Since maturity is the goal of our spiritual lives, it’s interesting to spend time in the Scriptures seeing what spiritually mature people acted like. What was their defining characteristic, or characteristics? Lets look at just a few, to see what we come up with. Off the top of my head, I’ll pick Daniel, David, Peter, and Stephen. This is a pretty broad set, and should give us some idea of spiritual maturity.
First, Daniel. What do we know about Daniel? First, that he had a great deal of self-control. We know this from Daniel’s actions in Daniel 1:8ff. He refused the King’s food, because it was offered to idols. We also know he was a very intelligent person, from Daniel 1:19ff, and that he had a real heart for God’s glory, which we can see in Daniel 9. We also know he was an avid reader of the Scriptures, and sought to understand them from a prophetic viewpoint. We know this from Daniel 9:1-2, where he clearly states he had read in the Scriptures that Jerusalem’s captivity would be 70 years. Daniel took this prophecy literally, and was concerned with its fulfillment, to the point of praying for it in sackcloth and ashes.
Second, David. We know David had a great deal of self control, as he refused to kill Saul on several occasions when he could have, for instance in 1 Samuel 26. We don’t have much on David’s intelligence in the Scriptures, but we must assume he was a very intelligent man, for he handled the Kingdom of Israel well, and prepared detailed plans for the Temple once he was gone. We know he had a real heart for God, for even God says David was a man after God’s own heart. Finally, we know that David must have studied God’s Word, as find in Psalm 18, and he was very interested in the prophecies, relying on them as certain promises of the future. We find this, for instance, in 2 Samuel 7:18ff.
Third, Peter. We have few instances of Peter’s self-control in the Scriptures, but we do have evidence of a heart for God, even if occasionally misapplied, as in Matthew 26:30. And we know he was a great student of the Scriptures, much to the surprise of the Pharisees, as we see in Acts 4:13ff. In fact, we find Peter was very able to use the prophecies to argue with the Pharisees about Jesus, and who Jesus was.
Fourth, Stephen. We know very little about Stephen, beyond his being honored by the Church to hold the position of Deacon, in Acts 6:1. We can assume, from this, he was well respected, and must have had self control, to reach this point. We also know he was a great student of the Scriptures, especially understanding the prophetic nature of patterns in the Scriptures we wouldn’t, today, associate with prophecy. Stephen uses the pattern of God’s servants being consistently rejected the first time by Israel to great effect in Acts 7, one of the masterpieces of exposition on the Tanakh.
So, what is the pattern? That all these men where self controlled. That all these men were intelligent. In fact, in the case of Peter, we have the surprise of the Pharisees noting a common man was much more intelligent than they supposed, and the only thing they could see to account for it was he had been with Jesus for three years. And, finally, we find they all studied, or knew, prophecy deeply, and applied it in discussions and actions in their lives.
Can we say the same things about ourselves? Or the modern church, with its emphasis on feeling good, decrying intelligence, and ignoring the prophecies? What is our standard of spiritual maturity?