In Philippians 3:15, after a lengthy treatment discussing the supreme importance of following Jesus Christ, Paul writes, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (ESV)
During my sermon preparation for Sunday, I was working through Calvin’s Commentaries and came across a much needed reminder, particular in the Church and the Academy. We need to display maturity and patience with others, regardless of their knowledge of biblical truth or lack thereof. (I am writing this now because, inevitably, someone will caution that this does not mean we should accept everything and be patient with false doctrine. I hope that this is self-evident, because Scripture does balance this out, for example, see Titus 3:9-11).
On this verse, Calvin writes, “Let us in the mean time learn also from this passage, that we must bear for a time with ignorance in our weak brethren, and forgive them, if it is not given them immediately to be altogether of one mind with us. Paul felt assured as to his doctrine, and yet he allows those who could not as yet receive it time to make progress, and he does not cease on that account to regard them as brethren, only he cautions them against flattering themselves in their ignorance.” (Calvin, Philippians, 104)
Several points deserve our attention.
First, consider the maturity of Paul, and those who accept his teachings. It is assumed that their life and doctrine are inline with Scripture. It makes sense, then, that those who know and live God’s Word would be the most patient with others. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some individuals who are highly qualified (intellectually speaking) are some of the most impatient and hard people. Intellectual capacity does not bring maturity. Maturity includes a grasp of the doctrines of Scripture and a life that matches (cf. Ezra 7:10).
Second, consider the patience displayed by the mature. Paul does not berate them for failing to understand his teachings (even Peter had a difficult time, 2 Pet. 3:16). He simply assumes that, as they grow, their knowledge of the Scriptures (as evidenced by Phil. 3:16). When we have grasped a certain doctrine, or view of Scripture, we need to be patient with those who may have a harder time (or, slower, as the case may be). It is a common joke (though true, all-to-often) that when individuals embrace the Doctrines of Grace that they become “cage-stage-Calvinists.”
That is, they want to convert everyone to their views and display little patience for those who view Scripture differently. We need to follow Paul’s example and be patient with people. It takes time for people to mature with regards to their lives and their grasp of biblical doctrine. There is a reason that men and women of godly character disagree. We are finite, fallen creatures glorious saved and wisely grown in this life, with various backgrounds, cultures, and educational opportunities. As a result, it changes how we view Scripture. Just as we did not believe everything in Scripture immediately upon our salvation, we should not expect any different from others.
Third, and finally, maturity and patience is strengthened by God. Paul says, “God will reveal that also to you.” Paul was displaying faith, not in his ability to communicate, nor in his hearers’ ability to comprehend, but in God. He trusted that God would do with His children what He thought best and when He thought best (Phil. 1:6). When discussing differences in theological views, let us trust that God will grow us as He sees fit. While we still engage in theological discussion (Prov. 27:17), these should be engaged with, you guessed it, maturity and patience, all the while displaying faith that God will grow us.