Read Colossians 1:9-20.

The apostle Paul poured out his life to spread the gospel, to bring the good news to the gentiles, to make disciples of the nations. Since Paul was one of the key founders of the church, it’s worth our time looking at what exactly it was that he was trying to form. How did he view Christian maturity? What characteristics was he trying to develop in those who were the fruit of his labor? At the start of his letters there is often a prayer for the church being addressed. These prayers reveal Paul’s deepest desires for these churches.

In the letter to the Colossians, Paul says that he has not ceased praying for them and asking that they may:

  • be filled with the knowledge of God’s will
  • lead lives worthy of the Lord, pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work
  • grow in the knowledge of God
  • be made strong with the strength that comes from his glorious power
  • be prepared to endure everything with patience while joyfully giving thanks

Christian maturity, then, starts with knowledge of God’s will. Of course, this is not a head knowledge or an indifferent hearing. Many who are not yet spiritually mature have heard God’s will in the reading of the bible. This is a biblical “knowing.” This is union with God’s will.

When we have a strong desire for something, we find it harder to perceive and enter into someone else’s competing desire. If you really want to go out for Thai food, it’s hard to feel your spouse’s desire for Italian. Yet a couple who love each other are intimately aware of the desires of the other, always seeking first the desires of the other. The Thai lover says “let’s have Italian,” but the lover of Italian food insists on Thai. As they “fight” with each other, eventually they reach a consensus and are united.

God’s voice is still and small. Being able to hear God’s will requires that your own will be quiet. To know God’s will is to love it, to desire it, to seek it above all. Meanwhile, God is seeking your good, and in this “fight” or dance you are united.

If you truly love God above all, if you desire his will and his pleasure, you will see where you have fallen short. Your failings will be your greatest sufferings. You will find yourself striving and seeking whatever means you can find to make amends.

Obedience is the starting point of Christian maturity. The path to Christian maturity goes through death of self. But that seems daunting. Where to begin? How to accomplish such a radical transformation?

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

These instructions were common on shampoo bottles of yore. The computer scientist in me always wanted to point out that although following these instructions would lead to (very) clean hair, it would also lead to a serious case of prune skin, because there is no loop exit condition. You would never be able to stop.

The nice thing about obedience is how easy it can be. You have only one moment to worry about. The past is closed. The future is tomorrow’s concern. You have only in the present moment to love God, to seek his will, to seek to please him. If you have just awakened from an hour of sleepy forgetfulness, or a whole day, forget about it—it’s past. In this moment, remember your love for God. Be thankful. Seek to please him. Bear whatever he would have you bear. Then, lather, rinse, repeat.

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of and