Christian Maturity Redefined

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4‬:‭11‬-‭16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Leaders and shepherds are gifts from God to the church. Gifts are just that: gifts. They should never garner more attention than the “Gifter” (God). Sadly, this happens sometimes. Occasionally, these “gifts” prop themselves up, make names for themselves, and gather admiration from equally “immature” Christian audiences. You might come across posters advertising Christian conferences where the picture or name of a renowned speaker takes center stage. On the side of the church members, there is a danger of giving more honor to God’s servants than to God Himself. I once witnessed a congregant scrambling to a front-row seat to have a better view of a visiting renowned speaker and to experience a closer range of anointing from him. When people start to “treasure” the gifts above the Gifter, it becomes idolatry.

Paul clearly spelled out the responsibility of church leaders: equipping and building. When you think about equipping and building, what comes to mind? Is it training sessions and an increasing congregation size? Is that what God wants for the church—a community that buzzes about attending Christian courses and works hard to bring people to church to enhance the numbers? No, there is something more vital: the church should “be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.” God is not seeking a big church filled with “baby” believers but a congregation of mature disciples who portray Christ-likeness.

Then Paul singled out the marks or symptoms of immaturity. Perhaps it is easier to see the negative before understanding the positive traits of maturity. The signs of immaturity are when people are “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching” and “are influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.” A clear mark of immaturity is not the absence of service in a church, but rather when people go or serve solely where the attraction lies, be it “feel-good” sermons or “spine-chilling” supernatural experiences. This is a dangerous path to tread, particularly in the end times when false teaching becomes rampant and commonplace. Paul stressed that we can only be mature when we grow “in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son.” Personal knowledge and a daily relationship with the Lord Jesus are the only ways to spiritual maturity. Maturity cannot be attained by attending ad hoc Christian conferences or undergoing numerous training courses. It doesn’t work that way! In fact, one of the sure signs of maturity is the demonstration of love, as Paul mentioned: “As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” The mark of discipleship is love, not head knowledge or even having an abundance of spiritual gifts.

Reflection Pointers:

1. This passage is not meant for you to judge the leadership in your church. It is to help you evaluate your prime motivation in Christian service and ensure Jesus is always the centre of all you do in serving a church

2. If you are a church leader, it’s time to reflect on the prime go in helping others go in Christ and whether your emphasis, your work of building up others are consistent with truly biblical objective to produce matured disciples in life and character and not simply knowledge-filled or talented individuals. 

The 4 grounds 

And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 

‭‭Mark‬ ‭4‬:‭2‬-‭9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This parable speaks of 4 types of ground on which seeds are sown and how the ground’s condition affect the process of growth of the seeds.

The ground represents people’s heart condition and response to the the Word and the “people” can represent both the believers and non-believers. We can probably see the parable from a different light.

The path or wayside. This is a boundary-free open space where everyone walks on. A place where people advocate open attitudes towards faiths. Everything goes for them, truth or falsehood. They seek compromises and middle grounds, therefore do not put up a stand on a conviction – which perhaps they may not have one. They can’t distinguish between the true and the false. Truths spoken to them are “taken away” by the “birds” of liberal theologies and false teachings.

The stoney ground. Stones do not provide the environment for seeds to grow roots though they may still germinate into a young shoot. Seem promising at first. But there is no anchor point for the root to sink into. You probably see initially excited believers caught in the frenzy of “doing church” through joining many programmes and social interactions but are not built up on the Word to grow as intentional disciples. Everything seems good until the storms and winds of life’s circumstances set in, and these fall away. Or it may that, like stones which are cold, a church could have a cold environment of legalistic rituals and traditions that does not display love and acceptance of people. This also lead to a fall away.

The thorny ground. A choking environment. While the shoots wants to sprout and grow, this environment’s focus on the cares of the world and the world’s way of doing things stifle them. Christian movements that pursue consumerism spread the “feel-good” gospel and set people to pursue the wrong things in life. False teachings, like thorns, stifle real growth and they can be very subtle – people are brought to believe they are doing the right thing when they are not. On another note, false teachings can be packaged in attractive camouflage that emphasise on spiritual “fantasies” instead of faith; sights and feelings instead of discipleship. Has not the Bible spoken about such deceptions becoming more and more rampant in the end times?

The good ground. An environment of growth where roots can grow and get deep into the ground, receiving the nutrients they need. There is a personal pursue to know the Word instead of just been fed. Just like the Berea Christians who dig into the word to check “whether what is thought is true”. (Acts 17:11) This is the antidote against deception of false teachings. No more depending on the pulpit messages or Christian conferences to boost personal growth although these have their place to assist growth. Good grounds are not found in conferences but in your closet when you meet with God!

Reflection Pointers:

1. Take sometime to evaluate the conviction of your faith. Is it based purely on the emphasis of some revolutionary Christian movement or on a personal relationship with Jesus on a daily basis?

2. Do you live on “borrowed” faith such as depending solely on weekly pulpit messages or Christian conferences to boost your faith and belief? If your answer is yes, it is time to follow the example of the Berea Christians to dig deep into the Word personally on a daily basis.

Who Watches When You Struggle?

“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 

And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

‭‭Mark‬ ‭6‬:‭45‬-‭52‬ ‭ESV‬‬

After the feeding of the 5000, Jesus instructed His disciples to get into a boat and proceed to Bethsaida while He dismissed the crowd and stayed on the mountain to pray. While alone on land, His concern was still on his disciples who are out at sea. In fact He was watching them and “saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.’ Can you see a Masters’ love for His followers? 

You can be sure while many of us are struggling in our progress in any sphere of life – be it a stagnating career, a sickness that does not seem to be healing, a slow difficult process to restore a strained relationship, a recurring financial struggle to keeps ends meet – Jesus is watching – that’s is how personal Jesus was! Thus do not despair when things don’t seem to be moving in your life, He watches, and He knows and He understands! We also read that He later showed up walking on the sea, came into the disciples’ boat and immediately the winds ceased. Yes, when it is the right timing, He will get into your boat as well and calm the winds and waves of circumstances! So keep rowing, and don’t give up!

Jesus walked on the sea and then got into the disciples’ boat. See, He came to resolve their slow progress and it was a 180 degree change – the winds suddenly stopped and they reach the other side speedily. When Jesus step into your boat, transformation will happen!

If you have Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour, there is no need to fear! He is always on top of your seas, your winds and your waves and will come into your boat of life to smoothen your journey!

Reflection Pointers

1. Perhaps unknown to you, Jesus is watching over you life even in those “not seeing light at the end of the tunnel” moments and is all willing to walk over to step into your boat of life to turn everything around.

2. While keep rowing and not giving up, take a moment to move your eyes from the oars, winds and waves to look towards Jesus who could be already walking on the sea coming over to you quickly. Prayers, prayers and prayers change things!

Is Your First Love still there?

“He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭12:9-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In the synagogue, among religious leaders and worshippers, there was a man with a withered hand. This man had probably been attending the “church” for some time. The leaders obviously had noticed him. The other “church members” also probably knew him. But it seemed none had brought him to Jesus for healing all this while. He was a left-alone handicapped person in the church. Are there many such similar “abandoned” members in today’s church? Worship Services after Worship Services, programmes after programmes, trainings after trainings, ceremonies after ceremonies come and go. It becomes almost something routine and non-event every week where this man with a need in the church was neglected. Are there ignored needs in the church today? Sometimes, programs and activities blind people from seeing real needs. Has the church lost its first love in the midst of lots of activities going on? (like the Ephesus Church in Rev 2)

The moment Jesus stept in, He immediately noticed this man for the first time. Then suddenly out of the blue, the religious leaders’ attention turned to the handicapped man as well as Jesus. Not to show concern. Not to get Jesus to heal the man. Their motive was to frame Jesus for violating the Sabbath knowingly that Jesus was likely to heal the man. They cornered Jesus by the question “is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” See, this synagogue (or church) was only interested in observance of the law but not on the needs of its members. Is this happening in the modern church where church “preliminaries” or “traditional norms” or “corporate policies” displace the meeting of needs? 

After the man was healed, the first thing the religious leaders did was “they went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” They did not rejoice at the healing of the man. In fact they were indignant that they were not able to win Jesus at the dialogue. All in their heart was how to tear Him down. When you carry a wrong agenda in serving, people getting saved or healed doesn’t make you praise God. 

Reflection Pointers

1. If you are a church leader or someone who decide to serve in a church, evaluate the motivation of your calling or rather your response to the calling. Jesus’ ministry always focus on people, not programmes, activities or traditions. What are yours?

2. On a whole, the church’s mission is to meet needs. A heartening scene Jesus hopes to see in His church is people meeting each others’ needs, people encouraging each other and people loving each other genuinely through practical act of kindness. The call of the end time is that believers will not lose their first love and that their love for each other will not grow cold!

Transparent Discipleship

“And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 

Mark 1:29-31 ESV

Peter & Andrew brought Jesus to their house where Peter’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever. After Jesus came to know about it, He took hold of her hand and lifted her up. Immediately the fever left her. You see, Peter and Andrew didn’t hesitate to bring Jesus to their home after pledging to follow Him. Neither did Peter ran back to tidy the house before Jesus came in. Discipleship begins with inviting Jesus to your “home” just as it is – the home is the place where you will likely let your hair down, and behaving as your true self, conducting your relationship with people at home as usual. No pretense. No cover-up. No camouflage. Genuine conversion and discipleship began when someone comes to Jesus “just as I am” and open his/her life(home) to Him. In Rev 3:20, while Jesus stands at the door and knock there would some(including believers) who hesitate to open the door because they are busily tidying up their house, hide their garbages and put up a neat nice front before inviting Him in. Let’s not belong to this group of believers!

On another note, when you follow Jesus, open your household to Him as well. Introduce each member to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t recruit “secret” followers but people who openly identify with Him not only in the open community or church but in the home. And the next miracle that can happen is that your entire household will be saved! Acts 16:31 tells us that “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”

The record of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law shows us that when Jesus comes into your life and family, healing will be released to anyone needing it. Being healed enabled Peter’s mother-in-law to function well to serve Jesus and the household. The moment Jesus release healing to you, he restored your capacity and remove your limitations to serve!

Reflection Pointers:

  1. Genuine discipleship calls for a life of transparency before Jesus. Come in your true self with all your natural weaknesses and limitations. There is no need to pretend or ensure that you are good enough neither should you think you are not good enough to be accepted by Jesus. 
  2. If you are praying for salvation of your family, introduce Jesus to your family, and your family to Jesus and allow Him to do a salvation miracle in your household!
  3. If there are challenges in your life that limit your capacity to serve, invite Jesus into your challenges, and wait for the miracle that restores that capacity to serve!