First Corinthians 13--Maturing in Love
Aug 08, 2017
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11,
11 When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
Having just talked about “the partial” things coming to an end when “the perfect comes,” Paul then implies that this is a matter of growing to maturity. The way that children speak, think, and reason is from the standpoint of partial understanding. Everyone has to start somewhere, and no one starts out with full knowledge or in a position of maturity.
Just as we expect children to make mistakes, so also God allows us to make mistakes while we are in the process of growing spiritually. Babies are not disciplined, yet more is expected from us as we begin to grow to maturity. Jesus said in Luke 12:48,
48 … And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
Some, however, would rather remain as children forever. Stories like Peter Pan romanticize this. The church itself, not understanding the food laws of the Bible, tend to feed believers that which keeps them from maturing. The spiritual law in Leviticus 11:21-23 teaches us that those insects that leap higher (like locusts and grasshoppers) are clean, while those that continue to crawl forever are unclean (like ants and spiritual babies). Eating a grasshopper provides very little food, but it is clean because it teaches us to leap higher. Much of church teaching, however, is designed to make the people dependent upon the church, like babies with their mothers.
The Oracles of God
In Hebrews 5:12-14 the author (Paul, I believe), expresses the church problem this way:
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
The milk of the word is here equated to “the elementary principles of the oracles of God.” What are those oracles? Acts 7:38 says,
38 This is the one who was in the congregation [ekklesia, “church”] in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you.
The “living oracles” given at Sinai was the law. Again, Paul says in Romans 3:2 that the advantage to being a Jew was:
2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
In other words, they were the custodians of the law of God, given at Mount Sinai. Most people on earth had no such advantage.
So we see that “the oracles of God” are the laws of God. Therefore, Hebrews 5:12-14 complains that many believers were spiritually immature.
The Milk Diet
As babies, many even in the first century church were in need of milk. In other words, they were in need of teaching from the law—the oracles of God. This problem has persisted to this day, for even now there are many believers who have never been taught the laws of God. Why? First, because they have redefined “milk” to mean other things.
There are many “milk” teachings that are absolutely necessary. Paul lists the main ones in Hebrews 6:1, 2. He lists Repentance, faith, baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection, and aionian judgment. When these are taught apart from the foundation of the oracles of God, the church tends to receive a childish perspective of these things that is partial. In order to grow up, people ought to re-learn the oracles of God from a mature (adult) understanding.
For example, many churches teach repentance, and urge people to stop sinning, but they do not tell them that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Paul says in Romans 7:7, “I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’.” Sin is sin because the law says so, “for apart from the Law, sin is dead” (Romans 7:8).
Hence, repentance is taught in a partial manner, and it is usually mixed with traditions of men that have replaced the law of God. Sinners are taught to repent of theft, murder, and fornication, but to these are added restrictions on dress codes, hair length, lipstick, jewelry, smoking, drinking, and a host of other religious restrictions that are not found in the law of God.
For this reason, Paul says that some long-time believers still needed to go back to the foundational teachings of the law—that is, the milk of the word. They had not been taught the law properly, so their New Testament understanding was partial, as with children. Today the problem is far worse, for many churches teach that the law has been abolished altogether, and so they avoid any study of the law for fear of falling from grace! It is a huge problem.
What is a Meat Diet?
Paul does not clearly define “meat” in his writings. We must define it mostly by contrasting it with “milk.” Yet if we look at the general spirit of Paul’s writings, knowing that he was trying to feed the people the meat of the word, we can get some understanding of “meat.” First of all, the examples of “milk” in Hebrews 6:1, 2 can be eliminated from our definition of “meat,” even though most people tend to think of those things as “meat.”
Milk is given to babies, and babies drink it without question. Meat, however, is for those who are taught to think for themselves. Coming to maturity is a matter of assuming more and more responsibility for one’s own life, as opposed to being dependent upon the church and its teachers. In other words, they shift from being fed to being able to feed others who are yet growing.
Meat is about the ability to apply the basic principles in the law to real life. Those who eat meat are those who are able to grasp such concepts as spiritual warfare, which has much to do with the use of spiritual authority in lawful ways to establish Kingdom government in the earth. Meat also involves greater revelation of the word, knowing how and when to apply it with authority.
A person must first have a grasp of the word itself before he or she has the ability to apply it in the real world. Each new application teaches a person something new or unique. That is meat. But one cannot apply laws that one does not already know. We must first learn the oracles of God (milk) so that we are able to understand how to apply them in the work of the Kingdom.
As we learn and grow, we find that we no longer think and act as we did just a few years ago. This constant growth comes by experience which in turn comes by learning to apply the laws of the Kingdom in ways that were unknown to us in earlier years. Only then can we say with the apostle, “when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”
The Ever-Expanding Nature of Love
Love is alive; therefore, it grows and expands constantly. I have often taught that our level of maturity can be measured by our ability to love. The most immature type of love is eros, which (at best) is physical attraction. This can be either good or bad, depending on how we treat it. If it remains at that low level, the relationship will never really get off the ground. It must grow into phileo, and from there it should mature and ripen into agape, the love of God.
Yet even agape love continues to expand in new ways as long as we fall short of the full image of Christ. God’s love is already perfect, so it cannot expand within His own character. For this reason, God seeks new objects of love and new ways to express it. In other words, God has created us to duplicate His love-nature and thereby multiply His love in the universe.
Love never fails. Therefore, His love-plan will succeed in every conceivable way.
This is part 88 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones