Love, pt. 2

Finally, part 2 to the love posting… you can scroll down a little for part 1.

My point is simply this: to love the way Jesus loved, a Christian must grow to maturity.

Should I stop right there, or elaborate? Ummm… Okay. Christian maturity, as a category of teaching, has kind of fizzled. I don’t hear or read much about it. Scripture abounds with apostolic and prophetic encouragements to press on to maturity:

  • “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,” Heb 6:1, NASB.
  • “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Heb 5:12-14.
  • “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Col 1:28.
  • “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect [mature] and complete, lacking in nothing.” Jas 1:4.

The way I see it, Christian growth is the means to a phenomenal end: reproducing in your soul the same structures of thinking, believing, and reacting that were in Jesus’ soul. A mature Christian reproduces the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). You begin to see things from Jesus’ perspective. You have his heart and his mind on the matters of your life and world. You also develop the inner resources to deal with adversity and prosperity. You are, as James says, “complete, lacking nothing” or as Paul writes, “fully furnished for every good work.” This is Christian maturity.

The Holy Spirit will not compensate for a Christian’s willful lack of maturity.

If you neglect your own spiritual growth, if you neglect to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18), you can’t expect God to come in and rescue you. He won’t study for your tests. He’s already passed them; now it’s your turn. This is why Jesus rebuked his disciples who turned into sissies when a gale tossed their boat around. They had enjoyed every opportunity to grow, and they did not take advantage of that. So while they whined, he slept. He would not do for them what they could have done for themselves, had they been mature.

Time to bring it home to the topic of love.

Your love-life depends on your maturity. You cannot love like Jesus loved — in any sustained fashion — from an immature soul. This makes sense, doesn’t it? In marriage, or friendship, or at school, work or play… how do you react to the irritations of life? How do you react to those who bug you? rub you the wrong way? wound you? How do you react when your spouse is driving you crazy? Do you pull away? Pout? Get even? Or do you love like Jesus loved?

In your ministry life, how do you sustain your labors when those you serve don’t care, don’t appreciate you, don’t respond? How do you sustain your love when it goes unreciprocated?

All of these things depend on maturity.

Without maturity, love quickly turns self-serving, self-focused, and fragile. Without maturity, commitment fails. Without maturity, love cannot bear all things, hope all things, or endure all things. Without maturity, love always fails. It has a breaking point.

But with maturity, love never fails.

In the next blog, I’d like to expound some Scriptures that make this very point.

One last thing: Churches make a grave error in sending immature people out to do mission in the name of Jesus unless those people are a) in the process of maturing, and b) coupled with a mature mentor. By forgetting the category of growth, churches have sent forth millions of Christians in the name of LOVE, whose love seems weird, fickle, finicky, and self-serving. Our problem in American Christianity is not that we are unloving, but that we are immature, and the world senses it.

The solution: Christians, GROW UP.

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4 thoughts on “Love, pt. 2

  1. Bill –

    After reading Love part one, all of the comments and now Love part two I feel like what is needed is some specific guidance. There has been a lot of philosophy and critical thinking thrown at this topic but not as much time has been given to specific guidance. What is mature love? What does it look like, How does it react to specific circumstances?

    Many Christians I know confuse a stern character and strict rules for maturity, while others believe that a mature Christian accepts whatever the world throws their way by “learning to be content in all circumstances.”

    I guess I am saying is that I need some specific examples of when sternness would be the proper response and when a gentle response would be best . For example, how long should I help my children after they have left the house? I want them to grow and mature on their own and yet I also know that in this day and age times are tough and a little help can be a good thing. If I have a grown child who is repeating irresponsible behavior and I continue to help I am just perpetuating that way of life. However, if I choose to let them suffer their own consequences I am placing my grandchildren at a disadvantage perhaps forever. Both choices are an act of love, both are easily within my ability, I want only to do the right thing.

    Teach me how to love my way through those circumstances. What specific principles should I apply when I face the tough choices?

  2. Bill,

    Great topic.

    You know there appears to be a correlation between Christian maturity and the grace outlook on life.

    Returning to the Luke 15 passage of the Prodigal Son, you can see that the Older Son (who stayed at home) was not grace-oriented, although he was very familiar with the household and values of his father.

    The Prodigal Son did not expect the grace-reception from his father, because he was preparing to return and be received in the status of a servant (and not a son).

    Most sons are not “mature” as regards the character of the Father — i.e., grace-orientation.

    In other words, Chrisitian maturity includes a worldview of grace toward yourself and toward others (Eph 4:32).

    Grace.
    Joe

  3. PS – You desperately need to add an edit key for those of us who struggle with redundancy…

  4. The notion of “maturity” implies an end or goal towards which we develop. The technical, philosophical word for this “telos,” which is a greek word basically just meaning end or goal. Maturity-talk presumes a teleology (a way of thinking about our purpose/end).

    Aristotle writes that the “telos” of human life is “happiness.” Everything we pursue, whether it be money, honor, power, etc. we pursue because we think it will make us happy. Some nebulous thing called “happiness” is our goal. However, Aristotle means something kind of particular by the word “happiness.” He means an entire life lived in accordance with the standards of excellence. This means that you did the right things, at the right times, for the right reasons, in the right place, etc.

    To be able to to do that, you can’t just follow a set of rules, because for Aristotle ethics is not “a science that admits of certainty.” In other words, its not like mathematics. It has what philosophers call “indeterminacy.” Its so complicated that rules are precepts that are true most of the time. In fact, one characteristic of a moral person is knowing when sticking to the rule for the rule’s sake would be immoral.

    What one must do, for aristotle, is to find a person who you think is a moral exemplar and model your life on theirs. Then, develop a set of habits that build in you a virtuous character so you can make the right choices in the right place, time, motivation, etc. In other words, moral character is developed through relationships-in-community.

    For the Christian, the notion of our telos is the “beatific vision,” which is more fancy theology talk for being united with God. The greatest happiness that is open to humanity is to be enfolded in the being of the Trinity. For Aristotle, the possibility of our happiness was limited by our material life. For the Christian, our potential for happiness is “ecstatic,” which is to say that it goes beyond us because it is not provided by us. In other words, because we don’t drum up our own happiness (or fulfillment. or joy. whatever word you want to use for our essential goal as humans), our “cups overflow” with the grace (unmerited favor) of God. St. Thomas Aquinas calls God “the most liberal giver” because God distributes His goodness without any selfish desire.

    I recently heard a very brilliant Catholic philosopher named Jean-Luc Marion talk about the difference between the philosophical idea of “I think, therefore I am” and Augustine’s point of view on whether we can be sure of our own existence. Rene Descartes argued that because a person can say “I think,” they can be certain that that thing which calls itself “I” (a person) exists when they are thinking. On the other hand, Marion argued that in Augustine one finds self-certainty in being able to say “I desire to be happy” which is to say, for those who have the grace of Revelation, “I desire God!”

    Aristotle lacked the grace of Revelation. He also was not privy to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in human hearts. For him, the human purpose towards which men might mature was to be a successful Athenian citizen. And, historically speaking, that wasn’t too bad of a life, as far as we can tell. However, I think his insight into how human beings come to maturity is very helpful. One should develop a virtuous character by looking to the habits of those who have already matured in one’s community.

    Indeed, I think the New Testament speaks to that truth in a more profound way. Paul spends so much time talking about how we are to live together as Churches. Indeed, he calls the Church the body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. Instead of just building “virtuous characters” we are to develop Christ-like hearts. In terms of people to model our lives on, we are ahead of Aristotle too. We have the person Christ in the Gospels, we have the history of Christian saints to whom we can aspire and we have each other.

    Oh yeah, and the Holy Spirit too, which is pretty great.

    Go read St. Bonaventure’s “the Journey of the Mind to God.”

    Its great on how to mature as a Christian towards unity with God’s heart. It also shows how Revelation is so neccessary an in-breaking of God into our world. We need God to do that for us, because otherwise we’re just stuck with Aristotle’s ethics.

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