Have you noticed just how negative our culture is becoming? It’s difficult to go through a day and not be bombarded by critical, judgmental and even hurtful comments through an ever increasing array of media.
In just the last 10 years, social media has provided a platform, and dare I say even a megaphone, for every person who wants to join in or create their own barrage of political, social and even personal faults and criticisms.
Every news cast seems to be a litany of character flaws and human failures even in the midst of being the most prosperous, well educated and truly free nation that the world has ever seen.
It seems that every few weeks another round of attacks are launched by groups of people who have felt marginalized, oppressed and possibly even harmed by someone who took advantage of them in a personal experience or professional enterprise.
In our home group this week (which is a band of about 12 folks who meet weekly to study the Word of God, worship together and encourage one another) we spent a good bit of time discerning the connection between unity, as clearly proclaimed in Ephesians 4:1-16, and it’s relationship to maturity in our spiritual walk. It’s not at all uncommon for me to have conversations with people from all kinds of backgrounds and in various stages of their lives who are hungry for more mature understanding of who they are in Christ and what they believe would be the result of such a relationship.
It seems that even believers are susceptible to the barrage of negativity and criticism and are in danger of being “tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men and their deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4:14
What is becoming increasingly clear is that the pathway to maturity is not one of simply growing in knowledge. In fact, we’re on the wrong road when we begin to equate our understanding of God with our maturity in the faith. Knowledge is not maturity. Obedience and faith are a much clearer measure as are the fruits that maturity brings such as love, joy and peace.
What we discovered in our study this week and what has been percolating in my own spirit for the past few days is the very clear link that is drawn between unity in the Body of Christ and the resulting maturity of character in Christ that it produces. All 16 verses of Ephesians 4:1-16 are part of this truth, but simply look at these couple of verses that speak directly to this point:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13
I was helped in my understanding of how this all works by a comment in one of the books I’ve been reading by Dallas Willard, a man that I see as a model of spiritual maturity who lived his life in the public eye as a Professor of Philosophy at USC. He says correctly, I believe, that “the message and reality of redemptive life comes in community. When we get into these redemptive communities, we move into an area of restoration of the soul, restoration of personal relationships, restoration of our will, of our mind and of our feelings.”
The answer to the waves of negativity and destructive conversations in our daily lives is the unity of the Spirit that makes love it’s goal and finds great fulfillment in seeing the good in others. A restored soul is one that is secure and able to speak the truth in love and thereby free others from the cycles of discouragement and defeat that seem to hold so many beneath their divine purpose in Christ.
I have a lot more to think about in this matter, but I am so grateful that God has provided a context where I can learn these truths and live them out in a loving and supportive community where I am accepted as I am but not given permission simply to stay unchanged. I’m challenged to see things differently and to grow in grace by those that I know have my best interest at heart.
That’s the role of redemptive community and that’s the pathway to maturity: that is, the unity that can only be found in the living church, the Body of Christ in the world today.