Hope for the Church (4)
Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave … 1 Corinthians 16.13
Babes in Christ
The believers in Corinth were not acting like mature adults in the Lord. They had not been watchful against compromise and worldliness, and they were drifting from the Word of God rather than standing fast in it. They were acting like children, like “babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 3.1). It must have stung a bit when Paul addressed them as such, but he considered that stinging was necessary to get them off the dime and on the growth curve of faith.
They weren’t growing, and they weren’t acting like responsible followers of Christ, able to deal with their problems by standing fast in the faith of Jesus. Paul chided the Corinthians as “babes in Christ” who hadn’t matured in the Lord. His exasperation with them is palpable in this epistle.
Paul considered that the Corinthians should have been showing more marks of maturity – holiness, purity, generosity, forbearance, and dignity in worship. Instead, they were acting like a bunch of middle-schoolers with the teacher out of the room. The word translated “be brave” in our text actually means to “act like a man,” to “be mature,” or “act responsibly.”
In other words, grow up.
Which the Corinthians were not doing, even though they’d had plenty of time and opportunity.
In the same way, many churches today could hardly be described as mature congregations standing fast in the Word like grown and dignified adults, pursuing their work diligently, and making an adult-like impact for the Lord. My wife’s beloved Bible teacher used to moan over the vast majority of Christians she knew who, she insisted, “will arrive in heaven in the same receiving blanket in which they were born.”
Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the true character of a healthy, growing church. He said nothing about numbers of people, size of budget, variety of programs and facilities, or whether or not it had a great worship band. He emphasized two characteristics – unity and maturity – which are in short supply in America’s churches today (Eph. 4.11-16).
By unity Paul meant real oneness, visibleoneness, oneness that takes the form of joining together in worship and ministry, sharing lives and resources readily and generously, and building one another up in love. Jesus taught us that such unity is essential for a believable witness (Jn. 17.21), and Paul cautioned that we’ll have to work hard to achieve unity and keep it (Eph. 4.3). That unity should extend beyond the walls of our own congregation to seek visible oneness with other churches in our community. Paul asked the Corinthians, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1.13) In communities everywhere, this appears to be precisely the case, as very little effort is made to actualize and make visible the unity all believers share in Jesus Christ.
Mature believers and congregations link arms in ministry, join together in worship and prayer, use their tongues for mutual edification and prophetic witness, and share freely and happily of their resources to help churches and people in need.
Such unity among churches in America exists, but it’s hardly the norm, and it almost never extends beyond individual churches to the larger body of Christ in the community.
Mature churches, Paul wrote, are impervious to the changing winds of doctrine and culture. As communities they exercise real discernment, speak truth in love to the surrounding community, and equip all members to contribute to the growth and wellbeing of the whole. Ministry is every believer’s calling, and in mature churches pastors and teachers equip church members for lives of service and witness in their own Personal Mission Fields. As church members pursue this calling, their churches reap the benefits and grow in unity and maturity.
Finally, churches that are growing into the full measure of the mature stature of Christ, as His Body, will increasingly lay aside the trappings of adolescence and the preferences of the secular world to strive more richly and fully together for the prize of the upward call of God in the Savior.
Many churches today have become overgrown by the kudzu of pop culture. All their worthwhile activities have to be above all “fun” for everyone involved. Their leaders work to create a “brand” in the community and market that brand by every available means. They have turned their worship services over to bands, vocal groups, klieg lights, drama, and feel good preaching by pastors who work as hard to entertain as to instruct. Meanwhile, spiritual adolescents of every age pew-up for a junk-food gospel each week, rather than the firm teaching and sound doctrine that fill, guide, and empower mature believers.
If this describes your church, you may feel a bit stung. So were the Corinthians.
We are babes and adolescents as churches, when the times in which we live demand brave and responsible, grown-up followers of Christ. It’s time to reflect deeply on Paul’s charge to act like adults, not babes or adolescents, in our practice of the faith.
Twelve Questions that Could Change Your Church
What can we learn from Celtic Christians?
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“Although they had been born again in Christ, they were not yet fit to receive spiritual things. Although they had received the faith which is the seed of the Spirit, they had produced no fruit worthy of God, but like babies, they were eager for the sensations of imperfection.”
- Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).