Several passages in the New Testament command us to be like children in our obedience to our heavenly Father. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 18:1–6 that we must become “like children” if we wish to enter the kingdom of God (v. 4). With respect to evil-doing, the apostle Paul commands us to “be infants” (1 Cor. 14:20).
Regrettably, many have taken Matthew 18:4 to mean we are to be unwilling to grow in our understanding of spiritual things. Many think this passage commands us to have only an oblivious faith, unconcerned with the deeper truths of Scripture. However, though the Bible calls us to be childlike, it never calls us to be childish. To be childlike and enter the kingdom of God means we have the same simple, unquestioning trust in God young children have in their parents. It does not mean we are to relish in our ignorance of God’s character. If we are infants with respect to evil, we are not controlled by lawlessness; instead, we avoid sin so we do not become skilled practitioners of it. Infancy in this regard does not mean we are to be ignorant of man’s depravity or the holiness of God.
In fact, the New Testament everywhere commands us to mature in our faith. Today’s passage, which concludes Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, makes this clear when he emphasizes the need to grow up and abandon childish ways (v. 11). Instead of being content with an immature love, we are to seek to manifest the righteous, mature love described in this passage.
To emphasize the gifts of the Spirit and not His fruit, one of which is love (Gal. 5:22), is an ever-present danger of childishness for the church. The Corinthians were chastised by Paul and the early church fathers for this reason. In like manner, many in our day encourage Christians to pursue “flashy” manifestations of the Spirit.
Yet this is not the emphasis of the New Testament. The consistent, slow, steady progress to maturity is to be our daily practice as we trust in Jesus (Heb. 12:1–2). We are to seek after righteousness above all else (Matt. 6:33), and we can do this by seeking to manifest the righteous love of Christ described in detail in 1 Corinthians 13.
Do you think it is more important to possess many talents and gifts or to be righteous? The emphasis in the New Testament is on the importance of personal holiness and the practice of righteous love, for if we are gifted but have not love, we have nothing (1 Cor. 13:1–3). As we make use of the means of grace (biblical study, sacraments, prayer, among others), we will better understand and love the way Paul describes. Make sure you regularly participate in these things.