“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.” (NASB 1 Cor. 13:11)
We expect children to behave in certain ways—to talk, think, and reason like children. Childhood is marked by a particular way of talking and thinking. “I thought as a child,” said Paul. Children are basically selfish. They develop a “me first” attitude, and can even become quite greedy. As far as a child is concerned, the whole world revolves around him. He thinks only of himself, and wants immediate gratification. Due to a lack of discernment, children are not always aware of danger. He or she is easily influenced, and is extremely gullible.
Another characteristic displayed by children is shallowness. They have no capacity to understand the rights and feelings of others. Children are capable of having temper tantrums in which they scream and kick and fight, becoming quite aggressive when not getting their way. Children wear their emotions for everyone to see—good or bad (usually bad).
I never wake up today and find myself sucking furiously on my thumb. I don’t grab my bat and ball and stomp off in the middle of a softball game. I do, however, still lick the beaters after I make homemade icing. Especially if it’s peanut butter. Haven’t splashed through puddles for a very long time. Unfortunately, I still pick my nose. (What is it with that one?) Of course, this is not what Paul is talking about. He is saying we can listen to people who claim to have been Christians for years and yet they talk like a baby Christian. Immature speech in people who have been Christians for many years is to their shame, and Paul is challenging the believers over this. So immaturity in Christians is just like the painless pursuit of childhood, characterized by baby talk, selfishness, and shallowness.
Paul is saying we need to demonstrate the love of God through mature speech, selflessness, and discernment. As Christians, we need to love one another and put away childish things. Remember the attributes of true love, as outlined in 1 Corinthians 13? Love suffers long and is kind. It is not puffed up. It does not behave unseemly. Love does not seek its own. In other words, it is not selfish or childish. Paul illustrates this by talking about how children grow into their adult understandings. As children, they look at things in a childish manner, but when they grow up, they think about things with an adult mind. As we grow into our understanding of pure, agape love, we leave behind our old, less correct ideas and embrace a better understanding.
Ephesians 4:13-15 says, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [mature] man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That we henceforth be no more children . . . but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-15).
So in our “outward” relationships to God and to others, we are to be childlike (trusting and honest, not malicious), but not in our understanding. Regarding what we take “in” from the world, we need to be wise, not carried off or tricked by others. Note that this wariness is necessitated by the fallen state of men, who desire to deceive. Ephesians 4:14 says “That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” Know this: wariness is something that is generally lacking in children, as well as in unwise adults (a fact that is sadly taken advantage of by many).
In our view of life, we need to “put away childish things.” The one who believes in Jesus, has confessed Him before men. (Romans 10:9-10). He has turned from sin, and has been baptized into Christ for forgiveness of sin. (Acts 2:38). He can hope one day to be “clothed” with a new permanent body. (II Corinthians 5:1-4). When we face decay of the flesh, it is not a loss. It is a reminder that salvation lies nearer and nearer everyday. (Romans 13:11).
Sure, it is sad to put away the childish things that brought us temporary joy, but as Christians we must cling to the mature hope of those things which will bring eternal joy.
From the poem “When I Became a Man,” by Caleb Jones:
When I became a man
I learned to love my brother;
I’ll share my heart, my hug and my hallelujah
Because a hug and a hallelujah without my heart
Leaves room for his spirit to respond with “I never knew you;”
I became a man so that when he became a man
He would know a man
Who picked up the gospel and put the toys away.
When I became a man.