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. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
A small child is the centre of their own world, without perspective on how small they actually are. Their own will and wishes are paramount. Two toddlers in the same room may not even engage with each other, playing their own game, demanding food when they are hungry and making a mess without clearing it up. They have a way of doing things and that way is the only way. Very small things will catch their attention and cause them to cry or laugh, become jealous or sad. They only appreciate the moment and not the bigger picture. In an adult this is “childishness” and is different from “childlikeness”, or “innocence.”
An adult manifestation of childishness is “toxic tribalism” – my tribe, my group, my family must succeed whatever the cost, whether right or wrong. That is not to say that tribes are not important in the eyes of God – the Scripture clearly shows that God engages with the tribes of the world. “Toxic tribalism” is the perversion of healthy tribal identity.
It is no coincidence that Paul speaks about “maturity” after his comments about speech. “Prophecy”, “tongues”, and “knowledge” will all pass away (ch13 v8) – they are partial and temporary. Our world is flooded with words and opinions, and opinion holders are always right – at least in our own eyes. According to a 2015 Washington Post article it would take 305,500,000,000 pages to print the entire internet – happy reading!
Opinions influence prophecy, because we are human and so we only “know and prophecy in part” (ch13v9) rather than having a completely open channel to God; although at the same time we are instructed not to “despise prophecy” (1 Thessalonians 5:20). Prophecy is important, but not the most important thing.
Paul is connecting maturity, adulthood, manhood with something more permanent: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” v13
The world is in need of “fathers” who truly love, filled with faith and hope. Those who look beyond their own needs, beyond their own tribe’s needs to the bigger Kingdom of God picture. Their conversation does not continuously revert to themselves, their opinions, their group, their benefit, their glory. They even sacrifice a legitimate focus on themselves to focus on others – even if others are demanding or pushy. They embrace those others even in their immaturity or sin and do not need to be in control.
In the political world such people are called “statesmen” – politicians who see beyond their own party and re-election. In the Body of Messiah, some of these people are genuine “apostles” – those with a degree of trans-local responsibility for congregations and church planting, able to shepherd a diverse team, often at great cost to themselves. In the family such people are of course “fathers” – neither abusive, not absent – physically or emotionally. Such a person has “put away childish ways” and “become a man.”
A primary goal of God in the end times is to raise up a last generation of fathers in all kinds of different spheres, to stand against the rising flood of darkness, shielding those in their care. The Body of Messiah needs to intercede for, recognise, and support them. Without their presence there will be a great and unstoppable slide into the abyss. If this is you, now is the time to arise to the lowest place!
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Malachi 4:5-6