It is OK to Grow Up!
Basket of Figs, July, 2004
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” --Ephesians 4:14
The Scriptures do not advocate perpetual childhood. Neither the state nor the church should encourage it. A great plague of childishness has been set loose in the nation because of a generation or so that refused to grow up. The child does not accept responsibility for his actions, desires immediate gratification, whimpers and cries when he doesn’t get his own way, and would rather play than work. So he lives at home until his mid-thirties because he doesn’t want to grow up and take responsibility for a wife and a home.
“But children are our future,” goes the lament. “We must do something to win them to our church, or our church will die.” It is a shame is the church’s life and future depends upon the whims of children. Many modern evangelical churches have it backwards. Instead of having adult churches to encourage children to grow up, they have churches geared to youth, to try to keep the youth from straying. Never works, of course.
But, But, But….
"And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, 'Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.'" --Matthew 18:2,3
A few years ago I read an article in a Christian publication which affirmed that becoming as "little children" meant that we should live simply, in naiveté, in the present, and in reckless confidence. I would affirm that this is emphatically NOT what Christ meant. Further, such a view is destructive to Christianity and overthrows Biblical faith.
Not a Simple Book
The Bible is not a simple book, and the Christian life is not a simple life. Adam and Eve were created in maturity, and man's progress through this world is away from the "Garden" toward the "City" of God. We are to "occupy" (do business) until Jesus comes again, using our pounds and talents the best we can.
Many Christians are lazy in theology, in moral choices, in educating themselves so that they can serve the Lord in maturity. If the sermon goes longer than 20 minutes they get restless. If it involves difficult concepts, they complain. "We want the simple Gospel," they whimper, as if anything Christ said was simple: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," for instance. What does "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" mean?
For the same reason they get impatient with "doctrine," as if the Bible were all on the kindergarten level.
Jesus Not Naive
Jesus knew what was in man and did not commit himself to many of those who "believed" on Him (John 2:24,25). He knew that true discipleship could not be based on whoring after signs and wonders, but upon the enlightenment of the soul. He did not judge childishly after the outward appearance. He warned His disciples against naiveté when He said, "Be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." He told the Pharisees to tell Herod, "Tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected," not exactly a naive or simple statement! (Luke 14:32)
In fact, the writer of Hebrews complains that the Hebrew Christians were "unskillful" or "without experience" (i.e. naive) in the word of righteousness (Heb. 5:13,14). Ephesians 4:11-14 tells us that the reason for the ministry gifts is that we be "no more children," but mature (perfect) men.
Christ Looked to the Future
Jesus had clear, defined goals toward which all of His life pointed. "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God," is the way the writer of Hebrews put it. The very essence of childishness is its preoccupation with the present. It is true that Jesus told us not to be anxious about what we should eat and drink, but that was because we are to be occupied in seeking the kingdom of God, a very definite future-oriented task.
No Reckless Confidence
Jesus did not live in reckless confidence. Just the contrary. He did not turn stones into bread, because that was not in the word of the Father for Him. He did not throw himself off the temple. He withdrew Himself from the multitude until it was "His time." He paid His taxes to avoid "offending them."
Even on the cross His mind ticked off the prophecies to see if any of them had not yet been fulfilled. Finding that one remained unfulfilled, He cried, "I thirst!" His steps were disciplined and ordered by the Father; it borders on blasphemy to liken His walk to the reckless running to and fro of little children.
What Did Jesus Mean?
The disciples were quarreling about who was to be the greatest in the kingdom. A little child was a perfect example to warn about such unworthy ambition. Children have much pride and self-seeking, yet they are often humble to do the meanest task that adults will often despise. This is the lesson of Christ, and the object lesson must not be pushed beyond the rest of Scripture.
The goal of the Christian is maturity, responsibility, prudence, skill, knowledge, righteousness, and thoughtfulness. In a childish, drug-obsessed age, a false message of simplicity and naiveté might be appealing, but it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It fits more the irresponsible drug culture of the "flower children" of the nineteen-sixties.
The Potter and the Clay
A related and equally unbiblical idea is that we must become clay so that the Potter can mold us and make us after His will. Sinful autonomous man wants to retain the initiative in his own hands, so he re-interprets Scripture. Poor God! He can't make us what He wants us to be until we give Him permission.
The Apostle said it much differently: In Romans 9 he says that from the lump of sinful clay God can make a vessel unto wrath or a vessel unto mercy. The initiative is His. The clay doesn't decide. The Biblical truth causes us to fear and seek knowledge and truth; not naivety and childishness.
Don’t Be Suckered by Cunning Men.
The figure used in Ephesians 4:14 is dice tossed to and fro by gamblers. This is the danger of spiritual children. Because naïve and ignorant church members do not have the understanding and maturity to evaluate things they become like dice that are tossed to and fro. A great many people have been “suckered” into such religious games, simply because they refused to grow up as Christians, opting for the fun and games of children, for entertainment, and became prey to manipulators and charlatans.
Read all of Ephesians 4. It tells you how to grow up and why you should do it.