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What the Bible says about Maturity, Spiritual
(From Forerunner Commentary)

1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Because Christianity has the unfortunate reputation of being a religion for the simple, the apostle Paul's comments in I Corinthians 1:26-29 are often misunderstood and misapplied.

In a sense, Paul's words are a snapshot in time; they only describe the reality of the situation when God calls us. Moreover, they are generalities—the norm—to which there are always exceptions. Paul himself was certainly no intellectual lightweight. Early Christian history has several traditions of converts among the Emperor's court, senators' families, and various high-born houses both in Rome and abroad. Still, generally, God calls His potential children from the middle to lower classes of the great mass of humanity.

Since such are our likely origins, our question must then be: "Does God want us to remain foolish, weak, base, despised, and nothing?" No! He desires us to be humble and think of ourselves as nothing, but He does not want us to remain in the spiritual, mental, and emotional conditions from which He has called us. He is working in us so that we can eventually become wise, mighty, noble, glorified, and something humanly incomprehensible.

Anyone reading the Bible should be able to realize that God's every instruction is designed to promote spiritual growth (Malachi 4:2; Ephesians 4:15-16; II Peter 3:18; etc.). Stagnation and backsliding are anathema to God (for instance, Jeremiah 3; Hebrews 6:4-8; II Peter 2:20-22). How often does God say something to the effect that those who do not grow and produce fruit will be pruned, and if they still do not produce, they will be cut down and burned in the fire (John 15:1-8)? God creates and produces, and He wants to see His children do the same.

If God has made us in His likeness, and He is creating His Son's image in us, is it not reasonable to believe that God wants us to learn to think like His Son? In fact, Paul writes in I Corinthians 2:16 that we already have the mind of Christ! He means that by God's Spirit, given to us after baptism, we can begin to think and evaluate as Christ does (see also Philippians 2:5-8). If God expects us to learn to think like Christ, a great deal of growth in our ability to think must occur.

True Christianity is a thinking-person's religion! The doctrines of God may be simple in their fundamental principles, but they are almost inexhaustibly profound in their particulars and ramifications. Applying God's instruction to any situation requires careful and deliberate thought. Paul says, "[T]he Holy Scriptures . . . are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. . . . [They are given] that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:15, 17). Serious study, meditation, and prayer require deep thought.

Additionally, as Christ's return nears, only the truly thoughtful—the deep thinkers—will be able to see through the cloud of deception Satan and his agents will produce (Matthew 24:24; Revelation 12:9). Thus, Peter warns us: "But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers" (I Peter 4:7).

God gives Ezekiel a striking vision in which water running from God's Temple is measured every thousand cubits. It is at first ankle-deep, then knee-deep, then waist-deep, and finally too deep to stand in (Ezekiel 47:1-5). Such is the knowledge that flows from God. As we progress in understanding, the depth of God's revelation increases proportionately until we are literally swimming in the limitless expanse of God's mind! It can be overwhelming, but it is also exhilarating and mind-expanding that God has opened such knowledge, understanding, and wisdom to us.

No matter how deeply we have waded into the "water," more depth awaits. We can never plumb its bottom. But is it not satisfying—and rewarding—and right—to try?

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Deep Thinkers

1 Timothy 3:6

There is some disagreement over "condemnation" here. Some commentators say that it ought to be translated "criticism" or "snare."

From what it says in Ezekiel 28, we can be safe in concluding that Helel was created far different from the Satan that he became, that pride led to Helel's downfall by providing motivation. It plowed the way, and it completely obliterated his knowledge of God and His power, and eventually it produced rebellion.

Paul's warning is that a converted person can fall into this snare, this criticism, or this condemnation, if he is not mature enough to fight and overcome its influence. If he does not recognize it, he is really in trouble. He will not put up any fight at all. If he does recognize it, and if he is mature, then he can overcome it because he will do the things necessary to ensure that it is in check. As long as there is a Devil, as long as we are human and have this human spirit, and as long as that spirit can be triggered by Satan, then we can fall prey to it if we are unaware of its working within us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Six)

2 Peter 1:5-10

This passage builds on the implication of grace, that is, the gifts of God alluded to in the previous verses. Grace both enables or empowers us and makes demands on us by putting us under obligation. Titus 2:11-12 tells us that the grace of God teaches us that "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly." Receiving the grace of God puts us under obligation to respond.

Peter is teaching that the grace of God demands diligence or effort. Verse 5 reads, "giving all diligence [effort]." In addition, it is helpful to understand that Peter is saying in the word translated as "add" that we are to bring this diligence, this effort, alongside or in cooperation with what God has already given. God freely extends His grace, but it obligates us to respond. We are then to do our part in cooperating with what He has given to us—and He inspired Peter to tell us to do it diligently and with a great deal of effort.

We ministers almost constantly speak of growth. Yet, notice where Peter begins his list of traits we are to become fruitful in: He writes, "Add to your faith." "Add" is woefully mistranslated into the English. Yes, it can mean "add," but it is actually much more expansive than that. "Generously supplement" is a more literally correct rendering, which brings it into harmony with "diligence." In other words, make great effort to supplement your faith generously.

Peter sees faith as the starting point for all the other qualities or attributes. He does not mean to imply in any way that faith is elementary, but rather that it is fundamental or foundational—that the other things will not exist as aspects of godliness without faith undergirding them. In the Greek, it is written as though each one of these qualities flows from the previous ones. We could also say that faith is like the central or dominant theme in a symphony, and the other qualities amplify or embellish it.

How much and what we accomplish depend on where we begin. Peter is showing us that there is a divine order for growth, and it begins with faith.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Five)

1 John 1:7

As we grow, God reveals more of His perfection to us, and as He reveals His perfection, His light, His truth, we continue to repent. Knowing better what He is, we go to Him for forgiveness of what we are and what we have done, and He continues to cleanse us by the blood of Jesus Christ, washing our imperfections away.

Everything in the Christian life ultimately comes down to our relationship with God. Without the relationship, without the fellowship that is made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ—which bridges the gap between us and God and enables us to have the relationship—no growth will take place. The practice of walking in the light makes perfect. It is not a matter of changing and cleansing ourselves, but rather that fellowship with God has a transforming and perfecting quality.

We know that "evil communication [company, NKJV] corrupts good manners" (I Corinthians 15:33, KJV). The obverse of this is that wonderful, pure, good communication produces good manners. When we are around evil people, we will pick up their habits and their ways. When we choose as our companions people who have the standards of God and fellowship with them, they will likely rub off on us. We cannot fellowship with anyone better than God. That is the whole purpose of the relationship. When we are around Him, we become like Him, unless we consciously decide to cut ourselves off from Him by rejecting His truth.

It is a wonderful system. Everything hinges on the relationship, on the fellowship, and then ultimately on the response to truth. We cannot afford to allow the carnal nature in us (it is still there even after conversion, as Paul said that sin was still in him; Romans 7:14-25) to gain the upper hand and prevent us from working and building on this relationship.

Leviticus 19:2 tells us that we are to be holy because He is holy, and that is what this fellowship is doing, equipping us for holiness on a day-to-day basis. Maintaining that fellowship is not always easy because of the prejudices that we bring with us due to the traditions of our human cultures. We were once helpless before them, having absorbed what our parents taught us until God opened our minds to the truth. Even now, it takes conscious effort for us to respond to the truth, but if we want to be holy, we must maintain the relationship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 3)


 




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