This is an interesting verse, stuck into the middle of Paul's discourse on spiritual gifts. At first glance, it seemed to me to be out of place, as if an idea struck Paul as he was writing, so he jotted it down and returned to his initial train of thought.
As I though more about it, however, I came to see that it really has a lot to say about how we are to use our gifts. It clarifies Christ's call for us to be childlike, and echoes Paul's statement in the previous chapter that, ``When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became and adult, I put an end to childish ways.'' The verse calls us to maturity as we face things in this life, even as we seek to retain the innocence of youth.
But what does it mean to ``in thinking be adults''? As I contemplated this, the three qualities that came to mind were understanding, vision, and discipline.
Understanding means being aware of what is going on around us and having a grasp on its meaning. When we were young children, we didn't understand the things that were going on around us --- adults came and went and we really didn't comprehend where they went and why. But as we've grown older, we have learned what these things mean.
Similarly, as Christians we haven't been called to bury ourselves in naivete, but rather we are called to seek a greater knowledge. In the second chapter of this letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us that through the Spirit we have received the mind of God, and through it wisdom and understanding. It is important that we learn to use this resource to reach greater awareness of what goes on around us.
The second characteristic of mature thinking is vision. We need to look at the broader context of our actions, and not judge things solely on the current situation. Learning this is an important step in growing up -- a child learns that by foregoing an immediate pleasure, a greater reward can often be obtained at some point in the future.
It is important for us to do this in our faith life as well. We must be able to pursue present actions which will enable us to better reach our spiritual goals. Without this longer vision, our actions will wind up being directionless and ultimately get us nowhere.
Discipline, as the last part of mature thinking, is what enables us to put into practice the first two parts. As a child, it is what enables us to forgo a snack before dinner so we can really enjoy the dinner, or what makes us take the time to learn about the world around us. For a young child, this discipline comes from others, primarily their parents. As they grow older, more of the discipline is expected to come from within the child, until as an adult they are completely responsible for their own discipline.
In our faith life, discipline is what allows us to grow in our understanding and put into practice our spiritual vision. Earlier in this letter of Paul, he compares our spiritual life with a race and says, ``Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.'' This is probably the hardest part of a mature spiritual life to obtain, since it takes the most time to develop.
Now it's fine to believe that these are necessary characteristics, but how can we apply them to our own lives? Without application, they are just a bunch of empty words.
First we need to build understanding. One part of this is gaining knowledge about a wide variety of subjects. For secular subjects, this is generally done through our classwork at the university; religious knowledge is often best gotten through Bible study and religious discussion groups within the Christian community. Another part of understanding is wisdom, which transcends accumulation of facts and ideas and involves insight into the heart of the matter. Wisdom is a gift from God, which like other gifts must be developed before it is truly useful. The final part of understanding is becoming able to experience the mind of God. This is done by developing our spiritual life so we become more receptive to, and perceptive of, the messages of the Holy Spirit.
As we grow in understanding, we need to develop our vision as well. This means taking our understanding and applying it to the larger picture. In order to successfully do this, it is generally useful to combine individual contemplation with group discussion and reading of the Bible and other religious writings, so that our personal vision is balanced by that of those around us and those who have gone before us. It is also necessary to strike a balance between flexibility of vision, which enables us to incorporate new levels of understanding and new circumstances, and stability of vision, so that the goal of life in and with Jesus is not lost from sight.
Finally we need to develop discipline to enable us to use our understanding and vision. Discipline is multi-faceted, and to be truly successful we need to work on all parts of it. The first part is self-discipline, which includes such things as promptness and dependability. While these aren't explicitly spiritual matters, they are a necessary foundation for the other aspects of discipline. Next is the discipline of personal spirituality, which includes such things as regular prayer and meditation, as well as personal Bible study and any other activities which enable us to develop a better relationship with God. Finally, there is the discipline of community. When we come together through worship and fellowship, we develop community in Christ which then gives strength to all who are within it. Here at Christus Rex this community has shown forth in many situations, but in order for it to continue and grow, everyone needs to work together to become more loving and open.
I don't claim that these steps are easy; growing up physically wasn't without its pains either. I'm not sure anybody ever reaches full spiritual maturity in this life either. But my prayer is that we can all work together to move towards that maturity.