Gifted But Immature

This post is based on a message from Pastor Todd Cosenza, given at Hope Church on Sunday, March 10, 2024. Click the link at the bottom of the page to watch the entire message.

God is molding and shaping us — as a church family and also as individuals. Being filled with spiritual gifts isn’t the same as being spiritually mature. Maturity in our spiritual life requires living by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 will help us to understand why spiritual gifts alone aren’t enough; we must grow in spiritual maturity as well.

“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly — mere infants in Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 3:1 NIV)

This is a message for all of us today, not just the recipients of Paul’s letter a few thousand years ago. 

In 1 Corinthians 1:4-7, Paul told these same people they were enriched in all kinds of speech and in all knowledge. He stated that they didn’t lack any spiritual gift. The gifts of the Spirit were in operation among them. Yet in spite of their spiritual giftedness, they were still “infants” in Jesus. 

There is no one more dangerous than a person who is gifted but immature, someone who has spiritual power but not the spiritual character to support it. 

We need both the power of the Holy Spirit and the character of the Holy Spirit. A great illustration of this is the fact that we were made with two legs; a person can manage to get around, to survive, with just one leg, but it wouldn’t take much for them to fall over. Having spiritual power without maturity is like having one leg; it is a very unstable position.

Churches that are walking in spiritual power/gifts but lack maturity are a ripe target for the enemy. Yes, we should move toward the gifts of the Spirit, and eagerly desire the gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 14:1) — but we must also allow the Holy Spirit to work maturity in us. 

If you are born again, the Holy Spirit will give you spiritual gifts — gifts of leadership, generosity, encouragement, teaching, hospitality, healing, prophecy, etc. — and He doesn’t just give us one gift! (See Romans 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Corinthians 12.) But remember, a gift is given and not earned, so it doesn’t require us to do anything except to simply receive it.  

Spiritual maturity is not a gift. The Spirit of God works maturity in us, and this process requires submission, repentance and a yieldedness, a willingness on our part to cooperate with God. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to mature because the Holy Spirit is wanting to break down our flesh. The Bible gives many examples of people who had spiritual power, but not spiritual maturity:

  • Think of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. He went from experiencing an incredible victory in 1 Kings 18, calling down fire on the mountain top. But then the next day in 1 Kings 19 he is running for his life, hiding in a cave and wanting to die because he was being intimidated and threatened by Jezebel. The voice of Jezebel is not gone; it is still here trying to intimidate God’s people today and wanting us to hide in a cave. The way to shut down Jezebel’s voice of intimidation is not with spiritual gifting, but with spiritual courage. Spiritual courage comes from spiritual maturity. 
  • Then there is King Solomon. God gave him so much wisdom and riches along with a single rule, not to turn to other gods. Solomon lacked the maturity to obey that one key rule (see 1 Kings 9:4-9); he intermarried with pagan women who turned his heart towards other gods, and it opened the door to immense destruction (see 1 Kings 11:1-11).
  • The same thing happened with the disciples of Jesus. Even though He sent them out to work the miracles of the Kingdom, they went running when Jesus was about to go through His most difficult trial. They lacked spiritual maturity.

God wants His people to have both gifting and maturity. 

How do we grow in spiritual maturity?

1. Learn to live by the Spirit’s leading.

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly — mere infants in Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 3:1 NIV)

We must learn to be led by and live by the Spirit, otherwise we operate only from a head knowledge of God. Our relationship with Jesus is not meant to be a head knowledge. One of the responsibilities of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Jesus to us. We are to have a continual, living connection with Jesus. As we live by the Spirit’s way of thinking and by not the world’s, by the Spirit’s priorities and not by the world’s, we have a firsthand experience of Jesus. We can’t become mature in the Lord unless we’re in an ongoing, firsthand relationship with Him.

This type of relationship with God requires us to let go of control of our lives and allow the Holy Spirit to have control. Many times people want to hold onto the illusion of control, even if it means the path is full of hardship and difficulty. Maturing in the Lord involves us being challenged in our thinking so we align more closely with the Lord and not the world.

2. Take time to digest the word of God. 

“I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”  (1 Corinthians 3:2 NIV)

Milk is the food of babies, while “solid food is for the mature” (see Hebrews 5:14). Because infants don’t have teeth, they have to be fed easy-to-digest nutrients — milk. Milk doesn’t need to be chewed; it just slips easily through the mouth and into the stomach. Spiritual maturity means that when we hear the word of God, we keep it with us and digest it. Spiritually mature people learn to use their spiritual teeth to chew on God’s Word. Don’t just let the word be “sipped” into your life from a sippy cup. When you hear God’s word being preached or when you read God’s word, pause and chew on it. Have a conversation with God about it — “Lord, speak to me. How are You wanting to apply this to my life? How can I cooperate with what You’re speaking into my life? How should I respond to the word You’re speaking? Reveal to me — where do I need to change?” This is what a mature person in the Lord does. So learn to “chew” on what God is speaking, to draw out what God is saying personally to you.

3. Understand that people are not your problem. 

“You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?”  (1 Corinthians 3:3 NIV)

A sure sign of a lack of spiritual maturity in God’s people is when we think other people are the problem. The problems in our life come from two areas — either ourself or the devil. When someone is causing us pain, maturity is being able to see beyond the person and look at what’s behind them and get to the source of the issue. Paul said in Ephesians 6:12 that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. As long as we’re convinced that other people are always the problem, the enemy will constantly keep someone in our life to distract us. Being involved with battling people takes a lot of emotional and mental energy. It drains us. People are ultimately not the problem and mature believers recognize that. 

“Are you not acting like mere humans?”  (1 Corinthians 3:3b NIV)

“Mere humans” — What does Paul mean by this? He’s describing a person without Christ, someone who lives in a body and operates through their soul (their mind and emotions), but their spirit is completely dead. This is how everyone is before we come to Jesus. When we come to Jesus, our spirit comes alive, and we are joined with the Holy Spirit through our spirit. We come into the life of God. We begin to participate in the divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4). When we come into Christ, we are more than merely human; we become eternally alive in Christ and are part of God’s family. We are to grow in both spiritual giftedness and in spiritual maturity together, living like Jesus did. 

Let’s determine to grow both in spiritual gifts and in spiritual maturity. Spiritual gifting and power is not the source of joy and strength; a life maturing in Jesus is. Let’s pursue both together!

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