If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:22-26 ESV)
The Apostle Paul is in pain. He’s been beaten, shipwrecked, left for dead, and mistreated by people like the jailer in Philippi more than once. For Paul, death means that he’ll get to see Jesus face to face in a good way, and to keep on living means that someone else will punch him, hurt him, and make him suffer. He has a preference. He’d rather be with Jesus.
But you don’t become an Apostle by putting your needs, your wants, your desires at the head of the line. Paul has to ask himself a serious question: What is better for the church? What is better for those people who have heard the gospel and believed because of his testimony? What is better for them?
This is what maturity looks like: It’s when you put the needs of others ahead of your own. I experienced it when I got married. I experienced it when I had children and I’ve experienced it as a leader in the local church. This is how the gospel transforms your life. You no longer live as if you are the most important thing in the universe. You live around the reality that Jesus is the most important thing in the universe and you do your best to bring other people into a right relationship with Him.
I’m a pastor and so I often hear people say things like “I’m not getting fed at my church” or in youth ministry someone younger will say that they feel like they belong with the more “mature” group. This kind of thinking isn’t mature. It’s actually babyish. Sorry to be blunt but adults don’t cry to get fed, babies do. Real maturity is looking out for the needs of those around you not abandoning people because you found a group that meets your intellectual needs. When you shift towards putting what you think your needs are at the center of everything, you’ve lost sight of what’s really important.
One of the dangers of immaturity is that we can think we know what’s best, when we really don’t. One time my son had a pair of scissors he had gotten off the table and he went crazy opening and closing them. I immediately told him to give me the scissors. He insisted that he knew what he was doing and before I could stop him he ended up cutting himself under the eye. His immaturity gave him confidence to do something that ultimately was not good for him.
Sometimes what WE need most is to put the needs of others ahead of our own and in doing so we fulfill God’s plan for US and we are used by God to minister to others.
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