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Thursday, November 03, 2011

When I Was a Child

When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things (1 Cor 13:11).
I read this the other day and it struck me that I'd never thought about Paul's use of words here. "When I was a child," he begins, and then lists three categories of contrasting childhood and manhood -- speak, think, and reason. Why these three?

The first would appear to on the surface to be a contrast with the earlier statement: "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels ..." (1 Cor 13:1). I'm sure that's in there. But what does it mean to "speak as a child"? Well, I'm pretty sure it doesn't mean baby talk. It would be broader than that. "When I was a child, I expressed myself as a child." Children express themselves with immaturity. They use euphemisms, incorrect words, crude language for humor. Being undeveloped in their thinking, their expressions are undeveloped. Their communications are inaccurate and incomplete. A man, then, in Paul's metaphor would produce a more careful expression. He would avoid the crude, express the truth in a clear manner, work on communication that correctly and completely expresses what he intends to express.

The second is again a call back to an earlier reference. "If I ... know all mysteries and all knowledge ..." (1 Cor 13:2). The word here means to exercise the mind. It is the same term that Paul uses in Colossians when he says, "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth" (Col 3:2). It includes understanding as well as affections. In these terms, then, how does a child think? A child thinks purely on the surface. There is no depth, no examination, no due diligence. Children don't typically think beyond the immediate. They don't analyze the practicality. They don't think things through. The "here and now", the concept of immediate gratification, the primary aim of self-satisfaction, these are primary components of childish thinking. By contrast, then, a "man" would have a different level of thinking. He would seek to know what lies beneath the surface. He would go deeper with his understanding. He would consider practical applications. He would think beyond the immediate, accept the principle of delayed gratification, and set aside self-gratification for the benefit of others.

The third, "reason as a child", doesn't have a "call back" from an earlier verse. Beyond that, it would appear to merely be a duplication. Isn't "thinking" the same as "reasoning"? Well, not quite. The Greek word here is logizomai. I'm sure you can see the connection to "logic". It's root is logos, which is the complete expression of thought. It means to reason or to take an inventory. So, how does a child reason? In their reasoning, children tend to be nonlinear. They don't think a concept through. Their conclusions are not guided by carefully thinking down a line of logic. They rarely deduce anything. They choose to do what they want to do not because it makes sense, but because they want to. Children tend to reason only to the next step, where adults can think beyond the next step to come to reasonable outcomes without actually taking intermediate steps. Their reasoning is more emotional and less rational. In contrast, then, an adult would reason in a more logical manner. He would examine ideas more carefully, think them through more fully, locate and eliminate errors before getting to the conclusions.

As it turns out, then, the three are distinct but not at all separate. Reasoning produces understanding. Understanding produces expression. Children do not reason carefully, coming to faulty thinking and understanding, resulting in improper or incomplete expression. And an adult is supposed to reason to a proper understanding that gets expressed in a clear manner.

There is a lot that goes into being a "child" as opposed to being a "man" (adult). In today's society, of course, we are encouraged to think less like adults and more like children. In American culture, the really wise ones are the kids. Then it's the women. Lowest on the chain of "wise" is the adult male. I would like to suggest that this is a childish expression brought about by childish understanding from childish reasoning. In a society that is personifying the Peter Pan Syndrome -- adults who never grow up -- the call for Christ's followers is to speak, think, and reason like an adult. We are called to be child-like in our faith without being childish in our thinking. It seems like a difficult line to walk. Fortunately, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

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