Your Maturity is Showing
by Heidi Swander
September 7, 2011
I recently wrote these words as an introduction to another person's blog post I was sharing on my personal Web site: "In the days we live, spiritual maturity is so vital, yet so lacking. And lest we think we've arrived because we believe we can discern truth from error where something like the Emergent Church is concerned, or because we think we've got the goods on the Pre-Trib Rapture of the Church -- as Paul says, we must not think too highly of ourselves. A self-centered attitude; a merciless attitude toward fellow believers -- true believers, I'm talking; a basic holier-than-thou attitude that preens itself because of the perception that we're more well-versed in 'the truth'-- these attitudes also show a decided lack of maturity in our daily walk with Jesus Christ.
And then I went to work Friday and experienced the fleshing-out of this. Believers who took issue with a particular Christian leader began to castigate him to us for his actions with which they disagreed. Perhaps it would be a good idea to disassociate with him, some suggested to us, because he's obviously headed in the direction of apostasy.
Let me ask you a question: At what point does a fellow Christian deserve to be ostracized for their perceived apostasy? Where do you draw the line regarding Christians you will and will not fellowship with? When has a spiritual leader made a definitive decline into error? Sorry, that's three questions. Well, think about them for a moment. They're important questions to answer.
While you're thinking, I will admit to you that I am weary of the spiritual immaturity of many "discerning" believers. I am tired of the circular firing squads that have been drafted that position Christians to repeatedly fire on each other. I'm worn out from bitter, caustic diatribes toward fellow believers who have not proved to be ambassadors of the enemy at all, but someone we have short-changed by not allowing discourse on their perceived error.
Don't get me wrong: There are plenty of times, in these last days, when we must "contend earnestly for the faith." But the wise man or woman must discern when to contend and when to counsel. Let me explain what God has been teaching me.
While Priscilla and Aquilla were serving God in Ephesus, a man named Apollos came to town. According to Luke, who authored the narrative, Apollos was "mighty in the Scriptures . . . fervent in spirit . . . and spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord." BUT -- and this is a big but -- "he knew only the baptism of John." So here we are in the decade after Christ's death and resurrection, along comes this fiery preacher teaching the Word of God to the best of his knowledge, but his knowledge was incomplete by a long shot. He'd entirely missed the story of the Savior who died a substitutionary death for sin. Because of this he was, in effect, teaching error -- but without meaning to. This last phrase is extremely important.
What did Priscilla and Aquilla do? Did they disassociate from him? Did they badmouth him to all the Christians in Ephesus and encourage the church at large to shun him? No. The Scripture says that, "they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." They privately spoke with him, and it appears evident from the context that he humbly accepted their information, corrected his message and went on to serve God with great fervor.
Now counter that with these two men: Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul mentions them twice to Timothy in his letters. Paul explained to Timothy that the faith of these two men had "suffered shipwreck" and that he had delivered them to Satan so that they would learn not to blaspheme. He specifically told Timothy that they had "strayed concerning the truth" and that their teaching had overthrown the faith of some believers. These men were belligerent false teachers. The note in my study Bible says, "They had been in the church, heard the gospel and rejected it in favor of false doctrine. Apostasy is a turning away from the gospel."
As the Lord brought these two stories to my mind I could clearly see the difference between the ignorance and humility of Apollos and the antagonism and defiant behavior of Hymenaeus and Alexander. One was just not well-informed, but upon becoming informed respectfully changed his course and teaching. The other men flatly rejected the truth and destructively taught error. Do you see the difference?
Here's another nugget God showed me just this morning. God delights in mercy (defined as "a disposition to be kind and forgiving; compassionate.") Paul describes our Father as rich in mercy. In fact, the Bible is full of verses describing God as a God of mercy. Take a concordance and study it yourself.
Now, not only does God, Himself, delight in being merciful, but He requires that we be merciful as well. James says that "the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits . . ." (James 3:17).
When we are quick to judge our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, assume they should know about a certain doctrine or error or false teacher because we do, and harshly judge and criticize them without first ascertaining their attitude toward being informed and corrected, that is not a merciful attitude. It is not a peaceable attitude. It is not a Christ-honoring, Christ-like attitude. It is proud and self-centered and wrong.
We must always keep in mind that we are each at a different level of spiritual maturity and we each grow up in Christ at a different pace. We must not assume that another believer has all the information we do and immediately judge them as rebellious or apostate until we know for certain that they have, in fact, purposely strayed from the truth as presented in Scripture. If it is simply a matter of immaturity and we judge them inaccurately, we do both them and ourselves a disservice, and can bring harm to the reputation of Jesus Christ, for whom we are called as ambassadors.
Paul warned the Galatians to have a "spirit of gentleness" about them as they sought to restore wayward believers, and to consider themselves -- their own relationship with God -- as they did so. We are still incarcerated in sinful flesh and it is so easy to fall into pride or harsh judging or self-exalting behavior. We must, as well, continually examine what we believe to be true in light of Scripture.
In the final analysis, it's not simply what we know -- the facts. It's Who we know -- not just relationally, but intimately. We must strive to grow up in Jesus Christ - into well-rounded, scripturally-grounded testimonies to the world, so that we reflect His character more and more every day. May we each spend time in the whole counsel of God, growing our spirits while simultaneously discerning truth from error in these last days.
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