Grow Up
By Anthony Casperson

“Have you ever played…?”, the interviewer included the name of a video game as he asked his subject the question. To this, the interviewee responded, “No, I was too old to have played that.” This response surprised me at first, because I played the game when my age was still in the single digits. (Although, to be fair, the person being interviewed is about 20 years older than I am.)

But in the seconds that followed my initial shock at the response, I realized that I shouldn’t have been surprised by it. After all, this person belongs to a group who consider things such as video games to be for children.

As a matter of fact, one of the interviewee’s colleagues weighed in on a matter concerning video games about a month ago, and not only said that video games are for children, but that parents should keep even their kids away from these games because of the controversy involved. And on previous occasions this man has referenced 1 Corinthians 13:11 to demean and belittle the use of video games along with comic books, action figures, fantasy stories, tabletop games, and the like. (For those who don’t have every verse of the bible memorized, 1 Cor. 13:11 is the verse that says, “When I became a man, I put away childish things.”)

There are many who would agree with these two individuals and their other compatriots. Those who would count the fantastical stories held within these media as childish—something to be tossed out after we have matured. People who would say, “Grow up,” to those of us who still appreciate these stories. As if our inability to release these tales and games proves our immaturity. A self-imposed Neverland for our psyche, while our bodies continue to age.

(Trust me, I’ve dealt with people who have this opinion about “childish” things for most of my life. All the while, I’ve enjoyed the company of the stories from these “childish” experiences. And grown personally and spiritually through them.)

Because of these recent reminders of the perspective, I’ve been emboldened to speak against their opinion. Not only because I believe them to be wrong, but also—and more-importantly—because those who reference 1 Cor. 13:11 are misapplying the words of scripture.

Belittle my personal hobbies and interests all you want. You’re free to do so. But malign the word of God to suit your personal prejudices, and I’m coming after you.

Therefore, let’s look at the content and meaning of 1 Cor. 13:11 in its proper context—as every mature follower of Jesus should do whenever they seek to understand and properly apply any biblical passage. This context might be familiar to a few of you, considering that I preached through the book of 1 Corinthians a couple of years ago.

First, in the larger context of the book, the Apostle Paul is writing to a people who have become so selfishly motivated and self-invested that they can’t help but split apart and argue with anyone who doesn’t see things their way. Even in their gatherings as followers of Jesus, each one tries to steal the spotlight for their own personal gain. And in their selfish pursuits, they claim—and abuse—the more public spiritual gifts so that people have to listen to them and give them praise for their amazing abilities. Even if some of these perceived gifts are faked in the process, because the person hasn’t actually been allotted the gifting from God.

Much of that background can be found in a condensed manner in chapter 12 of Paul’s letter. The preceding chapter to the one we’re considering.

Second, throughout the book, Paul references the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues as specific examples of the whole of spiritual gifting because of the Corinthians’ inclination for lusting after these more-public gifts. Other gifts may be added to these two at various occasions, but the pair are consistently used in his examples for spiritual gifting as a whole. They’re his shorthanded way of referring to the whole of the spiritual gifts.

And what Paul repeats throughout the book about these allotments from the Spirit is that they aren’t for personal advancement. Rather, the spiritual gifts of a follower of Jesus are for the benefit of the rest of the Church. They’re used to help our brothers and sisters in Christ to grow and mature in their faith. It’s more like we’re the gifts for the rest of our family of faith than that we’ve been given some special gift from God that we get to use for ourselves.

Narrowing into a closer context than the book as a whole, we come to chapter 13. While often used for wedding days, the passage has much more to do with the love we should have as a community of faith—which I suppose would also include married couples, but isn’t Paul’s main point. Paul’s talking about how a selfless love—one that doesn’t keep score, doesn’t insist on its own way, and doesn’t boast in its own greatness—is much better than any spiritual gift. The Apostle could speak the language of angels and still be nothing more than meaningless noise, if he doesn’t have this type of love.

This selfless love is the proof of maturity in a follower of Jesus. Not the person’s spiritually empowered abilities—whether publicly or privately useful. The love described in verses 4-7 will never find an end. As opposed to the gifting of the Spirit, which will find their end when maturity—often translated as “the perfect”—comes to the body of Christ.

And when will the whole body—the entirety of the followers of Jesus—become completely mature? After Jesus returns, and there’s no new member added to the body. That’s when what we do in part will cease. At that time, spiritual gifts as a whole find their end. Verse 8 may use the examples of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge, but as I’ve pointed out, Paul consistently uses prophecy and speaking in tongues—and occasionally other gifts—as specifics which point to the whole of the Spirit’s allotments in his letter.

This ceasing makes sense considering the second aspect of context I mentioned. If the spiritual gifts are meant to build up and mature our fellow followers of Jesus, but after Jesus returns the whole body has reached maturity, then why do we require the things that aided in the maturation process any more?

We don’t.

And this is when we get to the favorite verse of people like those mentioned in the intro. Only now, we have the context of the words. A context that utilizes those words as an illustration of Paul’s point about how love—along with hope and faith, as verse 13 will point out—is the mature thing to seek instead of the less-than-permanent gifts that the Corinthians craved, as if the gifts proved their maturity.

The childish things in verse 11 point to the items in life that aid in the maturation process. The diapers, bottles, baby dolls, plastic tools, and water wings that help a child emulate and learn how to do adult things. The bladeless razors that allow a child to play with shaving cream while not being able to hurt themselves. Verse 11 has nothing to do with adults enjoying a good game, or using their imaginations, or embracing a fantastical secondary world on page or screen.

If we see a man at a public pool with the little plastic floaties on his arms, we’re likely to search for a child who just learned to swim, or refuses to enter the water ever again. We’d hardly assume that the floaties are meant for the man. Because that would mean there was some deficiency in a mature person’s skills. A strange sight that betrays our expectation of maturity.

Likewise, we would view it strange for a grown woman to care for a doll as if it were a real child. The furthest we might consider unstrange are those dolls used for certain high school classes. But those prove the point that such baby dolls are meant to aid in the preparation for a mature adult’s life, which often includes caring for a child.

However, other items that people from our introduction might call “childish” things are not meant for the aid of maturation. A tabletop RPG can be a fellowship that builds a band of brothers who have faced incredible animosity together. Sure, the situations weren’t deadly, but the camaraderie built is no less real.

And stories of fantasy can remind us of perspectives about our own reality without raising our psychological defenses. They can prod us with the hint of reality that has become too familiar to be impactful. The grandfather of modern fantasy stories, J.R.R. Tolkien speaks to this point in his essay, entitled On Fairy-Stories, when he writes, “We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness.”

Thus, the question that we need to ask when it comes to whether something is childish or merely an adult hobby/personal interest must be, “Is the purpose for which the item is used meant to aid in the maturing process?” Does the game or movie or book exist to emulate something that adults are required to face on a regular basis? Does the item exist solely for the preparation of children for their life as a man or woman?

Some of the oft-mocked items of we who appreciate nerdy things are action figures and similar toys. The accusation is that such toys are meant for children to play with. And there is an aspect of a child’s play that aids in their maturity.

But, look at what the adults who collect these toys do with them. Why do they collect? Not to play with them. No toy collector is sitting there bashing bits of plastic into each other like a child. Rather, they hold the toys in cases or hang them on their walls because of their appreciation for the story. A reminder of that window cleaned from the drabness of familiarity. In this case, the toy is no different than a piece of art hung on the wall. Beauty that evokes truth in those willing—and mature enough—to look.

Another reason that some collect toys is for financial security. One YouTuber I watch has mentioned that he and his wife found themselves in a rough financial patch and sold their collections to stay afloat. And now that they’re once again financially stable, they’ve started a new collection. Their toy collection was no different from a stock or a bond—a diversified portfolio that happened to include hunks of plastic instead of a precious metal or pieces of paper.

Both the view of toys as art and their use as financial diversification are perspectives that no child would ever have. And instead of building maturity into the owner, they prove a sense of maturity that has been built into those adults.

So, what do I want to say to those who proclaim that they’re too old for video games? What would I remind those who go around quoting 1 Cor. 13:11 to those of us who appreciate fantasy stories and comic books and tabletop games?

The childish things that Paul put away when he reached adulthood are those items which built maturity into him. Those things no longer needed since he now has the actual adult versions. Just as how the spiritual gifts allotted to followers of Jesus will cease when the body of Christ has reached its full maturity and can cling to faith, hope, and love. His words have nothing to do with video games, comic books, or fantastical stories—unless those things are used in an immature manner that proves a lack of mature responsibility.

As well, remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians as he tells them to spiritually grow up. Seek true spiritual maturity, which is shown by a love that isn’t puffed up in pride and doesn’t provoke. A love that never seeks only one’s own good. Because a lack of this love only points to one’s own immaturity.

The type of immaturity that refuses to look at the context of a passage of God’s word before applying it to life.