Our minds are amazing things. Starting at birth, we process countless impressions from our environment and the influential people in our life—parents, family members, teachers, and friends. All this input, whether positive or negative, helps shape our personality, thoughts, reasoning, and behavior. As we grow physically, we should also progress in regard to emotional and spiritual maturity, but sometimes we get stuck in childish thinking and conduct.
First Corinthians 13:4-13 has been referred to as “a hymn of love,” “a lyrical interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount,” and “the Beatitudes set to music.” It provides much-needed balance in a book that addresses many problems in the early church.
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 13:8-11.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? ... Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
Some of the Corinthian believers had failed to grow up spiritually. They were plagued with factions, consumed with protecting their “rights,” and overly impressed by the more sensational spiritual gift of tongues. They could handle only the elementary principles of Scripture—what Paul called “milk”—because they weren’t mature enough to accept and understand the weightier teachings of God’s Word.
Some scholars apply the word país to a son or daughter up to 20 years of age (the age of “complete adulthood” in Scripture). The word emphasizes that a child is to remain under strict supervision as he or she grows in faith.
The Greek of the New Testament has two different words that refer to childhood:
Paidion refers to childhood in a normal and healthy sense. Our terms Pediatrics and pediatrician are derived from this root word. The term is also used in Matthew 18:3 when Jesus says, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” We should never outgrow the childlike qualities of humility, faith, acceptance, and openness.
Népios, on the other hand, refers to unhealthy or abnormal development, whereby a child remains in a state of protracted infancy. When applied emotionally or spiritually to an adult, we describe that person as immature or childish. In 1 Corinthians 3:1, Paul used this word to describe some of the believers in Corinth.
Paul’s mention of childish things in the middle of his great chapter on love (1 Cor. 13) may at first glance seem out of place, but it isn’t. The characteristics and behaviors exemplifying agape love require a certain level of emotional and spiritual maturity that cannot be reached if we are childishly self-centered.
Another Greek word—teknion—is also used to refer to children. However, it contains a level of affection not associated with the other two. It can also mean “darling” and “disciples.”
In verses 8-13 of that same chapter, Paul explains that certain things which are essential and useful today in the Christian life will be rendered inoperative when the perfect comes—our life in heaven. The same is true of our former sinful thought and behavior patterns. They may have seemed useful before we knew Jesus, but now they are unsuitable.
Paul says we are to “do away” with them. In the Greek, this is the word katergeó, which means “to render inactive, abolish.” Just as the toys we enjoyed as toddlers have been laid aside and are no longer used, so now our old sinful ways of life should hold no attraction for us. We cannot allow them to shape our thoughts and conduct, because we have a new life in Christ that is selfless and righteous. It’s this new nature that enables us to love others as we should.
Have you identified any sinful attitudes and patterns that remain in your life? What is keeping you from laying them aside?
How has Scripture renewed and changed the way you think and behave? How has this increased your ability to love others?