13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:13–14, NKJV)
It is hard to miss the point of this passage. Spiritual growth from infancy to maturity (“full age”) occurs by learning and using the word of God. It is crucial to see that knowing God’s word is not the same as being fully grown in Christ. We can amass knowledge of the Scriptures and still be an immature Christian. Today’s passage explains that partaking of the “first principles of the oracles of God” is like drinking milk. If milk is the only thing we eat, we will not grow sufficiently. These Christians were “unskilled” (inexperienced) “in the word of righteousness.” They were not using what they were taught from God’s word. The problem went beyond not knowing the word (true, they needed to learn more, Heb. 5:11). Their failure was not using God’s word to train themselves to distinguish good and evil (v. 14). In that state, they could not be teachers of God’s word (Heb. 5:12). Similarly, we remain spiritually weak when we know God’s word but do not apply it to our daily decisions and actions. Are you unskilled or experienced in using the word of God? Strive for spiritual maturity. Train yourself to use your knowledge of God’s word to recognize both good and evil.
How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26, NKJV)
The church of Christ is a spiritual kingdom (Jno. 18:36; Matt. 16:18-19). According to the New Testament model, local churches of Christ exist to spread the gospel (evangelism), to serve Christians in times of deprivation (benevolence), and to strengthen the souls of the disciples (edification). Edification (building up) is spiritual strengthening that occurs through our worship and the instruction from the word of God (Col. 3:16; Acts 14:22). The Scriptures do not describe social and recreational activities as edification and fellowship. Spaghetti suppers, volleyball games, and camping events are not sources of spiritual edification. It is the word of God’s grace (the gospel), “which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). In today’s passage, the proper use of the temporary miraculous spiritual gifts (tongues, revelation, interpretation), as well as psalms and teaching of God’s word, would edify the church (1 Cor. 14:27-33, 3-5). Miraculous spiritual gifts served their purposes and ended, but our need for spiritual growth to maturity in Christ endures (1 Cor. 13:8-13; Eph. 4:11-16). Thank God He arranged the local church to come together so we can grow and be strong in Christ (Acts 20:28; Heb. 10:24-25).
9 Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ (Luke 17:9–10, NKJV)
Followers of Jesus want to grow in their faith to reach spiritual maturity. This growth of faith comes as we feed on the word of God and live by its truth (Heb. 5:12-14). By using the word of God we grow and are strong in Christ. Even so, in today’s passage, the Lord explains our faith will increase when we obey the duty of faith. Just as a servant obeys his master out of duty and without merit, our obedience to Christ expresses full submission to Him. We merit nothing by our obedience (we cannot earn our way to heaven) – we are “unprofitable servants” doing our duty (v. 10). Our faith in Christ compels our obedience to Him. It is our duty to obey His word, and we freely and willingly do so. Such submissive obedience shows we trust the Lord instead of ourselves. We do His will in His way precisely because we trust His way is right and good. That kind of faith grows as we fulfill our duty before the Lord. You see, saying and not doing is not faith (Lk. 6:46; Jas. 2:17). Doing our duty as servants increases our faith in the Lord.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:46–48, NKJV)
The devil is delighted when Christians do not love one another. He also takes delight when Christians do not love their enemies. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). God is “perfect” in verse 48 because He does precisely that – He loves His enemies. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The word “perfect” in today’s passage (verse 48) conveys completeness, being of full age or maturity. Our love is not complete if we do not love our enemies. We love our enemies by showing them active goodwill, even though they are actively showing ill will toward us (see Matthew 5:44). Loving only those who love us is the world’s model of love. Loving your enemies is what God does toward the whole world. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven model themselves after God’s love, not the world’s incomplete, immature love.
14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— (Ephesians 4:14–15, NKJV)
Maturity in Christ equips us to achieve and maintain the “the unity of the faith” to which we have been called by the gospel. Christ gave the work of inspired men (through which that gospel came to earth from heaven), and the work of uninspired men (who continue to proclaim and teach the gospel) to thoroughly equip us to serve the will of God as the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). In today’s text, our spiritual maturity prevents us from being tossed about like children by the prevailing winds of false doctrine. The “trickery of men” describes the sleight of hand by which one defrauds another. False doctrine defrauds and plunders the unsuspecting of their spiritual treasure (Colossians 2:8). The “cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” describes the deceptive method of sophistry that attacks the simplicity of the gospel of Christ (Romans 16:17-18). As our maturity in Christ protects us, it also enables us to speak the truth in love. God’s truth equips us to grow in Christ, while protecting us from spiritual danger, and securing our standing with Christ (the Head of the church). Let us determine to grow up in Christ by becoming strong in the truth.
14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. 15 But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void.” (1 Corinthians 9:14–15, NKJV)
A mark of spiritual maturity is the ability to see and assess a situation beyond oneself, to see the broader implications and outcomes of one’s actions, legitimate though they may be. And then, to forego one’s right for the sake of others. Here, Paul showed such maturity, acknowledging the right to be materially supported for preaching the gospel. Yet, in the case of the Corinthian church, he chose to forego his right for the sake of their spiritual development (see 1 Cor. 9:16-18). Too many times we say, “I have a right” (liberty) to do something, then press our freedom regardless of how our action impacts others. Such a decision is evidence of spiritual immaturity that can contributes to sin. For instance, Paul also said he would not eat meat if, by doing so, a brother who was weak in conscience was led to sin by violating his conscience (1 Cor. 8:10-13). Would you give up eating meat for the sake of your brother’s soul? Or would you proudly profess, “I have a right to eat meat, and I will, regardless of the circumstances.” Having a liberty does not make using it mandatory. At times, it is wiser to forego a liberty, and by so doing “save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).