The Sixth Sunday After Epiphany February 16, 2003
1 Corinthians 14:12-20
23, 448, 425, 50
Let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.
Dear friends in Christ:
“Oh, grow up!” Chances are that you have either had those words spoken to you, or have had opportunity to utter them yourself. Basically, we are thought to be in one of two camps: either mature or in need of maturity.
Age doesn’t necessarily determine maturity. You may find a very grown-up eight-year old, or you may come across a 50-year old who still acts like an adolescent. We would have to admit that both childhood and adulthood have their good traits. We can admire the wonderment in a child’s eyes as he views the simplest of things. We also can admire the maturity of a child to handle more and more situations.
Today we are encouraged by our Lord to GROW UP, but in the right areas. He wants us to be like a child when it comes to evil and malice, but to have spiritual maturity. We learn that this will take some work because it is exactly the opposite of the way that our sinful flesh desires to grow. May the Holy Spirit use His Word to mold us into mature Christians as we consider Growing up I. Not in evil, of which we are already too mature; but II. Rather in understanding of the spiritual.
If a person is called naive, this is generally not considered to be a good thing, but it can be. “However, in malice be babes.” In the evil that surrounds us it is better to be unaware, not informed, and without knowledge.
I grew up in what might be termed a fairly sheltered environment. I attended a Christian Day School from second grade throughout the rest of my education. When I was in sixth grade, my family moved across the country into a neighborhood that was really without children. Apart from our congregation I did not really know that many people. I can distinctly remember sitting in the dugout at a baseball game when I was about 12 or 13, and talking with another boy on the team. He was using all sorts of different terms (most of them sexual in nature), and I had no idea what he was talking about. I remember his laughter and the way in which he gleefully pointed out to the other boys that I didn’t know about this or that. I remember feeling about an inch tall because in what he was talking about I was very naive.
By nature we want to “fit in.” We want to be mature and understanding when it comes to evil. But again, when it comes to evil, God wants us to be babes.
In our confirmation instruction and Sunday School we will hear about certain sins. In the Bible God shows us the consequences for fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and murder. But these are not things upon which we dwell. We are by no means explicit in our instruction, but we do show our young people the difference between right and wrong. It is still for their benefit if they don’t have to witness these acts on TV, or read about it in books, or hear it on the playground. This is also proper for us as adults. We should not know the latest degradation of God’s will as it is displayed on The Bachelorette or Joe Millionaire, or be able to understand the dirty joke or the sexual innuendo. But we do. That’s what we keep pouring into our system because we don’t want to be left out.
There is a trap that persuades Christian parents to let their children be exposed to all sorts of foul stuff because “they’re going to find out about it eventually anyway.” I can’t say that God agrees with that philosophy. What value is found in exposing youngsters to nudity, gore, and foul language? What value do adults reap by exposing themselves to the very same thing? Perhaps because we’re adults we think that we are immune to the effects of indulging our sinful flesh.
Sin does not work like an immunization in which you receive a little bit of the smallpox disease and this teaches your body to build antibodies. Even a supposedly “controlled” exposure to sin is not beneficial. Rather than benefiting us, exposure to sin causes us to build up a tolerance for evil. The more we see of it, the more that we desensitize ourselves to it. Just as the longer you take ibuprofen the more you need in order for it to be effective, so also the more you are exposed to sin the more desensitized you become to it. Instead of being babes in malice, one becomes an expert. Do we even think it odd when there are live-in situations on sitcoms? Do we find it unusual if there is a homosexual character on a series? Do we even blink when there is an “adult situation?” Most likely, no. Even the new Disney movies routinely portray adults living outside of marriage, and we don’t bat an eye. This is not lost on the youth.
When we become mature in wickedness it is not merely a waste of time, it is harmful. In fact, it’s playing right into Satan’s hands. You become convinced that you cannot be successful unless you become like the world with its wickedness. The truth of the matter is that this is a slap in the face to God because it is for these very things that Jesus had to die. The book of Hebrews tells us that when we behave in such a fashion, we have “insulted the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29). Filling ourselves with things to which God is opposed will work against faith. When we constantly expose ourselves to the filth that is so readily available we cannot help but be affected. It is all too easy to live what you learn, and then die because of what you’ve forgotten.
When it comes to malice we are told to be like babes, but when it comes to spiritual things that is where we should have maturity and strive for excellence. One way to do this is to know the difference between “childish” and “child-like.” Our Lord tells us to have a child-like faith, that is to have a complete and uninhibited trust. But we are not to be childish—lacking self-control and being greedy and manipulative. When it comes to spiritual matters we should have a child-like faith, but that does not mean that we should not mature and grow in the understanding of the Scriptures. We’re often quick to try to grow in things that are evil, but chafe at the notion that we can and should grow and mature spiritually. We find in the book of Hebrews that Christians can move from milk to meat (cf. Hebrews 5:12-13; also 1 Peter 2:2). There are basics of Scripture that we all know, but there’s so much more. It’s like peeling an onion layer by layer and as you do so, uncovering more and more. As you work in the Scriptures you’ll never exhaust the treasure that is available to you.
There is a temptation to be complacent when it comes to our study of the Word of God. There always seems to be something more important to do than have a family devotion or time for personal study of the Bible. There is always something that seems more attractive than attending church or Bible Class. Yet, our Lord wants us to be mature in understanding, namely in the understanding of what is spiritual.
Our text speaks of using this understanding to teach for the benefit of others. We read in verses 18-19: “I thank my God I speak more tongues than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” It has been surmised by some that the five words to which Paul refers are: “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” You know them. You understand them. These few, simple words speak of God’s love for us who are so very unlovable. Think of all the times you have disobeyed your Lord, and yet He is able to forgive you. He can do so because the blood of Christ was shed for you, a sinner. That is indeed love. That is the love to which we cling. That is the love we are to communicate to others.
The message of the Gospel fits on a postcard. Yet, God gave us more than one statement on a postcard, He gave us the 66 books of the Bible. All of Scripture is given to encourage growth and maturity as Christians. The more you know about God, the stronger your faith will become. The more you know about God, the more you’ll be able to handle the ups and downs of life. The more you know about God, the more you’ll be able to resist temptation. Just as an adult can handle more weight than a child, so also a Christian who is mature in understanding can handle more than one who is content to be immature and stunted in growth.
God wants us to be mature so that, as our text began, it is, “for the edification [building up] of the church that you seek to excel.” We read of the confusion that existed at Corinth in regard to speaking in tongues. Some were using that gift to “show off” rather than for the benefit of the group. They were being childish rather than child-like.
What is our goal with the gifts that God has given us? Do we find ourselves being childish in matters of the church? Seek to excel for your Lord and for the Church. No man is an island, and no Christian survives very long without others. Each one of us will, at times, need to be admonished or encouraged, comforted or humbled. We need to have those who are mature in understanding and not childish to prop us up. We can be of greater help to other Christians when we ourselves are mature in spiritual matters. To this end, grow in the Word not in the world. In malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.
O Lord, help us to grow in the things that are pleasing to you, glorifying you, and helping each other. Amen.
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