Maturity Check

Philippians 3:10-15 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.

This passage from Paul’s epistle to the Philippians has always strongly convicted me.  The apostle Paul, the author of thirteen out of the twenty-seven books comprising the New Testament canon, did not consider himself to have yet attained to the prize.  If Paul was straining and striving, kicking and scraping, to achieve the goal, to reach the end, how much more should a woeful sinner much as myself?  And yet, how often am I content in my own comfortable little faith?  How often am I content with good enough? (Not that any good I attain to could ever be good enough for God’s perfect standards).

I want to be clear in what I (and Paul) am saying.  I’m not saying we need to earn our salvation (we can’t do that – only Christ’s righteousness can ever stand us rightly with God).  I am not saying we need to change for change’s sake (not all change is good).  What I am saying is that we should never be content with where we are, but should be forward looking – forward striving, ever eager to grow in maturity, in service, in leadership, in godliness.  We should be seeking daily to more and more reflect Christ and his righteousness.  We ought to be zealous for this growth, never content with what we have attained.  Our faith should be continually striving toward the goal.  All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.  Do you?

Many of us aren’t at all interested in striving to be anything different than what we are.  Change is stressful.  Growth doesn’t come without growing pains.  And yet, there is one thing constant in life, and that is change.  We can’t remain in the same place, even if we want to.  We are either advancing or retreating.  Our bodies are either growing in health and vigor, or slipping into atrophy and disease.  So too our souls.  Unless you are willfully striving toward growth in spirit, your relationship with Christ will deteriorate.  You don’t chance or happen your way to spiritual maturity.

The same is true for institutions.  Thomas Friedman in the book The World is Flats asks, “Does your society have more memories than dreams or dreams than memories?… .When memories exceed dreams, the end is near.  The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start afresh.”  Unless an organization is forward looking, clearly focused on its vision and purpose, it is destined for decline and failure.  The church is no different.  If we focus on past successes and look to the “good old days,” our death is at hand.  If we fix our eyes on where the Lord desires to take us, if we commit ourselves to constantly reform ourselves according to the Word of God and the Spirit of God, if we make ourselves available, offering our gifts, time and talents, we will grow and thrive.  If we take our eyes off the prize we will degenerate into disease and death.  It is estimated that as many as 85% of churches across the United States are plateaued or declining.  Will ours join that number, or stay fixed on the goal?

Change is quite often scary.  Change is stressful always.  But those of us who are mature recognize that change is normal and necessary.  The question is, what kind of change do you want?  The forward-looking vigorous kind, in which we walk in the good works which God has prepared for us?  Or the kind that buries its head in the sand and says, “We’ve never done it that way before!” and experiences the long, sad, slow decline of a contented malaise?

The Christian faith is an immensely optimistic one.  Our best days are always before us.  I will be like Jesus one day.  Our church will grow and thrive beyond what any of us can imagine – if we seek God’s will and submit ourselves joyfully to his purposes.  Let’s throw aside all of our fear, all of our doubts, and run toward the goal with all that is in us.

Maturity Check:

Are you content with where you are spiritually, or are you striving toward the goal to reach the prize?

In considering your spiritual life, do you have more memories or more dreams?

In considering our church’s life, do you have more memories or more dreams?

Based on your answers above, how mature are you spiritually by Paul’s definition?