1 Corinthians 14:20
Brothers, be not children in understanding: however, in malice be you children, but in understanding be men.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) Howbeit in malice be ye children.—Better, however in evil be ye infants. There are three grades spoken of here in the original—infants, children, full-grown men. Their conduct in exalting these “tongues,” against which he has been warning them, is a proof that they are yet children in knowledge. They ought to be full-grown; the only thing in which they ought to be children is evil, and in that they cannot be too young, too inexperienced; they should be merely “infants.” (A similar thought occurs in 1Corinthians 2:6; 1Corinthians 3:1; 1Corinthians 13:10-11.)

1 Corinthians 14:20. Brethren, be not children in understanding — By exercising the gift of tongues in the manner you do, preferring the things which make a fine show and gain applause, above things more useful and solid. This is an admirable stroke of true oratory, and was a severe reproof to the Corinthians, who piqued themselves on their wisdom, to represent their speaking unknown languages, and contending about precedency, as a childishness which men of sense would be ashamed of. Howbeit in malice — Or wickedness rather, as κακια here signifies; be ye children — As much as possible like infants; have all the gentleness, sweetness, and innocency of their tender age; but in understanding be men Τελειοι, full-grown men. Conduct yourselves with the good sense and prudence of such, knowing religion was not designed to destroy any of our natural faculties, but to exalt and improve them, our reason in particular. Doddridge makes the following remark on this part of the apostle’s epistle to the Corinthians: “Had the most zealous Protestant divine endeavoured to expose the absurdity of praying and praising in an unknown tongue, as practised in the Church of Rome, it is difficult to imagine what he could have written more full to the purpose than the apostle hath done here.” He adds, for the instruction of those who preach the gospel, “that a height of composition, an abstruseness of thought, and an obscurity of phrase, which common Christians cannot understand, is really a speaking in an unknown tongue, though the language used be the language of the country.”14:15-25 There can be no assent to prayers that are not understood. A truly Christian minister will seek much more to do spiritual good to men's souls, than to get the greatest applause to himself. This is proving himself the servant of Christ. Children are apt to be struck with novelty; but do not act like them. Christians should be like children, void of guile and malice; yet they should not be unskilful as to the word of righteousness, but only as to the arts of mischief. It is a proof that a people are forsaken of God, when he gives them up to the rule of those who teach them to worship in another language. They can never be benefitted by such teaching. Yet thus the preachers did who delivered their instructions in an unknown tongue. Would it not make Christianity ridiculous to a heathen, to hear the ministers pray or preach in a language which neither he nor the assembly understood? But if those who minister, plainly interpret Scripture, or preach the great truths and rules of the gospel, a heathen or unlearned person might become a convert to Christianity. His conscience might be touched, the secrets of his heart might be revealed to him, and so he might be brought to confess his guilt, and to own that God was present in the assembly. Scripture truth, plainly and duly taught, has a wonderful power to awaken the conscience and touch the heart.Brethren, be not children in understanding - Be not childish; do not behave like little children. They admire, and are astonished at what is striking, novel, and what may be of no real utility. They are pleased with anything that will amuse them, and at little things that afford them play and pastime. So your admiration of a foreign language and of the ability to speak it, is of as little solid value as the common sports and plays of boys. This, says Doddridge, is an admirable stroke of oratory, and adapted to bring down their pride by showing them that those things on which they were disposed to value themselves were "childish." It is sometimes well to appeal to Christians in this manner, and to show them that what they are engaged in is "unworthy" the dignity of the understanding - unfit to occupy the time and attention of an immortal mind. Much, alas! very much of that which engages the attention of Christians is just as unworthy of the dignity of the mind, and of their immortal nature, as were the aims and desires which the apostle rebuked among the Christians at Corinth. Much that pertains to dress, to accomplishment, to living, to employment, to amusement, to conversation, will appear, when we come to die, to have been like the playthings of "children;" and we shall feel that the immortal mind has been employed, and the time wasted, and the strength exhausted in that which was foolish and puerile.

Howbeit in malice be ye children - This is one of Paul's most happy turns of expression and of sentiment. He had just told them that in one respect they ought not to be children. Yet, as if this would appear to be speaking lightly of children - and Paul would not speak lightly of anyone, even of a child - he adds, that in "another" respect it would be well to be like them - nay, not only like children, but like "infants." The phrase "be ye children," here, does not express the force of the original νηπιάζετε nēpiazete. It means, "be infants," and is emphatic, and was used, evidently, by the apostle of design. The meaning may be thus expressed. "Your admiration of foreign languages is like the sports and plays of "childhood." In this respect be not children (παιδίᾳ paidia); be men! Lay aside such childish things. Act worthy of the "understanding" which God has given you. I have mentioned children. Yet I would not speak unkindly or with contempt even of them. "In one respect" you may imitate them. Nay, you should not only be like "children," that are somewhat advanced in years, but like "infants." Be as free from malice, from any ill-will toward others, from envy, and every improper passion, as they are." This passage, therefore, accords with the repeated declaration of the Saviour, that in order to enter into heaven, it was needful that we should become as little children; Matthew 18:3.

Be men - Margin, "Perfect, or of a riper age" (τέλειοι teleioi). The word means full-grown men. Act like them whose understandings are mature and ripe.

20. Brethren—an appellation calculated to conciliate their favorable reception of his exhortation.

children in understanding—as preference of gifts abused to nonedification would make you (compare 1Co 3:1; Mt 10:16; Ro 16:19; Eph 4:14). The Greek for "understanding" expresses the will of one's spirit, Ro 8:6 (it is not found elsewhere); as the "heart" is the will of the "soul." The same Greek is used for "minded" in Ro 8:6.

men—full-grown. Be childlike, not childish.

Be not children in understanding; in understanding the differences of gifts, and which are more excellent, or of the right use of gifts.

Howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men; you are commanded indeed in something to be like little children, Matthew 28:3, but it is not to be understood with relation to knowledge and understanding, but with reference to innocence and malice, which is opposite to it; ye ought to study to be men in understanding, though with respect to innocence ye ought to be as little children. Brethren, be not children in understanding,.... There are some things in children in which it is reproachful for believers to be like them; as nonproficiency in knowledge, want of capacity to receive, bear, and digest strong meat; levity, fickleness, and inconstancy, unskilfulness in the word, deficiency of knowledge, want of understanding, not of things natural, but spiritual and evangelical; which is the more aggravated, since their understandings were opened and enlightened; an understanding was given them; the Spirit of God, as a spirit of understanding, was bestowed on them; they had the Scriptures, which are able to make wise unto salvation, and the man of God perfect; and also the ministers of the Gospel to explain divine truths to them; and many had been a long time in the school of Christ, and might have been teachers of others; and yet; after all, were children in understanding, and needed to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God. The apostle here has chiefly reference to the gift of speaking with tongues, these Corinthians were so desirous of; which when they had it, was only to talk like children; and for them to prefer it to other gifts, which were more useful and beneficial, discovered their judgment to be but the judgment of children; and if they desired this, and made use of it for ostentation, it showed a childish vanity, from which the apostle here dissuades:

howbeit in malice be ye children: in other things it is commendable to imitate children, and be like them; as in innocence and harmlessness of conversation; to be meek, modest, and humble, free from pride and vain glory; to be without guile and hypocrisy, without rancour and bitterness, envying and malice, but tender hearted, and ready to forgive. This the apostle recommends:

but in understanding be men; or "perfect", of ripe and full age, who have their senses exercised to discern between good and evil, "a man", says Aben Ezra (p), in our language, signifies , "one full of knowledge", as in Exodus 10:11. It is not perfection of justification that is here meant, for babes in Christ are as perfect in this sense as grown men; nor a perfection of sanctification, for there is no such thing as this in any in this life; there is a perfection of sanctification in Christ, and of parts in everyone that is a new creature; and as that denotes sincerity and uprightness, it is in all that have known the grace of God in truth; but then these are each of them as true of new born babes, young converts, as of older Christians, and strong men: but of knowledge and understanding in divine things; which though it is imperfect in the best, yet in some it is in greater perfection than in others; who may, in a comparative sense, be said to be perfect, or men of full age, who are arrived to a considerable ripeness and maturity of spiritual knowledge; and this is what believers should be pressing after, and desirous of, and make use of all proper methods, such as reading, hearing, and praying, to attain unto.

(p) Comment. in Psal. xxxvii. 23.

{9} Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

(9) Now he reproves those freely for their childish folly, who do not see how this gift of tongues which was given to the profit of the Church, is turned by their ambition into an instrument of cursing, seeing that this same cursing is also contained among the punishments with which God punished the stubbornness of his people, that he dispersed them amongst strangers whose language they did not understand.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Corinthians 14:20. Up to this point Paul has been contending against speaking with tongues in public and without interpretation, on the ground of its uselessness. He now adds an animated and winning admonition, well calculated to meet the conceit of the Corinthians on this poin.

ἀδελφοί] “suavem vim habet” (Bengel).

Become not children as respects your power of judgment. His readers were becoming so, inasmuch as, through their increasing craving after glossolalia, they lacked more and more the power of distinguishing and judging between the useful and the useless; their speaking with tongues assumed the character of childishness. As regards malice (1 Corinthians 5:8), on the other hand be children; have a child-nature in quite another respect, namely, by being free from all malicious thoughts and actions (Matthew 18:3). Comp. Romans 16:19; Galatians 6:3; Titus 1:10; Lucian, Halc. 2 : νηπιότης φρενῶν.

Regarding νηπιάζειν, to be a child (in Greek writers also νηπιάχειν and νηπιαχεύειν), comp. Hipp. Ep. p. 1281. 52.

τέλειοι] of full age, adultus. See Plat. Legg. xi. p. 929 C. Comp. on Ephesians 4:13.1 Corinthians 14:20. P. has argued the superiority of intelligible speech, as a man of practical sense; he finally appeals to the good sense of his readers: “Brethren, be not children in mind” (see parls.)—“in judgment” (Ed[2114]), “the reasoning power on its reflective and discriminating side” (El[2115]); φρένες differs from νοῦς much as φρόνιμος from f1σοφός (see notes to 1 Corinthians 4:10, 1 Corinthians 10:15). Emulation and love of display were betraying this Church into a childishness the very opposite of that broad intelligence and enlightenment on which it plumed itself (1 Corinthians 1:5, 1 Corinthians 4:10, 1 Corinthians 8:1, 1 Corinthians 10:15, etc.). “It is characteristic of the child to prefer the amusing to the useful, the shining to the solid” (Gd[2116]). This is a keen reproof, softened, however, by the kindly ἀδελφοί (“suavem vim habet,” Bg[2117]).—γίνεσθε, “be in effect,” “show yourselves”; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:1, etc. “In malice, however, be babes (act the babe); but in mind show yourselves full-grown (men)”.—For the force of the ending in νηπιάζω, cf. πυρρ-άζω, to redden, Matthew 16:2; the vb[2118] is based on νήπιος, a kind of superlative to παιδίον—“be (not boyish, but actually) childish” (Ed[2119]), or “infantile, in malice”. For the antithesis of τέλειος (= ἀνήρ) and νήπιος, see 1 Corinthians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 13:9 ff., and parls. For κακία, cf. note on 1 Corinthians 5:8 : P. desiderates the affection of the little child (see Ephesians 4:32 f., for the qualities opp[2120] to κακία), as Jesus (in Matthew 18:1 ff.) its simplicity and humbleness. Gd[2121] excellently paraphrases this ver.: “Si vous voulez être des enfants, à la bonne heure, pourvu que ce soit quant à la malice; mais, quant à l’intelligence, avancez de plus en plus vers la maturité complète”.

[2114] T. C. Edwards’ Commentary on the First Ep. to the Corinthians.2

[2115] C. J. Ellicott’s St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.

[2116] F. Godet’s Commentaire sur la prem. Ép. aux Corinthiens (Eng. Trans.).

[2117] Bengel’s Gnomon Novi Testamenti.

[2118]
verb

[2119] T. C. Edwards’ Commentary on the First Ep. to the Corinthians.2

[2120] opposite, opposition.

[2121] F. Godet’s Commentaire sur la prem. Ép. aux Corinthiens (Eng. Trans.).20. howbeit in malice be ye children] This is subjoined lest the Apostle should be charged with contradicting his Master. There is a sense in which all Christians must be children. What it is the Apostle tells us. They were to be children in malice, or rather perhaps vice. Compare on the one hand St Matthew 11:25; Matthew 18:3; Matthew 19:14; 1 Peter 2:2; on the other, ch. 1 Corinthians 3:1; Ephesians 4:14; and Hebrews 5:12. See also St Matthew 10:16; Romans 16:19.

men] Literally, perfect, i.e. of ripe age. Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 2:6; Php 3:15; Hebrews 5:14.1 Corinthians 14:20. Ἀδελφοὶ, brethren) The vocative put at the beginning has an agreeable force.—τῇ κακίᾳ· ταῖς φρεσὶ) Ammonius makes this seasonable observation: “νοῦς is covert reasoning, ἀπόκρυφος λογισμὸς; but φρένες implies GOOD thoughts,” αἱ ΑΓΑΘΑΙ διάνοιαι. Nor does κακία denote malice [badness], but vice, or whatever is opposed to virtue.—νηπιάζετε, be ye children) νηπιάζω, similar to the forms ἀκμάζω, πυῤῥάζω.—τέλειοι, perfect) and therefore determining the true value of every thing according to its use.Verse 20. - Be not children in understanding; rather, in your minds. Your tendency to overvalue glossolaly shows you to be somewhat childish. It is remarkable that this is the only verse of the New Testament in which the common Greek word "mind" (phren) occurs. Howbeit in malice be ye children; better, but in wickedness be babes. The Authorized Version misses the climax involved in the change of the word. The Christian should always be childlike (Matthew 11:25; Matthew 19:4), but never childish (1 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 4:14). Be men; rather, become or prove yourselves full-grown; literally, perfect. Understanding (σρεσίν)

Only here in the New Testament. Originally, in a physical sense, the diaphragm. Denoting the reasoning power on the reflective side, and perhaps intentionally used instead of νοῦς (1 Corinthians 14:15), which emphasizes the distinction from ecstasy.

Children - be ye children (παιδία - νηπιάζετε)

The A.V. misses the distinction between children and babes, the stronger term for being unversed in malice. In understanding they are to be above mere children. In malice they are to be very babes. See on child, 1 Corinthians 13:11.

Malice (κακίᾳ)

See on James 1:21.

Men (τέλειοι)

Lit., perfect. See on 1 Corinthians 2:6.

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