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. 1 Cor. 13:11
It is clear here that Paul is referring to two states of his spiritual life. In other words, both these experiences occurred during his life as a believer.
There was a time, Paul says, when he lived a childish spiritual life. No doubt he was referring to the time when he ‘served’ God under the law. This was the time when his heart was so twisted that he went about persecuting and destroying the church, the heart of the very God he thought he was serving.
Spiritual childishness brings these things into our lives. The works of the flesh are evident in our lives when we are living in this state.
So, what brought about the change? What was it that transformed Paul from being “a child” to being “a man” spiritually? What removed the spirit of war in him and turned him into the world’s biggest punching bag? Was it the passage of time that changed Paul? Hardly. There are people who live thirty, forty years in salvation and they are still spiritual babes.
What transformed Paul is the gospel that he received. The Bible says that Paul received a revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12). This gospel of the revelation of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) nurtured Paul and brought him to a state of spiritual maturity.
There are many gospels to be found within the Body of Christ, but not all are edifying. Not all build up the inner man of the spirit. Today, the gospels that are most popular with believers are those that talk of material blessings, healing, and so-called generational curses. But these gospels bring no growth to the inner man of the spirit. They do not address the problem of the old man of the flesh.
That is why with Paul there was only one gospel: the gospel of the cross. He tells the Corinthians:
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)
“Them that perish” here refers to believers. Paul was addressing the saved Corinthians here. And he was telling them that they needed to hear and steadfastly cleave to the gospel that would continually crucify the lusts of the flesh in their lives – “the preaching of the cross”! Otherwise, Paul warned, they would perish spiritually.
Why would they perish spiritually? It is because they would remain “babes” forever. Spiritual “babes” will never get to see God, neither in this world, nor in the next, for it is written:
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Mat. 5:8)
Spiritual “babes” cannot preserve a pure heart. Their hearts are easily muddied.
This is the reason God wants us to go on to spiritual maturity.
Probably, upon seeing the great works that the Holy Spirit worked in their midst, the Corinthians thought that this was the true power of God. But Paul wanted them to know that the gospel was more powerful than just working miracles. The true power of the gospel was to be found in its ability to transform the inner man through the working of the cross in the heart of man.
If all you ever know about the cross is that Christ died for your sins, you will never grow to maturity. You will remain unaware of the deep work that needs to happen in your heart through the Spirit. But if you arrive at the revelation of what the cross of Jesus Christ is meant to accomplish in your life, that revelation, or gospel has the power to bring you to spiritual maturity.
That is why all the gospel we need to hear preached is “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”.
Paul therefore says that when he was a child, he spoke as a child, he understood as a child, and he thought as a child. He is talking about his spiritual walk. During the time that Paul’s spirit was nurtured by a different gospel – the gospel of the law – Paul lived a childish spiritual life. Then, hatred, anger and bitterness ruled his heart.
Let us consider the importance of the fact that Paul wrote the scripture we are discussing as the conclusion to his famous teaching on love. What has becoming “a man” got to do with love?
It is because now, on becoming “a man” spiritually, Paul’s heart is no longer ruled by the weak elements of the carnal man. Now his heart is ruled by the powerful attributes of the Holy Spirit: love, patience and forgiveness.
Romans 13:10 says,
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Love is the perfect fulfilling of God’s holy law. We fulfill God’s law by working no ill to our neighbor. In order for that to happen, we have to crucify the lusts of the flesh. Only through this can we learn to forgive, to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. That is what it is to work no ill to our neighbor.
Of all the things that abide – faith, hope and charity – “the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Cor. 13:13)
And Jesus taught:
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13)
Obviously, you can love and love. But the greatest form of love, as we see from Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings, is the laying down of one’s life for another.
The gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ teaches us to do just that.
[Below: The thought processes and actions of a child are vastly different from an adult’s]