“I just don’t know if I’m ready to settle down yet.” He had recently celebrated his 30th birthday but was still content to live in his parents’ home, to eat their food, to enjoy their rent-free accommodations. He told me how he enjoyed his girlfriend and sometimes joined her in her parents’ home for weeks or even months at a time, but he still wasn’t quite ready to go to the next level by purchasing that engagement ring. Kids were in the future, too, but only off in the hazy distance. In the meantime, he was working his way up from part-time to full-time work, but thinking of going back to school to pursue a different career. That would be tough, though, because he had a passion for video games and wouldn’t want to get so busy that he couldn’t give them time. It all sounded so cliché, so Millennial, but this was a real conversation with a real 30-year-old man, and I haven’t exaggerated a single word. He was growing older, but not growing up. He was progressing in years, but years behind in maturity.
In this series, “Run to Win,” we are considering how men can live in a way that is pleasing to God. And in an age of immaturity, it’s imperative that every Christian man grow up. My friend, if you are going to run to win, you need to act your age.
Milk to Meat
The Bible has a lot to say about maturity. While much of its instruction is in the context of spiritual maturity, there is a close correlation between maturity of faith and maturity of life. The man who lives a childish life is unlikely to possess spiritual maturity or display mature character.
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he exhorts him in this way: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). The old mentor wrote to his young protégé to encourage him to display a maturity beyond his years. While church and society may have had low expectations of young men, Paul’s were very high. In fact, Timothy was to be exemplary in his maturity, to behave in such a mature way that he would set an example even to those much older than himself. The young are to chart the way for the old.
When the author of Hebrews wrote to his congregation, he expressed concern for their lack of spiritual maturity. These people had once been making good progress and growing steadily, but something had gone wrong. Their maturity first plateaued and then went into decline, so he could rightly say, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God” (5:12a). His appropriate and realistic expectation was steady, life-long progress, but their maturity had slowed, halted, and declined. “You need milk, not solid food,” he said, “for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…” (5:12b—6:1). Their immature doctrine was leading to immature living, and this was a source of deep grief to their pastor and their God.
This theme of maturity shows up elsewhere in Paul’s letters and also in Peter’s. It becomes clear that progressing from infancy to adulthood, from childishness to maturity, is a prominent theme in the Bible. God has created us in such a way that as we progress in years, we are to progress in maturity. Our challenge is to accept and pursue the responsibilities that come with each stage of life. No matter your age, you need to act your age.
No Room for Immaturity
Some of what it means to be mature is conditioned by culture. In pre-industrial, agrarian societies, children needed to grow up quickly so they could get to work and provide for their family. They were considered adults early because at a young age they took their place doing adult activities. As society developed and wealth grew, children had the privilege of extending childhood while they attended school, then college. In an extravagant and pampered society like our own, adults can remain children almost indefinitely, which is why some studies now suggest that adolescence begins at 12 and stretches to 32.
In the face of this cultural embrace of immaturity, Christians bear the responsibility of growing up. No matter your age, you are responsible before God to act your age and to prepare yourself to act the next age. The Bible allows no room for complacency, no room for immaturity.
In Paul’s letter to Titus, he gives age- and gender-specific instructions to four groups of people: young women, older women, young men, and older men. It is noteworthy that while he provides a whole list of instructions to the other three groups, he has just one instruction for young men: “Urge the younger men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6). Self-control perfectly addresses immaturity. It is immaturity that keeps men endlessly glued to video games instead of enjoying them in moderation. It is immaturity that keeps young men obsessed with pornography instead of living in purity, pursuing a bride, and finding delight in her body (Proverbs 5:18-19). It is immaturity that traps men in fear and apathy and keeps them from making bold decisions and taking big steps. Immaturity is a modern-day plague.
For older men, there is a little bit more to maturity: “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2). Having progressed in years, ability, character, and godliness, older men are to cast aside all that hinders their growth and press on until the very end. Greater age actually brings greater responsibility, for they are now responsible not only for their own development, but for the development of younger men. Just as a great runner holds back a burst of speed for the last few feet of his race, a godly man makes his final years the ones in which he displays a final burst of maturity.
Do It Now
Here are some tips on getting started.
Consider your age. What responsibilities come with your age? What responsibilities ought to come with your age? Honestly assess whether you are displaying maturity in your actions and your character. Honestly assess if you are mature in what you are doing and how you are living.
Consider your passions. Few pursuits and activities are immature in and of themselves. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Rather, immaturity expresses itself in putting undue time, attention, or money into lesser things. It is good to have a hobby, but a hobby should never compete with more important responsibilities like family, church, and vocation. Consider what you are passionate about and whether you are allowing lesser things to have undue prominence.
Commit to lifelong growth. A runner can’t stop competing until he has crossed the finish line, and a Christian can’t stop maturing until he has crossed into heaven. You need to make a lifelong commitment to maturity. Commit today that you will embrace this stage in life and every responsibility that comes with it.
Mature in every way. One aspect of maturity cannot easily be isolated from others. You cannot expect to grow in your faith or character while you content yourself to remain immature in your time and activities. Ensure that you are pursuing and achieving greater measures of maturity in all of life, not just one or two.
Run to Win!
God expects that you will make growth in maturity a priority at every age and at every stage of life. While immaturity may offer the illusion of ease and comfort, it over-promises and under-delivers. It actually keeps you from doing what God means for you to do and being who God means for you to be. If you are going to run to win, you are going to need to act your age.