1 Corinthians 14:20


 3 February 2015

Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. 1 Corinthians 14:20

In the previous verse, Paul told the Corinthians that he would rather speak five intelligible words for edification than ten thousand in a tongue. Based on this, he tells those at Corinth (and thus us!)  to “not be children in understanding.” In other words, their use of tongues was self-centered, attention-seeking, and childish. There was no edification of others; there was only an immature display of “look at me.” Instead of hoping for growth in others, there was only hope for fame and applause. Thus, their actions are to be considered childish.

The word translated as “understanding” is different than the word found in 1 Corinthians 14:15. Here it is the Greek word phrḗn. It is used twice in this verse and nowhere else in the New Testament. It indicates the inner parts of a person, specifically the midriff. It is where our English word for “diaphragm” comes from. As the diaphragm regulates breathing, it is an exceptional choice of wording for this particular issue of tongues. As the diaphragm regulates breath, and it is the breath which then goes on to produce sounds, Paul must have decided on phren as a sort of play on words, tying “understanding” in with “tongues.” It denotes “reasoning power on the reflective side” rather than on the intellectual side.

In contrast to thinking like children concerning tongues when they should be thinking like adults, he says that they actually should have such an attitude in the area of malice. In malice, they should be as “babes.” Because he is using malice in contradistinction to their attitude concerning tongues, it indicates that he viewed their reasoning behind the use of tongues as malicious. If edification wasn’t the intent of the tongues, then there was something darker behind their use; division and one-upmanship. Paul viewed this as malicious and he is asking them to consider their ways.

In order to do this, he finishes this thought with, “but in understanding be mature.” There are three categories in this verse: babes (infants), children, and the fully grown. In malice (because of their inappropriate use of tongues), Paul desires them to be as mere infants; and concerning tongues as a gift, he desires them to grow up from infancy into mature adults by seeking higher gifts. In so doing, they will be grown-up in their understanding (their phren). In using their diaphragms for edification rather than ostentation, they will become adult believers who are useful to the body.

Life application: Even the inner parts of our bodies should be used in a mature manner, bringing edification to others and glory to God.

Lord, you have given me Today to live. I will never have another Today, even if I have a ten thousand more days. Because Today is unique, help me to use it wisely. I know the paths I cross may never be crossed again, and some of the people I meet may be only Today and not on any other day that I live. Help me to use this precious period of 24 hours wisely, redeeming the time for Your glory. I pray that You will be satisfied with my conduct at the end of Today. Amen.


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