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In Evil Be Babes

“Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature” (1Cor. 14:20).  This exhortation to maturity was given in the midst of a context in which Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth about the proper use of spiritual gifts.  This theme of maturity is present throughout Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, for these brethren were spiritually immature and divisive (see 1Cor. 1:10-13; 2:6; 3:1-4).  One way that the Corinthians demonstrated their immaturity was by using their spiritual gifts for their individual glorification rather than for the mutual edification of one another.  Paul exhorted them to be mature not only in the use of their spiritual gifts, but also in the way they thought about all things.

Let us consider the biblical meaning of the word translated as “mature” in 1Corinthians 14:20.  This word means “brought to its end, finished,” and it is variously translated as “perfect,” “complete,” “mature,” and “of full age” in English translations of the Scriptures.  It is used in the Bible to describe God (Matt. 5:48), the will of God (Rom. 12:2), knowledge and prophecy (1Cor. 13:9-10), spiritually-minded Christians (1Cor. 2:6; Eph. 4:13; Phil. 3:5; Col. 1:28; 4:12; Heb. 5:14; Jas. 1:4; 3:2), heaven (Heb. 9:11), the blessings of God (Jas. 1:17), the law of God (Jas. 1:25), and love (1John 4:18).  By association with these persons and things, we can see the goodness of maturity in the biblical sense.

In our modern culture, the word “mature” does not always carry the biblical meaning.  Certainly, Christians should think of maturity in the biblical sense of being spiritually-minded, but not everyone thinks this way.  Many times the word “mature” is used to simply mean “full grown” in the physical sense.  Other times the word “mature” is given a perverse meaning to indicate indecency, filth, and profanity.  So-called mature or adult movies, books, and television programs portray and communicate messages that are contrary to the goodness and purity of the Christian faith of the Bible.  In the biblical sense, such material is not fit for mature persons (Eph. 5:4).  Overall, the worldly idea of maturity is simply a high level of worldliness.  Those who subscribe to this carnal sense of maturity often view spiritually mature people as naïve, old-fashioned, and uneducated.

These contradictory and competing concepts of maturity truly embody the struggle between good and evil.  God works to make us mature, complete, and perfect in that which is good, pure, and righteous.  Conversely, Satan works to make us mature, complete, and perfect in that which is evil, corrupt, and sinful.  Unfortunately, the world has embraced Satan’s version of maturity, and the result is a world of carnally-minded adults who behave as spiritual children.

Carnally-minded people may be confused on the issue of true maturity, but the Scriptures give us clarity on the matter.  Notice again that Paul said, “Do not be children in your thinking…”  A carnally-minded person might think that he is not childish in his thinking because he has abandoned child-like innocence, purity, and humility in favor of worldly experiences, corrupted thoughts, and selfish pride.  However, the Scriptures actually commend child-like innocence, purity, and humility, for the Lord said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).  To this end, Paul went on to say in 1Corinthians 14:20, “…yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature.”  Firsthand knowledge and experience in evil does not make a person mature.  Instead, spiritual thinking and godliness makes a person mature, complete, and whole in Jesus Christ.

Sadly, the backwards notions of worldly maturity have infiltrated many lives, and children are often the most affected.  It is often said that children grow up faster today than they did in the past, but the truth is that today’s children are simply being exposed to evil earlier and to a greater degree than children of the past.  It is utterly shameful that parents have allowed their children to be corrupted by unguarded exposure to immorality, profanity, and ungodliness of all kinds.  This does not teach maturity, but rather it leads to worldliness.  In fact, today’s children are decidedly less mature than children of the past, for while they are being corrupted early, they are not learning the good lessons that their grandparents and great-grandparents learned.  This is evident in many young adults who have no sense of righteousness or responsibility.  They know all about the ways of the world, but they know nothing of the Lord.  Their godless upbringing has taught them to indulge their selfish, worldly desires and “sow their wild oats,” but they have no appetite for righteousness and God’s kingdom.

For the sake of our children and for our own sake, we all need to heed the exhortation: “Do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature.”  Thankfully, through Jesus Christ we can all comply with God’s will and be mature in our thinking while being babes in evil.  We know this is possible, for the Corinthian Christians were as experienced in evil as anyone could be (see 1Cor. 6:9-11), and yet they could be made as innocent as babes and as mature as elders through Christ Jesus.  If it was possible for them, then it is also possible for us.

Stacey E. Durham



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