“Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.” (1 Corinthians 14:20)
Mature Thinking, Infused with Love
This quote from Paul comes in the context of him talking about how some in theCorinthian community were using the gift of speaking in tongues in ways that did not benefit the community. As Paul says in verse 17, “For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up.”
And Paul is not talking about thinking or the intellect as the be-all or end-all. No one could write the “love chapter” - 1 Corinthians 13 - which comes right before this, and conclude “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” and think that our thinking is the most important thing. Paul is simply saying that we must be mature in our thinking. We must think through our actions and discern if what we are doing and saying is contributing to the common good.
He also says that we should be “infants in evil.” (verse 20, above) In other words, do as little harm as possible! What I extract from this for myself is this: “Peter, pay attention to your words... pay attention to your actions. Are they loving? Are they building up others? Or are they violent in some way? I.e., Are your actions and words damaging others or tearing others down?”
After his conversion to Christ, Paul spilled a good bit of ink writing about living “in Christ” and “in the Spirit”, and he reinforced this by talking about how we should honor and love each other, and how we are called to work for the common good. Consider this line: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7) These three chapters in 1 Corinthians - chapters 12-14 - are about spiritual gifts. And the chapter about love is right in the middle of these chapters! The Corinthians had been misusing the gifts that God had given them to exclude themselves from others, to separate themselves from others... and Paul was calling them on it! They were not acting in love.
Our thinking, our speaking, our actions - if we are following Jesus - are to be infused with love. I often see the effects of my speech and my actions. Sometimes I miss the mark. Sometime I do damage and hurt someone. I am then called to apologize to the person I have hurt, and do whatever I need to do to be reconciled. (This includes asking God’s forgiveness, too.) This is the way of Spirit. This is the way of Christ. This is part of our calling - to be mature in our thinking and in our actions.
That maturity comes when we abide in Christ. Sometimes I do not demonstrate Christian maturity. To quote Paul, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal... and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2b)
On the other hand, we always reclaim our something-ness... our beloved-ness in Christ... when we love. No one who loves is a nothing or a nobody!