When parents begin to realize their child is not growing in the way they should, they usually respond by seeking immediate medical attention. A child’s “failure to thrive” is a condition to which pediatricians and parents alike are deeply concerned because the child’s inability to reach certain physical milestones signals that something may be seriously wrong.
We should feel the same way about our spiritual maturity and the maturity of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It should strike us as abnormal, unusual, and the sign of spiritual sickness when we encounter Christians whose maturity does not match their age in the faith. In the same way we would seek medical counsel if our child’s physical stature does not match broad benchmarks for their age, so should Christians seek biblical counsel when they identify spiritual anemia in themselves or in others.
The apostle Paul gives us insight into what spiritual maturity will look like in the life of a believer individually and in the church corporately.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness and deceitful schemes.Ephesians 4:11-16
A mature body of believers will be unified in purpose and doctrine, and individually they will not be cast about on the theological spectrum, constantly wondering about what is really true. Immature Christians sometimes have a difficult time living in genuine unity with other believers, and they are often blown about by every bit of opposing teaching they encounter. Spiritual maturity will exhibit itself in corporate unity and individual doctrinal stability.
And, just as parents eager for their child’s development get back on course will listen carefully to their doctor’s instructions, so should believers bend their ear to listen attentively to God’s Word on the topic of spiritual maturity. How do we go from spiritual infants to spiritual adults?
First we must recognize that God has given teachers to the church the very purpose of “building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12b). Spiritual maturity is the fruit of a diligent, competent, Spiritually-empowered teaching ministry. The first step to spiritual maturity is to place yourself under excellent Bible teaching and preaching so that you may feed on true spiritual food (Matt 4:4; 1 Pet 2:1-3).
The second component to spiritual maturity, however, requires our consistent effort to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). Note how Paul draws these two things together. We are no longer to be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:14), “Rather,” Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way to him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15).
In other words, your growth will be undercut by your failure to actively speak the truth in love. Many of us, I’m afraid, believe that spiritual maturity simply “happens” as we sit under the Word of God. While it is true that God has designed the hearing of the Word of God to be the primary means of our spiritual growth, it is also true that he has designed certain disciplines to complement the regular hearing of the Word. One of the most important disciplines is “speaking the truth in love.”
Do you find yourself constantly tossed about by various teachings in the evangelical community, unable to settle on what is true? Are you regularly confused about what Scripture really teaches about important cultural issues? Do you find it difficult to discern truth from error or truth from almost-truth? Are you often at the mercy of your own personality, which either naturally tends toward acceptance at the expense of truth, or doctrinal firmness at the expense of compassion and grace?
Paul’s answer to these problems is to implement an essential component of true spirituality into your Christian life: speak the truth in love. If you constantly speak the truth in love to others, you will grow in spiritual maturity. You will be able to rightly discern truth from error; you will be able to know how to approach thorny theological and cultural issues and how to handle those who oppose with balance and wisdom. You will maintain a good conscience and a soft heart. You will cultivate sharp convictions and warm affections toward Christ and your fellow image-bearers.
Do you want to thrive spiritually? Speak the truth in love.