What Are Childish Things?

I often lament, in my private hours, that several second soundbites and images often trump truthful thinking any day of the week in the popular mind. Just imagine any Internet news you’ve seen lately, and when you take a cursory Googling to find out its veracity, you often find conflicting “facts” or the propagation of blatant falsehood. That goes for Christians as much as anything else. You always wonder what motivates someone to Photoshop something like this little jewel:

Childish Things

In many ways, I sympathize with the sentiment expressed here. Lots and lots of people playing video games surely doesn’t sound like a good thing. Many, many people locked into virtual entertainment for hours on end, with or without friends, appears a gigantic impediment to the work of the Church on earth. Since culture’s perception of video games still exists in its infancy, video games naturally find association with children, and thus we end up with use of 1 Corinthians 13:11.

Rather than, say, denigrate the person who made this in good faith (not so much the information cascade that affirms/denies its validity), let’s take a look at what the Apostle Paul actually says in this verse. In most anything, we need context to fully understand something, and without it we’re being quite disingenuous to the author, the person, and the text.

1 Corinthians 13 exists in the circumstance of the Corinthian church, which had gained quite a penchant for using the gift of tongues. In Paul’s view, the Church was, literally, over-using said gift, and emphasizing it to such a degree that they lacked something much greater: love. Special abilities and skill can prove a divider rather than a uniter, and we can probably assume those with “the gift” looked down upon those who didn’t. Human beings tend to create hierarchies even when they do not exist; who doesn’t love a little Aristotelian chain of being, am I right? Paul goes so far to make a rather striking rhetorical comparison:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body [a]to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

The word “nothing” here isn’t mincing with phrases; he means it in the sense of empty, worthless, and useless. Love overcomes all; if that’s not your motivation for using the gifts of the Spirit, specifically tongues, then the origin spoils the rest. Since God is Love (as we know from John’s epistles), then love must provide the primary motivation; the Holy Spirit operates on love, not on some human desires or wants. It makes sense, then, that Paul seeks to define love negatively as a direct message to the Corinthians themselves. If you don’t think this a subtle jab to the kind of behavior Paul saw there, then you give the Apostle too little credit:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; [b]bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…

Effectively, Paul places love above all other outward, spiritual gifts. You know the ones – the public ones, out in the open, for all to see. The comparison to Pharisees seems all too obvious – look at how spiritual I am, they say! Let us bash and clang the gongs of our own holiness so that everyone may see it! And yet they have their reward. Love isn’t grandstanding, but quiet humble submission. We could call it obedience, if you want to put the concept in more Christian language. We find that hard to take, I gather, and human nature dictates that we taint it at every opportunity. That’s precisely the reason why Paul proceeds to say that the spiritual gifts, really, will fade away – but love, that incorrigible grace of God, never will:

…but if there are gifts of [c]prophecy, they will be done away; if there aretongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I [d]became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror[e]dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I alsohave been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the [f]greatest of these is love.

The spiritual gifts, as described by Paul, were just that: vehicles for the Gospel. When they no longer find use, they will pass away in the face of God’s radiant, shining love. They were only ever means to the end. The Corinthians, we can gather, placed so much stock in such gifts as a sign of God’s favor and holiness that they missed the love – the whole point of the thing! If the gifts supersede love, then what good are they, really? That, then, is the context in which we see Paul call spiritual gifts “childish things” in light of love. They want to look grown up, but they were really just spiritual “children”, not mature disciples of Christ.

Given that, what does this have to do with video games? Clearly, the Apostle Paul couldn’t talk directly about video games (given that they didn’t exist), nor does this refer in any way to the games that children play in any context. Rather, the metaphor of “growing up” functions as a rhetorical device to show the lacking nature of spiritual gifts like tongues without love. That is, Christian immaturity means misuse of gifts and, more importantly, the loss of the greater purpose behind said gifts. Paul uses a similar metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3, referring directly to the Corinthians’ lack of maturity:

 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 [a]like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?

Again, we see a whole lot of pride, jealously, oneupsmanship, and all the immature nature of young congregants who, naturally, don’t know enough. This isn’t a bad thing! Discipleship takes time. But Paul knows, as well as you and I, that people must grow out of petty squabbles around who saves more people, or who is the better Christian. God is the one ultimate responsible for your success or failure.

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own [b]reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s [c]field, God’s building.

Thus, when Paul refers to the Corinthians as “childish” and tells them to put away “childish things”, he means spiritual immaturity. That should remain the locus of Paul’s statements here, not a vague notion towards what the greater culture at large sees as “childish” or “immature”. He means immaturity in God’s ways, not in the ways of man. Otherwise, Jesus’ statements would seem quite confusing! I choose Matthew 19 merely for its expanded nature, although Mark 10:13-16 or Luke 18:16 will do:

13 And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” 16 And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.

Children believe things very easily; in a way, they take every statement made by higher authorities (i.e., grown ups) on the basis of faith. They don’t know anything else, and thus they trust that those in authority know what is best, rather than trying to figure out every last detail. Jesus presents faith in that very light: a trusting that does not require “proof” or “evidence” to believe. Rather, you place your trust in a loving Father who, since He is Love itself, will do what He wills for the best. None of this is based on the worth of how people perceive anything as “childish”, or an arbitrary demarcation or what’s “mature” based on personal taste. Rather, the nature of children is the thing in question. We can also add that children were thought to be relatively worthless in antiquity, given their lack of strength and high infant mortality rates, so we could think of them as third-class citizens until they grew older. Jesus, rather than rejecting them, accepted the dregs of society and loved them deeply. There’s a whole lot going on here!

I think we can say, without any question, that this social media image really just tries to conflate a bunch of issues together in a rather baseless proof-text. “Childish things”, and the mention of children in general seems predominantly positive in a New Testament context. I’m sure it was made in good faith, but it does take blatantly rip a Scripture out of context. Unfortunately, my long text explanation just isn’t the medium or the desired information delivery vehicle of the day. C.S. Lewis put it best: those obsessed with what’s “adult” or “mature” really are not mature themselves.

“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.