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Biblical teaching that leads to spiritual maturity


"Therefore, now that we have moved beyond the primary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying a foundation again, namely, repentance from dead works

and faith in God"
(Hebrews 6: 1)

What is the spiritual maturity? Based on the context of the biblical quotation above, it is the state of mature man: "But solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their powers of discernment trained to distinguish both right and wrong" (Hebrews 5:14). Of course, this "mature man" is a "spiritual man": "However, the spiritual man examines all things, but he himself is not examined by any man" (1 Corinthians 2:15).

 

To get a more complete idea of ​​what maturity implies, we can dwell for a moment on the definition of the Greek word for this Bible text: "Teleiotes". According to Strong's Concordance (G5047): "(The state) completeness (mentally or morally), perfection (-ness)". In some Bible translations this word is translated as: "perfection" ; "maturity" ; "adult stage".

 

Maturity is not a finality but a state that opens new spiritual perspectives for the Christian who reaches it, as the apostle Paul wrote: "For although by now you should be teachers" ( Hebrews 5:12). But how to reach Christian maturity? For this we will study a biblical text from the book of Proverbs:

 

"My son, if you accept my sayings And treasure up my commandments, By making your ear attentive to wisdom And inclining your heart to discernment; Moreover, if you call out for understanding And raise your voice for discernment; If you keep seeking for it as for silver, And you keep searching for it as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of Jehovah, And you will find the knowledge of God. For Jehovah himself gives wisdom; From his mouth come knowledge and discernment. He treasures up practical wisdom for the upright; He is a shield for those walking in integrity. He watches over the paths of justice, And he will guard the way of his loyal ones. Then you will understand what is righteous and just and fair, The entire course of what is good" (Proverbs 2: 1-9).

 

The fear of God

 

The Christian who has reached spiritual maturity has wisdom, discernment, understanding, knowledge of God. This text explains the main reason that should encourage us to reach it: "you will understand the fear of Jehovah". Indeed, the search for these very desirable spiritual qualities should have as goal, our exclusive relationship with Jehovah God.

 

Of course, the "fear" of Jehovah that is mentioned in this text has nothing to do with a morbid fear of God, the constant fear of divine punishment. Such fear is incompatible with love for God: "God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in union with God and God remains in union with him. In this way love has been made perfect in us, so that we may have freeness of speech in the day of judgment, because just as that one is, so are we ourselves in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts fear out, because fear restrains us. Indeed, the one who is fearful has not been made perfect in love. We love, because he first loved us" ( 1 John 4:16-19).

 

The Hebrew term "yirah", translated as "fear" of Jehovah, in the text of the Proverbs may have the meaning of "reverence", that is, reverential fear (Strong's Concordance (H3374)). This means that the person who has reached Christian maturity will understand that his relationship with Jehovah is a great privilege that God gives us. Moreover, when we approach God by prayer, we can do so frankly, but also with a reverential fear that is due to the most important Person of all visible and invisible creation.

 

Knowledge, understanding, discernment and wisdom

 

If wanting to reach Christian maturity requires effort and patience, according to this text of Proverbs, it can only be achieved with the help of God: "For Jehovah himself gives wisdom; From his mouth come knowledge and discernment" (Proverbs 2: 1-9). It is confirmed by Jesus Christ, that the acquisition of part of the wisdom of God, is not the result of an exclusive intellectual process: "At that time Jesus said in response: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to young children" (Matthew 11: 25). So before gaining wisdom, we must humbly, as "young children", ask God, by prayer: "So if any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching, and it will be given him" (James 1: 5).

 

Nevertheless, God expects from us, according to the book of Proverbs, constant efforts, both to acquire it, but also to keep it: "If you keep seeking for it as for silver, And you keep searching for it as for hidden treasures" (Proverbs 2:1-9). Jesus Christ has shown that often the blessing of God is obtained by force of insistence, which is the visible manifestation that is close to our heart: "Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you; for everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking, it will be opened. Indeed, which one of you, if his son asks for bread, will hand him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not hand him a serpent, will he? Therefore, if you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will your Father who is in the heavens give good things to those asking him!" (Matthew 7: 7-11).

 

In Proverbs 2: 1-9, we find several spiritual qualities that will enable us to reach Christian maturity: knowledge, understanding, discernment and wisdom.

 

Knowledge and understanding

 

Knowledge refers to the scriptural deposit of the holy spirit of the Bible, part of the knowledge of God: "For you know this first, that no prophecy of Scripture springs from any private interpretation. For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were moved by holy spirit" (2 Peter 1:20,21). The Bible has been inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16,27). If, of course, this scriptural deposit of the knowledge of God is available to anyone who wishes to read it, this is not the case with the understanding of it. The understanding of the Bible depends on what God gives us intelligence to understand it.

 

The understanding in Proverbs 2:1-9 is not connected with the simple innate faculty of comprehension of knowledge. In the Bible there are examples of characters who had a great knowledge of the Bible, nevertheless, who missed the essential or had no understanding of the meaning of the message. Let us take the example of the apostle Paul, before he became a Christian: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Ci·liʹcia, but educated in this city at the feet of Ga·maʹli·el, instructed according to the strictness of the ancestral Law, and zealous for God just as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the point of death, binding and handing over to prisons both men and women, as the high priest and all the assembly of elders can bear witness. From them I also obtained letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I was on my way to bring those who were there in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished" (Acts 22: 3-5 compare with Matthew 23).

 

We can not deny that Saul of Tarsus, who would later become the Apostle Paul, knew the Bible and probably better than most Christians he persecuted. Nevertheless, he lacked the essential, the understanding that comes from God and that consisted of to accept in his heart that Jesus was (and is) the Christ. The narrative of Acts shows us how God gave him understanding through Jesus Christ, by literally making the scales of his eyes fall: "But Saul, still breathing threat and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that he might bring bound to Jerusalem any whom he found who belonged to The Way, both men and women. Now as he was traveling and getting near Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him, and he fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He asked: “Who are you, Lord?” He said: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Now the men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing, indeed, the sound of a voice but seeing no one. Saul then got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he did not see anything, and he neither ate nor drank. There was a disciple named An·a·niʹas in Damascus, and the Lord said to him in a vision: “An·a·niʹas!” He said: “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him: “Get up, go to the street called Straight, and look for a man named Saul, from Tarsus, at the house of Judas. For look! he is praying, and in a vision he has seen a man named An·a·niʹas come in and lay his hands on him so that he may recover sight.” But An·a·niʹas answered: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, about all the harm he did to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to arrest all those calling on your name.” But the Lord said to him: “Go! because this man is a chosen vessel to me to bear my name to the nations as well as to kings and the sons of Israel. For I will show him plainly how many things he must suffer for my name" (Acts 9:1-19).

 

There is therefore a difference between the knowledge available in the Bible and the intelligence or the ability to understand it, which is given by God through Christ: "For “who has come to know the mind of Jehovah, so that he may instruct him?” But we do have the mind of Chris" (1 Corinthians 2:16). When a person understands by the acceptance in his heart of the biblical knowledge, it can be said that it manifests a faith in accordance with the will of God: "Faith is the assured expectation of what is hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities that are not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). The word "demonstration" regarding the faith presupposes "logical" knowledge, even if it is connected with unseen realities.

 

Knowledge and discernment

 

In Paul's inspired letter to Hebrews, he refers to two forms of knowledge, the elementary teaching and the "solid (spiritual) food", which is a more complex knowledge. In the Greek text, there are two words that refer to these respectively two categories of knowledge. They are in the second letter of Peter, Gnosis and Epignosis: "May undeserved kindness and peace be increased to you by an accurate knowledge (Epignosis) of God and of Jesus our Lord. (...) For this very reason, put forth all earnest effort to supply to your faith virtue, to your virtue knowledge (Gnosis), to your knowledge self-control, to your self-control endurance, to your endurance godly devotion" (2 Peter 1: 2,5,6) .

 

In this translation of the Bible, the expression "accurate knowledge" seems to illustrate the precision of a more complex, more detailed biblical knowledge. It allows knowing when the Greek word "Gnosis" (Knowledge) and "Epignosis" (Accurate knowledge), appear in the Greek text by means of this translation of the Bible. Nevertheless, any knowledge, no matter how difficult of comprehension it requires, should be "exact" (at least for its holder). Therefore, it is interesting to examine the definition of these two words and then return to Paul's inspired letter to Hebrews. The Greek word "Gnosis" is translated as knowledge in the general sense (in several fields) or science (Strong's Concordance (G1108)). The Greek prefix "Epi" (before Gnosis) has the general meaning of elevation or direction (Strong's Concordance (G1909)). Therefore, the Greek word "Epignosis" alludes to a "higher" knowledge, which requires a greater degree of intelligence, the discernment. The "directional" meaning of the prefix "Epi" indicates a more specialized, more detailed knowledge (Strong's Concordance (G1922)). Therefore, the understanding is to the knowledge (Gnosis), what is the discernment or insight to the more complex knowledge (Epignosis).

 

Returning to the letter to the Hebrews: "For although by now you should be teachers, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God, and you have gone back to needing milk, not solid food" (Hebrews 5:12). The elementary things are quoted: "Therefore, now that we have moved beyond the primary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying a foundation again, namely, repentance from dead works and faith in God, the teaching on baptisms and the laying on of the hands, the resurrection of the dead and everlasting judgment. And this we will do, if God indeed permits" (Hebrews 6:1-3). And the "solid (spiritual) food" is in almost all the inspired letter to Hebrews (chapters 1-13). Although very interesting, this deep biblical teaching is not always easy to understand at first reading, even to the very point that the Apostle Peter himself wrote about Paul's inspired letters: "Furthermore, consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote you according to the wisdom given him, speaking about these things as he does in all his letters. However, some things in them are hard to understand, and these things the ignorant and unstable are twisting, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:15,16).

 

Despite the fact that it is not always easy to understand at first reading this sometimes very deep Bible teaching, all Christians who aspire to reach Christian maturity, especially Bible teachers, must make an effort to understand it, praying for God's help (Matthew 11:25, 1 Corinthians 2:16, Hebrews 5: 11-14-6: 1-3).

 

Knowledge of God's creation

 

Jehovah God encourages his servants to observe his creation to better know his qualities: "There are four things that are the smallest of the earth, but they are instinctively wise: the ants are a people not strong, and yet in the summer they prepare their food; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, and yet upon a crag is where they put their house; the locusts have no king, and yet they go forth all of them divided into groups; the gecko lizard takes hold with its own hands and it is in the grand palace of a king" (Proverbs 30:24-28). "Go to the ant, you lazy one; see its ways and become wise. Although it has no commander, officer or ruler, it prepares its food even in the summer; it has gathered its food supplies even in the harvest. How long, you lazy one, will you keep lying down? When will you rise up from your sleep?" (Proverbs 6:6-8 compare with Genesis 2:19,20).

 

Jesus Christ said to his listeners to "observe" the creation in order to better understand the action of his Father: "On this account I say to you: Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your bodies as to what you will wear. Does not the soul mean more than food and the body than clothing? Observe intently the birds of heaven, because they do not sow seed or reap or gather into storehouses; still your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than they are?" (Matthew 6: 25,26).

 

The Apostle Paul, under inspiration wrote that the creation reflects the qualities of God and it is witnessing of the existence of God: "For his invisible [qualities] are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that they are inexcusable" (Romans 1:20).

 

Therefore, Jehovah God and his Son Jesus Christ encourage us to observe the creation to learn more about to "fear God" (Proverbs 2:1-9). Science (or sciences) which consists in observing or studying in detail parts of the creation of God, is connected with the biblical spirituality. Science strives to explain the "how" and Bible-based spirituality explains the "why". Besides, by the way, regarding this knowledge, we must be humble, too: "Look! These are the fringes of his ways, And what a whisper of a matter has been heard of him! But of his mighty thunder who can show an understanding?" (Job 26:14 compare with Job 38-41).

 

In order to enlarge our knowledge of the qualities of God, it is essential that we "observe" his creation: "The heavens are declaring the glory of God; And of the work of his hands the expanse is telling. One day after another day causes speech to bubble forth, And one night after another night shows forth knowledge. There is no speech, and there are no words; No voice on their part is being heard" (Psalms 19:1-3).

 

The wisdom given by God

 

In Proverbs 2:7 there is the expression "practical wisdom" as the practice of "knowledge". Indeed, Jesus Christ associated wisdom with the practice of biblical knowledge, in contrast with the foolish man who, having this knowledge, does not take it into account: "Therefore everyone that hears these sayings of mine and does them will be likened to a discreet man, who built his house upon the rock-mass. And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and lashed against that house, but it did not cave in, for it had been founded upon the rock-mass. Furthermore, everyone hearing these sayings of mine and not doing them will be likened to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and struck against that house and it caved in, and its collapse was great" (Matthew 7:24-27).

 

Nevertheless, given the general context of the Bible, one realizes that wisdom has a heavenly spiritual dimension that is not necessarily the result of the practice of an acquired knowledge, but rather a direct divine gift. Moreover, in Proverbs 2:6 it is written, "Jehovah himself gives wisdom". If indeed Jehovah's wisdom flows from the biblical deposit of knowledge, by putting it into practice, there are situations that require this heavenly divine flash of wisdom. Let's take two examples: Jesus Christ and king Salomon.

 

In a certain circumstance, king Solomon found himself in a human situation without solution, here is the biblical account: " At that time two prostitutes came in to the king and stood before him. The first woman said: “Please, my lord, this woman and I live in one house, and I gave birth while she was in the house. On the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were together, just the two of us; there was no one else with us in the house. During the night this woman’s son died, because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while your slave girl was asleep and laid him in her arms, and she laid her dead son in my arms. When I got up in the morning to nurse my son, I saw that he was dead. So I examined him closely in the morning and saw that it was not my son whom I had given birth to.” But the other woman said: “No, my son is the living one, and your son is the dead one!” But the first woman was saying: “No, your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.” That is how they argued before the king.  Finally the king said: “This one says, ‘This is my son, the living one, and your son is the dead one!’ and that one says, ‘No, your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one!’” The king said: “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword to the king. The king then said: “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other.” At once the woman whose son was the living one pleaded with the king, for her compassions were stirred toward her son. She said: “Please, my lord! You should give her the living child! By no means put him to death!” But the other woman was saying: “He will be neither mine nor yours! Let them cut him in two!”  At that the king answered: “Give the living child to the first woman! By no means put him to death, for she is his mother.”  So all Israel heard about the judgment that the king had handed down, and they were in awe of the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was with him to execute justice" (1 Kings 3:16-28).

 

This narrative and its conclusion, are the demonstration that the wisdom of God is not only the putting into practice of the biblical knowledge, but it has also a spiritual heavenly dimension, like a divine flash, without knowing how, Jehovah God gives the miraculous solution, that no human on earth would have thought. This wisdom is not the result of a long career as a judge with a long history of judicial deliberations. Thanks to divine wisdom of God, the young king Solomon, in a flash, knew what decision to take to deliberate between these two women. This miraculous wisdom of this judicial decision, inspired by a completely heavenly wisdom, has plunged an entire nation of several millions of inhabitants into a reverential fear of this king. And we talk about it thousands of years later.

 

Jesus Christ, on earth, had a power of wisdom directly divine and not always directly connected with the written deposit of the Bible, here is an example: "The scribes and the chief priests then sought to get their hands on him in that very hour, but they feared the people, for they realized that he told this illustration with them in mind. And after observing him closely, they sent men whom they had secretly hired to pretend that they were righteous in order to catch him in his speech, so as to turn him over to the government and to the authority of the governor. And they questioned him, saying: “Teacher, we know you speak and teach correctly and show no partiality, but you teach the way of God in line with truth: Is it lawful for us to pay head tax to Caesar or not?” But he detected their cunning and said to them: “Show me a de·narʹi·us. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They said: “Caesar’s.” He said to them: “By all means, then, pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar but God’s things to God.” Well, they were not able to trap him in his speech before the people, but amazed at his answer, they became silent" (Luke 20:19-26).

 

Christ's answer came directly from the heavenly wisdom of which his Father had endowed him. There are many other examples that show that the wisdom of God is a gift that is not systematically in connection with the knowledge and the understanding of the Holy Scriptures. Moreover, in a certain circumstance Jesus Christ said to his disciples: "And when they are taking you to hand you over, do not be anxious beforehand about what to say; but whatever is given you in that hour, say this, for you are not the ones speaking, but the holy spirit is" (Mark 13:11).

 

Therefore, if we want to acquire wisdom, we must ask for it by prayer and put into practice in our life, the Word of God the Bible: "But his delight is in the law of Jehovah, And he reads His law in an undertone day and night. He will be like a tree planted by streams of water, A tree that produces fruit in its season, The foliage of which does not wither. And everything he does will succeed" (Psalms 1:2,3).

 

Christian maturity and a well-trained conscience

 

"But solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their powers of discernment trained to distinguish both right and wrong" (Hebrews 5:14). The expression "powers of discernment trained to distinguish both right and wrong", seems to allude to the conscience. In another letter written to the Christians of Rome, there is a definition: "For when people of the nations, who do not have law, do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them, and by their own thoughts they are being accused or even excused" (Romans 2:14,15).

 

Of course, in the context of Hebrews 5:14, the "powers of discernment trained to distinguish both right and wrong", or the conscience "trained to distinguish both right and wrong", are the result both of a Christian life of experience based on the biblical principles application and the divine heavenly gift of wisdom. Whoever has attained Christian maturity, on the basis of God's divine knowledge, discernment, insight, and wisdom, will demonstrate before God and men that he has a well-educated and well-trained conscience. In doing so, with his divine wisdom, he will give glory to God: "You are the light of the world. A city cannot be hid when located on a mountain. People light a lamp and set it, not under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it shines on all those in the house. Likewise, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens" (Matthew 5: 14-16; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

 

The prayer and the meditation that lead to Christian maturity

 

The search for Christian maturity is exclusively focused on the constant improvement of our personal and exclusive relationship with Jehovah God, through His Son Jesus Christ, because He is the source of our life: "With you is the source of life; By your light we can see light" (Psalms 36:9). A Christian who has reached Christian maturity feels a deep and sincere love, filled with a reverential fear of God: "Then you will understand the fear of Jehovah, And you will find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:5). As a blessing from God, with time and patience, He will give understanding, discernment, and wisdom: "For Jehovah himself gives wisdom; From his mouth come knowledge and discernment. He treasures up practical wisdom for the upright; He is a shield for those walking in integrity" (Proverbs 2:6,7).

 

The prayer and the meditation allow this individual appropriation of part of these divine qualities, through our relationship with God, the personal meditation of what the Bible teaches us and also our life experience. The prayer is an appointment with God, while the meditation is an appointment with oneself.

 

The way we pray to God speaks volumes about our perception of Him. For example, Jesus Christ, in his teaching on prayer, said (you can read it in Matthew 6:5-14): "When praying, do not say the same things over and over again as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words" (Matthew 6: 7).

 

Indeed, in many religions, Christian or not, many godly people pray to God by continually repeating "always the same things". Jesus Christ explained that the quality of a prayer does not depend on how much we say to God. Such prayers demonstrate that our approach to God is vague, and our reverential fear must be improved. Let's take a concrete example. If we had the great privilege of having a special meeting with the King, the Prince, the Prime Minister or a senior official of the nation where we live, we would be very careful to prepare this interview. At the moment of having to speak in front of a king or a prince, would we come to the idea of ​​"saying the same things", repeating thoughtlessly the same words, the same sentences, speaking like a talking mill? The answer is obvious, we would avoid an attitude, on our part, that would lack respect towards this person of high rank.

 

That is why the prayers we adress to God speak volumes about our perception of Him, but also our feelings for Him. The Christian maturity that teaches us the "fear of God", allows us to better understand the importance of his majesty, and the depth of his wisdom. Therefore, we must approach God as we would with a person with the highest possible functions and whose wisdom would have nothing to do with ours which is much more restricted. For this we must be inspired by the prayers addressed by Jesus Christ to His Father (Matthew 6:5-14, John 17). If we read the book of Psalms, we will have many examples of sincere prayers and great qualities addressed to God. We can be inspired by it: "May my prayer be as incense prepared before you, My uplifted hands like the evening grain offering" (Psalms 141: 2).

 

Meditation is an appointment with oneself. In the Bible, it is written that Isaac used to meditate: "And Isaac was out walking in the field about nightfall to meditate" (Genesis 24:63). This simple information on meditation is very interesting. Isaac meditated "walking in the field", that is to say, probably, he left the place where he lived to seek the silence and the peacefulness with an appointment with oneself. This information seems to indicate also, a daily habit, "about nightfall". Isaac, after his day's activities, was resting while walking in the countryside. The prayer and the meditation can be done in moments of rest. Sometimes Jesus Christ prayed to God by isolating himself: "After sending the crowds away, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone" (Matthew 14:23).

 

Meditation allows a better assimilation of biblical "knowledge". This assimilation allows development of understanding and after a long practice of meditation, to reach the capacity for discernment and insight, closely linked with the experience of life. This peaceful meditation, accompanied by many prayers, can help us to obtain the wisdom given by God (James 1:5). Jesus Christ compared the spiritual inner part of people to a "tidy house" (Matthew 12:44). Thus, constructive meditation allows us to put order in ourselves, to take stock of our own feelings, to strive to build our spiritual inner part, with the help of God. With prayer, meditation is essential for reaching Christian maturity: "Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well-spoken-of, whatever things are virtuous, and whatever things are praiseworthy, continue considering these things" (Philippians 4:8).