” … speaking the truth in love,
we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head,
into Christ …” – Ephesians 4:15
This line in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus should come with sound effects, like a siren or an alarm. Something to warn you it’s coming, so you can duck. This line is a revolution in twenty-one words. A trumpet blast announcing the charge on my immaturity and yours.
Speak truth in love, Paul says, like anyone even knows what that means any more. We’ve become so used to spin, which is incredibly detrimental to real community. We’ve learned to couch everything for personal gain, so that the norm for public discourse is much more argument than advocacy. More about my own provision and protection than the common good. Meanwhile, real truth wrapped in real love requires real trust. Does Paul not get that?
Grow up in every way, he presses. Every way. Not just the convenient ways — the places where it is more fun to be of age than not — but in every way. In speech and silence, in public and private, in submission and responsibility. In love, power and self-discipline. Maybe especially self-discipline.
In other words, Paul counsels, act like adults. Which flies in the face of so much that comes at us from every other direction. We’re encouraged to pander to our inner child, to coddle his or her pain beyond good sense, to keep putting Spiderman band-aids on gaping childhood wounds so we never actually have to heal. We are encouraged to a state of arrested development, spending far more time accommodating the child we used to be than encouraging the adult we can become.
It is time to grow up, Paul says. Heal. Move on. We will never get to the richness that is the good life if we never challenge ourselves to maturity.
In Peter Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, he talks about how common it is to find immaturity in leadership, so that we’ve learned to accept that:
- You can be a dynamic gifted speaker for God in public and be an unloving spouse and parent at home.
- You can function as a church council member or pastor and be unreachable, insecure, and defensive.
- You can memorize entire books of the New Testament and still be unaware of your depression and anger, even displacing it on other people.
- You can fast and pray a half-day each week for years as a spiritual discipline and constantly be critical of others, justifying it as discernment.
- You can lead hundreds of people in a Christian ministry while driven by a deep personal need to compensate for a nagging sense of failure.
- You can pray for deliverance from the demonic realm when in reality you are simply avoiding conflict, repeating an unhealthy pattern of behavior traced back to the home in which you grew up.
- You can be outwardly cooperative at church but unconsciously try to undercut or defeat your supervisor by coming in habitually late, constantly forgetting meetings, withdrawing and becoming apathetic, or ignoring the real issue behind why you are hurt and angry.
Scazzero says we’ve come to expect these things in the community of Jesus. We’ve normalized the unhealthy. In fact, in his rants about spiritual leadership in the first century, Jesus himself called these very behaviors roadblocks to God’s Kingdom (see Matthew 23:13, The Message).
That’s quite a charge. A roadblock that stops my growth is bad enough, but roadblocks are not discerning. What I’ve done to block my own growth may end up blocking the spiritual maturing of others. My refusal to grow up in every way into Him, who is my Head, can actually stunt or stop the growth of the people around me. Which is no small matter. How selfish would I have to be in order to allow that?
Don’t glide too quickly past this truth: When I refuse growth in myself, I deny growth in others. This may well be a key not only to unlocking your own way forward, but also to finding a more wholesome, productive place within the community of faith.
Who knew that growing up could be such a revolutionary act?
What evidence do the people closest to you have that there is actually an adult living in your adult-sized body? What would you have to relinquish in order to grow up in every way into Him, who is your Head?
(This post first appeared in August, 2014. I’m inspired to publish it again today after a beautiful time of worship in which we prayed for all our mission partners. I am inspired today to stretch toward God’s highest and best version of myself. May you be inspired likewise.)