Comments on a couple of preceding posts have raised two important questions: what is spiritual maturity and who is to judge?
As to the second question, God, of course, is the only true judge, but that does not keep us from making our own provisional judgments, even when we claim otherwise. That leaves us with two challenges. The first is to be forthright about the provisional and often prejudiced nature of the judgments we are going to make anyway. The second is to do what we can to more clearly understand the idea of spiritual maturity and the signs that might point to it.
At the outset I want to erase from the board the phrase ‘spiritual but not religious’. For the purpose of this discussion, spirituality has to be understood as a quality of the Christian faith reflecting one’s relationship with God as informed by the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Other religions have their own ideas about what spirituality is, and a great many persons are certain that they are quite spiritual without having a clear idea of what that means. None of that counts for the purpose of this discussion.
Given that, I’d like to first tackle the question of maturity, or more particularly psychological maturity. To do that I’d like to borrow from the noted mid-twentieth century psychiatrist Will Menninger. He suggested that we could best understand maturity as an ability to: recognize and deal with reality; accommodate change with relative ease: be free of excessive symptoms of tension and anxiety; be giving; relate to others in mutually satisfactory ways; and be life long learners. I’m willing to go with that as a rough outline of maturity, and hope you will too.
Turning to what the spiritual content of maturity might be, I look to Paul and his words of counsel to the churches in Rome:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12)
I don’t think any of this comes easy, and again Paul, I believe speaking for himself, had something to say about what he had to go through to gain it:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Rom. 5.1 ff)
I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4.11 ff)
That ought to be enough to get a conversation going on spiritual saturity.