Giving Up Childish Ways

child in wagon
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways (1 Cor 13:11 ESV).

he ways of a child are very different from those of a mature adult. For example, children live in the present. They are impulsive and act without thinking about the ramifications of their actions. Adults, on the other hand, have learned to process information, weigh their options, and value the end result more than immediate gratification.

“Childish ways” are characteristics the apostle Paul fought to eliminate in the early church, and should not be present in our lives today. However, they frequently appear among us—behaviors such as selfishness, stubbornness, and boastfulness, as well as attitudes of extravagant entitlement and impatience. As mature Christians, these are the childish behaviors we must lay aside.

In 1 Corinthians 13, known as the great “love chapter” of the Bible, the apostle speaks of the change needed to move from spiritual childhood to adulthood. This transition can be observed in Paul’s own life. He moved from being “chief of sinners” (see 1 Tim 1:15) to a position where he was able “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge . . . filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19 ESV).

Nothing is born full-grown, but with nourishment, a seed will eventually grow to maturity. In the time of Paul, the citizens of Corinth had a reputation for being unruly, hard-drinking, and sexually promiscuous. Paul brought the good news of Jesus Christ to those citizens. The message of the Gospel was received, but the Corinthian believers still had lots of growing to do.

Growth is often imperceptible, and may only become evident in coincidental occurrences—one day, pant legs might suddenly be too short, or shoes do not fit. This is also true of spiritual growth. As we are nurtured by the Word, our responses and behaviors begin to show a new direction and maturity.

When one becomes a convert of Christ, he or she does not automatically become a person with impeccable morals and perfect thinking. This was also true for the Corinthians. Paul spent a year and a half teaching the converts how to live out a new life of salvation and holiness as a community of believers.

UnitedNot Divided

After Paul left to visit other churches and towns, the church at Corinth became seriously troubled. Factions developed among the believers. Sexual immorality become problematic. The church was crippled by the abuse of spiritual gifts.

There were men and women in the church prone to self-importance, boasting, greed, jealousy, lawsuits, and pride. Members tried to impress others with their gifts and abilities. There was no spiritual attitude of servanthood or of showing genuine concern for the hurting, discouraged, or needy in the church.

If the Corinthian church was to survive, there was a dire need for strong, mature, committed Christians. Christ-followers who were insightful and prudent in discernment were needed. Childish believers who never matured in their daily talk, their thinking, their actions, or their judgment would destroy this troubled, struggling church.

SelflessNot Selfish

The will of God for each of us is “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29 ESV). Our God-given purpose is to follow Jesus, who “came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28 ESV), not to do His own will, but to accomplish His Father’s will. Our primary purpose is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14 ESV). Paul calls us to put on the mind of Christ, who laid aside His rights and privileges, and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8 ESV).

Therefore, we must shed childish attitudes and behaviors in all our actions and reactions. However, replacing childish things to grow up into spiritual adulthood does not come naturally. King Solomon wrote, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Prov. 22:15 NKJV). We move away from foolishness when we intentionally work at employing the godly wisdom and self-control described in James 3:17: “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (NKJV).

When childish carnality pulls at us, we can confidently quote Paul’s powerful 10-word declaration of victory in Philippians 4:13.

Overcoming self-centeredness and moving into a Christ-centered life requires focused daily commitment. Paul denounced the self-centeredness that accompanies childishness in Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (ESV). We must daily die to ourselves so we may say with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Paul uses the metaphor of a runner to illustrate the call to self-control in our mission as Christ-followers and mature men and women of God: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step” (1 Cor. 9:24-26 NLT).

ChildlikeNot Childish

It is important not to confuse childlike faith with childish behavior. To be childlike is to be innocent, obedient, trustful, honest, and forgiving. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! Whoever then humbles himself like this little child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3-4 NET).

Therefore, it is imperative for us to be childlike in our attitudes toward God and in our treatment of one another, but to lay aside the childishness that does “so easily beset us” (see Heb. 12:1).

It is not difficult to recognize childish behavior in ourselves. The difficulty comes in finding the strength to change—to grow up—as Ephesians 4:13-14 says, to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (ESV).

If you are not growing as quickly as you would like, do not lose heart. We are at war with our flesh, and godly encouragement is hard to find. Much of today’s culture is narcissistic. Even our minds are carnal, pulling us to cultural conformity to the point of needing daily renewal. However, as we submit to God and resist the devil, we grow stronger. When childish carnality pulls at us, we can confidently quote Paul’s powerful 10-word declaration of victory: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13 NKJV).

God has given us His Word for our nurture and edification. He has given us prayer so we may come to Him with our frustrations, fears, and failings. He has given us membership in His body so we may grow with other like-minded believers in our local churches. These blessings help us in the difficult process of “growing up” into Christ.

We may fall, we may fail, but He never fails. Jesus has called you to be His. He will not fail to be by your side in all things. God will hold you up and guide you into maturity. Jesus has called you, and “he who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24 ESV).

J. David Stephens is second assistant general overseer for the Church of God.