In preparation for Bible Study and for tomorrow’s worship service, I’ve been thinking about the New Testament idea of maturity. According to the apostle Paul, we are growing toward maturity in Christ. This is God’s intention for us, as we see in Romans 8:29 (“he predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son”) and it’s what Paul himself worked toward, as we see in Galatians 4:19 (where he compared his leadership work to being “in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you”) or the explicit references to a Christlike maturity in Ephesians 4:15 and Colossians 1:29.
It’s a wonderful image to hold onto. We all know how rocky the years of adolescence can be, as we develop by fits and starts toward our maturity. It’s an awkward time for many of us (I personally remember grade 8 as being the low point of my early years, for a whole bunch of reasons), and to arrive finally adulthood comes as something of a relief.
One of the things that most characterizes the years of adolescence is an over-concern with how we look in other people’s eyes. We want to be accepted, and we tailor our actions (consciously or unconsciously) to that need. In adulthood we are set free to be ourselves.
Sadly, the technologies of our day have reintroduced a tendency to see ourselves through other people’s eyes, with the result that now many adults never feel the freedom of not worrying about what other people think. We respond so viscerally to every interaction on social media, every “like” and every comment, that we come to depend on it.
But Christian maturity aims at freedom from this tyranny of others’ opinions because it reminds us of the true goal: looking like Jesus, not looking like the person who might possibly impress our neighbours. God is the one whose smile matters. God is the one whose “well done” we ought to look for.
This truth of Christian maturity is one of the things that draws me personally toward the stories of people whose lives were lived with a singular purpose that had nothing to do with what others thought. Pleasing God alone was of ultimate significance. The stories of the martyrs of the ancient church as well as those of the modern world in other cultures speak to me this way. The stories of ascetics who deliberately fought against being driven too much by physical or emotional needs if they would take priority over God’s desires.
When I see certain fictional characters, sometimes explicitly a person of faith, sometimes not, I can find myself again being pointed back to this reality that we should all have learned as we grew toward our maturity at the end of adolescence, but which often dies hard. In the TV show Lost the character of Mr Eko was one of these models. He is a man with a violent past as a drug dealer and a murderer but by the time we meet him he has had a conversion that has completely turned the direction of his life. He is perfectly content to be seen as strange by those around him, but nobody would question that he is a man driven by his convictions and his sense of vocation, of calling. Stranded, lost, on an island, he inscribes Scripture verses and references on a stick that he carries around as he travels. Fellow survivors mock him about his “Jesus stick” but his singleness of purpose, regardless of their mockery, commands respect from us as we watch him. He is no longer “driven and tossed like a wave of the sea” based on other people’s reactions. He has come to the steadiness of maturity that we all aim toward.