There is very little information in the New Testament regarding the first thirty years of Jesus’ life upon this earth. And that is not without purpose. The details of those early years are obviously not essential to the divine scheme of redemption. The fact is, the brevity of the Gospel narratives provides subtle evidence of biblical inspiration. Mere human authors would have filled in the blanks with a variety of interesting matters which cater to natural curiosity. The authenticity of Scripture is established by what the text does not say, as well as by what it does say.
Both Matthew and Luke chronicle the thrilling account of the Son of God’s birth to a virgin whose name was Mary (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20). Luke mentions the presentation of the Savior in the temple when the child was approximately six weeks old (2:1-39; cf. Leviticus 12:1-4). Then there is that intriguing narrative when the boy Jesus, at the age of twelve, was found in the temple challenging the doctors of the law (Luke 2:41-51).
Following that episode, the inspired historian sums up the subsequent years of the Lord’s development:
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52).
The careful student never ceases to be awed by the fact that the Bible is so insightful in addressing the needs of mankind. There are four areas of human development to which every conscientious person ought to give attention (as reflected by the growth of Christ). These are:
- the intellectual,
- the physical,
- the social,
- the spiritual.
Before exploring these four dimensions of balanced personal growth, two introductory points must be made.
First, Luke records that young Jesus “advanced” in these realms. The Greek word is prokopto, from pro (forward), and kopto (to cut). Many scholars believe that the term originally described the work of wood-cutters who cleared away the obstacles that impeded the progress of ancient armies (Liddell and Scott 1869, 1348). Eventually, the word simply came to suggest the idea of progress. Paul uses a form of the term when he contends that the difficulties which befell him in Rome had facilitated the “progress” of the gospel (Philippians 1:12).
It is not inappropriate to suggest that the example of Christ prepared the way for our own advancement in godly maturity. The Lord was, in effect, a “pioneer” in human development.
Second, the verb “advanced” is an imperfect tense form, which suggests a sustained activity as viewed historically. The young Jesus was ever developing in the areas suggested by the text.
The Bible places considerable emphasis upon the development of the human mind. After all, it is the mind that is created in the very image of God himself. It is an egregious tragedy that so many entertain the perverted notion that intelligence and faith are mutually exclusive. C. S. Lewis once wrote: “If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.”
Christian parents must realize, now more than ever before, the value of providing a good education for their children. Youngsters should be taught the basics of education. Fundamental is the ability to read. So many young people these days are leaving high school almost unable to read their own diplomas.
Parents should read to their children during their earliest years. Little books should be purchased for them and they should be encouraged to learn to read skillfully. Moreover, children should be taught the techniques of sound reasoning. Logic is the science of thinking correctly, and it is almost a lost art. Why do so many youngsters adopt a belief in the theory of evolution, or wander into religious groups that are unknown to the Scriptures? Because they do not know how to reason with precision, and they are bereft of a knowledge of the Bible.
The Scriptures do not ignore the physical aspects of the human being. There are three areas upon which we should focus in a discussion of the physical dimension of responsible people.
First, we are urged to keep our bodies pure. The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:13). Sin should not reign in our mortal bodies; rather, our physical members are to be employed as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:12-13). Sound and sustained instruction in this area is absolutely crucial in these days of rampant sexual promiscuity. It is heart-breaking that so many Christian young people lose their virginity before marriage.
Second, our children ought to be trained to cultivate their physical health. Christian youth should be impressed with the fact that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), and that there is a divine responsibility to try to maintain good health so that one may serve God as effectively as possible. Proper eating habits, exercise (which does profit a little – 1 Timothy 4:8), rest, and recreation are part of a balanced life. Moreover, regardless of one’s vocational aspiration, every youngster should be taught the value of vigorous physical labor. A youngster who does not learn the value of honest, diligent work will be crippled for life.
Third, it is not inappropriate to suggest that clothing oneself decently is a part of the saint’s physical deportment. Christian youth who adorn themselves in apparel that is sexually suggestive are a sorry advertisement for the cause of Jesus. Additionally, our youngsters ought to be taught to dress with dignity—especially when they are in the church assembly. It is shocking at the number of people who come to worship slovenly clad. Such folks have virtually no self-respect, and precious little regard for the Savior who died in their behalf.
As beings who have been fashioned in the image of God, humans are social creatures. As the poet expressed it, “No man is an island.” People need people. Responsible human beings need to know how to interact with others. It is truly a disaster when one ends his or her life as a miserable recluse—as did Howard Hughes, for example. That tragedy was compounded by the fact that Hughes’s grandfather was a well-known gospel preacher!
Children should be trained to get along well with their peers. Youngsters tend to become self-centered if they are not taught to share, and to be concerned for others. Young people ought to be nurtured by their parents in developing sacrificial and loving relationships, which ultimately can contribute to stable and happy marriages. Discernment in selecting close associates of high moral character is also a vital part of proper training (see 1 Corinthians 15:33).
At an early age children should be given domestic responsibilities. For some of these tasks a small stipend might be paid, and the youngsters could be taught to budget and manage their resources. Many young people these days honestly do not know how to govern their finances. They spend and charge as if they possessed an unlimited source of revenue. If youngsters are to be useful servants in the Lord’s kingdom, they must learn how to be good stewards of those possessions with which the Creator has entrusted them.
Clearly, the most neglected dimension of human development is that of spiritual growth. It is an incredible phenomenon that so many parents—who are anxious about their children’s intellectual, physical, and social welfare—are so flagrantly careless about religious and moral maturity. Fathers and mothers will pressure their youngsters to make good grades, but will never raise a question about Bible-study habits. Many parents, who have strict rules about school attendance, dating, etc., permit their children to make their own decisions about whether to attend worship services or not. Young people are rarely seen during gospel meetings. Such attitudes will produce a devastating effect in the church of the future.
Parents should cultivate early within their children a love for the Bible and God’s authority in their lives. Every child ought to memorize the names of the books of the Bible, the major periods of biblical history, etc. Key passages should be committed to memory. Good Bible-study libraries ought to adorn every home. The work and welfare of the kingdom of Christ should be a matter of daily family conversation. Church services should not be missed for trivial reasons (e.g., sporting events, family vacations, etc.). Children ought to be taught that Christianity is the most important thing in life (Matthew 6:33).
The ultimate issue is this: what good will it have done to provide one’s children with physical well-being, brilliant minds, and social graces if they are ultimately lost? Parents need to reflect upon the example left by young Jesus, and direct their own offspring in a similar course of living.