But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. Ephesians 4:15
Are you growing? Are you maturing? Are you developing? Even as a little boy grows and develops into a full grown man, so the Word of God calls us to grow and develop. We are to grow up into Jesus Christ, even “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
This is what we considered last time—the call to spiritual maturity in Jesus Christ and the fervent desire that must be ours all our life long to grow up into Him who is our Head (Dec. 1, 2022, p. 117).
Now we consider the manifestation of this spiritual maturity. What does it look like in our lives as we progress from spiritual infants to mature, spiritual adults?
Marks of spiritual maturity
The context of Ephesians 4 gives us at least two marks of spiritual maturity.
First of all, to grow up in the Lord Jesus Christ means that we will behave ourselves with “all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (v. 2).
Lowliness is essentially humility. This humility is not thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think. Envision in your mind’s eye a young strong man who thinks he can conquer the world and do anything, as opposed to that elderly saint who has a humble and mature view of himself. We are called to exhibit that maturity whereby we humble ourselves before God and know that we are entirely dependent upon Him.
Meekness is that blessing of God whereby we wait patiently upon Him, especially in times of hardship and difficulty. It is the nature of a young child to throw a temper tantrum at the very smallest of matters—when it is time to go to bed, or time to pick up the toys. We do not excuse that behavior in our little children, but we understand it. That little child needs to grow and mature and learn how to handle the difficult situations in life without throwing a fit and becoming discontent. As we grow up in the Lord Jesus Christ, we must learn the same. Then when trouble and hardship enter our lives, we will not raise our fist and accuse God, “Why this hardship? Why this difficulty? I can’t bear it!” The mark of a spiritually mature Christian is meekness. A meekness that waits patiently upon God.
Longsuffering is that mark of maturity whereby we exhibit a holy constraint toward others. Children (and sadly adults) lack in this area. The nature of a child is to lash out and hit the other child who took the toy away. As a maturing adult, we restrain ourselves from giving that knee-jerk reaction, whether it is an all-out assault with our fists, or an assault with our words. We are called to this spiritually mature behavior of longsuffering, whereby we refrain from seeking vengeance, “for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).
Closely related to longsuffering is forbearing one another in love. To put it very simply, it means “to put up” with one another. However, this is not speaking of the attitude where one crosses his arms and says, “Fine, I’ll put up with that other person.” But this is a forbearing “in love.” Forbearing in love speaks of our patient endurance with that person with whom we do not see things eye to eye on certain issues. The classic New Testament example is Euodias and Synteche in Philippians 4. The apostle Paul exhorts these two women to “be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2). For whatever reason they were not of the same mind. The division between these two women became so contentious that the apostle Paul exhorts the minister of the Philippian congregation to “help those women” who had earlier been so helpful to Paul in the cause of the gospel. This was an admonition to Euodias and Synteche to grow up and “forbear one another in love,” and thus to patiently endure with one another. That is the mark of a spiritually maturing Christian—forbearing one another in love.
Ephesians 4:13 gives another mark of spiritual maturity, namely, growing in knowledge of Jesus Christ. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” A child lacks knowledge. As parents, we see to it that our children grow in their knowledge. We teach them personally. We send them to the Christian school so that they can grow in knowledge. That growth in knowledge does not come all at once, it takes many years.
So also are we to grow in “the knowledge of the Son of God.” This sounds familiar to us because this is the same admonition given in II Peter 3:18: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Growing in the knowledge of the Son of God means that if someone presses us to say something about Jesus, we will not be at a loss for words. I know that He is the incarnate Son of God (I John 4:2). I know that He is the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep (John 10:11). I know and confess Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16). It is to confess with the apostle, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (II Tim. 1:12). The mark of a spiritually maturing Christian is that he simply cannot get enough of his Savior! The desire is always there to grow in the knowledge of and love for the Son of God.
Speaking the truth in love
Ephesians 4 gives one more outstanding mark of spiritual maturity. “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (v. 15).
There is the closest relation between language and maturity. A little child knows few words. Those few words are very simple and basic. As the child grows, more words are incorporated into his or her vocabulary. Pretty soon that child can communicate in complete sentences. Then through years of instruction that child can communicate his or her needs very clearly, write in complete sentences, and even stand up in front of the class and tell a story in descriptive detail. In high school and later in college that teenager will be able to write a position paper and stand before others to defend that position. But what growth in language! What development! From the babble of a little baby, to the simple conversational abilities of a little child, and finally to the complete language skill set of a fully mature adult!
That relation between language and maturity has spiritual application. As spiritual infants, our vocabulary is very basic and fundamental. I think of the very first question for children entering catechism: “Who is your Creator?” The answer is simple (yet altogether profound): “God.” Then, as we grow up in the Lord Jesus Christ, our spiritual vocabulary becomes very broad and we are able to speak intelligibly using words such as regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.
Spiritual maturity has to do not only with the amount of words in our spiritual vocabulary, but more especially with the manner in which we employ those words. Ephesians 4:15 sets forth the spiritually mature Christian as one who is “speaking the truth in love.” This is one of the outstanding marks of spiritually maturity— speaking the truth in love.
To be sure, we must speak the truth. Centrally, that means confessing the truth who is Jesus Himself. We must speak and “declare what he hath done for my soul” (Ps. 66:16). Further, we must speak the truth of God’s hatred against sin and the evildoer. We must speak of the certain judgment of God that will be rendered in the day of Jesus Christ. At bottom, then, we must speak all the truth of Scripture without shame or embarrassment, and without hesitation or delay.
But it is not enough simply to speak the truth. Rather, we are called to “speak the truth in love.” Speaking the truth in love means that I will use my words for the edification of the neighbor. It is to heed the exhortation of Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” Speaking the truth in love means that I am kindly affectioned towards the neighbor, and I desire my words to build them up and be useful for them. Speaking the truth in love does not forbid me from giving a word of strong rebuke and admonishment when necessary. But it does require the manner in which I bring that word. I will bring that word in a meek, lowly, and humble way. My attitude will exude love and patience, not spite or vengeance.
Here we do well to examine the words that we use. Do I show myself to be a spiritually mature Christian by speaking the truth in love? Or am I more like that immature child who screams and shouts and can only hurl out monosyllabic insults?
What about those times when I disagree with someone? There are many times when we encounter disagreement. Sometimes that disagreement is with those in authority— officebearers, teachers, and employers. Sometimes that disagreement is with consistory, classical, and synodical decisions. How do I express my disagreement? The Word of God instructs us “speak the truth in love.”
What about when I disagree with that person vehemently? Does my righteous outrage, legitimate as it may be, justify the setting aside of “speaking the truth in love” so that I end up wounding and assaulting the other person with my words?
This applies to the words we use online. When I comment on social media, am I constantly employing condescending, sarcastic, and biting language? That kind of language has as its purpose to tear down, belittle, denigrate, and destroy. Or am I careful with my words, using them charitably for the good and instruction of the neighbor? To do so is the mark of a spiritually mature child of God.
Are you growing? Are you maturing? Are you developing? There is something wrong with that little infant who does not grow. There is something wrong with that Christian who is not growing and developing spiritually.
The Word of God to us as fathers and mothers, teenagers and children, various members of the congregation, is this—grow up in the Lord Jesus Christ! Walk in all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love. Speak the truth in love. And thereby manifest in your life the marks of one who has advanced out of spiritual infancy even “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” that we “may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”