I Corinthians 14.20
“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”
In this series I have emphasized that the integrity of the church is both individual and collective. The church cannot become what God calls it to be if Christian people are not who God calls them to be. The integrity of the church is determined by the integrity of the Christians who make up the church.
We now move to the critical topic of restoring our intellectual integrity. I struggled a bit using the term “intellectual” because to some it might imply only academic sophistication or the pursuit of scholarly research. While the word can include those things, it has a much broader meaning.
When I say intellectual integrity I mean the way we use our minds to think, make decisions, and take action. An essential question for every follower of Jesus is: Do you think skillfully and Christianly?
As the 1 Corinthians passage above says, the Lord calls us to be mature thinkers. Not childish or immature in our thinking, but mature. The Greek word used for “mature” is teleios. You will recall that I started this series on the integrity of the church with an explanation of the importance of teleios for the followers of Jesus. Let’s revisit that important message.
“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature (teleios) in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1.28-29)
Teleios was used by the Greeks to describe something that was whole, complete, and integrated, thereby functioning effectively according to the purpose for which it was designed. It is the closest Greek word to our English word integrity.
In the Colossians passage, Paul declares that he proclaims Christ and “teaches everyone with all wisdom” for the purpose of equipping the saints to grow into maturity (teleios). The profound importance of this mission of growth to maturity is reflected by Paul’s statement that he toils and struggles (Greek agonizomai) with all the energy the Lord powerfully works within him.
The message in Scripture is that God created us in his image, which means he gave us an integrated collection of attributes that are a reflection of his own characteristics. At Creation these attributes in man functioned together in an integrated way. In other words, at Creation man was fully teleios — whole, complete, and integrated.
However, the attributes of God in man became disintegrated at the Fall. The attributes continued to function, but in a distorted and broken way. Man was no longer teleios. The good news, of course, is that through Christ we are reconciled to God, redeemed, and made new in the image of God. Through the process of spiritual growth and discipleship, teleios is progressively restored in our lives.
It is important to understand that teleios is very specific; it is how God designed you to function and operate. It represents the wholeness of the image of God in you. You are at your best when you do your job with teleios, and when you love your family with teleios, when your thinking is teleios. This is not an abstract theological concept. It is practical, specific, day-to-day direction for how to live and work as a follower of Jesus.
The fact that scripture instructs us to think in a teleios way is profoundly important. When you connect the messages of Colossians 1.28-20 and I Corinthians 14.20, it is clear that you do not automatically become a teleios thinker simply by virtue of being saved. You must learn to become a wise and disciplined thinker through the process of discipleship with a specific focus on the skills of effective thinking.
At this point we must acknowledge that teleios thinking is a glaring weakness in the Christian community. The church has failed to focus on developing effective, disciplined mental skills. Many wise Christian writers and scholars have addressed this issue and challenged the Christian community to think better. See Os Guinness in “Fit Bodies, Fat Minds.” Harry Blamies in “The Christian Mind.” Mark Noll in “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” James Sire in “Habits of the Mind.” John Piper in “Think.” Dallas Willard in “Renewing the Christian Mind.”
Nevertheless, the problem persists. It is particularly troubling given that Jesus commands us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10.27)
Therefore, I will take the next several weeks to focus on learning how to think skillfully and Christianly.