Lou: It seems there is a bit of incongruity in the Scripture. It talks about us growing up (Eph 4:13-15), but then suggests we become like little children (Matt 18:3-4). If we’re not like little children, we can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus places a high priority on being like little children, yet you’re saying, “Why don’t you grow up?” What do you do with those references?
Graham: Consider the context in Matthew where Jesus makes that statement. His audience was misbehaving, so He takes a little child and says, “Unless you’re at least like this, you’ll not see the Kingdom.” And I don’t think we should ever lose that childlike trust, the curiosity, the willingness to listen, the willingness to learn. I think that is never to be lost. But Ephesians also says that we should not remain as children, requiring much protection. We should become adults who can stand on our own. I think it’s marvelous to see mature people in their seventies, eighties, and nineties who still have the curiosity, interest and trust of a little child.
Lou: That does lead to another question: “Is it possible for a person to tell that he or she is in fact growing up?”
Graham: This contrast between genuine love and the behavior of children gives us some ways to tell if we are growing up. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says, “I once thought like a child, but now I’ve given up childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11). Think of how little children boast, and how impatient and demanding they often are. The rest of the chapter, in contrast, explains how a grown-up behaves. Grown-ups love. Love is never rude, never impatient, never arrogant, never boasts, never insists on having its own way.
I think there’s an additional thing to consider. Why am I behaving the way I do? Am I doing it because somebody in authority has told me to, and He has the power to reward and destroy? Or am I sold on Paul’s message of love? In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul is describing how Jesus behaved. Not only that, ultimately he is telling us what God the Father is like (John 14:9; 1 John 4:8). In the end, maturity means to want to be like God. As I mature, God doesn’t have to tell me not to murder my mother-in-law anymore (by the way, my mother-in-law died before I met my wife, so this illustration is not personal). I no longer like the idea myself, you see. Eventually we will do what is right because it is right. We become like the God we worship. That’s all part of growing up.
Lou: Are you saying, then, that there is a certain legitimacy in evaluating the way we act, or the way we feel about other people?
Graham: I think if we see no progress at all on these matters over the past year, we should be concerned.
Lou: But there’s a certain danger in focusing on our growth, isn’t there? You don’t grow by trying to grow or by looking at yourself and hoping to grow. And how can you avoid the self-confidence of the Laodiceans, who felt very content with their spiritual situation?
Graham: One of the evidences that one is growing up is that one is becoming less and less arrogant. It’s little children that insist, “My daddy says it, and he’s bigger than your daddy, and therefore it’s true.” It would be a mark of great immaturity for an adult to talk like that. Boasting and arrogance suggest one is still a child. For someone to say, “I think I’ve almost made it now,” suggests they may not have even started. On the other hand, humility and the willingness to listen should become even greater as one gets older.