I had a discussion last week about what spiritual maturity looks like with my friend/coworker Ed. In discussing the topic, I was surprised to find how difficult it is to nail down an exact definition & picture of spiritual maturity. It seems to have an “I’ll know it when I see it quality.”
Some of the ways I’ve heard to recognize it:
- Actions. It’s pretty common to hear definitions that rely on outward actions such as tithing, serving at church, serving outside the church, and giving to the poor, to name a few. It also can be defined by what we don’t do: cuss, watch R-rated movies, gamble, etc.
- Knowledge. I’ve also observed churches that define spiritual maturity in terms of knowledge about God or the Bible. The thought is the more one knows, the more mature they will become.
- Feelings. By this, I mean specific emotions that are more “Christian” than others, such as being calm or agreeable.
- Years. I’ve even observed that sometimes spiritual maturity is simply defined in the number of years that someone has gone to church.
I don’t dismiss the usefulness of the above categories entirely, but each one by itself is lacking. Many people serve simply for the warm fuzzies they feel and God has nothing to do with it. Knowing the Bible or the “right” theological answers doesn’t mean one knows God, let alone is submitted to him.
My favorite definition/picture comes from Paul’s instructions to Titus concerning elders:
Namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. (Titus 1:6-9)
As one of my professors pointed out, it’s not so much a checklist of what an elder is to do/be, but a snapshot of his (or her!) life in many areas. Of course, it still can be interpreted as a to-do (or don’t-do) list.
What definition of spiritual maturity is most helpful or appropriate from your perspective?