Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:14 Introduction
Verse 13 sets the target before us. Verse 14 gives a critical reason to pursue this goal. Believers who do not grow are more susceptible to false teachers. Though this danger attends stunted growth, we tend to tarry in the cradle. Thus Paul feels compelled to say more to spur us to the goal.
Eph. 4:14a “That we henceforth be no more children,. . .”
The Apostle was not merely idealistic and utopian. Being also practical and realistic, he not only pointed toward where we ought to be, but also dealt with us where we are.
Paul had a mighty grasp on human nature. He knew us well, and helps explain ourselves to us. Never content to deal only with the superficial, Paul penetrated to the essence. He revealed what we are, exposed our innate weakness, our natural immaturity, and we acknowledge that our response to his solemn verdict can be only a sigh-filled and assenting Amen.
Our eye is ever on the goal of verse 13, but do not be deceived. Much immaturity clings to us. We all start the Christian life as children. It begins with a new birth, is a new life, a bran new beginning, an entrance into a new realm. We begin our pilgrimage as spiritual infants. Conversion is the beginning of life-long growth, a fact we forget to our own peril. The growth may seem slow at times, but should always be continual. Day after day, year after year, we should always be growing.
As time passes, we should be able to see changes in our walk before the Lord. Signs of immaturity should be visible less often, while evidences of maturity ought to become more prominent. We have not yet arrived at full maturity, but should be distancing ourselves ever further from infancy.
Unfortunately, we often find ourselves slipping back into childish behavior. Thus, we must ever watch out for the tell-tale signs of childhood.
Beware childish fickleness. For children it is natural and beautiful to be constantly changing. Ask what they want to be when grown. They have one answer on Monday, another on Tuesday, and other replies for every other day of the week. This is adorable in children, but there comes a time when fickleness is no longer cute. Eventually choices and decisions have to stick, and be carried through. Consistency has to become the norm.
In the beginning stages of the Christian life, one is inundated with new insights. Ideas swirl around the mind and certain concepts are not solidified, but the time must come when understanding penetrates the very fiber of one’s being, resulting in individual stamina. One has to become strong in resolve, robust in purpose, settled in convictions. We must soon as possible be able to say “no” with decision, “yes” with confidence, “this is wrong, this is right, this I do, this I don’t do.”
The life of Peter illustrates the metamorphosis we need to undergo. In the Gospels, he oscillates regularly from one extreme to another. One moment he walks on water, the next he is sinking (MT 14:29-30). One minute he makes a glorious confession, the next he rebukes the very Christ he just confessed (MT 16:16,22). At supper he promises to die for Jesus, before sunrise he denies Christ (JN 13:37; 18:17). After Pentecost, though, the fickleness is gone. The issue has been settled in Peter’s breast. His face is set like flint. He knows what he is about, and where he is headed.
Beware childish gullibility. Children are easily deceived, tending to believe everything they hear. They have not learned to distinguish, to discern, to be wary. The spiritually immature are also gullible, at the mercy of the latest fad in religion. They are like the people of Lystra. At first they are ready to follow their priest of Jupiter in offering sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas as gods. Soon, though, the same crowd stoned Paul nearly to death (AC 14:12,19). A mature believer rejects error and heresy, clutching Biblical tenets with certainty, and saying resolutely, “This is truth.”
Beware childish love for novelty. Children’s minds flit from one thing to another. Their attention span is extremely short. They like entertainment, showmanship, grandiose things, the spectacular, the gaudy. Children live life on the surface. Intrinsic value is not as important as novelty.
Immature believers also crave novelty. They are like the Athenians, who “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (AC 17:21). The childish believers, lacking desire and motivation, cannot concentrate on the essentials, the basics, the fundamentals of our faith. They prefer entertainment to exhortation, amusement is more important than a sermon, a good show is preferred over worship.
Beware fickleness, gullibility, and craving novelty. Though we do not reach absolute perfection in this life, we should experience moments when the evidence is irrefutable that we are growing away from these evidences of spiritual infancy. In one’s physical development, there come times when the realization, yea the irresistible perception, comes over a person that he or she is no longer a child. Similar experiences can also occur in one’s spiritual life. The apostles, when beaten by the Sanhedrin, rejoiced (AC 5:40-41). I believe one reason they rejoiced was because their endurance of persecution gave them proof they truly had been changed from the immature cowards they had been before Calvary. They had spinelessly scattered when Jesus was arrested, but were now bold as lions. Their endurance of persecution encouraged them, for it provided evidence they were growing from childhood into manhood.
Occasionally, it is good to take time contemplate our progress. We need to assess how we are doing, and if we are advancing, we should be encouraged thereby. Tribulation produces patience which produces proof (KJV “experience”) which produces hope (RM 5:3-4). As we endure and overcome troubles, as we see proof of God at work in our lives, we can look to the future with confidence, for His victories bespeak our spiritual growth.
It is okay to revel in what God is doing in our lives. We must avoid pride and complacency, but an occasional celebration of His working in our lives is totally acceptable. I like the sentiment expressed by Cowper,
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings.
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.
In other words, God sometimes grants us times when we can celebrate with sheer gladness what He has done, is doing, and will continue to do in our lives. God, the creator of the cosmos and exalted sovereign of the universe, is working on lowly us. He is taking His precious time to mature us, and we should be able to see evidences of His handiwork.
I remember vividly a Friday night some 19 years ago when a young man cried in agony in my living room. Ruth and I had just returned from a week of seminary classes, expecting to perform this very man’s wedding ceremony that weekend. He was to wed a beautiful young lady, but on the verge of marriage, this young, handsome groom had called off the wedding because his bride-to-be would not consent to being a preacher’s wife. He had already given his heart to this young lady. In his mind the deed was done. Overcome by agony he fell out of my living room chair and onto the floor, crying and writhing over his loss for the Master. It was of course pain in its worst form, but on reflection I came to see it as the turning point, the crux, of his life. I think he knew that very night he could make it in the ministry. His voluntary enduring of this much agony and self-denial was a sign of spiritual maturity. If he could endure this for the Master, he could endure anything. With a shattered heart, but a firm resolve, he set his course. He knew what he had to do. He went on to school, prepared himself for the ministry, met and married a wonderful help-meet, and serves today as a powerful preacher of the Word.
“Be no more children.” The question is, how can we mature? We know the standard answers, prayer, Bible reading, meditation, regular church attendance. The context of our verse points in another equally valid direction. The stabilizing, maturing force is performing within the body the spiritual gift which God has given you. Is it not true, the people in a church who learn the most are the ones who teach, and the best leaders are those who serve best? Plunge into the work at hand and there will be less opportunity for the dire consequences from false teachers which Paul goes on to enumerate in the latter part of this verse 14.