Have you ever thought of what maturity looks like in life? What are we really striving to grow to be? In many ways it’s helpful to look at the characteristics of children and then consider how we should act differently then them. Consider this list of childish characteristics:
- Self-centered: Children need attention. ”Look at this Mommy” ”Watch me Daddy”. They crave constant affirmation. This is perfectly natural as they find their own place in the world and discover strengths and weaknesses, but it leads to a constant focus on them. As we mature, our focus needs to turn to others and to God (Matthew 6:33, Luke 10:27). We are to think of others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3) and become living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1). This kind of change is challenging in a consumer advertising driven society where we’re always being told to fulfill our needs, but is necessary to follow God’s will
- Impatient: Now, now, now; children are demanding. They want everything on their time schedule regardless of others’ needs. Yet the mature are willing to wait (1 Corinthians 13:4). Waiting on God is a recurring theme throughout time. Abraham and Sarah had to wait for a child (as did many others), Joseph had to wait to become Vice President of Egypt, the Israelites had to wait for many years for God to redeem them from slavery just to name a few examples. This concept is novel in a world were we can get nearly anything we want instantly. This instant gratification and leads to impatience with others and especially with God when He doesn’t make our situation work out as we’d like it to. The mature trust God’s timing knowing that He’s in control
- Slow or insincere forgiveness: This may not be a unique characteristic of children, but it is a sign of immaturity. Forgiveness is often mumbled and forced (as are apologies). As we mature, we need to learn to forgive quickly and frequently (Matthew 18:22). This isn’t an easy task because the harm others can do to us increases exponentially as we age. Children might get in a skirmish over a toy or meanly say “I don’t want to be your friend”, while adults struggle through divorce or court battles with siblings over inheritances. Yet Jesus teaches us to be reconciled to each other (Matthew 5:23-25) and that it’s better to be wronged than take another Christian to court (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). Our wounds run deep and scars never completely heal, yet this is an area that we must let Jesus example shine upon where He forgave loved us (John 15:13) despite the separation that sin creates in our relationship with God. He forgave the betrayal of one of His best friends (John 21:15-17) and the men who were crucifying Him (Luke 23:34). How much more should we follow Jesus’ example and forgive others from our heart (Matthew 6:14-15)
- Fearful (but run to parent): The world is big and children are scared of many things – storms, robbers, monsters, unknown people. Adults are fearful too, but of different things – evangelism, sickness/death, unemployment. We are not to have a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7), but trust in a sovereign God (Romans 8:28). This does not mean that everything will go our way (consider the lives of Joseph, Job and many others), but that God is in control (Genesis 50:10, Matthew 6:25-34)
- Ungrateful: Thankfulness does not come natural to children. “Thank you” isn’t part of their normal vocabulary. Instead, they have a demanding entitlement mentality and often issue commands about food, drink and their other needs to adults. They assume that they have the right to have their needs met and that everyone should be at their beck and call. Maturity is recognizing that every good and perfect gift is from God (James 1:17) and that we don’t deserve anything (1 Corinthians 4:7). Our hearts should be grateful to Him for just having the basics and should overflow with praise for anything more that we receive (Colossians 3:17, Hebrews 13:15). This may sometimes be difficult because we see that others have more because God provides for the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45) and often breaking God’s commands leads to great (worldly) gain rather than our attempts at godliness (Jeremiah 12:1; Psalm 37:1,7; 94:3). We must learn that every good gift is from God (James 1:17, Matthew 7:11) and the greatest gift is the sacrifice of His Son (Romans 8:32).
- Envious: Kids want what others have and are discontented when they don’t get it. They may have just received a shiny new toy, but it quickly loses its luster when a friend has something bigger and better. Adults struggle in the same way as children, but God called this one out in Exodus 20:17, when we’re told not to covet our neighbor’s stuff. Despite coveting making God’s top ten list, we still spend a lot of time being envious of their house, car, vacations and so forth anyway. We’re rarely jealous of their spiritual discipline or prayer life. We must mature past loving the things of the world (1 John 2:15) and to storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21) by serving God.
- Stingy: This is the flip side of jealously. A child has a toy that his friends or siblings could enjoy, but wants it all for himself. This is natural and the child should have some rights to the toy, such that he doesn’t need to give it up just because another demands it. Adults also struggle to share, though this is often in the form of giving rather than loaning an object. The early church in the book of Acts provides us a model for this where everyone shared so that no one lacked (Acts 4:32). Jesus also talks about lending without expecting anything in return (Luke 6:30), selling all and giving to the poor (Matthew 19:21), and storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Jesus sets a high standard when He said that to whom much has been given, much will be expected (Luke 12:48). However, our giving is to be done joyfully (2 Corinthians 9:7).
- Highly impressionable: Kids are easily persuaded. They seek role models and imitate their behavior. Media has a significant impact on them – from McDonald’s ads to music videos – they are inundated with messages that they grow to believe. Without a solid grounding in Scripture, adults aren’t much different. We’re prone to follow every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) – a fascination with angels, kids coming back from heaven, The Shack etc. Instead, we are to be like the Bereans who searched the Scriptures to validate what was being taught to them (Acts 17:11).
- Helpless: Babies enter the world completely dependent; entirely helpless. They can’t even lift their little heads. As they develop physically, mentally and spiritually, they are able to do more on their own. They can feed themselves, bath themselves and eventually educate themselves. Yet, many Christians are still babes in the Word and still eating milk rather than solid food (Hebrews 5:11-14). To be mature, we need to learn how to be self-sufficient with Bible study and its application to life. We still need our pastor’s expository sermon weekly and we can still make use of commentaries and other study helps, but we should have the tools to dissect a passage to understand its genre, context and historical setting to draw out the intent of the writer and then translate it to our present situation. Can a seminary trained pastor do this better?…Of course, but that shouldn’t stop us from growing in our study capacity. Beyond this basic level of maturity, may of us should grow into being teachers of the Word (Hebrews 5:12). This is not to be taken lightly (James 3:1), but is honorable to God (1 Timothy 5:17).
You’ll notice that many of the characteristics of maturity are interrelated. Our capacity to give is connected closely to our level of thankfulness and inversely related to the jealousy that wells up in our hearts. Helplessness and impressionability are cut from the same cloth. The idea of self-centeredness is the common thread across many. Let us flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22) and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20-24).
On a final note, the characteristics of children are not all negative. They are enthusiastic, brutally honest about others (“why is that man fat?”), constantly questioning (“why”), learn quickly, adapt to change and accepting of those different then themselves. All of us have a long way to grow in the likeness of Christ, so let’s learn from both the positive and negative characteristics of children.