I Corinthians 13:11, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
This morning, there are benefits and drawbacks to each stage of life. One of the benefits of youth is the vitality and energy that accompanies it. Yet, far too often that energy is "wasted on the young" since they do not have a good knowledge base to draw from when using it. On the other hand, the aged many times have the wisdom that comes from years of experience but very little energy left to accompany the increased knowledge and temperance. Yet, one difference between the young and aged is undeniable from Scripture: they do think differently. When you were young, did you ever say you would not end up like your parents? As you grew older, they seemed to get smarter until you might consider it an honour to be even half of what they were. What changed? Some cases might have the parents changing with age (becoming more mature themselves), but so many times, the change comes when the children grow into adults to see just "why" their parents did most of the things that they did.
As Paul comes to our study verse in the midst of the "love chapter" of the Bible, we could draw many different points out from it, but there is really only one that we desire to investigate this morning. Considering the context of this passage, what is the subject under consideration? The entire division is devoted to a discussion of charity (love in action), and as Paul winds the discussion down, he points to a day when charity will be all that remains world without end. To illustrate that point, Paul shows the difference between childish and manly thinking. While some of the thoughts from childhood carry over, many do not make it into adulthood. Likewise, we know some things now about the world to come, but many things will not carry over when our change comes.
As the years pass by and I grow increasingly older (though still not old by many people's estimation), the more I see our culture being overrun by "overgrown children." While their chronology indicates adulthood, their thinking indicates childishness. Even though some aspects of childhood should be kept as we grow older – such as not holding grudges (I Corinthians 14:20) – there are many things that our thinking should change about when developing into adults. As the maturing process takes place, we need to see things in a more developed and thoughtful way, rather than taking the rash and impulsive knee-jerk that seems to be the child's way of rationalizing and deducing things.
Yet, in keeping with the subject of the passage, what about charity needs development in our minds as we grow older? Whether in speaking, thinking, or understanding (Paul lists all three), we need to put away what a child thinks about love in action. How does a child view the subject of love? How do they act on it? While there are cases and examples of children that showed great love and were more the "exception than the rule," we will confine these thoughts to the general principle of the matter. Most children fall into the "puppy dog love" syndrome. Their idea of love equates to the feeling one gets when they hold their first puppy or pet.
While those emotions and feelings are certainly special, that is still a childish understanding of love. Most marriages today seem to fail because people just "don't feel like they did before." Since the feeling is gone, the marriage dissolves. Friends, love – and more especially charity – equates to more than a feeling that is similar to puppy love, yet so many adults today have not put away childish things in that matter. If the feeling departs for a season, a man should understand that love is more than some feeling but a deep-rooted commitment that demands sacrifices in our lives.
Another aspect of childish love is the short-term nature of it. Everything with children seems to be short-term. They get sick quickly. They get well quickly. They get mad in a hurry, but they can make up in a hurry. Sometimes, those "lovey feelings" are the same. How often does a child become bored with a new toy or go from one thing to the next? Childish romances at school sometimes last a day or a week. Someone they could not live without yesterday, they will totally forget about tomorrow. Should our love and charity be such in our homes, marriages, churches, communities, etc? Perish the thought!
One last aspect of childish love before we talk about manly things is that children sometimes sacrifice their morals for "love or affection." How quickly will a child lie to fit in with the crowd? How often will they do something they know to be wrong just to please the girl of their affection? Too many times, childish thinking about affection takes a turn for bad judgment, particularly in the discernment between right and wrong. Again, should this kind of behaviour affect us as adults in the world in which we live?
There is a great danger in thinking that love is a feeling, when that could best be described as being "in love." One thing that I tell couples before I perform a wedding ceremony is that there will be days when they do not feel "in love" with one another. Yet, the vows taken in marriage mean more than the "in love" feeling. The commitment to sacrifice for each other (charity) should mean more than how they feel today. That is manly or grownup thinking that comes with wisdom, seasoning, and maturity. As the marriage pillars seem to crumble in the world today, too many times the reason is that "adult children" are treating their marriage like childish crushes on the playground. Charity demands more deep and grounded commitment than that.
Likewise, there is a great danger when every little problem in a marriage, family, church, etc leads to such an offense that ties are severed. When couples in a marriage fight, that should not immediately signal the end of the marriage, nor should a disagreement in the church fellowship immediately signal severance of fellowship ties. Marriages should be till death do us part, and even heretical thinking deserves two admonitions. Yet, the childish way is to immediately get mad at one another and not talk to one another. The adult thing to do is come together, reason with one another, and seek to arrive at the truth of the situation.
And, as seems so rampant today, childish adults are allowing their immature thinking to cloud the "right vs. wrong" line much like children trying to please each other. Love cannot be shown in a relationship that the Lord calls abominable (homosexuality); love cannot be the reason that marriages fall apart (even though someone may claim to have found their soulmate in someone else). Love cannot be shown by allowing error through the door of churches in the name of "love and peace." Rather, love can be shown in how we deal with any of these situations, but love cannot be shown in those actions themselves. The first is a clear-cut case of unnatural affection, the second is a case of excuse for lustful desire outside of the marriage, and the last is a case of tender cowardice. Love is neither harsh nor cowardly, but in action (charity) is bold to withstand iniquity, but also patient to avoid trouble.
Considering the ultimate example of Charity in our Lord Jesus Christ, He never condoned or excused sin or error, yet He was merciful to those so undeserving of it. While the childish way likes to excuse wrong, He never did. While the childish way does not hold on to things very long, He holds us eternally in His arms. While the childish way acts upon feeling, He acted upon the good pleasure of His will and purpose to fulfill all that He intended to, even when the arrows of pain and death were upon Him. Certainly, the feeling of "puppy dog love" was not apparent on Calvary, particularly with Him feeling what we should have felt, but that never dampened His love for us in the slightest. Therefore, may our thoughts of love, acts of charity, and understanding on the subject be rooted in the commitment and constancy of it, the true source of it, and the moral discernment that comes with it.