When we were kids, we couldn’t wait to grow up so we can do what we want to do. We were told no by our parents and we longed for the day that didn’t happen. But then, we became adults and we discovered that we didn’t get to do what we want. We got to make more decisions for ourselves as adults, Aside from maybe a brief stint in college if you decided to do whatever you wanted, we found ourselves surrounded in more rules than we did as kids as more responsibility is laid upon us. As children, we were excused for our ignorance and we weren’t expected to be skilled; as adults, one is expected to know and be able. AS children, being overwhelmed by emotions was understandable, even as we were taught to be big boys or girls, whereas the expression of emotions
Now, in this above paragraph, I have described many different images of what we expect adults to be like, that is to be mature. To be an adult means 1) having freedom, 2) having power, 3) bearing responsibility, 4) having
If you answered yes, then let me ask you a question: are things liking being honest and fair a part of adulthood? Does being adult mean having a sense of justice and integrity to your life? Is there a moral component to being mature? Does being mature entail a consistency between what you say and what you do?
Allow me to suggest: many of our images about what it means to be mature lack this moral component to them. The closest thing we get to morality is the idea of responsibility and being emotionally regulated. But this really doesn’t tell what type of person we are to be with others. So, lets construct a different image of what it means to be mature.
Being mature is to have the emotional control to be willing to honest with others even as it may have consequences, to not place unfair burdens upon them because you don’t like what is happening, to seek the benefits of others rather than yourself. A mature person expresses themselves so that people can know what to expect, and when they fail to fulfill their end, they acknowledge and accept it.
This image is different from the first image of maturity I constructed. While there are many differences you could point out between the two portrayals, what is the one most significant difference between the two? In the first image, adulthood is portrayed with reference to oneself: to what they can do, to what they are capable of, to how they handle themselves. In the second portrayal, maturity is about how one relates to others. The difference is whether one sees adulthood in an individualistic or relational manner.
These two different images have very different implications. The first portrayal of maturity has little to do with being
The Apostle Paul address this problem within his first letter to the Corinthians. Writing to a congregation that had made it a habit to compare the superiority of various teachers in comparison to each other, such as himself, Apollos, Cephas/Peter, and even Jesus, Paul is motivated to address the attitudes that undergird this divisive behavior. The Corinthians are styling their teachers as if they were to be considered comparable to any other philosopher, Jewish scribe, or political orator (for a
While Paul doesn’t directly express it, many of the Corinthians might have styled themselves as being “mature.” So, when Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2.6 “we speak wisdom among the mature,” many of them would have perhaps styled themselves as wise. Then, Paul begins to go into a foray into the nature of this wisdom as being a mystery, promises of a great, glorious future through Jesus, talking about revelation from the Spirit, and even talking about the selective nature of how only some people can receive these spiritual teachings because they have to be spiritual themselves to receive it. Paul then goes on to suggest it is incredibly rare by his quotation from Scripture, suggesting no one has it, except those who have the mind of Christ. It certainly sounds like Paul is beginning to let the Corinthians into a special secret about wisdom that they are more uniquely ready for because they are mature than others. Imagine for a moment that many of these Corinthians might have felt at this point. They might be thinking “Alright! Finally! Paul is giving us the wisdom we so crave and want. We get to be part of a special, inner circle!”
Then Paul says this:
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? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? (1 Corinthians 3.14; NRSV)
Paul sets up the Corinthians expectations in their pride, only to turn it around on them. He does this also in Romans 1.18-2.29; he evokes their sense of self-righteousness and pride in his audience by giving a rhetorical lambast of those unrighteous Gentiles, only to turn the tables and point that same attitude towards those who were self-assured. Paul does the same to the Corinthians, who were self-assured in their maturity, only to be told “you are but children.”
Multiple commentators have
This contrast between two different images of advancement become expressed in 1 Corinthians 8.1-3:
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary
knowledge;but anyone who loves God is known by him. (NRSV)
In the Corinthian motto, they define their religious community according to the idea of knowledge. As possessing knowledge defines the community, people would be differentiated on the basis of how much knowledge they do or do not possess. The more mature
But, Paul flips it to say this: If you think you have some broad reaching theory that explains everything, then you are actually ignorant. Why? Because the Christian community was formed around God, who can work in ways that subvert the expectations of the most knowledgable of persons. In the end, it isn’t about what you know or who you know that knows, but who you love. So, later Paul goes into the ever popular chapter 13, commonly used for weddings, about love, saying:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (NRSV)
Here Paul further redefines the definition of advancement and maturity in the body of Christ in terms of love. Everything else becomes secondary, everything becomes superfluous, everything becomes even useless in the absence of love.
But, this isn’t some nice sound praise of an emotional feeling that the modern day religious ecstatic praise as their god. This is not a love of possession, a love of sexual ecstasy, a love of being affirmed. It is not a
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, NRSV)
But what we miss about this language is that Paul is essentially portraying advancement in terms of love rather than wisdom. Paul is not giving a law about “love” that can then be used to guilt and control people for failing to reach such a height; not only is that not how Paul uses it, but the person mature in love would not act in such a way. Rather, the mature person advanced in their faith is one who loves others with patience, through the frustrations, through the wrongs without rejoicing in them, but is eager to give credit to people when they discover what is good.
This is reflected in Paul’s attitude, which, far from shaming the Corinthians for not being loving, explains his discourse in 1 Corinthians 1-4 was not intended to shame the Corinthians as being terrible, horrible people for their lack of love for each other, but to guide them as part of his spiritual family (1 Corinthians 4.14). Instead, Paul sets himself as an example for the Corinthians to follow so that they can learn. (1 Corinthians 4.16).
The cult of love is unable to understand this. For them, love is about one’s obligations from another. What the cult of love has done is appropriate the praise and honor given to people who are mature according to the vision of personal power and capacity and then obligated it for other people. While rightly see the fault in what amount to the prevailing image of maturity, they didn’t propound an alternative vision like Paul did, but sought to tear down what they didn’t like. They have not transitioned to a different vision of maturity of relational maturity as defined by love, but rather an obliteration of maturity altogether.
But for Paul, the advancement and maturity of the Body of Christ is defined
But again, a definition must be offered over and against the cult of love. Love is not an idea. Love is not an emotional experience. Love is not a way of giving people social status. Rather, love is a way of living with people with their faults and their strength, for the purpose of their well-being as they themselves become concerned about other people’s well-being. Paul’s love is about effectiveness in how one treats others for their own growth and advancement, whereas the cult of love views love as about bestowing of status.
So why this seeming digression into the cult of love into a post about maturity? Because, as I alluded to, the cult of love has resisted an image of maturity that has been baked into Western culture. And the Church in the West, far from resisting this image and setting up a counter-culture that views maturity and advancement along different lines, instead has reinforced this image time and again. It is an image of maturity that is unconcerned about the way one actually relates to another, but rather being the type of person who conveys a certain image and has the power to gets things done. The cult of love has rightly rejected such an image, but they have not learned a healthy alternative because the Church has not taught an alternative way of maturity and advancement in faith. We have long operated with the wrong definition of maturity in parts of the Church, and it has given birth to many consequences including the hypocrisy that the cult of love rightly points out. The “mature” have failed the “immature” members of the cult of love because many of the “mature”
I imagine if Paul were with us today, he would look at the theological and ethical conflicts we have and not play the role of the “moderate” trying to bridge gaps, but directly say to us “you are actually children, and it is reflected in so much of what you do.”