Immature Christians are sometimes described as being like babies who are not yet weaned and thus unable to feed on the solid food of Christ’s teaching. So what are we to about this situation? I believe we can expect our spiritual maturing to proceed as our physical maturing did. That is, it moved sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly over a considerable time period. Nonetheless, our body had a plan for what the finished result would be.
I think I have taken the eating and physical growth metaphor as far as it will go as there is no end in this life for our need to continue maturing in Christ. There also seems to be no end to suggestions as to how Christians are to mature, many of them involving events and/or products.
To get anywhere with God in any attribute, I believe, we need to put our Creator in charge. After all, he made each of us unique and only he knows what he has in mind for each of us. There is an old joke that goes “The trouble with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar.” However, this witticism may bring us close to the problem of maturing. Most of us may prefer doing something rather than being something, such as a willing servant of our Lord. Yet we will only become more mature as we allow ourselves to be made more and more in the image of Jesus.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “[T]his slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 RSV). We may find rather more than slight affliction is required as we take on the weight of eternal glory but in the end I am sure we will think it worth it.
The love chapter is, of course, First Corinthians 13. It was supposed to be a favorite chapter of our Sunday school class. However, I think we should be wary of it.
What Paul wrote to the Corinthians was the result of what he had heard of them. This was that they were engaged in a “spiritual competition.” This is evidenced both by their division into factions (1:10-12) and by arguments of which spiritual gifts were greater (12:1-11). Paul finishes chapter 12 by showing the value of all the spiritual gifts. As the letter was read in the church I can imagine everybody feeling good about themselves and their gifts at this point. Then the trap closes.
“And now I will show you the most excellent way” (Romans 12:31b, NIV). We might have heard a gasp out of the assembled Corinthians. They thought they were arguing over excellence—how could there be something better. Paul then tells them that love is better than spiritual gifts through providing them a series of examples of love, some of which are beyond most people’s capability and all of which we have difficulty with in our everyday lives.
It is impossible to have divisions and factions and competitions in our churches and still maintain we are being faithful to Paul’s teaching concerning our Christian lives and spirituality. Surprisingly, after telling the Corinthians that love is greater than faith and hope, Paul exhorts them to continue to desire spiritual gifts. The trap for us in the love chapter is that we, in general, do not go on to chapter 14 but are content to see chapter 13 as the high point and end of Paul’s instructions and leave the search for spiritual gifts to others of less orthodox persuasions.