Our ongoing series on 1 Corinthians continues with Part 5 . This sermon ties in closely with the Gospel reading for today, Matthew 5:21-37. Paul is talking about maturity: the Corinthians think they are very mature in their faith, but the reality is they are not. How are they immature, and what does true Christian maturity look like?
Paul uses the analogy of food to describe maturing. Babies drink milk, adults eat solid food. In the life of faith, there are the simple basics, the "milk" of doctrine, and there is a more sound grasp and growth in being a Christian, "solid food". Paul says that he'd love to treat them as mature, but he has to talk to them as infants.
We should note, that part of being mature Christians means that we very regularly and readily go back to the basics of our faith, of Christ and him crucified (which we talked about last week). But this is different from never getting beyond the basics, where we never go any deeper to wrestling with the deeper questions of faith and the claims of Christians.
So what does it mean to mature in Christ and our faith? We'll answer this by looking at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Jesus says repeatedly the phrase, "You have heard it said..." and then adds, "...but I say to you...". So, for example, he says, "You have heard it said...do not committ murder." Here he's quoting from the 10 Commandments. Most people breath a sigh of relief, thinking, well I'm OK because I've never killed anyone. "But I say to you...whoever is angry with their brother is liable to judgement." Is Jesus making the commandment to not kill easier or harder? Jesus does the same with adultery, and applies the commandment not merely to our behavior, but to the state of our hearts.
In the Collect for today, we prayed that God would enable us to follow his commandments in will and in deed. It's good that you haven't actually killed someone, it's good that you haven't cheated on your wife, but in your sinful heart and mind you have. We need God to change and heal our hearts and wills to bridge the gap between the ideal and the actual. The law can not change our hearts, only the grace of Jesus Christ can.
So what does Paul mean by 'maturity'? If the Sermon on the Mount does anything it shows us the chasm in our lives between the ideal and the actual, and that a truly mature Christian is more aware, and not less, of this gap. As time goes on and our relationship goes deeper, we become more aware of our need for Jesus, not less.
The longer you are married to someone, are you more or less aware of their faults? More! Since it's St. Valentine's day, we note that when you first meet someone and fall in love, it's very hard to notice or imagine their faults. But as time goes on that changes. What a mature, healthy relationship requires is grace and forgiveness as a couple deals with those faults that are always being exposed. It is the same with us and the Lord. God will show to us our shortcomings, but will also point us again and again to the One who fills that gap. Grace causes the facade to come down.