Unity a Sign of Spiritual Maturity

I Corinthians 1:1-9

Mature.  It’s a curious adjective, isn’t it?

In the world of agriculture we use it to describe a plant that has the ability to bear fruit.  For example, grape vines are not considered mature until their third year; for they cannot bear grapes until then.  And even then it’s debatable.  For the grapes produced in the third year are generally few and far between.  It is not really until the fourth year that full bunches, rich and plump, appear on the vine; it is not really until the fourth year that we can call grapevines mature.  (Keep that in mind if the whim ever strikes you to go into wine-making.)

So there’s agriculture.  But we also use the word mature—and variations of it, like immature—to describe people, don’t we?  Oh, I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve heard these words thrown casually around my house!  An argument breaks out at the dinner table, or someone does something unpredicatably silly, for a laugh or whatever; and I know what’s going to follow: those three overused words, that well-known adolescent mantra: “You’re so immature!”  You know what I’m talking about?

But unlike with agriculture, to describe another person as mature or immature leaves a lot of wiggle room.  It’s not so easy to say a person is mature because he or she can bear fruit.  Granted, this may be true in a strictly physical sense; we won’t get into that here.  But what about an emotional sense?  Or a spiritual?  Can we ever really say that we’ve become fully emotionally mature as a human being, always and completely able to maintain control over our feelings?  Sometimes I may display a great deal of maturity with respect to controlling my anger, for instance; but the very next day I slip back into an immature loss of temper!

No, for human beings, the term mature is relative.  At least, it’s relative until the Kingdom of God is fully realized.

This is the idea that Paul is getting at in his first letter to the Corinthians—or part of the idea anyway.  The congregation in Corinth recently had been called out of its old life of sin into a new life in Christ.  It was made up of new believers.  In a spiritual sense they were immature.  Now some time had passed since Paul had planted this church.  And, as is the natural process with any living organism, Paul expected to see a maturing process.  But this process was not happening as quickly as he had expected it to—or as quickly as it needed to in order to sustain itself.

Do you recall what was going on at the Church in Corinth?  Perhaps most famously there was social division.  The rich and the poor were not getting along.  The rich, in fact, were drinking all the wine and eating all the bread at the Eucharist, leaving nothing for the poor.

But this social division was just the tip of the iceberg!  Without going into too much detail, let me just say that Corinth was the Las Vegas of the ancient world.  What happened in Corinth stayed in Corinth—and there was a lot that happened in Corinth!  And this lot characterized the church there.

Anyway, all this divisiveness led Paul to say (3:1): “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as a spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.”  He had fed them with spiritual formula, as a caregiver would feed an infant.  But instead of them maturing to a point spiritually where they no longer needed formula, to a point where they could feed themselves, they still weren’t ready for the solid food of Christ.  They were big spiritual babies.  They were immature.

Now I don’t know about you, but all this talk about divisiveness being a sign of spiritual immaturity makes me uncomfortable.  After all, what’s wrong with shaking things up a little?  What if I see something going on in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and School that I disagree with?  I pledge.  Don’t I therefore have a right to sound my voice and make my opinions known?

Good question!  The answer is yes—and no.

I’m not saying that we need to agree on everything.  In fact, quite the contrary!  We need to disagree.  For we live in a constant tension as individuals in relationship with one another.  As individuals, we form our own opinions according to how God has made uniquely each one of us; but in relationship I continuously butt up against other individuals who see things differently than I.  So disagreement should be expected, and is maybe even essential to life.  And so, yes, I—you have a right to make your opinions known.

But the issue is how you go about making your opinions known.  Do you divide and conquer, as it were?  You see something you don’t like.  Fine!  It happens to all of us.  But then what?  Do you pull people aside, hoping to win them to your side in hushed whispers?  Do you think in terms of us vs. them, or of my people and your people?  Do you put yourself in some sort of category that you imagine is somehow superior to another—whether it be social status, the color of your skin, your gender, or your sexual orientation?  Such excluding behavior is according to the old way, the way of sin, the life you knew before Christ, what Paul calls the flesh.  Such excluding behavior too, by the way, is at the root of all sorts of social evils like bigotry, racism, and bullying.

But what happened in Corinth needs to stay in Corinth!  That was your old life, your old way of dealing with disagreement.  You are now a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  So act like it!

When disagreement arises, and it will, deal with it according to the Kingdom’s rules, not Corinth’s.  Don’t pull someone aside and whisper your cause into their itching ears!  Instead, go to the one with whom you disagree in love, loving the Lord your God as you go; and loving that other person, who is your neighbor, as yourself.  And seek reconciliation!

Right?  We should not seek to create factions, but unity.  Unity is a sign of maturity in Christ.

Now, here’s the good news: even with all the divisiveness that went on in Corinth, Paul nevertheless saw the Corinthians’ potential.

That’s what we read today: a vision of spiritual maturity.  The Christians in Corinth, Paul writes, are already sanctified in Christ Jesus.  They are already saints.  Despite the present disagreements!  Despite the present arguments!  Despite the present factions!  In fact, Christ is presently among them, enriching them and strengthening them to overcome their divisions, to become more and more mature as a corporate body.

It is just the same today, here, with us.  Whatever factions there are among us, and however poorly we deal with them, we are already sanctified; we are already saints.  Christ is present among us, enriching us in all things and strengthening us to overcome our divisions; and thereby we can become more and more mature in him.

Let us therefore pray to this end: for ourselves as individuals; for the corporate body of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and School; and for the wider Church.

. . . .  Amen.

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2 Responses to “Unity a Sign of Spiritual Maturity”

  1. […] Unity a Sign of Spiritual Maturity But unlike with agriculture, to describe another person as mature or immature leaves a lot of wiggle room.  It’s not so easy to say a person is mature because he or she can bear fruit.  Granted, this may be true in a strictly physical sense; we won’t get into that here.  But what about an emotional sense?  Or a spiritual?  Can we ever really say that we’ve become fully emotionally mature as a human being, always and completely able to maintain control over our feelings?  Sometimes I may display a great deal of maturity with respect to controlling my anger, for instance; but the very next day I slip back into an immature loss of temper! No, for human beings, the term mature is relative.  At least, it’s relative until the Kingdom of God is fully realized. […]

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