sermon: Adolescent Geriatrics
Growing Toward Spiritual Maturity
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 22-Dec-12; Sermon #1135A; 34 minutes
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on an article in The Telegraph (UK), describes a cultural phenomenon known as "adolescent geriatrics"—when a senior citizen, ignoring the ravages of time, continues youthful styles, desires, and goals. Many 60s hippies have never matured, totally untouched by the wisdom of age. The trademarks of an adolescent are selfishness, foolishness, acting impulsively on feelings, and lack of foresight. In society today, there is an unfortunate reluctance to mature. Sadly, there is a parallel spiritual affliction threatening 'old-timers' in the church. By now, we should all be spiritual heavyweights, as God wants to see significant growth in His people. Paul's letter to the Hebrews was written to 'old-timers' in Palestine, who had regressed to needing milk instead of strong meat. They had not developed the ability to exercise spiritual discernment. We need to practice holiness and mature Christianity, overcoming, growing, and bearing fruit, transforming into Christ's image, God-like in our character. We need to meditate on our spiritual problems, and as we approach Passover, draw up a concrete strategy to help us to overcome.
In an editorial in the "Celebrity News" section of the British newspaper The Telegraph, columnist Anthony Daniels comments on a phenomenon that some are beginning to notice in our culture. It is over there in Britain, it is over here in America; it is actually all over the world, but especially in the West.
The article is called "There is No Fool Like an Old Fool." It was published on October 28, 2010, and in it he is reacting to a news story that had occurred just a day or two before in which John Cleese and Terry Jones of "Monty Python" fame were seen introducing their rather youngish girlfriends to one another.
Now I do not know if you are aware, but both Terry Jones and John Cleese, I believe, are in their 60s now and one of their girlfriends [at least in 2010, who knows what has happened since then] was 31 years younger than the one and the other was 41 years younger than the other.
So Mr. Daniels writes about this. He says:
We are about to encounter the first generation of geriatric adolescents, or adolescent geriatrics: that is to say, those people who have never really put their youth behind them, refuse to acknowledge the ravages of time, and do not believe that it is ever time to put adolescent things away. Their tastes, especially in music, have hardly evolved, nor their mode of dress. They have never gone beyond the instinctive bad taste of youth.
The reluctance to grow old, or even adult, is an international phenomenon. Old 60s protestors congregate in the town in France near to which I have a house, dressed in denim and beads, the men with such pony tails as their sparse grey hair permits them to bunch behind their bald pates. Many a rattled rocker of the Sixties thinks that time can be arrested if one wears the same clothes as one wore when one was 18.
For an increasing number of people, however, the seven ages of man have been reduced to two: childhood, which is not under their control, but ends roughly at the age of 11; and adolescence, which—unlike marriage—lasts until death. Growing old is for them an optional extra, a matter of attitude and not of biology. As for the wisdom of age, it is a concept unknown to them; it is the wisdom of youth that they believe in. To be young is very heaven; to be anything else is hell.
We saw this just a couple of weeks ago in the 12-12-12 concert that was given, up in New York City, for Hurricane Sandy relief and the featured band was The Rolling Stones, or as many commentators are starting to call them "The Strolling Bones," who are all in their 60s, and I believe one of them is now 70 (I think he just had a birthday). They are aging rockers, all knocking on their 70s, still acting like teenagers, prancing around the stage, belting out borderline filthy lyrics about their sexual conquests and such that they had when they were teenagers or in their early 20s. And they are not the only ones. There is The Who. I just recently saw a picture of Roger Daltrey and wondered whose grandfather that was. But it is like that in music. As Mr. Daniels alluded to, their musical tastes have not changed, and they are belting out the same old songs that they did in the 60s and the 70s.
We can add to this list, not just old rockers, but aging actors and actresses who try to act and dress 40 years younger than they should. Take Joan Rivers. She has undergone numerous plastic surgeries to try to look like a much younger version of herself. And there are society matrons and ridiculous Hugh Hefner types. I do not think he wears anything other than a bathrobe. Does anybody know if Hugh Hefner has anything else in his closet? Bathrobe and slippers.
There is an unfortunate reluctance to mature in society today, and it is not just these old Baby Boomers. But that is what Anthony Daniels is alluding to: The Baby Boomer generation has a lot of people who are still trying to recapture the 50s and the 60s and the things that they did back then. They want to keep in vogue today, even for those in their 60s and 70s, when they cannot even muster up the energy to do these things.
Now adolescents are known for a few things. We can spot an adolescent by what they do, things they say. What marks them is that even though they have come out of the age of childhood, they are still generally selfish—they want things their way. They want the things that they want.
Another trademark of an adolescent is foolishness. The Bible says that you have to discipline the foolishness out of the heart of a child because they are just going to continue in their foolishness, and this foolishness is spurred on by their selfishness. They do a lot of things that they should not do, and if they were really thinking about it, they would not do. But they do not think about it, they just act; and usually they act on their feelings. They want to do something. They have an emotional crush on a young girl. They just do things and follow their own instincts, their own feelings without really thinking. They are the "leap before you look" types because they are not mature enough to think through their actions.
So this tells us that adolescents do not plan. They have no foresight. They cannot think beyond the end of their noses, in most cases. All they want is the pleasure of the moment. They have not started to grow up yet. They have not matured. They have not started to do the things that mature people do—some of those things we find in aphorisms like "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise," "Lay up for tomorrow," and similar sorts of things. Adolescents do not think that way. All they think about is what is happening now right in front of them and what can give them the most pleasure.
And so we see these adolescent geriatrics are out there like the Rolling Stones and unfortunately the Monty Python group (they may be funny but they are pretty much adolescents still) and others. I do not want to limit it to them. But we do not want to be anything like them. We, in God’s church, should not be too condescending about this societal trend. I know we laugh about it and we can say, “Look at how foolish that old man is being.” The reason why we should not be condescending about this is because there is enough information in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, to reveal that there is a similar reluctance to mature spiritually that can affect the church.
Today’s church is a very old church. I am not talking physical years, and it is that way too. But mostly I am talking about being an old church because most of us have been in the church for a long time, long enough to be spiritually mature.
Most of us have roots that go back to the Worldwide Church of God (think about it), and in January ,it will be 21 full years since many in this church left the Worldwide Church of God. So that is two decades back.
Most of our roots go back even further. I can count from May of 1984, just for myself, from my baptism. So it is going to be 29 years next May for me. But my roots go further because my family has been in the church since 1959, and so I have, in effect, been in the church all my life. So I have a rather deep, long history that is almost 47 years of history in the church. Many of us have similar histories—20, 30, 40, 50 years—of contact with God’s truth.
So we should be spiritually mature, should we not, after all this time—after all the sermons we have heard, after all the articles we have read, after all the personal Bible study we have done, after all the prayer we have done asking God for inspiration and help to overcome and to grow? Should we not all be spiritual heavyweights? Should we not all be examples to anyone that sees us? Should we not all be lights in this world reflecting the glory of Jesus Christ? Should we not?
But, unfortunately (and I am not talking just about Church of the Great God. I do not want you to get that impression), this is the whole church I am talking about. All the other various church groups that are out there have similar histories to ours. We are all in the same boat.
But today’s church seems to be on the same trajectory as the New Testament church. As a matter of fact, if some sociologist would love to do this and just map out the history of the New Testament church in the first century and the history of today’s church from the time of Mr. Armstrong, I bet there would be a nice little overlay on some of these things that have happened in both time periods. We are following the same trajectory, and thus the same warnings that are in the New Testament apply to us as they did to them.
God wants to see significant growth from His people. Notice I put "significant" in there. He does not want to see just growth; He wants to see abundant growth. He does not want us just producing leaves; He wants to see us producing fruits from our lives. So let us look at a few examples where this comes into play in the New Testament.
First, let us go to I Corinthians 3. We will read the first four verses. Paul writes to them:
I Corinthians 3:1-4 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?
“Are you not spiritually immature?” He did not put it quite like that, but that is kind of what he meant.
So here we have the apostle Paul chastising the Corinthian church for their spiritual immaturity when he says here they should have known better. They should have been further along. Because he had taught them when he was there with them for that period of time that he was in Corinth. He taught them spiritual things. That is what chapter 2 is about.
In I Corinthians 2:6, he said, “We speak wisdom among those who are mature,” and he goes on to talk about the Holy Spirit of God which opens our minds to spiritual things. He eventually gets down in verse 16 to the point that if we allow God’s Spirit to work within us, we have the mind of Christ. This is deep spiritual stuff.
How long did it take Mr. Armstrong to explain this to us back in the 70s when he was understanding how the Spirit of God works and the human potential and all that?
This is the kind of things he had taught the Corinthians. Yet, they were still bickering with one another, doing these things, and the strife and divisions, as he mentions.
Now this is not a good example for us in the sense that this was a fairly young church. Most of the people who had been converted in Corinth were only a couple of years in the faith because Paul had only gone to Corinth a year or two or so before he wrote this letter. So these were young Christians.
But notice that Paul did not spare them because they were newly converted. He said, “You should know these things, but I can’t talk to you this way even now.” Paul’s expectation of growth even for these young Christians was palpable. “Why haven’t you caught up yet?” he is saying. “But I can’t teach you these things even now because you’re not ready. You’re too carnal.”
So you get the impression here that, since this was a young church and Paul was very much saying that “You should be further along the line spiritually,” that Christians are not supposed to need the basics of the Gospel for very long. The basics of the Gospel should put us right to the place where we are ready to learn deeper spiritual things and practice them. Now there is a learning curve, obviously, but Paul is saying he expected a lot more out of them.
Okay, let us go to another one. This one is in Hebrews 5. We are going to start in verse 9 because I want to get a running start into this.
Hebrews is a fairly deep book spiritually. He is teaching us some things that we really need to grasp about Christ and how superior He is, and how that should make us obligated to do things, how it should make us excited about what is coming up, and how we are supposed to react to these things even in times of trouble which were coming upon these Hebrew Christians.
Now this passage is more pertinent for us in terms of the length of conversion because Hebrews was written more than 10 years after he wrote to the Corinthians. So now we are now into the mid-60s or so.
Paul is writing to the converted people in Palestine. Those are the Hebrews that he is writing to. And of course, that is where Jesus died and rose from the grave and where the church was begun and where there was the greatest concentration of Christians early on. So these people that he was writing to were the old-timers in the church. Many of them had been around for 30-35 years by this point. You would expect that in the church in Jerusalem or the church wherever they happened to be (this was before AD 70 and the fall of Jerusalem, so they were still there; they had not fled to Pella yet).
So you would think in the Jerusalem church and those other congregations that were around, there would be the most knowledgeable, the wisest, the most spiritual of the people in the church worldwide. They had had the greatest experience. They should have been the most converted Christians in the entire Christian world.
And you know what? You can feel Paul’s disappointment in them because he was one of these Hebrews. Notice what he says, verse 9:
Hebrews 5:9-11 And having been perfected, He [Jesus] became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
What he is saying is “Over the years you’ve shut your ears. You’ve become sluggish about hearing the truth.” He does not say that they put their hands over their ears and will not hear, but it is like nothing is getting through. “You can talk until you’re blue in the face.” And it does not make any difference. It does not penetrate. It does not cause a change.
Hebrews 5:12a For though by this time you ought to be teachers . . .
After 30-35 years you ought to be the ones explaining these things.
Hebrews 5:12b . . . you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God . . .
How far had they fallen!
Hebrews 5:12c . . . and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
Do you see what he is doing here? Perhaps he remembered that 10 or 12 years before he had written to the Corinthians that they were not able, they needed milk and not solid food, and here he tells these Hebrews who had been around in the church for three decades or so that they were on the same level as the Corinthians were 10 years before, who were only Christians for a couple of years. That is a blow. That is a hard blow.
And he is telling them, “You have not matured at all. You got to a certain point and you stopped and then you regressed until now you need the basic things again.” He goes on:
Hebrews 5:13-14a For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age [they are mature] that is, those who by reason of use [they put these things into practice, he says] have their senses exercised [they have been trained and disciplined] to discern both good and evil.
And was not that the point that we got out of my sermon the last time about the Corinthians? They could not discern. They had a hard time judging things—because they were still carnal. They were thinking like the world. And they could not think like God wanted them to think through the Holy Spirit, using the mind of Christ. And Paul is saying that the Hebrews had come to this same point that they could not discern between good and evil because they had failed to practice it and train themselves to always choose God’s way. And so he says,
Hebrews 6:1-3 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
Do you get the sense (this is the sense I get) that the Hebrew church there in Palestine was teaching and rehearsing and studying and re-studying these particular doctrines? And that is all they did? They never went any further? All they talked about was repentance and faith (which is important, of course), baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection, eternal judgment—they were talking about these things—but all these things are very basic. They are the foundation for the rest of Christian life, and so he has to urge them to go on to perfection.
“Get out of this rut,” he is saying, “of just going over these very simple basic doctrines. Reach forward to things that are harder, that you need to grasp, because Christ is coming. You need to get ready.” So he has to use hard words to shock them out of their apathy. They did not care anymore. All they were doing was going over all the things that they already knew; and of course he says they had not been practicing them.
I Peter 2 is another one. It was not just Paul; Peter recognized it. This is how he starts this. He said that they had been taught the truth through the Spirit and they had been doing some of these things. But then he says:
I Peter 2:1 Therefore, laying aside all malice, all [guile], hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking,
Now if you have to lay something aside, does that not mean that you have it? If you have to get rid of it, does that not mean you already have it and you need to get it out of your life? That is what he is saying. He is saying that these people are full of malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking. So he says:
I Peter 2:2-3 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed [if truly] you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
If you are really converted, then you can go on and do this.
But their lives were showing that they had malice and guile and hypocrisy and all the rest. Their lives were not matching their profession. And so he says: “Get back into the Word of God and learn what you need to be doing and start growing, maturing. Move forward. Move on. And you will do this if you are truly a called son of God." You will want to do this. Does not Jesus say that His people hunger and thirst after righteousness? Blessed are those who do.
Now if you look at Peter here and study what he talks about, he spends very little time on doctrine. There are doctrinal parts in here—it is very important—but he starts here saying that we have (as my Bible has the subtitle) a "heavenly inheritance." So we have a divine inheritance from God, and it means big things for us.
Then the next thing he talks about is holiness. We need to be like God and live holy lives. And you know what then he gets into, after these doctrinal areas? Paragraph after paragraph after paragraph, do you know what he is talking about? How to practice Christianity in the situations that come up—if it is tribulation, how do you be a Christian; if you are in a marriage, how do you be a Christian; if you are a minister (he gets in chapter 5 as an elder), how do you be a Christian. Then he says, “Satan is after you. Let’s get going and be strengthened and finish the course.” He is talking about things that we can do to practice as mature Christians.
Now I hope that I am preaching to the choir. I hope we are not spiritual adolescent geriatrics. We all know that the New Testament is full of encouragements to overcome and grow and produce fruit. They are all over. You can pretty much open to any place in the New Testament, and there is an encouragement there to move forward, to grow. It is phrased in a number of ways. In one place, it is "grow up in all things into Christ"; other places, it is "transform into the image of Christ"; other places, it is "put on the new man"; other places, it is "mortify the flesh" and "walk in the Spirit." They tell us (the apostles do) not to be carnally minded but to have the mind of Christ; they talk about things like producing the fruit of the Spirit and building on the foundation of Christ, "we are no longer to be children," and so forth.
These phrases are, throughout the New Testament, different ways of looking at the same thing. They have little different details maybe, some of these things, but they all have a basic meaning that we are to mature spiritually throughout the length of our conversion. We are to go on to perfection. We are not to be satisfied with just basic understanding and basic practice. Spiritual stagnation—being spiritual adolescent geriatrics—is not an option for true Christians. We must grow up!
Notice how much we are to grow up. Matthew 5:48—a memory scripture. This may be the most astounding thing that Jesus Christ ever said.
Matthew 5:48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Wow! Do you realize what this is telling us? Do you see how high the bar is set? How far from spiritual immaturity we are supposed to progress? He commands us to be perfect, just like the Father. We are not to become just good people, but God-like in our character—spiritually complete and mature. We know we will never achieve that in this life. But the goal is there. It is the impossible dream, as it were. We are charged by our Savior to reach for it with all our being every day so that we will be spiritually prepared for service in His Kingdom.
So I have a recommendation. This is my stir to action, and I would like you all to do it whatever part of the road to spiritual maturity you are treading right now.
Take sometime this week to sit down—computer off, TV off, radio off. Just be quiet, be still, and think. Sit down and consider just one point of Christian living that you have a problem with. You know your own situation. You know the things that you have had trouble with. Maybe it is something in the family. Maybe it is something with a co-worker at work. Maybe it is something like gossip, or maybe it is swearing. Maybe it is a sexual problem. Maybe it is stealing or lying, or contempt for another person, or meddling in another people’s business, or maybe it is something like lackadaisical prayer and study habits, or whatever—it does not matter. Something that you are not doing right and you know that you are not doing right.
Sit down and think about it. And make it your aim to concentrate on overcoming that particular problem in the next weeks or months, as we lead up to Passover. Passover is little more than three months away.
Find that one thing that is giving you the most problem right now and dedicate yourself to working on it. Pray about it. Study about it. Find out what the Bible says—what God says about it. Follow the direction of God’s Spirit in overcoming it. And put God’s revelation into practice. Just one thing. One thing that you can say, “I tackled this problem and overcame it.” One thing.
And then when you are done with that one thing, do another one thing. But work on it and work on it and work on it and really concentrate on it and dedicate yourself to being better, being more mature in that particular area.
This is not a New Year’s resolution; they are usually trite and soon go by the boards. Doing this is so much more important. It is eternally important.
And keep at it until you have conquered it. Do this to spur yourself towards spiritual maturity, and more than that—to bring glory to God.