The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
August 7 , 2006
Acting like a baby
“Stop acting like a baby!”
Chances are you’ve been either on the giving or receiving end (or maybe both!) of such admonishments at some point in your life.
Growing up is a big deal to parents! Our expectation is that as time passes, a baby will grow and mature. So if a child is being toilet trained and she willfully refuses to change her habits, we get very frustrated.
The Apostle Paul had this same problem with some of the churches he founded, especially his church in Corinth.
Paul founded the Corinthian church around 49 A.D. and stayed there for about 18 months. There were about 50 members, mostly Gentile Greeks. They met in small groups in homes.
Corinth was a secular, cosmopolitan port city, an international crossroads of commerce and travel—the New York City or Hong Kong of its day. During Paul’s time Corinth was one of the largest and most important cities in the Roman Empire. It was bigger than Athens and one of the permanent hosts of the pan-Hellenic Games.
Like all port cities, there were plenty of vices in Corinth. There were several pagan temples, each of which housed slaves and prostitutes, which added to the income of the city. Medicine was tied to idolatry. Even shopping for groceries was tied to idolatry, because meat was offered to idols first before being sold for consumption.
Corinth also was very socially competitive. There was a great sensitivity to status and getting ahead, lots of power struggles, which was true all over the Roman Empire. Knowledge and the ability to speak and argue were very important. This was a big source of factions in society and also in the church.
Paul wanted the church to be a counter movement to the way the culture was, a new way to live that would be more moral, where people could be together across classes, where love was the guiding principle rather than status.
But once Paul moved on, the Corinthians got pretty messed up. They were so steeped in their secular culture that its influence persisted after their conversions and permeated their church. Instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to lead them in love and the principles Paul had taught, it was their Greek/Roman thinking and culture that won out. These things were changing their faith rather than the other way around.
The problems in the church were mostly internal. The Corinthians believed that they were “spiritual.” But they weighed the role of the cross and foundational elements of the gospel against their cultural beliefs and thought they could be spiritual by some other route. They did not really have loyalty to the fundamentals of the faith.
As a result, they did not progress in the most basic elements of love. They got into arguments, they broke into factions based on who they thought was the best leader to follow. Their communions were rowdy. They were taking each other to court. They looked a lot like the culture around them, and not very much like Christ.
Look over at 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 in the right margin. Paul sounds just like an exasperated parent, doesn’t he?
He says that back when he was founding the church, he could only teach them so much because they were childish. He implies that even back then he felt they should have made more progress. Now, a few years later, he is really appalled. Not only have they still not progressed, but they have gone off in a new bad direction and believe that they are more mature.
Throughout his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains to them that their behavior reveals how immature they really are. In just the first six chapters of this letter, he reminds them that they’ve split into factions, argue with each other, think they are wise when they are not, are arrogant, take each other to court, commit sexual immorality, are greedy, are slanderers, drink too much, and swindle each other.
And that’s just the first half of the letter!
This is not the behavior of people who are spiritually mature.
As to teaching them the deep things of faith (which they THINK they crave), Paul says absolutely not! There is NO WAY I could give people like you the kind of solid food I just described (in chapter 2). The deep things of God, the things that make for true wisdom, are not for the immature.
The Corinthians wanted wisdom. But Paul says that wisdom is for those who by the way they think and how they behave show that they are paying attention to the Spirit, that they are spiritual, and so are ready for the next step, solid food.
Have you ever had a friend who, no matter how many times you told them something, still didn’t get it? They continued in the same behavior, they never stopped being childish? When you have children, you know you will have to repeat the same stuff to them for a while, but there is an expectation that as they grow and mature, they’ll finally learn that lesson and you can move on to nagging them about the next one. But when you see an adult that you have to tell things to over and over, and years go by and they still haven’t progressed, well, then you think maybe they don’t want to change. You start to distance yourself from them, sometimes give up on them. Because they should be maturing, but they don’t.
This is what Paul was facing with the Corinthians and it frustrated him. He’d given them a lot of time to start to mature. But they didn’t.
Now, you may be thinking, “But, doesn’t everyone have to start somewhere? Aren’t we all immature when we start the Christian journey?”
So let’s think about when it is that immaturity becomes a problem. The late 20th-century Christian scholar F.F. Bruce says immaturity becomes a problem when enough time has passed for the immature to have grown out of infancy, but they have not.
The issue—both for Paul and for us—is not people who are brand-new Christians. It is people who began at some point to live Christian lives, and went nowhere with them. Just like in physical development, spiritual childhood should be a stage we pass through, not our permanent condition. The natural course of things in the Christian life is that we grow and become complete.
What’s the problem with remaining spiritually immature? In Ephesians 4, Paul tells us infants are defenseless, unable to protect themselves, easy prey for false teachers and others who would like to lead them astray. They can’t steer themselves, they are tossed around according to the prevailing wind—whatever is popular or whatever most people think.
Spiritual infants are locked into their own perspective and can’t see past themselves. They’re prone to jealousy and arguing, and liable to split a church into factions. They hold back not just their own growth, but the life and mission of the church as well.
We may start out in the faith as infants, but God’s desire is for us to grow. There’s an old saying that Jesus accepts us as we are, but he doesn’t want us to stay as we are. That’s one of the reasons he’s given us the Holy Spirit. This is why he has given us the church. He wants us to move from people who resemble those of the world and become people who are spiritual. He wants this to be a visible change that others will notice and want to become themselves.
The real definition of spiritual maturity is very different from what the Corinthians thought it meant. It is not about having all kinds of secret knowledge that other people don’t have, which gives you a leg up.
The way that God intends for us to mature is to become wise and fit for ministry. Real maturity serves and suffers. It is not impressed with how much knowledge it has or how it is better than others. Mature Christians are marked by their love and concern for others, by a lack of self-conceit and envy. Mature Christians are led by the Holy Spirit; they respond to his promptings in their lives.
Jesus is our model for maturity. God wants us to become as much like Christ as possible as we live out our lives.
The Corinthians thought they were spiritual and growing in faith, but what they were mostly doing was mirroring the secular world in which they were steeped. Their behavior gave them away. They did not realize how strongly their culture was influencing them.
The Corinthians were very mistaken about the level of their spirituality, how to measure it and what it should look like. They had the wrong criteria. They thought they were very deep, when they were superficial. They were trying to mold the Christian faith to their lives, not the other way around. They wanted to live as they already were. Being transformed by the faith was not in the cards for them.
Paul had to tell them how mistaken they were. Even though Paul knew about the deeper things in the faith for which they craved, he withheld the understanding from them because they had chosen to remain infants.
What about us? Like the Corinthians, we come from a culture that exerts a strong influence on us. There’s a lot we like about our world, our culture, our country. Sometimes it borders on arrogance. Paul tells us we can tell how mature our faith is based on our behavior. The more like the world our behavior is, the more shallow and immature our faith.
So we have to ask: What do our thoughts look like? What does our behavior look like? Jesus’ spiritual maturity was reflected in servanthood leading to the cross, suffering and perceived weakness. Are we seeing this kind of maturity develop in our own lives?
Let’s be honest. God’s way seems so difficult, so sacrificial, so self-denying.
We are not so sure we want to stand out like this. We see a lot in our lives that we’re afraid we’ll have to give up... we don’t know exactly what it will be for us, but we know it will be something(!)... and this scares us. We like our stuff. We like just concentrating on ourselves, looking out for ourselves, having fun, climbing the ladder, having a great house, clothes, cars, gadgets. So we pretend we’re 100 percent for God, when we’re just half-hearted about it.
We know that if we allow God to really make a claim on us, some of this, maybe a lot of this, or even all of this will go away. We think Jesus is just waiting to do something terrible to us if we wholeheartedly seek after him. We’re afraid, and we admit it. The non-believer, even the infant in Christ looks at the cost and thinks, “Why bother? Seems like too much work, and for what?” So we resist God, or pretend we don’t know we’re supposed to grow.
So maybe we don’t want to mature. Even though we know that he knows what we’re up to.
We are fooling ourselves if we think we are far along the road of being spiritual if we have never made any effort to grow in the faith.
The expectation of the church is that those associated with it want to mature in Christ. There is more to the faith than Sunday morning worship. Church members should be hungry to grow, not settle for being infants. That’s not God’s plan for either individuals or the church.
So, if this is what God wants from us, then we have a choice to make.
For individuals and the church to fulfill God’s plan for their lives, they cannot remain static; they must grow and mature in the faith. They need to make an effort to grow in the faith. Otherwise, they are and will stay infants, and perpetually will need to be taken care of.
There are deep things of the faith, but these cannot be explored unless the person is maturing in the faith. First must come an understanding and living of the basic beliefs of the faith. Then, gradually one is able to go on to deeper things. We can’t dabble, or worse, do nothing, and expect to be mature Christians.
We’ve got to stop acting like babies.
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?