Ephesians 4:14-16 “…we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
1 Cor 13:11 “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Everyone no doubt remembers the childhood story of Peter Pan. The full title of the book was “Peter Pan or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up.” In the story, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys lived a fantasy-filled life in “Never Land.”
In our generation, this story has spawned a label placed on such ‘man-boys’ which is the “Peter Pan Syndrome.” The late Michael Jackson was the embodiment of this persona, embracing the mantle even to the establishment of his personal fantasy theme-park, the “Neverland Ranch.” But while Michael was the personification of Peter Pan, he was far from alone in such a lifestyle and thinking. Sadly, our culture has created a generation of Peter Pan’s. Men who are yet boys in their living. Driscoll calls them “Boys who can shave.”
Few of these men-boys set out to live the Peter Pan life. This is a condition that comes about because of multiple failures along the way as the individual chronologically matures. The lack of self-discipline, a poor if non-existent work ethic, an over accommodating and perhaps emotionally needy mother …many times keeping their adult children close in order to alleviate personal insecurities of their own… and a generally accepting society. Much of the parental blame comes from the noble but oft misdirected desire to make life better for our children. But the sad result is a generation of less independent, less responsible, and less productive people. All of which contributes to what the 2006 movie coined a “failure to launch.”
The social problems this has caused are staggering and nearly immeasurable. Credit card abuse and economic crisis, sexual promiscuity, shoddy vocational atmosphere, porn addiction, spousal abuse, physical and weight problems. These are boys who do not know how to care for their personal bodies, diet or hygiene, their home and finances, or their vocation. They are often perpetual gamers and TV watchers, who forget to set their alarms, live off of fast food, don’t know how to treat a woman, and have little interest in responsibility or accountability.
Last year (the most recent data), a little more than half of young people under age 24 were still living at home. About 13% of 25-34 year olds were still living with mom and dad, up 20% since 1982. In 1970, 69 percent of 25-year-old and 85 percent of 30-year-old white men were married; in 2000, only 33 percent and 58 percent were, respectively. And the percentage of young men entering marriage is declining. Census Bureau data show that the median age of marriage among men rose from 26.8 in 2000 to 27.5 in 2006—considered a dramatic demographic shift in only six years. One writer observed, “Not so long ago, the average mid-twenty something had achieved most of adulthood’s milestones … These days, he lingers … in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence…” (Kay Hymowitz, “Child-Man in the Promised Land,” City Journal, Winter 2008, vol. 18, no. 1). All of us have had contact with these individuals…many of them frankly are female too. We most often write off the trait saying they are just “a big kid.”
Many tend to think that marriage is the answer. But in fact, unless these traits are dealt with prior to marriage, they just tend to be dragged into the marriage environment and they become even more intractable and entrenched. What follows is a marriage where the wife is the head of the house, and the man-boy is the passive participant. Instead of leading, he instead follows and will avoid confrontation with his wife at any cost. The lack of discernment, the self-centered worldly desires will grow, and continue. His financial participation is surrendered solely to his wife, and he never involves himself in laundry, cooking, or the childrearing. Once this marital relationship is established, it is extremely hard and painful to change. The fact is, they rarely do.
If this condition were to pass away naturally, it would not be as critical as it is. But frankly, these ‘man-boys’ can be found at any age, and many are languishing in a sad and embarrassing adolescence even in the latter years of their life: me centered, and emotionally fragile.
Sadly, this condition has naturally come into the church on the heels of the 20-something generation. As these individuals come into the faith community, they bring this indoctrinated condition with them. They come wanting all that God has to offer…not in itself a bad desire, but standing alone without the full context of a faith-filled life, is rather like a fat child wanting only to eat candy and cookies. This group “church shops” for one that offers all the “amenities and services” they want. They come as consumers…church ‘customers’…seeking to receive in every way, and feel no real responsibility for others or for the larger group outside of how it affects them personally. They live in a constant whine of self-centered perpetual immaturity and thus such is what often drives todays worship, book sales, conferences and music, not to mention whole churches…many of them therefor quite popular. We come to the place where we play at our worship and worship our play.
The payoff, though, is that they get to remain spiritual infants. But nobody thinks it's cute when a person remains a baby for too long. If a small child never learns to walk and talk, never figures out how to feed himself, never outgrows his need for diapers, it's a sign that something is terribly wrong. If your baby stops growing, you'd call it a tragedy; you'd be on the phone looking for professional help. Why? Because although we all love babies, we expect those babies to grow.
Growth and maturity must mark our lives. The trouble is, too often we’ve adopted the bumper sticker mindset: "You are only young once, but you can stay immature forever."
What are the marks of one still in spiritual infancy? What are the Signs and symptoms of Spiritual Peter Pan syndrome?:
#1 ) Instability: These ‘men-boys’ are unable to control themselves, but are controlled by external forces. Such is manifested in the following ways:
They are excessively emotional. When they are angry, they cannot function well. They become irrational and blind to the facts. They just want what they want, and they want it now. Their emotions are God. They say they are “hearing from God” when in fact it is merely their emotions calling the shots and leading their lives.
They are “ blown about by every wind of doctrine.” False teaching and false teachers sway their stance, as do rumors and gossip rule their actions. His life is a roller-coaster…whatever spiritual fad or new thing becomes their life. Whatever an acquaintance says to them….however irrational and false, becomes their new truth. They do not question, because after all, these people are their friends...
A mark of spiritual immaturity is a spiritual instability… These guys are never stable. They are forever moving in everything in their lives. The running from book to book, conference to conference, church to church in search of the next exciting teacher who has an answer to every spiritual issue…seeking someone who will tell them what their “itching ears want to hear.” There is constant vacillation in doctrine. There are prophecy groupies, spiritual life groupies, reformation groupies, too. They will be your friend one day and the next you are the devil incarnate. Constantly shifting from one thing to another, constantly changing. That is a mark of childishness, immaturity.
#2) They are overtly impressionable: They do not have or will not exercise the ability to discern the right path, the correct move, the righteous decision. Thus they never hold the course, or really even know what course to follow in the first place. They are like children playing in the street, ignoring the warnings, not hearing the car horns, blissfully enjoying themselves while their lives are in danger. Maturity knows that our enemy is subtle and we are easily diverted, easily trapped. They are easily swayed by the enemy, because they do not recognize the enemy, and they are always willing to hear what they have to say…whether it be when they knock on your door with a copy of the watchtower, chat on Facebook, or bump into you at Wal-Mart.
#3) They are undependable: Another mark of immaturity is seen in their actions. Are they dependable, or do they drop the ball at every turn? Perhaps they begin a new venture, church service or relationship with enthusiasm and commitment, but soon their interest wanes, the steam goes out, and they’re bored…they’re discouraged, their distracted. Perhaps when they first came to knowledge of Christ they could not get enough of God’s Word, but as time goes on there is just a deadening sense of apathy. These men rarely commit to anything. Not a woman, a career, a friend, or a church. They are afraid of failure so they prefer not to even try…that way that can’t fail.
#4) They are self-centered: They find it very difficult to deal with work or service. Both secularly and within the kingdom service. They want to play…they want to have fun. They have little interest in serving God and church unless there is something directly in it for them….whether it be status, or friendship, or maybe a chance to “be a part of the gang.” But ultimately they have difficulty in this, because if they serve, they are inevitably serving for the wrong reasons, and thus their service is erratic, on again and off, and they find it easy to quit when things get tough. When they are invited to participate, they often will refuse, and then claim no one likes them or they are treated as second class. They don’t like to fight, so they never do…even when the enemy is taking out their friends and family. They just want to “get along” and so they simply “go along.” They are spiritual consumers…producing nothing, just seeking for themselves. They participate in church only to receive …never to give.
Hebrews 5:11-6:3 speaks of spiritual Peter Pans: How Spiritual children look. For one thing, these Peter pans keep jibber-jabbering a bunch of baby talk long after they should have out-grown it. Even after years of being Christians, they still can’t articulate their faith. They are easily moved by every wind of doctrine. They are confused because they listen to every voice that they hear. In fact, these fat little babies are still drinking milk out of bottles when they should be eating steak. They expect someone else to feed them when they should be able to feed themselves. And when they try to eat solid spiritual food, it comes back up…they just can’t keep it down.
Another problem with Peter Pans is that they are clueless when it comes to right and wrong. In their little minds, they can’t be held responsible if they do something wrong. Why shouldn’t they live this way? Children are really only interested in themselves… their own interests and their own feelings and how everything affects them personally. It’s easy to spot a child … unless YOU’re the child.
There is great danger for a Christian who fails to grow up. You see, growing is not just an option for a Christian. Growing is the definition of a Christian. A Christian grows to be like Christ. It’s transformation. It’s metamorphosis.
Much of the Christian community doesn’t really expect Christians to become like Christ. But God expects it. In fact, God demands it. Growing up is not optional! In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to sum up the message of Hebrews 6 this way: Grow or Die. If that seems too harsh, look at verses 7 & 8 of Hebrews 6: “When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.”
Perpetual children become so hardened that they can’t produce anything but thorns and thistles. This scripture calls such a person worthless and in danger of being cursed. It goes on to say: In the end it will be burned. God does not give warnings like that flippantly. And we should not take His warnings lightly. A Christian who is not growing is in imminent danger of falling away.
How can we avoid these pitfalls? – Ephesians 4: 15-16
We must begin by ‘Truthing in Love’ - verse 15. Instead of the lies told by deceivers, there must be truth. The path to maturity, to reaching unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God is through truth. Note it says speaking the truth, not your opinions. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together (p107), makes this incisive statement: "Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin."
Unless we learn to operate in the truth…accepting the correction of those over us…and the willingness to throw down with another when they are speaking, acting, or living off course, then we stay children. We must be willing to deal with people not just in love, but in truth. And that, my friends is rare. Especially when they are in fact the same thing! We are, an article in Time says, "A huckstering, show-busy world, jangling with hype, hullabaloo, hooey, bull, baloney, and bamboozlement." By the time we reach adolescence, we have been bombarded with so many advertisements claiming wealth, peace, happiness, and instant joy, that the truth becomes rare to us.
When we seek truth and operate in that truth, we grow up. We leave the make-believe world where everything is a fantasy of Neverland, and we move into the adult world that deals in the realm of reality…even if that means responsibility and some pain and sadness mixed with our joys and blessings.
Hebrews 6:9-20 tells us how spiritual children grow: For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do. Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.
Here’s what these verses tell you to do in order to Morph into the image of Christ: Show your love of God by loving other people. The most amazing thing happens to those who quit focusing on self and begin to focus on ministry to others. They not only show God how much they love Him, they also start enjoying themselves. Ministry is an acquired taste, and the sooner you develop a taste for it, the better … for everybody! Give diligence to the very end.
We certainly desire mature attributes in our leaders but are slack to apply them to ourselves. A survey asked: “What qualities make a good leader?” The responses were tallied and the following two were the most recorded: One, staying power and the second was tenacity. These are like twins. One keeps you in the arena and the other gets you up when you get knocked down. If a toddler gave up the first time they fell, he’d never end up walking at all. But too many Christians give up at the first failure. No wonder they remain wimpy spiritual babies.
We need to learn how to keep on keeping on. Don’t be lazy. Give me a list of people who have achieved great things in their life-time, I guarantee you, the one common factor you’ll find amongst them is; they’re not lazy. They are the kind of men Hebrews has in mind when it says to… Imitate people of great faith and patience.
We need to take ourselves off the throne. That means that it is time to place others before you. To learn….to decide, to place the needs and blessings of others above your own. Unless this is learned, he remains single…or should, and he never becomes a real part of the church community…because he never figures out what his gifts are and takes his place…(or HER place) within the body of Christ. They will remain forever on outskirts of the community they attend…and attend is all they will ever do, because they never actually invest in anyone other than themselves.
Back to Hebrews for a moment…the writer wanted to teach them some of the greater truths of God and kingdom but they were not capable of learning. The problem was not with the writer’s ability to teach. The readers were incapable of learning.
The problem was not that the readers were uneducated or dumb. Acts 4:13 reminds us that the scriptures were written by uneducated men to uneducated men. Many illiterate people have learned and taught the scriptures. In Ephesians 4:3, Paul taught that one can understand if he reads his writings. No special education is required to understand the scriptures.
The people had “become dull of hearing.” The problem was a decision they had made, NOT their lack of ability. They had not always been dull of hearing, they became that way. Jesus warned us that those who do not advance will forfeit their blessings. Read … Luke 8: 16-18 …Jesus tells us to “use it or loose it.”
The writer of Hebrews explains that they had already regressed…they need a refresher course. They understood the elementary teachings of the Christian faith, but forgot them. Remember the parable of the talents? ( Matt. 25: 14-30) The one talent man tried to maintain the status quo. He was rejected and cast out. (called wicked ). The one talent which he had maintained so well was taken away from him. This applies directly to Christians in all places and in all ages. (wicked / spewed out)
Peter Pan is a fairy tale ; Never Land does not exist. Nothing alive can remain static, it’s either growing or dying. Likewise, faith is either growing or dying. Knowledge and understanding is either increasing or decreasing.
Hebrews 5:13 … They had returned to infancy so they needed milk. Milk is good food, but a diet of milk will not sustain an adult. The reference here is to mother’s milk. Mother’s milk is “predigested food.” Mother’s milk will feed the baby well ONLY if the mother eats well. Christians who rely solely on a weekly feeding from the preacher’s sermon are existing on predigested food. They depend on him to eat well first. Milk is indeed essential for babies. It is required to enable them to grow beyond the need for milk.
I Pet. 2:2- like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, nature demonstrates that maturity creates the desire for more solid food.
When one is weaned he goes beyond the milk to a variety of solid foods. Christians cannot just stay with the basic doctrines, the first principles. Once a child learns his A B Cs he soon learns to read. Imagine your reaction if your child was still reciting his A B Cs in the fifth grade! Repetition is required for learning, but too much repetition creates apathy. We are commanded to teach “all things” Jesus commanded so we must press on after the first principles to learn the rest of Jesus’ teachings. (Matt. 28: 20)
Scripture also explains that we have a responsibility to teach what we learn. The writer isn’t commanding that every Christian has to be a classroom teacher. Yet every Christians has a responsibility to become able to teach others. One who does not mature to the point he can teach is NOT faithful. Each generation is built upon the back of the previous generation. The older Christians are responsible to teach the younger Christians. If the older generation is unwilling to grow and mature and take their place as living examples and teachers of the things of God, where does that leave those who follow them? Whatever you have been taught, you must teach to other Christians. Tim . 2: 2- The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. ( We must prepare them to teach! ) Every faithful Christian is a minister. Rom. 15:14- …I … am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.
One of the fundamental differences between children and adults : Children are spectators who observe and try to figure out life…they experiment. Adults are participants in life. Spiritually, the recipients of the Hebrew letter had returned to the spectator stage. Many churches today are composed almost entirely of spectators. Mature Christians are the participants who make it happen.
Studies about how people learn show that : We remember only about 10% of what we hear. We remember about 50% of what we both see and hear. However, we remember about 90% of what we hear, see, and DO.
Christians need to practice their faith to develop instinctive righteousness. How many times have you missed opportunities because of fear, laziness, or selfishness? To share the gospel ? To help someone with a problem ? To admonish or encourage a brother ? To serve kingdom and community?
So take a minute for a personal inventory. How is your own maturity level looking? Both in this world…and naturally then, in the church? Are you able to live out as well as talk about your faith in Christ? Have you moved past the basics of Christianity? Are you learning deeper truths? Can you actually measure your growth in the past year? Do you study God’s Word on your own, or do you wait for someone else to feed it to you? Do you base your moral choices on God’s Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit? Or are you looking for someone else to give you a list of rules that you can follow without having to think for yourself? Growing up as a Christian is no small matter. Scripture doesn’t pull any punches when it describes the kind of damage Spiritual Peter Pans can do.
1 Corinthians 16:13 says it straight: Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.