In 1849, the Japanese painter Hokusai (1760-1849) died at the age of 89. His work spanned decades. Toward the end of his life, the artist dismissed any of his work done before the age of 70. It was only after he reached 70, that he felt like he was turning out anything worthy of note. On his deathbed Hokusai lamented, “If heaven had granted me five more years, I could have become a real painter.” His story is the story of maturity. Can I ask you two questions? First, are you getting better, or just getting older? Second, how spiritually mature are you?
We find ourselves this morning in the fourth chapter of John. According to the very first verse of our reading, Jesus is in Samaria, near the town of Sychar. It is about noon and the Master was near Jacob’s well (Ge. 48:21-22). The Master was warm from his journey, so he approached the well for a cool drink of water.Normally, people drew water from the well at the end of the day because the heat had passed. Jesus discovered a woman at the well during the hottest time of the day. Jesus and the Samaritan woman must have been quite a scene. They were a study in contrast. He was a man; she was a woman. He was a Jew; she was a Samaritan. He was sinless, she was sinful. He was spiritually mature; she was spiritually immature. This is the truth. We are much more like the sinful woman than the sinless Savior. At first sight he knew she must have a story. In his culture, men and women did not address each other in public; in his society, Jews and Samaritans did not speak at all. Jesus breaks both rules and talks to a Samaritan woman. Most of our reading is a dialogue between the two.
The Samaritan woman must have been filled with regret because her life was filled with mistakes. She just couldn’t find a decent man; she was a repeat offender. She had been married five times and was living with another man. In our society, only fifty percent of first-time marriages last. Every time you marry, your chances of a successful marriage are cut in half. That means, on her fifth wedding day her chances of a happy marriage were down to 3.1%. If she would have married number six, it was down to 1.6%. She was at the well in the middle of the day alone to hide from the harsh tongues of the other women in the community. She was the punchline of every joke in her community, and she knew it. This is the oddest thing about the story. Jesus chooses this mistake- filled woman to talk about spiritual maturity.
Our world and our churches are filled with sinful, spiritually immature people. I have never met a sinless person; I have met very few spiritually mature people. Spiritually mature people stand out in our society because there are so few. Can I ask you these questions? Do the people in your life consider you spiritually mature? Do you consider yourself spiritually mature? The Samaritan woman struggled with Jesus’s words because she was spiritually immature. Could it be we struggle with God’s ways because we are spiritually immature too?
There is a website called Cripplegate.com. It is a Christian website with the tag line, “for a new generation of non-conformists. (I consider myself a non-conformist.)That line plays off Roman 12:1-2, “do not conform to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” On November 7, 2011, they posted an article called: 5 Signs of Spiritual Maturity. That article seemed to be written for us. The article revolves around five questions. If you answer these five questions honestly, then you will discover your level of Christian maturity. Each one of these questions has Biblical roots. You may find out that you are more mature than you thought. You may discover you have some work to do. You can consider these five questions a little quiz.
This is question number one. Do you have an appetite for meat? Infants drink milk regularly, but in time they ask for solid food. When a twenty-one-year-old asks his mother to spoon feed him mashed potatoes, it is creepy and dysfunctional. When a nursing home resident can’t take a single bite, it is sad because the end is near. Spiritually mature people can’t get enough meat. They can’t get enough of the Bible. They study the Gospels. They study the entire Old Testament. They study the epistles. What part of the Bible are you studying right now? Are you studying the Bible? Have you ever really studied the Bible? Or is the Bible just too hard to understand? Maybe that is the reason you are spiritually immature. Spiritually mature people have an appetite for meat. Hebrews 5:14 says, “Solid food is for the mature.” This is question number one: do you have an appetite for meat?How mature are you?
This is question number two. Are you easily offended? Experience has taught us that mature Christians seldom get offended. The reason is simple, they see the big picture. When Jesus turned the tables over because people were using the law for personal gain, people were upset with him. Jesus didn’t care because he saw the big picture. The temple was a house of prayer, not a place of profit. Do you see the big picture, or do you only see yourself or your interests? You may have heard me say this in the past. The only thing that matters is Jesus! Our churches are filled with offended people because our churches are filled with spiritually immature people. Philippians 1:18 says, “In every way Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes. I will rejoice.” This is question number two: are you easily offended?How mature are you?
This is question number three. Is your conscience formed by scripture or opinion? One of the great attributes of a mature Christian is grace. We are saved by grace and by grace alone. It is a simple truth to understand, but it is a hard truth to live out. I have grown tired of negative, critical, and judgmental people. No one needs your permission; no one must live up to your standards. Spiritually immature people are always critical of others. Spiritually mature people understand that we are saved by grace. Romans 14:1 says, “As for one who is weak in the faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” This question number three: is your conscience formed by scripture or opinion? How mature are you?
This is question number four. Do you serve humbly? God uses sinners in this world to do good things because there is no one else to choose. Have you ever known anyone who boasted about what they did for their church? Have you ever known someone who boasted of something they did for God in this world? If so, then you have the perfect example of a spiritually immature person. Spiritually mature people get it. They know it is not about us, it is all about God. Do the people in your life consider you humble? 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Do the people in your life consider you arrogant? This is question number four: do you serve humbly?How mature are you?
This is question number five. Do you credit God for success? We live in a culture that idolizes people. It may be a well-loved pastor or the pope. It may be a professional athlete, Tom Brady, or LeBron James. It may be a historical figure, like George Washington or John Wesley. That is a true sign of spiritual immaturity. Spiritually mature people understand the truth. People, both contemporary and historical, are nothing more than tools in the hands of God. It is God who deserves all the credit. I Corinthians 3:7 says, “So neither he who plants, nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” This is question number five: do you credit God for success? How mature are you?
So how did you do with your little quiz? Did you find you are a spiritually mature person? Or did you find you have some work to do?
When I was young my grandmother came to visit us twice a year. She lived in Brooklyn, New York and we lived in Warren. I can remember going to the Greyhound bus station to pick her up. Later, she flew into the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. It really didn’t matter where she arrived. It was always exciting to pick her up because she came with gifts. Every reunion was the same. I would run up to her and give her a big hug. She would always square my shoulders and say, “Let me look at you. Look how big you have grown.” My dad, who hated those visits because he didn’t like her, always responded, “I would hope so. If he wasn’t growing there would be something wrong.” I think he missed the point, but he wasn’t wrong. We expect healthy children to grow.
Since the Russians have invaded Ukraine, I have been wondering about all the orphans I met in Eastern Europe. I have met orphans on both sides of the conflict. One of my lingering memories comes from the Renewal Orphanage in Dmitrov, Russia. It is the home of approximately one hundred emotionally, physically, and mentally disturbed children. Each one of those children had a story. One of the boys in the orphanage stood about four foot tall. That would be fine if he was a preschooler, but he was a teenager. I don’t remember his name, but my heart went out to him. He stood with crutches and always had a smile on his face. The other children liked him and considered him a leader. Every time I saw him, I wondered what was wrong. We expect healthy children to grow. This is the truth.
God expects you to grow, and God expects you to mature spiritually! When God looks at you does he say, “Look how big you have grown!” Or does God say, “What is wrong?” Never forget, we are to be a little more like Jesus every day. It is your choice. Are you just getting older, or are you getting better? Are you going to mature, or are you going to remain a spiritual babe? The author of Hebrews said it for the ages: by this time, you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. Let me say it clearly. Grow up!