How should we think about evil?

I was struck today by this passage:

1 Corinthians 14:20 (ESV): Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

Paul has spoken a great deal previously in 1 Cor about mature thinking patterns versus childish ones. Here, it seems that he’s saying the only place to be childish or inexperienced in our thinking is when it comes to evil things.

This made me wonder exactly what this means and I am interested in people’s thoughts on this. For example, some Christians do spend a lot of time thinking about evil because they have to. I’m thinking of roles in trauma therapy and counselling where Godly therapists have to delve into the trauma because a person has been on the receiving end of some evil, in order to walk them through it.

Or in the world of apologetics, we’re taught to understand other worldviews in order to be more fruitful in conversations. This might require understanding some very anti Christian ideologies at times. When I speak to New Agers, I learn about practices that are absolutely forbidden by God (Deut 18:9-14).

How far should we go when thinking about evil? What are some safe guards we should take so that we remain ‘as infants’ in our thinking?


Hi @alison,

I appreciated how Verlyn Verbrugge in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary on 1 Corinthians explains this passage. The gist of his take is, y’all are acting like little kids with your demands to speak in tongues and show off. Stop acting like kids; only use the gift of tongues to benefit others. If you want to be like a kid, then act like one when it comes to planning to harm others: don’t be able to do it.

If that’s accurate, then this passage doesn’t forbid us from understanding what is evil in the world, but from participating in what is evil, and from showing off our gifts to impress others (as kids often do - not because they’re being bad per se, but because that is a normal stage in their development to adulthood).

I think this is the idea behind Matthew 10:16, where Jesus says:

Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.

In terms of understanding, we’re supposed to be shrewd. It helps to understand how injustice and evil work so that we can be discerning and respond with wisdom. Yet the simultaneous challenge is: don’t participate in this way of living. Maintain your holy commitment to God so your response is good and courageous.

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Thank you! I’ve been reading the surrounding chapters and haven’t been quite able to figure the verse out in relation to the gifts of tongues and prophecy. This certainly helps me understand it in its context better.

The difference between understanding evil and participating in evil is helpful. I guess my question has been lingering for a while in my mind, especially when coupled with the verse

Philippians 4:8 (ESV): Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things

This has been used by parents to challenge me when wanting to teach children about historical events such as the assassination of Julius Caesar, or Greek mythology, for example. I think it’s a similar argument to my question I raised. I know Philippians is a very different context in this instance, but the verse has been used as an argument to not think of evil things in general. I haven’t agreed with this argument, although I see some validity in it.

I suppose there’s a balance we all need to take, whether children or adults, as to how much time we spend thinking of it, and how it affects us deep within. Some people don’t have the luxury of the choice though, and Christians need to be ready to step into the darkness with them, as members of the body. Perhaps we all need to do this in relation to the amount of time we spend with God and in his Word. This is the best way we can become shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.

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Hi @alison,

That’s an interesting use of Philippians 4:8.

But for instance, how can I read the Bible if that’s what it means? Because the Bible contains vivid descriptions of evil. I won’t go into all the details out of respect for others’ consciences, but some pretty intense scenes would compare with any R-rated movie.

In terms of context, as you mentioned, Paul shares an antidote for anxiety (4:6-4:8 appear to be connected). Slightly more broadly, he is seeking to help Euodia and Syntyche get along with each other. Instead of nursing their grudges, can they see the good in each other? Can the church help one another restore these relationships as they dwell on the moral excellence within one another? If they will practice the way of relationships that Paul has demonstrated with them, it will heal their conflicts. And it will give them the fortitude they need to follow Christ, even if they are imprisoned for their faith, as he has been.

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