood. Many of them were in the midst of great suffering for their faith. Because of their desire to follow Christ, they were experiencing discomfort and persecution in their culture. When difficulties persist for a long period of time, stress can become rampant and Christian brothers and sisters might be tempted to begin living like adversaries.
But living like adversaries with your Christian family is not a picture of maturity. It's actually a picture of selfishness. Christ's calling on our lives is that we would be united under the banner of the truth of His gospel, sympathetic toward each other, loving, tender, and humble. This is how Christ has called us to relate. This is the kind of family He's been actively building. This is a visible sign that you're progressing from infancy to maturity.
2. Bless others like Jesus has blessed you
One of the hardest things to do in this world is to show kindness toward those who are hurtful toward you. I still remember observing my grandmother when I was a child, while she interacted with someone I had witnessed behaving in a hurtful way toward her family. She showed that woman love. She hugged her. She invited her into her home, and she didn't speak poorly of her when she wasn't around. At the time, that made a huge impact on me because I was still used to "playground justice." Scores were settled on the school playground. Frustrations were vented with fists during school recess. But that's not how I watched my grandmother respond to someone who had hurt her. She blessed when should could have retaliated.
Consider for just a moment how Jesus has chosen to bless us. Scripture tells us that we weren't looking for Him, so He came looking for us. We were content to go our own way and wallow in our sin, but He showed us a new way. We lived in opposition toward Him, yet He showed us kindness. We deserved judgement because of our sin, yet He who had no sin took our condemnation upon Himself at the cross. Now He's present with us and within us. Now He's strengthening us and leading us. Now He's preparing future blessings for us, and we don't deserve any of it.
People have and do offend me, yet if I set my heart toward getting back at them, all I'm really doing is forgetting the ways in which Jesus has chosen to bless me. When I revert back to playground justice, I forget the model of maturity that Christ showed me through my grandmother's example. It isn't my job to retaliate against those who intentionally hurt me. Rather, it's my privilege to bless others just as I have been blessed.
Interestingly, this Scripture tells us that when we bless others, even after they've hurt us, we are fulfilling Christ's calling on our lives and we will experience a God-ordained blessing. In other words, He will intentionally bless us as we model the truth of His gospel by blessing others. I think part of the way He will bless us is by giving us a sense of peace in knowing that we've done what was right. Our conscience won't disturb us. Our hearts won't be consumed with rage.
During this past year, one of the lessons the Lord has been impressing upon my heart is the sense of peace I can experience when I take time to pray for those who have hurt or offended me. I honestly think some of the people in my life who have caused me the most pain might be surprised how frequently I have started to pray for the Lord to guide, direct, and bless them. This is what Peter was encouraging the church to practice. This is what Christ is trying to teach us as well, but it isn't an easy lesson to learn.
3. Don't adopt this world's priorities as your own
Earlier this year, I took time to read through the book of Psalms. It such an emotionally beautiful book of the Scriptures. I saw a copy on display in Concord, Massachusetts the other day that indicated that during the time of the American Revolution, many area families had a copy in their home. Chaplains would read Psalms to comfort ailing troops. Families would read Psalms to bolster their hope. And when you look at the New Testament Scriptures, the Psalms are quoted from regularly, including in this passage.
Peter was quoting from Psalm 34 in this passage. Originally, these words were penned by David as the Holy Spirit gave him the words to say. In this passage, we're reminded not to adopt this world's priorities as our own.
This world speaks frequently of peace, but it usually practices warfare. This world speaks of honestly, yet it practices deceit. This world speaks of doing good, yet it often condones evil. And the dilemma every Christian that wants to grow mature in their faith is going to experience is whether or not to adopt the world's ways as their own.
If this world's priorities become my priorities, my mind will consume itself with temporary things and false saviors. My greatest hopes will be in the efforts of other men and my greatest ambitions will be focused on short-term gains. But when Christ's priorities become our priorities, we'll start to see life from His long-term perspective. We'll value His righteousness and we'll comprehend that He is the solution for the dilemmas that perplex humanity.
4. Never forget that the Lord sees and hears you
Peter continues to quote from Psalm 34 in this passage to remind us of important truth and to encourage us in the midst of whatever struggles we may be presently facing. No matter what might be burdening your heart during this season of your life, please remember that the Lord sees and hears His children. If He's allowing you to go through a difficult stretch, He will use it to strengthen your faith, increase your reliance on Him, and develop your maturity. He hasn't forgotten you. He sees you and He hears you.
Do you believe God hears you? Do you believe God sees you? You know who really believes? Often, it's children who display the deepest faith. Their faith is an example that Christ reminds us we can learn something from. It's often amusing and refreshing to see just how comfortable kids are with unloading their concerns and the things that are weighing down their hearts to the Lord.
I actually came across an article recently that included some quotes that parents had taken the time to write down of actual requests their children had made to the Lord in prayer.
Christ invites us to rely on Him as He fosters spiritual maturity within us. The Holy Spirit lives within all who trust in Christ, and He helps us to live as family, bless others, and avoid adopting worldly priorities. He also assures us that our Heavenly Father hears us and sees us. The season we may be enduring is probably not an easy one, but our Lord has not abandoned us. His eyes and ears are attentive to the needs of His children.
© John Stange, 2017