When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. (1 Cor 13:11)
There are some who see the allusion of speaking like children as being a criticism of tongues. I have heard preachers who use this verse to disparage tongues as being nothing more than the vain babbling of children. But that is not what Paul is meaning here. Paul is not disparaging the gift of speak in tongues. Paul himself firmly believes in it. He wishes all would speak in tongues. He is merely putting the use of tongues and prophetic words in the context of our future understanding. When we become mature in heaven; when in the end we see face to face and we know just as we are known, then tongues will seem like the babbling of children. Our insights gained through prophetic words and other gifts will seem so cloudy and short of the mark compared with the clarity that will come then. The one who “understands all mysteries” this side of heaven, in comparison with the enlightenment and understandings of glorified saints, who are in the highest form and class of understanding, seem like children in understanding; it is in the other world.
Yes clearly, in that context tongues would be superfluous. There will be no need of a word of knowledge, we will all know totally. No need of a word of wisdom, no need for worldly wisdom of any kind. We will “know” at a level far beyond the wisdom of Solomon. We will know with the wisdom of God, which is the knowledge by which we are known by Him. By that measure will we also know. Now that is impressive. Many of the manifestion gifts are to do with knowing a Word from God, insight or understanding which helps us in our direction setting, decision making skills, discerning the right thing to do, knowing His will. The word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, prophecy, discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues are all in that category. When we know as God knows, when we are face to face with Him, why would we need those gifts any longer. We only require them while we are on this side of the border.
Paul is not saying we put away childish things when we become mature, therefore we put away tongues when we are mature. This is an argument the “mature theory” proponents use. I have heard people refer to tongues as babbling because of this thinking. When compared with our understanding then a gift like the gift of tongues will seem so trite and insignificant. Paul is actually comparing the glories of heaven and the understanding we will have in “the age to come” with the immaturity and childishness of the present age. Especially so in the light of the factionalism and squabbling that characterized the Corinthian church.
The word used for “child” in this passage is νήπιος [nēpios] which refers to a baby, an infant. It is not referring to the older age child, the one who is beginning to discuss concepts or share feelings. This is the baby or infant who is just beginning to use the ability to speak, the one whose sentences and thoughts are incomplete. The baby who can’t express themselves given their limit of language and the lack ability to think cognitively. That is what we are like compared with heaven. We will look back in wonder and awe at the difference and more especially at our ignorance during a time we thought we were so smart.
Even with all these manifestation gifts the Lord has given, even given the clarity we think we have when God has spoken so clearly through a prophecy or word of knowledge or after the use of our gift of tongues, it will seem so insignificant and trite by comparison. The insight that these God given gifts bring are only glimpses of clarity on the total panorama of enlightenment. Like the grandeur of a majestic landscape spread before us around 360 degrees and we have a tiny instamatic camera to capture the grandeur. The true, accurate, insights we receive with the use of the gifts are reduced to insignificance on wider stage of God’s perspective and knowledge of what is true.
[Ian’s Editorial Note: I have not separated verses 11 and 12 because they are different thoughts. They actually go together in parallelism saying the same thing. I separated them because there is much to comment on them behind the scene. I couldn’t fit it all into one Gemz]
When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of being thought childish. CS Lewis
Don’t be worried about being thought childish in the light of greater wisdom – we are. Enjoy the freedom of exploring new thoughts.
Sometimes I think I understand everything, and then I regain consciousness.