You Can Develop Emotional Maturity
To really be mature, you need more than an adult-size body.
How mature are you? That question applies in several different ways. Physically, maturing comes automatically as you get older. Mentally, you mature by developing and educating your mind through various classes and work. Spiritually, you mature by praying and studying the Bible each day and applying scriptural lessons to your daily life.
But if you are like many people—even full-grown adults into their old age—you might be in your “infancy” in emotional maturity! We all have a lot to learn about our emotions. But God gives us the tools to master these powerful, sometimes mysterious forces.
The Origin of Emotion
God created everything good in the universe (James 1:17). Did He create emotions?
1. Does God Himself experience emotions? Does God have joy? Psalm 16:11; Matthew 25:21; Luke 15:10. Does He get angry? Does He get jealous? Deuteronomy 4:24; 32:19-22; Psalm 7:11; Jeremiah 30:24; Nahum 1:2, 6.
2. Does God love? Romans 8:38-39; 1 John 3:1; 4:8-9, 16. Does He hate? Psalm 5:5-6; 11:5; 45:7.
3. Does God experience grief and sorrow? Genesis 6:6; Psalm 78:40; Isaiah 53:3; John 11:35; Hebrews 3:10. Does He feel compassion? Matthew 9:35-36.
The Bible shows that God experiences many profound states of mind that we associate with deep emotion—both positive and negative. Certain things delight Him, and others upset Him. God is composed of spirit (John 4:24), so He does not undergo the physiological changes that occur within your body when you get emotional (e.g. tears, stomach churning, face turning red). But He does think and feel deeply.
4. Did God create human beings to be like Himself? Genesis 1:26-27.
These verses show that God created humans in His image and likeness. We look like God, and we even possess mental capabilities to reason and to think creatively, as God does. God also gave us the power to feel. He gave us emotions so we can experience joy and love; we can have deep relationships; we can also experience anger, jealousy, fear—a variety of emotions.
If we channel our emotions to respond the way God does, we actually learn to think like God! This is the essence of emotional maturity—to delight in the same things God delights in, and to get upset over the same things that upset Him. That is a lot more difficult than it sounds! Not only must we learn what moves God, but we must then discipline our thoughts to match. Developing this emotional mastery, however, produces God-like action and brings countless blessings, as we will see.
Where Negative Emotional Pressure Comes From
Emotion is a two-edged sword. When we wield it improperly, it can cause terrible injury in our lives.
1. The Bible reveals the existence of an evil being called Satan the devil. What is one of his names? Ephesians 2:2.
Herbert W. Armstrong explained what it means that Satan is the “prince of the power of the air”: “Satan broadcasts! He broadcasts worldwide—as far as there is air. … He does not broadcast in words or pictures—neither audibly nor in video—but in attitudes of self-centeredness, of vanity, lust and greed, of jealousy and envy, of competition, strife and violence, of hate, resentment, bitterness, of rebellion and resentment against authority” (Good News, August 1978). One of the main ways the devil tries to influence you is through your emotions!
Ephesians 2:2 shows that Satan’s evil spirit works in people. Satan causes our lack of emotional control! Let’s look at a scriptural example.
2. At the beginning of mankind, the devil (in the form of a serpent—see Revelation 12:9) tempted Eve. What techniques did he use? Genesis 3:1-5.
Satan lied and insinuated his way into Eve’s mind. How? By working on her emotions! He appealed to her vanity, her self-importance, her desire for independence, “rights” and “freedoms.”
3. Did Adam and Eve do what felt right? Verse 6.
This was an emotional decision, not a rational one. The fruit looked good to Eve—it seemed okay—she desired it, even though God had specifically told her to avoid it. Adam and Eve did not consider the pros and cons of this decision, based on God’s instruction, and then carry out the wisest choice—they acted upon their emotional desires.
Isn’t that what we do so much of the time? Like Adam and Eve, we feel, therefore we act.
We must learn to master those feelings and emotions. If we don’t, we are enslaved by them. To avoid this trap, we need to replace wrong thoughts and emotions with appropriate ones.
The Link to Law Keeping
How can you know whether a particular thought or emotion is “appropriate” or not? Is that open to each person’s individual interpretation, or are there absolutes?
The entire universe is governed by law. Physical laws such as gravity and inertia govern physical matters. Likewise, relationships among people, and between God and people, are governed by spiritual law—which is summed up in the Ten Commandments. God is the Creator of both physical and spiritual law (James 4:12).
1. Some people say God’s law is harmful or bad for us. What does the Bible say? Romans 7:12.
2. Does keeping God’s law make you happy? Psalm 19:7-11; 119:14, 111; Proverbs 13:9; 29:6. If you love God’s law, will you have peace in your life? Psalm 119:165.
This is a vital principle to remember in life. God gave His law to teach us how to become happy. God’s law is absolute. Problems between people are a product of broken spiritual law, a result of wrong spiritual attitudes in one or both individuals. In other words, emotional problems are generally spiritual in nature! They are caused by sin and often result in greater sin.
Consider the example of Cain in Genesis 4.
3. Scripture indicates that Cain was nurturing wrong spiritual attitudes toward his brother. How did this impact his emotions? Genesis 4:5. What did Cain’s poisonous spiritual attitude result in? Verse 8. But before that happened, what advice did God give him? Verse 7.
The end of verse 5 in the Moffatt translation reads, “Cain was furious and downcast”—he looked sad and depressed. Moffatt translates verse 7, “If your heart is honest, you would surely look bright? If you are sullen, sin is lying in wait for you, eager to be at you—yet you ought to master it.” Cain’s attitude, caused by lack of emotional control, was directly leading to sin. The more he dwelled on his negative thoughts, the more emotionally out of balance he became. If he had mastered his thoughts and emotions, he would have prevented the sin of murder.
Emotional control is tightly linked to law keeping. Mr. Armstrong defined emotional maturity as the “technical art of putting into practice the Ten Commandments. It is the real secret to human happiness.” Another author defined it, “Development from the state of taking to the state of giving.” It is living God’s way of give.
God’s law is a reflection of how He thinks. We can trust God implicitly: Breaking His law handicaps us emotionally; obeying the letter and spirit of His law gives us peace of mind, joy, satisfaction—positive, godly emotions.
Some Practical Advice
1. What does God say of the person who cannot control his anger? Ecclesiastes 7:9; Proverbs 14:17. What about the person who can control his anger? Proverbs 14:29; 15:18.
The phrase “hasty of spirit” in Proverbs 14:29 means quick-tempered.
2. If you know someone who gets angry easily, what advice does God give you? Proverbs 22:24-25.
3. What does God say to people who tend to blurt out their anger whenever they are upset with someone? James 1:19-20.
4. We saw earlier that God gets angry. But does He follow His own advice? Joel 2:13; Nahum 1:3. Does He hold on to His anger for long periods of time? Psalm 30:4-5.
5. We saw earlier that God loves. What is God’s definition of love? Romans 13:10; 1 John 5:3. What are some specific ways God’s love is exhibited? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
These are wonderfully valuable passages of Scripture that can help you distinguish true, abiding love from the shallow, selfish type of love that many people are absorbed in. What many people think of as love is actually little more than sexual lust. These verses show that God’s love is actually not an emotion—though it may be expressed with emotional content. God’s love is reflected in actions, not in feelings. His love is entirely unselfish—it benefits the other person more than self. And it never runs contrary to His law. We must strive for a level of maturity where we never allow our emotions to drive us outside the bounds of God’s law. Ideally, our emotions should impassion us to more perfectly keep God’s law.
6. Does God want us to enjoy life? To have pleasures? Psalm 36:7-8. Does He want us to rejoice? 1 Thessalonians 5:16; 1 John 1:4.
As we said before, God gave His law to teach us how to be happy. He doesn’t give commandments simply because He enjoys bossing people around. His commands are expressions of His love! If we live the lifestyle God commands, we will receive blessings, rewards and happiness!
God wants us to have emotions. He wants us to cultivate godly emotion. He wants us to fear Him properly. He wants us to hate evil. He wants us to get angry at sin. He wants us to grieve at appropriate times. He wants us to have full joy! When we develop these emotions, we are learning to think like God.
Satan also wants us to have emotions. He wants us to let them go out of control. He wants us to fear other people. He wants us to hate other people. He wants us to get angry quickly and hang on to that anger for days or weeks. He wants us to grieve over ourselves. He wants us to rejoice over other people’s failures.
This battle is going on in your mind!
Evaluate your own life. Learn, practice and grow in emotional maturity, and improve your life!