I’ve been thinking lots recently about spiritual maturity. What does it mean to be spiritually mature? What does it mean to be a mature Christian? What are the signs or hallmarks of a mature Christian?
A close, deep, intimate relationship with the Lord is usually my first answer to this. You may use different language, but you probably recognise what I’m talking about here. Knowing Jesus in a real and a deep way. And that’s true… but what does that lead to? Or what is the sign of that in my life? What should I be seeking to grow in, and as a church what should we all be seeking to grow in, as disciples?
The recent answer I’ve come back to is faith and love. I see these two qualities in abundance in the life of Jesus. A real, deep, unshakeable faith in God, and a corresponding real, deep, unshakeable love for all people. And these things correspond with the Great Commandment and Great Commission he gave to us as disciples. We are to love our neighbours as ourselves and make disciples of all nations.
And now I see faith and love as hallmarks of maturity throughout the New Testament. I think Paul was obsessed with faith and love; so many of his letters are exhorting people to continue and grow in these practices:
- And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
- The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)
- … ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you… (Ephesians 1:15-16)
- … we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven… (Colossians 1:4-5)
- We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:3)
- We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. (2 Thessalonians 1:3)
- … God’s work… is by faith. The goal of this command is love… (1 Timothy 1:4-5)
- What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:13)
- … I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. (Philemon v.4)
Paul was obsessed with faith and love, with a little bit of hope also thrown in there. That’s what it’s all about. I want a deeper relationship with Jesus, and so see my faith in God and my love for all people grow.
So what helps me grow in those things? I’ve realised that many of the conventional spiritual disciplines help me grow in faith; worship, Bible study, prayer, and hearing testimonies from others. All these things make my faith stronger. But do they make me more loving? I’m not convinced they do.
Perhaps I’m alone in this, but stories of love don’t make me more loving. They inspire me when I hear them, but they don’t lead to action and change in my life. The thing that makes me more loving is to actually get involved – to see with my own eyes someone else showing incredible love – to a colleague who hurt them, to a homeless person with no food, to a shop assistant who doesn’t want to be there.
So I’m going to do all I can to expose myself to people and situations where that happens, and where I will consequently become more loving. I’m going to carry on with my conventional spiritual disciplines that develop my faith, and I’m going to find some creative new ones that develop my love.
What practices develop your faith and love?
Mark Williamson is a founding director of One Rock International. He’s a lay preacher and leader within the Methodist Church, author of a biography on John Wesley, and is currently researching for a biography on William Wilberforce. He enjoys good films, good food, praying for London, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna.