Have you ever misheard song lyrics? Or maybe there was a line in a movie that you watched as a child where all the adults laughed and years later you rewatch that movie and finally realize why it is funny? I am referring to that moment when you finally "see" what was always right in front of you.
Growing up as an only child, my friends tended to be adults. I preferred the company of adults. The conversations were deeper. I could get answers to all my questions. And for someone that had established a twenty year plan by age 6, I chose to keep blinders on to anything that didn’t seem to concern me while priding myself on being mature beyond my years.
1 Corinthians 13:11 says, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me."
As a child and teenager, I read this as a literal demand that children must grow up and stop being naive and foolish. My sense of childhood wonder and simplicity gave way to overthinking and literal analysis in an effort to "grow up." But as I grew closer to God, I began to see and understand the importance of coming to Him like a curious child. And so for many years this verse seemed to contradict what Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:3, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
How can we become like little children as Jesus requests if Paul is then telling us to grow up and no longer think or act like a child?
In my “blindness" of taking Paul's words literally, I was unable to see that Paul was really using 1 Corinthians 13 as an illustration for the spiritual maturity in the church. Just like children, as we grow in spiritual maturity, our perspective changes. Or at least it should.
But too many times we get stuck. We focus too long and too hard on what others are doing or not doing. We focus on whether we will be recognized for our efforts. We focus so much on religion and how we think it should look that we completely miss the miracle of Jesus. We overthink the simple gospel because it seems too simple. We promote the flashy, the trendy and the popular in the hopes of attracting people and as a result we halt growth and damage the Kingdom.
Paul wrote this letter to the Church of Corinth in response to their overemphasis on certain talents and gifts and calls them worthless if not practiced with godly love. To focus on talents versus the fruits of the Spirit is still very much an issue in the church today.
Talents and gifts can be impressive. We can be moved by what our eyes see and our ears hear. But if used and promoted without self-sacrificing love for others, these gifts become meaningless, even destructive. Just like "a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal" our efforts are futile. Paul uses a total of fourteen verbs in 1 Corinthians 13 to describe what love does and does not do.
1 Corinthians 13 says:
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
Love is the foundation of teaching in this chapter of scripture. Simply to love. How would our church, our home, our communities be different if we simply chose to live out this verse as Paul described?
If you replaced the word “love” with your name today and re-read this chapter, would you be able to say you qualified for Paul’s definition of becoming “mature” before God? Give it a try…
I wouldn’t. I have grown in some areas, but others are still a struggle and a work in progress. But just like Paul in his illustration, as we choose to love and become more Kingdom focused versus staying self-focused, we move from a state of spiritual infancy and adolescence to spiritual maturity. Like a child finally understanding the actual lyrics of a song, we begin to see what really matters in the eyes of God.
Jesus instructs us in Matthew 22:37-40, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The precondition for spiritual growth (a cleansing of the spirit, soul, and body) is an active, persistent walk in love. It is a walking in faith that remains grounded in love. John 14:21 tells us, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
What is something you can do today to show love? Just like a muscle, the more we practice loving, the better we become at it. Choose to love. ❤️
God, thank You for loving me. Please teach me to love like You. Please help me not be limited by what my eyes see, but instead be transformed by Your word and spirit. Plant Your seed of love in my heart and help it to grow and produce visible fruit in my life. Help me to be a light in this dark world and help me to be more like You. Amen.