The Marks of Maturity

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

2 Corinthians 10:1-6 | December 19, 2021 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
December 19, 2021
The Marks of Maturity | 2 Corinthians 10:1-6
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Father, we come before You, not simply because this is how we think sermons ought to start but because we really need Your help. I need Your help if I’m going to speak Your Word faithfully, truthfully, humbly, powerfully, and we all need Your help if we’re going to listen and receive Your Word and not just waste our time listening to a talk. So move among us by Your Spirit. We pray that we might see more of Jesus and follow Him. In His name. Amen.

We come this morning to 2 Corinthians chapter 10. I invite you to turn their in your Bibles, 2 Corinthians chapter 10. If you don’t have a Bible for your own, you’re happy to take one of the pew Bibles home with you. We do encourage you to have a Bible open because the preaching of God’s Word is central in this church and we want to preach verse by verse and explain what God’s Word says.

We’re trying to finish 2 Corinthians over the next few weeks, morning and evening, and as we come to chapter 10, we begin a new and final section in this book. Having spent four weeks in chapters 8 and 9 on generosity, now you’ll notice that the letter sounds quite different. In fact, it’s so different, different in tone; you’ll notice in these last chapters some sarcasm, some irony, a bit more of a confrontational edge. It can sound so different that many commentators think, well, maybe this was a separate letter that just got stitched together with the other letter at some point. But there are a number of similarities and the vocabulary and as we pay attention we’ll see this new section in these following chapters.

It’s not all negative. The letter overall is about the defense of Paul’s apostolic ministry, and the defense of that ministry along the way is punctuated by certain theological vignettes, so we have one about the new covenant and then talking about justification and reconciliation, and then generosity.

So we’re back to the overarching theme, which is Paul defending his apostolic ministry. This letter is a unity. As you think about it, this is a long letter and Paul certainly unlikely just sat down and just in one sitting just decided to write all of this out. He may have even made some notes, some outline, maybe he went to bed and he woke up the next morning and started this next section. Maybe he got some word from a messenger about the Corinthians that gave a new shape to what he was writing and he felt like he needed to challenge them. Or perhaps he just wanted to save the most emphatic material for the end.

Whatever the case may be, this is one letter, there’s a unity, but you will notice a change in theme as we come to chapter 10. Follow along as I read the first six verses.

“I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”

Having talked for the last four weeks about Christian generosity, I want to talk this morning about Christian maturity. Ephesians 4:13 gives us one of the goal of apostolic Gospel ministry is to present us to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Nothing wrong with being a 5-year-old, hope there are some 5-year-olds here. Nothing working with being a 15-year-old. But the goal in life is that you mature so that when you’re 35 you have some maturity that you didn’t have when you were 15 or when you were 5.

If you get to be 45, which is almost my age, but I’m not old yet, and I still were acting like a 15-year-old, you wouldn’t think that that was admirable. You’d say no, you’re supposed to grow up, you’re supposed to mature, you’re supposed to leave behind certain aspects of immaturity and grow into mature manhood or mature womanhood. Many of our conflicts in life, our mistakes, even sometimes our doctrinal errors, are the result of immaturity. We haven’t become spiritual grownups.

Sometimes we kid ourselves and we think that we’re all just such rational people and we just are agreeing and having very intellectual disagreements, when oftentimes it has to do with simple, plain old immaturity.

What does immaturity look like? Well, one, it’s inconsistency. An immature Christian might be on fire for Jesus one day and then they’re happy to go out and party and get drunk another day. The immature Christian does not follow through on commitments, has mountaintop experiences with the Lord at a conference or retreat or some great quiet time, but it doesn’t translate in the long-term fruitfulness. There’s an inconsistency.

Second, immature Christians have impatience. They can’t see past the fault of others. They’re overly critical of the Church. They look for quick fixes. They have an unrealistic appraisal of what people will be like, what the world will be like, what the Church will be like. Instead of plodding along with steady faithfulness, immature Christians are impatient. They don’t know how to deal with slow growth, with two steps forward, one step back, dealing with people and institutions as the way they are rather than as the way they’ll be in heaven. There’s an impatience.

And there’s an imbalance with immature Christians. Immature Christians tend to be fixated on only one thing. So they have just one doctrine, one contemporary issue, one set of bad guys, and it could be bad guys to the right of you, bad guys to the left of you, but they’re just fixated on one thing. So they have their one thing, and it’s not the Gospel, it’s one particular theological issue, one particular political issue.

When Christians are imbalanced, they’re given to extremes, either to a harsh kind of asceticism. Maybe they’re reacting against a libertine kind of Christianity, and so they veer off into a very harsh, almost legalistic, kind of asceticism. All true Christians are like this. Or on the other hand, they react against that sort of upbringing or experience and they become all about carefree liberty. Or maybe their personality is such that they are driven to one extreme or another.

So often if we were really honest we find issues and doctrines and theological resources that fit the sort of personality we already have and want to be, and to some extent we never overcome some of those things and that’s how God made us, and yet maturity means we’re balanced.

It’s very hard to fly a plane with one wing, or one wing weighted down with lead and the other one made of, I don’t know, cardboard. It doesn’t work very well. You need to have balance.

What we see in these six verses, we see the consistency, the patience, and especially the balance that goes with Christian maturity.

Here are the three points.

The mature Christian, number one, is eager to be gentle but ready to be bold. Mature Christians are eager to be gentle but ready to be bold.

I see that in verses 1 and 2. Here’s what’s going on. The Corinthians think of Paul as somewhat mousey in person but strong in his letters. Now most of us, if we think of Paul, we think of, you know, maybe he’s very logical, maybe he’s sort of a theological Dr. Spock and he’s this big brain in a vat, and yet to the Corinthians he seemed just the opposite. He seemed rather soft and mousey.

And we have to somewhat mirror-read because we just have this letter, and we have to read the reflection of what the Corinthians were upset about, but we can conclude that they accused him of hiding behind his letters, of being really tough when he wrote something, remember he had this so-called “severe letter,” but then timid and unimpressive in person.

You see this in verse 1: “I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!” and the ESV puts an exclamation point, indicating that Paul is sort of ironically owning their own criticism of him, “Yes, I know that’s what you think of me, I’m very bold when I have to write something to you, and when I come, I’m sort of soft.”

Or look over at verse 10: “For they say,” here we have explicitly what they are saying, “his letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account.”

Have you ever met somebody in person and you had only, you know, seen them online or you read a book or something and then they were very different. I can tell you a whole lot of people whose books you really like, I won’t say who they are, but they are short people. And so I will often get, when people say, “Whoa, you’re taller than I thought you would,” they don’t say “stronger and more handsome,” but they do say taller.

Tim Keller, you’ve read Tim Keller books. He’s about my height. He’s also tall. You don’t know what people are like, and then you meet them.

So Paul, they had read his letters and they were expecting this maybe strong, dynamic person and yet his oratory wasn’t what they wanted, lacked the pomp and circumstance. He wasn’t willing to do the rhetorical tricks that the super apostles would do. Or perhaps he didn’t have all the credentials, the recommendations. He didn’t even charge them for his teaching, and in that culture, that is what made you, and so what, you, is this even worthwhile if you’re not charging us for this?

And it’s quite possible he didn’t have the look that they expected. According to the apocryphal Acts of Paul, written at the end of the 2nd century, Paul was “a man small in size, baldheaded, bandy-legged, of noble demeanor, with eyebrows meeting, rather hook-nosed, full of grace.” Well, he was full of grace with all of that. If you meet any of that description, then you’re just like the Apostle Paul.

So it’s quite possible that when he showed up on the scene after his strong letters, they thought, they sort of whispered to each other, “That’s Paul? That’s not what I thought about Paul.”

So notice what he does in verse 1. He owns the accusation of weakness. Paul says, “Okay, you think I’m weak? I’ll own it. In fact, I entreat you by the meekness and the gentleness of Christ.”

Matthew 11, Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am gently and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 21: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”

Paul says, “You think I’m weak? You think I’m meek? Well, Jesus was meek, and so I entreat you by the same meekness and gentleness of Christ Himself.”

You see, Paul’s desire was not to have to come to town with guns blazing. He was slow to anger. He was willing to accommodate. He was eager to help people save face, even though they had hurt them. We saw that in the section on generosity. He’s constantly helping the Corinthians, saying “I know that you promised to do it and I’m sure that you’re going to finish the collection. I’ve bragged about you. Now I know you’re going to do it.” He doesn’t want to embarrass them. He wants them to save face.

How many problems, relational problems, could be helped if we would first come to each other in a spirit of gentleness and meekness? Wouldn’t it be amazing if even when you’re hurt, you’re confused, you’re scared, you came to your wife, men, you came to your wife with an attitude, “She is a bruised reed,” perhaps, “A smoking candlewick, and I don’t want to snuff her out.” You came with meekness and gentleness.

Kids, is that how you approach your parents? Parents, is that how you approach your children when you have to discipline them? Is that how you approach your coworkers, your friends, your employers, your employees, or do you first think, “I’m ready to come in and I got the bullets all across my chest and I got this six-shooter here and I got the weapon strapped across my back and I’m sauntering into town, don’t mess with me.”

Paul didn’t want to do that.

Calvin says, “Severity, it is true, is, I acknowledge, sometimes necessary. But we must always set out with gentleness and persevere in it so long as the hearer shows himself tractable. Severity must be the last resort.”

I wonder if for some of you you’re using severity as your first choice rather than the last resort. Are you giving the people in your life, even the people who are difficult for you, the people who genuinely need correction or rebuke, are you giving them the opportunity to get it right? To save face? Are you first approaching them with a spirit of meekness and gentleness?

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 4:21 said, “What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod or with love and a spirit of gentleness?”

Paul’s desire was never to simply win the argument. Now we’re going to talk about arguments later; they were important to him. But that was his goal. He wanted to win the person. He wasn’t going so that he could own the whoever. He wasn’t looking to get a YouTube clip that says, “‘Paul destroys the Corinthians.’ I’ll click on it; it’s going to be awesome. He destroys them. He owned the Achaeans.”

He went with a spirit of gentleness and meekness and at the same time he was willing to be bold. Eager to be gentle, willing to be bold.

So he says that in verse 2: “I beg of you than when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect of us walking according to the flesh.”

Paul says, “You don’t like my meekness. Well, I’m telling you, I hope that I can approach you in meekness and gentleness, but if need be, if you’re intractable in your sins and your disobedience, I promise you I do know how to be bold.”

You see how this takes Christian maturity? There are some Christians, yes and amen gentleness, oh, it’s all gentleness.

Well, yes, first step gentleness. But are you also willing to be bold? Willing to confront? Many of us would rather live with the chronic, moderate pain of dealing with sin and dysfunction, in our family, in our work, than walking through the more acute but shorter-lived pain that comes from confrontation. You think, “Ah, boy, this is kind of miserable, but it’s just sort of a medium miserable and I’ll live with this.” That’s not courage.

Calvin again: “We must insofar as we are able draw men rather than drive them. But we will resort to rigor out of necessity, for if we do not, it will not be moderation or calmness of temper, but criminal cowardice.”

Listen, there are mean people in the Church who fancy themselves courageous, and they’re not. They’re jerks. And there are nice people who are actually cowards. Both are true. And it’s easy to go all in on one direction or the other. Christian maturity says I’m eager to be gentle, but I am willing to be bold.

The first sin that is called out in Revelation 21, those who will be thrown into the lake of fire, are the cowardly. Those who capitulate. Those who give in. Niceness is not by itself a Christian virtue. We must be eager, first choice, I want to be gentle. And yet I know how to be bold. That’s maturity.

Here’s the second mark of Christian maturity: Mature Christians live in the flesh but not according to the flesh.

You see that in verse 3, “For though we walk in the flesh we are not waging war according to the flesh.” This is the Greek word “sarks,” flesh, which Paul uses in different ways in his letters.

Romans 8:9 says, plainly, Christians are not in the flesh. Yet Galatians 2:20 talks about the life that Christ lives in the flesh.

So there’s living in the flesh, but not according to the flesh. It’s very much like Jesus saying, “We are in the world but not of the world.” Some suspected Paul, you see at the end of verse 2, of walking according to the flesh. That is, according to fleshly, fallen, sinful motives. They thought he was self-centered. They thought he was only aiming to establish his power and position. He only was trying to do what was best for Paul. He was abusing his authority.

Paul acknowledges, “Yes, I walk in the flesh, but I don’t walk according to the flesh in the way that you think. I don’t own that criticism. But yes, if you mean by flesh that I’m a real human being with weaknesses and limitations, yes, that’s absolutely true.”

We’ll hear later, in the weeks to come, about the thorn in the flesh. We’ve already heard Paul’s metaphor about being broken earthen vessels, clay pots, paper plates. Paul is not trying to compare himself to the so-called super apostles with ecstatic utterances and visions all the time, or extravagances of wealth and prestige. Paul says, “If that’s what you’re looking for, then you are looking at the wrong man, because I am weak, I am imperfect. I do have this body. I do have a thorn in the flesh. I don’t have a secret potion to offer you. I can’t shoot lightning from my fingertips or spiderwebs from my wrists. I’m an ordinary person living in the flesh. Not a superhero.” That’s Paul’s point.

And so it’s true for us. The mature Christian recognizes. We don’t excuse living according to the flesh. See, so many people this get confused. Because they want to embrace, rightfully, meekness, weakness, they have what one author called an ecstatic failure-ism, meaning I just sin all the time and I’m just all messed up and it’s just all brokenness and all sin.

No, there’s a way to speak of our weakness which owns our fleshly existence, and then there’s a way that walks according to the flesh and excuses sin and folly and disobedience. Paul says, “I don’t want to own any of that. But if you mean am I a real flesh and blood human being and I don’t do everything well and I have weaknesses, then absolutely.”

Paul says he is not waging war according to the world, according to the flesh. That means he’s not fighting for his own sake. He’s not depending upon his own intellect and resources. He’s not laying claim to authority in the way the world does. But he says, “I present before you a different kind of authority, an authority that comes from Christ, a moral authority.”

Isn’t that what we’re looking for in leaders, whether it’s church leaders, coaches, school leaders, parents, politicians? You want someone not who just has a title, who has a credential, who’s been to school. You want a spiritual and moral authority.

And that comes only from a man or a woman full of integrity, honesty, and virtue. The sort of person that says, “I see that this person is walking the walk. I see that this person, though imperfect, repents for their sins. I see that this person is striving hard after godliness.”

Let me ask you a question, parents. Do you children sense from you a fleshly authority or a godly, moral authority? Now, it’s true, you have a position as a parent, and God has given to you authority. But there is almost nothing deadlier for our children than hypocritical parents who say all of these things and do something different. Or who force upon, not the sort of maturity that says, “Hey, you’re the child, I’m the parent, and I know what’s best for you,” but in a way that is harsh and domineering, lords over children, an authority that is not matched by moral integrity. There’s the rub.

And the same is true for church leaders. I do not ever want to wage war according to the flesh. You ought to sense even when your pastors, your elders, have to make hard decisions, or perhaps decisions you agree with or disagree with. Hopefully you would respect them as being men, blameless and above reproach, who have moral, spiritual authority.

Paul’s argument is this: We live in the flesh, but our motivations, our goals, our power, our influence, does not come from the flesh.

And then here’s the third characteristic of Christian maturity: Mature Christians are eager to be gentle, ready to be bold. Mature Christians live in the flesh but not according to the flesh. And then third, mature Christians love peace but engage in war.

You see in verse 4, yes, Paul uses warfare imagery often in his letters, replete throughout the Bible. We can’t strip it away from our songs or from our language without doing violence to the Bible itself. He says the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

Paul longed for peace in his churches. We’ve seen that already. He wants reconciliation. We saw how deftly he navigated the potential conflict there could be between the Achaeans and the Macedonians in this business of collecting for the Jerusalem church. He was very wise and nuanced. He didn’t play one against the other but rather he raised one up and boasted about each to the other. Paul very much is after unity and peace in the church.

We saw a couple of weeks ago how Paul goes the extra mile in planning and administrating the gift and the collection so that there would be trust for himself and for one another. He wants his next visit to Corinth to be a happy visit. Paul wants peace.

But he also sees himself at war. The life of the Christian is one of constant warfare because Satan offers no truce, our flesh will not cease to tempt us, and sinners around us will continue to make life difficult for us. And let’s be honest, sometimes we are the sinners making life difficult for other people.

So, yes, we want peace, but if you just lay down your weapons, say, “No war to be had here,” well, that sounds very nice. It’s like anytime there’s some sort of conflict, whether it’s culture war or it’s physical war, there’s always some side that says, “Well, we just want peace.” Of course we want peace. But they say, “Let’s just lay down our weapons.” Okay, that’s good. We’ll lay down our weapons. Does that mean that they stop attacking us? The devil doesn’t stop, the flesh doesn’t stop, the world doesn’t stop, so Paul says, “Yes, we must be at war.”

And there are three steps in his battle plan. Ah hah, you thought you were almost done, three-point sermon. Well, there’s three little sub-points here as we bring this to a close.

There are three steps in his battle plan. Verse 4: Destroy strongholds. Verse 5: Take prisoners. Verse 6: Punish rebels. Let’s just move through this quickly.

You see verse 4, destroy strongholds. This is obviously a military term. Stronghold is your best defensive fortification. Here it is used with reference to arguments and opinions. You see that in verse 5? Destroy strongholds stands in parallel with destroy arguments and destroy every lofty opinion. It’s the same thing. So don’t think stronghold here refers to demon possession. Or some authors go into great speculation and talk about demonic strongholds inhabiting some geographic space, the demon of Charlotte, the demon of Matthews, the demon of Mint Hill.

No, stronghold or strongholds occur 70 times in the ESV and it always has a reference to God or to a literal military stronghold, except in this verse. This is the only time in the New Testament it takes on this metaphorical meaning, and the context determines the meaning. To destroy strongholds is the same as destroying arguments and opinions.

So what Paul is saying is that part of spiritual warfare is trying to break through the objections that people raise in objection to the truth of God’s Word. Part of spiritual warfare is to try to destroy those strongholds, those opinions, those arguments, that stand in the way of the truth of God’s Word. So here is a verse that gives great support for apologetics.

Prayer, wisdom, godliness, zeal, preaching, truth, arguments. Spiritual warfare is done with words.

The world fights with manipulation, threats, deception, and ultimately with force. The world fights a war with guns and swords. The Christian fights a war with words and persuasion.

So mark this very well – we are not out to destroy people, we are intent on destroying arguments.

Paul is a gentle, humble man on the warpath with persuasion and arguments.

We destroy arguments, not people. Is that how you conduct yourself in your conversations with others? How you conduct yourselves online?

I’ve been doing online stuff for a long time, 12, 13 years. And from time to time I get into controversies and sometimes say to Trisha, “Today’s a day when there’s a lot of people who don’t like your husband.” She says, “Well, I still do.” I say, “Well, that’s what matters.”

Here’s a lesson I learned early on, and I’m not saying I get it always correct, but early on I started blogging, in 2008, 2009. Before that I made fun of people who blogged, then I started blogging. I made fun of people who tweeted, then I got on Twitter. So I just stopped making fun of people before I do it.

But one of my second or third blog posts, it was kind of snarky, and I think there’s a place for satire, I think there’s a place for sarcasm. You see it from time to time in the Bible. But I was writing something sort of snarky against a different Christian author and lo and behold about a week later I was speaking someplace and it wasn’t the man that I had written about, but it was the man’s coworker in his ministry. We were speaking at the same thing. Somehow it didn’t occur to me yet, I was new to this online stuff, oh, you might see these people.

He came over and he was very upset. Confronted me about what I had done and we had a talk. Actually, we went on in subsequent months, we had some conversations and turned out to have some nice conversations about it.

And in the Lord’s timing, at the moment I didn’t like that at all. And I was not happy with him confronting me. And yet I can look back now and say it was the Lord’s kindness, because what it did for me is at least to think, not that you don’t say hard things, not that you don’t disagree with people, not that there’s no place for controversy, there is. Jesus, Paul, they’re always in controversy. But at least it put into my head, “Would I say the things that I’m saying online, or in a book, would I say this in the same way if this person were right here in the room with me?”

Now that’s not foolproof because some people can be jerks in person just like they are online. And some people are really cowardly in person and they crumble when they shouldn’t. But at least as a general rule of thumb, I think it’s saved me from more trouble than I otherwise would have been in to think, “How would I feel if the next day I would somehow see this person, or I would be on a panel with this person at some event, or this person would then write me an e-mail?” Now it doesn’t mean that they always like what I might say or what you might say, but it at least points me and pulls me in the direction to say, as Spurgeon once said, “We ought to use very soft words and very hard arguments.” And most people today learn to use very hard words and very soft arguments, and not a lot of persuasion.

So our aim is never to destroy people, to engage in ad hominem attacks. But Paul certainly was on the warpath to tear down bad arguments, destroy lofty opinions, persuade people to hold to the truth rather than to error.

Step two – take prisoners. You can see how this follows a military progression. What do you do when you destroy the enemy’s stronghold? You then go in and you take captives. Verse 5, you take every thought captive to obey Christ.

So the picture here is of storming some sort of regiment and their military stronghold and as you breach the gates, then you take captives. But here, of course, it’s not physical captives. You’re taking thoughts captive. This means we’re helping people to think thoughts after God. We want people to think of God and His revelation. We want people to submit their will and their intellect to Christ.

And it means not just getting people by force of some intellectual power to say, “Okay, I guess that’s a good argument.” The goal is not just to have intellectual victory.

Notice, take every thought captive. Why? Not just winning arguments. To obey Christ. That’s the goal. Destroy strongholds, take prisoners so that people will give allegiance to the true and rightful King.

I don’t think many times that intellectual objections are truly what keep people from Christ. I’m sure it is true at times, but as I’ve said before, we are more rationalizing creatures than we are rational creatures. We find reasons to support what we already think. We find views to confirm our priors. We rationalize the way we want to live, the people that we already are. And as so often the case, even with the greatest intellects in history, some of them at moments of honesty will say, “You know what? This sophistry, this solipsism, this new view of hedonism that we developed, it was really because we just wanted to do what we wanted to do with our sexual organs.”

Are your issues truly intellectual? Sometimes you have to ask yourself, or maybe kindly ask the person in your family that doesn’t know Christ and peppers you with dozens of intellectual questions, you might have to say, “I’m just wondering. Are there any answers that you think would really satisfy you?” Or is this a barrage? These are more defensive. There’s a difference between the question that seeks an answer and the question that’s really a stiff-arm. Sometimes our questions are genuine, soul-searching, and sometimes they’re a bluster of pride and defensiveness.

The goal with Paul’s warfare, one – destroy strongholds, two – take prisoners, and three – look at verse 6, punish rebels.

Now this is a tough verse to interpret. What does he mean “being ready to punish every disobedience when you’re obedience is complete”? Well, I don’t think he means, “I’m ready to punish your disobedience, Corinthians,” because why would it make sense, once your obedient, ha ha ha, that’s when I come and punish your disobedience? No, I think he’s talking about something else.

I think the effect is something like this. Paul says, “I will punish those who oppose me. I will confront those guilty of sin. Don’t worry, you who think I’m mousey and soft. I will take care of the false apostles, but first you need to show me you’re willing to do the right thing. You think I’m weak and I’m powerless. Well, trust me, I know how to discipline those who stand against the truth. But I’m only going to do so after you yourselves will stand up.”

In other words, “Prove to me that you are on my side and the side of Christ and the side of the Gospel, and then I will do my part to stand against those who oppose Christ and oppose the Gospel.”

You might say Paul is telling them, “I’m not going to do all the dirty work for you. When I know…” See, Paul doesn’t want to come in. He’s always thinking of the larger spiritual issues. If Paul were immature he would have sulked a bit, he would have felt sorry for himself, then he would have got angry and he would have said, “Man, these Corinthians. They think I’m weak. They think I’m soft in person. Well, boy, have they got a thing coming. When I get there next time, I’ll show them who’s boss. I’ll show them that I know how to put down. I’ll show that I know how to punish rebels. Just you wait and see.”

But what purpose would that have served, other than for Paul to feel like he had vented some of his frustration? No, Paul says, “When you show that you’re willing to stand with me and the Gospel and you’re not ashamed of my weakness, when you show that, when you show yourselves obedient to Christ, then yes, you’ll see my bold side. You’ll see that I know how to punish disobedience, that I know how to deal with those who stand in the way of the truth.”

So you put this together and you might say fighting the good fight means you tear down intellectual objections, you lead people to hear and obey Christ, and you discipline those who are fighting for the other side. That’s what maturity looks like.

Go back to Ephesians 4:13: Our goal is to be brought to mature manhood, mature adulthood, “which means the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

If you have a vision of maturity that looks different than Christ, it’s not the right vision of maturity. And so often we end up with a cartoonish, lopsided version of Christ, one that just confirms our priors, one that just fits with the sort of person we already want to be. You’ve seen this happen many times before. If you think that the real way to be a mature Christian is just to get along with everyone and never rock the boat and never get into controversy and always out-nice everyone and just move… Well, you have plenty of passages to go to where Jesus is there and dealing kindly with sinners, and if you think, well, the model of maturity is Jesus with the money changers, He flipped over tables and He got a cord of whips, it’s right there, it’s Jesus. See, I have a reason for being a jerk. Money-changers, temple.

Or on the other hand, gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

But if we’re to see the real Jesus, not as a cartoon character, but as a mature man, and not just a man but the God-man, then we have before our eyes what real maturity looks like. In Christ we see the fullness, we see what it really means to be human. In Christ we see what real manhood looks like, and in Christ we see what real maturity looks like. Holding all of these things, not inconsistent, not impatient, not imbalanced. Who more than Jesus knew how to be gentle, how to be bold? How to walk in the flesh, not according to the flesh. How to own weakness and suffering, and yet never in a way that would own sin or selfishness. Who else but in Jesus do we see who is waging war against the world? And yet He came to bring peace.

So let me ask you, and think for yourself. The temptation here, I know it in my own heart, is to think, “Man, that was a good sermon for a lot of other people I know. This is going to make a great stocking stuffer.” So before you think of that, I want you to think for yourself, don’t think about your brother or sister who’s really annoying. Don’t think about your husband or wife. Don’t think about your friend. Think about yourself. Where is your area of immaturity? Is it that you rush in with severity? Or are you afraid to say hard things? Do you have an unrealistic view of your own fleshliness? An unrealistic view of people’s weaknesses? Or do you fight with the same weapons as everyone else? No one would mistake you for being different from the world in the way that you fight.

Can you honestly say that you want peace? You really want to be at peace with that strained relationship. You really want peace in church, neighborhood, world. Or some of us, if we’re honest, we thrive, we need the dopamine hit that comes from outrage.

Do you want peace? Are you willing to fight for peace?

We need an army of mature Christians who know that they are weak and yet do battle in the strength of the Lord. We need an army of mature Christians who fight with tenderness and grace and also fight with the unflinching pervasiveness and persuasiveness of truth. We need an army of mature Christians who lead with gentleness and yet love enough to correct and discipline. We need mature Christians with the consistency, the patience, and the balance of Christ Himself.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for Your Word. It is amazing how Your Word knows us even better than we know ourselves. I’m struck by that week after week in studying the Word, how much I still need to learn, how much You see my own weaknesses, immaturity. So help us, Lord, we don’t want to settle for lopsided, cartoonish versions of Christ or Christianity. Help us to grow into full manhood, full adulthood, maturity in Christ. We pray in His name. Amen.