The paradoxical call of Christians to be both childlike and mature.
Sometimes we can take what the apostle Paul says at face value. At other times, he challenges us to ask questions and go deeper to explore the culture and context before we consider what was really going on.
Such is the case with his writing to the church of Corinth. After waxing poetic about honoring their spiritual gifts and being united in spite of diversity, he challenges them to pursue the greatest gift of all: love.
He tells them that when perfection comes, that which is imperfect will be no more. And he continues: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face” (1 Cor. 13:11–12).
This is an intriguing message for God’s people as we consider vision and mission, because at first glance the Bible calls us—the women and men who follow the way of Jesus—children of God. This has nothing to do with our age, but rather communicates our relationship. We have become children because God is our Father. Likewise, when teaching his disciples about greatness and leadership, Jesus encouraged them to become like little children (Matt. 18:1–4). Having humility like that of a child is a great character trait when pursuing God’s kingdom mission. Healthy and thriving children understand their dependence, are not afraid to ask for an unmet need, and do not restrict themselves from the gift of play.
As we grow into adulthood, however, our sight can become blurry. We can lack humility, put restrictions on ourselves and others, go it alone or attempt to provide for our own needs. In this passage, Paul helps us understand the importance of moving toward maturity—to stop being childish. But the challenge is to put childishness aside, while never losing the endearing quality of being childlike. To do so, we will need to see ourselves with every greater clarity.
Ancient mirrors were not clear, and so this metaphor reminded the church at Corinth of the mysteries of God and his gospel. That is why we need to reflect on what we truly see. Intently looking at our reflection can be good, because the modern mirror does not lie. We can see where gravity has run its course, where changes in our complexion have occurred. Taking a deep look can help us identity early signs of health issues: when the colors of our pupils change, our hair thins or falls out, a lump forms, our weight changes or skin discolors. Take a deep look.
Surely the outer appearance is not all there is to our knowing or being, yet observing the physical changes that take place from childhood to adulthood reminds us of an eternal truth: Our time on this earth is limited. It is a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14).
One day we will come face-to-face with God, where we will understand without a doubt that we are known and loved. Until then, may his grace and love sustain and release us to become mature in faith, while maintaining those childlike characteristics that should always mark our faith journey—curiosity, dreaming, dependency, joy—and even play.