Spiritual Maturity: A Tale of Two Vertebrates

fishsalamander
Left- The African Annual Fish. Right-Olm Salamander

This post originally appeared September, 2016 at biblestudiesforlife.com.

Recently, I was leading a large group of adults in a study of 1 Corinthians 3, in which Paul bemoans the lack of spiritual maturity in the church. So I asked the group three questions:

  1. What are the marks of spiritual maturity?
  2. How long does it take?
  3. Do you consider yourself spiritually mature?

I wrote their responses in one column on a whiteboard. The answers to the first question were along the lines of developing the Fruit of the Spirit, developing hunger for God’s word, practicing spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study and so forth. When I asked about how long it takes, responses were all variations on the theme of “Well, it’s an ongoing process.” Similarly, very few adults were willing to say, “Yes, I am spiritually mature.”

It was a very humble group.

Then I changed the question. I said, “So, what if instead of a group of Christians, we were a group of biologists, trying to decide when an animal was biologically mature? What would be on the list?”

This time, the list was pretty short:

  1. No longer depends on mother’s milk
  2. Capable of reproducing

Which has got me thinking: are we overthinking spiritual maturity? Granted, everything on the list we compiled are good things. But are they the main things?

  • Are believers in your small group studying God’s Word for themselves, or are they wholly dependent on a teacher breaking it down for them?
  • Are they reproducing?

If so, they are mature. If not, they aren’t.

Could it really be that simple? I know no one wants to put themselves out on a limb and say, “Yes, I’m mature.” As one precious senior adult in our group put it, “Well, even the Apostle Paul said he had not already obtained the goal or was already perfect (see Philippians 3:12-14), so how could I say I’m spiritually mature?”

I appreciate the heart behind that statement. At the same time, it would be easy to allow false modesty to keep us from fulfilling the reasonable expectations of spiritual adulthood (maybe the conversation would change if we put it in those terms—not “Are you spiritually mature?” but “Are you a spiritual adult?”

Let me give you two examples from the animal kingdom. When I Googled the phrase “fastest animal to maturity,” I learned about the African Annual Fish. These little guys spend their entire lives in a rain puddle left behind after the rainy season in East Africa. They hatch from eggs that have been dormant in the mud since last season. Within seventeen days, they are capable of laying and fertilizing eggs of their own. And when the puddle dries up, they are gone.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Olm salamander, which is found in the secure, isolated caves of Eastern Europe. They can live for as long as 100 years, but don’t begin reproducing until around 16 years of age.

The lesson? When time is short, we get busy. When we feel like we have all the time in the world, we take our time.

The problem in the church is that we would like our churches to be more like caves—secure, protected, cool, comfortable, and separated from the rest of the world. However, the Bible describes the world and our place in it much more like a rain puddle. Consider these verses:

  • “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15)
  • “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Col. 4:5)
  • “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12)
  • “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:13)

I wonder if it’s time for us to own up to the responsibilities that come with being grown-ups? The writer of Hebrews seemed to think so:

Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature —for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Keep that in mind as you prepare to lead this week!

In a digital world, is anything set in stone?

Why did the Holman Christian Standard Bible change Acts 6:2?

The grass withers, the flowers fade,
but the word of our God remains forever.”

Isaiah 40:8

hayden

This morning I heard that the original Star Wars trilogy is returning to theaters. Which immediately made me wonder, Which version of the original Star Wars trilogy? The one that just says “Star Wars” in the opening crawl, or the one that says “Episode IV, A New Hope?” The one where Han shot first? Or the one where the ghost of Hayden Christensen is gazing creepily at Luke and Leia, alongside Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda, while the Ewoks aren’t singing the “Jub Jub” song?

In the world of digital editing, nothing stays the same. Everything gets “improved.” The FBI agents in ET hold walkie talkies, not rifles.

Even music that’s on my iPhone, which I burned from a physical cd myself!!! is not safe from the digital monkeyers. Recently I was out on a run and was jamming to U2’s Mysterious Ways. I was singing along to the lyric “She’s the wave/She turns the tide/She sees the man inside the child, yeah.” Only now,. it doesn’t. Now it’s “And no one thinks to wonder why” or something like that. Well, wonder why! Apparently, iTunes gives itself permission to replace even songs you’ve burned from your own library with improved versions.

But at least God’s Word is safe from revision, right?

Not so much. I was preparing for an upcoming Sunday School lesson on Acts 6–the selection of the first deacons. Here’s how verses 1-3 read in my 2003 Holman Christian Standard Bible (a hard copy, pulled off my shelf, with pages and everything)

In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables. Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.”

However, the most recent revision of the HCSB (and the only one available online at Bible Gateway, the Blue Letter Bible, and the YouVersion App) makes a change to verse 2:

Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to handle financial matters.

So, how did we get from “waiting on tables” to “handle financial matters”?

  1. Not by a literal translation from the Greek. The Greek phrase is διακονεῖν τραπέζαις. Tranliterated, that’s diakonein trapezais. Diakoneō is the present active infinitive of “serve,” from whence we get our word deacon. And τράπεζα trápeza, according to the Blue Letter Bible, is

 trap’-ed-zah; probably contracted from G5064 and G3979; a table or stool (as being four-legged), usually for food (figuratively, a meal); also a counter for money (figuratively, a broker’s office for loans at interest):—bank, meat, table.

So, the door is cracked for an alternative translation of “to serve as money counters.” Interestingly enough, the one place in the New Testament one might expect this figurative meaning would be in Matthew 9:9-10, when Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector, while Matthew was sitting at the tax office. However, the Greek word there is τελώνιον, and it is used only here and in the parallel accounts (Mk 2:14, Lk 5:27).

2. We also didn’t get there by an attempt to line up the HCSB with other English translations. A quick survey of available translations shows that the HCSB stands alone in translating this as anything other than “waiting on tables.”

This wouldn’t be the first time the Holman translation team filed a minority report. What time of day did the Samaritan woman come to the well in John 4:6? Every other English translation either uses the traditional “about the sixth hour” or noon. This assumes the numbering of hours begins with sunrise–6 am-ish. Yet the Holman, alone among English translations, says “Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening.

Not only does this put the Holman at odds with every other translation, but it ruins every sermon you’ve ever heard (or preached) about how the Samaritan woman came to the well during the hottest part of the day so she could avoid being around the other women of the town.

But in fairness to the Holman, at least this has been the translation from the beginning. My 2004 Holman is the same as my 2010 Holman. And, it’s consistent. Agree or disagree with their system, its the same in the crucifixion accounts, the time of night Jesus walked on the water, and, as far as I can tell, everywhere else an hour is named in the New Testament.

But with Acts 6:2, the Holman has changed from its first printing to its most recent. And I’m at a loss to see how this is a change for the better. Especially when it could be used to prooftext a faulty interpretation of what deacons are supposed to do. Pastors, have you ever dealt with a deacon board that acted as the financial managers of the church? Have you wished they would see themselves more as servants and not as the holders of the purse strings? Well, if you would rather they didn’t see themselves in that way, it’s probably best to keep them away from the HCSB.

At this writing, I’ve emailed my questions to the translation team at LifeWay, and I hope to update this post with their response and rationale. But in the meantime, let me just say:

  1. hqdefaultHan shot first.
  2. The agents in ET had rifles.
  3. Sebastian Shaw is the ghost of Anakin Skywalker.
  4. And deacons waited on tables. They didn’t handle financial matters.

UPDATE: This morning (April 18), I received this email from Jeremy Howard, part of the HCSB translation team:

Hey, James. Thanks for the note. When our text is revised next year, it will read: “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables.”