We are studying 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. In verses 1-3 Paul spoke of the preeminence of love. It is of more value than everything else. Then in verses 4-7 Paul spoke of the practice of love, this is how love acts. Now as we come to verses 8-13, Paul tells us of the permanence of love.
This passage is eschatological in nature, that is clear, but in the study of its eschatology don't miss its point. Love is permanent, it endures forever.
Do you ever struggle with your priorities? I'm sure that most of us do. Sorting our priorities is one of the great struggles in life. If you have a proper view of God, and a proper view of yourself, that will give you a proper view of life and your priorities will naturally fall into place. If you have a proper view of life, your priorities will be right. The proper view of life is the basis for Paul's argument in verses 8-13 of 1 Corinthians 13. Many of the Corinthians continually had their eyes on the wrong things. They were overly concerned about the temporary and little concerned about the permanent. Of all their many failings, the Corinthian believers' greatest failure was in love. Just as the presence of "love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pet. 4:8), the lack of love causes a multitude of sins. Let's look at Paul's argument in these verses and see if we can find the principle that he is giving us. He says,
1 Corinthians 13:8 (NKJV) Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
The permanence of love is stated in the very first phrase, "love never fails." The various versions translate that in many ways. The reason is that the Apostle has employed a very unusual Greek verb here that is translated "fails" in the version I am using (NKJV). The Greek word is ekpipto, it really means, "to fall apart." It was used of a flower or leaf that falls to the ground, withers, and decays. It says love never "falls apart." It is meant in the sense that love never falls away and disappears; it never quits; it is never used up. Love will never collapse, love will never fail, or to put it positively love is eternal. The writer of the Song of Solomon expresses it this way:
Song of Songs 8:7 (NKJV) Many waters cannot quench love, Nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love All the wealth of his house, It would be utterly despised.
So Paul gives us here the permanence of love; it will never fail. It is eternal, it will last forever. Now, in verses 8b-12, Paul contrasts the permanence of love with the transitoriness of spiritual gifts. In 8b Paul states the transitory character of spiritual gifts. He talks about three gifts; the "gift of prophecy," the "gift of tongues," and the "gift of knowledge." These were the three favorite gifts at Corinth. They were making much of them in the church there, and many today are still making much of these gifts. These gifts are paramount in the modern Charismatic movement that is so popular today. The Corinthians held these gifts in high esteem. Paul says that prophecy will be done away. The Greek word he uses for done away is katargeo which means to abolish, cease, destroy, do away, become of no effect. What he is saying is that prophecy is transitory. He goes on to talk abut tongues. That gift was esteemed above all others by the Corinthians. Paul says that tongues will cease. It also is transitory. The gift of tongues was the gift of supernatural utterance of a language never learned. It is the ability to speak a language, a true language, that was never learned.
Then he speaks of knowledge. It shall vanish away. This is not knowledge in general but the "gift" of knowledge by direct revelation. He uses the same verb, katargeo, that he uses for prophecy. The gift of knowledge is also temporary, or transitory.
This should make verse eight clear to us. He has told us two things, 1. love is eternal, it is permanent, it will never fail. 2. But spiritual gifts, even those you value so highly, will be done away with, they are transitory.
Verse 8 does not say when these gifts will cease. It simply tells us that they are transitory. Though we are told that all three gifts would someday cease to exist, two different verbs are used to indicate their cessation. This is a bit technical. Paul tells us that prophecy and knowledge will be done away, katargeo. Those two verbs are passive. Prophesy shall be done away. Knowledge shall be done away. It is by the operation of an outside party, here the coming of the perfect. In the center it says that tongues will cease, pauo, this is not passive, it is in the middle voice which implies that tongues will cease in and of themselves. He is saying that prophesy and knowledge will be stopped but tongues will stop themselves. It is possible to infer that before God stopped the gift of prophecy and knowledge, by the arrival of the perfect, tongues died out in and of themselves. The book of Acts seems to support this theory in that there is no reference to tongues after 19:6. As you go through the book you see the gift of tongues fading out. It is also noteworthy that tongues are mentioned only in the earlier NT books. Tongues are never mentioned again in the NT after this warning. Justin Martyr, the church Father of the second century, visited many of the churches of his day, yet in his voluminous writings he mentions nothing of tongues. It is not mentioned even among his several lists of spiritual gifts.
The point of verse 8 is that love is eternal and spiritual gifts are transitory. Why is this? Paul explains in verses 9-12.
1 Corinthians 13:9 (NKJV) For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
"We know in part" -- "we," who? The "we" refers to Paul and his first century audience. The "we" does not apply to us as "we" will see. We know "in part" refers to the partial and incomplete revelation of God given by the Old Testament prophets. Even the apostles knew only in part. Paul's desire and goal in life was to know Christ better. However, near the end of his life Paul said that he still had not arrived but continues to press on.
Philippians 3:12 (NKJV) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul's knowledge of God was limited and partial. But verse 10 says:
1 Corinthians 13:10 (NKJV) But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
We saw in our last study "The Perfect Has Come" that how you interpret verse 8 and verses 11&12 is all dependent on how you interpret "that which is perfect." That which is perfect refers to the maturity of the body at the rapture of the church, which happened at the second coming of Christ, bringing in the New Heavens and New Earth which closed the cannon. This all took place in AD 70, when the Lord returned, bringing in the New Heaven and Earth where we see Him face to face. So the coming again of our Lord for his people brought them to full maturity. The "Perfect" is the second coming of Christ that brought the full consummation of the New Covenant. That which was "in part" was the Old Covenant. If that is true, then what Paul tells us in verses 9 & 10 is this: the reason that spiritual gifts are transitory is that when we came into a face to face relationship with Christ, we entered into a perfect maturity, and there is no longer any need for spiritual gifts. The ministry of the Paraclete ended when Christ returned.
Having explained why gifts are transitory, Paul goes on in verses 11 & 12 to illustrate the transitory character of these spiritual gifts.
1 Corinthians 13:11-12 (NKJV) When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
The first illustration is in verse 11. It comes from a distinction between Paul's childhood and his maturity. Paul compares the the present age with his childhood and then he compares the future age, the New Covenant age, with his maturity. To further illustrate this point look with me at:
Galatians 4:1-5 (NKJV) Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
The Old Covenant age was one of immaturity. Now, let's keep in mind that what Paul viewed as the future age is our present age.
1 Corinthians 10:11 (NKJV) Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
The end of ages had come upon the first century saints. It was the end of the Old Covenant age that Paul was referring to.
A Jewish male was considered a boy until his bar mitzvah, after which he was considered a man. One moment he was a boy; the next he was a man. Their perfection in Christ was a type of spiritual bar mitzvah, a coming into immediate, complete, and eternal spiritual adulthood and maturity.
Remember the context: Paul is contrasting what is temporal to what is eternal. Paul emphasizes this with the verb he uses at the end of verse 11 "put away." That is the fourth time this phrase is used in these verses. The KJV, NKJV and NIV all translate those words four different ways, which is very confusing. The NASV translates these verbs the same way all four times. I "put away" is the same verb, katargeo, used at the end of verse 10, shall be "done away." So what Paul is saying is that when I became a man, I did away with childish things. The two uses of "doing away" in verse 10 & 11 must happen at the same time. So Paul is saying that as his childhood applies to the time when spiritual gifts were operating in the church, so his maturity applies to the time when the church is perfected. When the church enters its maturity, it will discard the things of its immaturity. Now, I believe that the gifts stopped in the first century with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. The only way you can support the gifts ending is to say that the perfect has come. If the perfect has not come then the gifts are all still functional. These verses teach the transitory nature of the gifts. At the arrival of the perfect, they ended.
Then Paul gives us a second illustration in verse 12.
1 Corinthians 13:12 (NKJV) For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
With the two adverbs now and then, he accentuates a stark contrast; the present age is placed over against the coming age. Clearly, here he is anticipating the end of Old Covenant age. Now, he says, that it is like looking in a mirror dimly. Corinth was famous for its manufacture of mirrors. These ancient mirrors were not like the silvered glass ones we have today that give a clear and beautiful image, the Corinthians did not understand the process then. The modern mirror with its perfect reflection did not emerge until the thirteenth century. Their mirrors were simply highly polished metal, so that when they looked in them all they got was a rather indistinct, blurred image.
The Greek word for "dimly" is the Greek word ainigma. Paul, in using this word, is talking about Old Covenant age. The time from Pentecost until AD 70 was a transition time. The New Covenant had been inaugurated but the Old Covenant was still in effect. The Church's transition period was like that of Israel's. Israel wandered for forty years before entering the promise land and this was a time of the miraculous. The Church's transition period lasted forty years before entering the promise land of the New heavens and earth, and at it also was a time of the miraculous.
1 Peter 1:5-11 (NKJV) who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith; the salvation of your souls. 10 Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
Peter was saying that the Old Covenant prophets didn't even understand what they were foretelling. They didn't see it clearly. In Hebrews 9:6ff the writer says, "The Old Covenant system stood in types. The Old Covenant understanding was a shadow."
Hebrews 9:8 (NKJV) the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing.
The OC was a type verses anti-type, it was a shadow. Paul said:
Colossians 2:16-17 (NKJV) So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
Paul clearly says the Old Covenant was a shadow of good things to come. The Old Covenant and understanding was a shadow.
2 Corinthians 3:7-14 (NKJV) But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. 10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. 11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious. 12 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech; 13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.
Paul here discusses the transformation of the glory of the Old Covenant to the greater glory of the New Covenant. Look at what he says in verse 14, "for until this day," that was his day. They had a veil upon their heart. This is the same imagery that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 13, now we see darkly.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV) But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
This is clarity verses obscure. From Old Covenant glory to New Covenant glory. The Old Covenant was an enigma, it was darkness, but it was abut to pass away.
1 John 2:8 (NKJV) Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.
Paul goes on to say, "But then face to face"-- When face to face? When the perfect had come; which we saw last time was the new heavens and earth at the second coming of Christ. The word "face" is used in Scripture to denote the arrival or full presence of a person. Seeing face to face denoted a full arrival of the age to come, the New Covenant age. We are now in a face to face relationship with Christ. It has nothing to do with seeing him physically. Many saw him physically (over 500) after his resurrection. This was before the last days even began.
1 John 3:1-2 (NKJV) Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
Being like Christ refers to having the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
This is that for which David hoped:
Psalms 17:15 (NKJV) As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.
David equates beholding God's face in righteousness with having God's likeness or image. Now, you might ask, "Didn't the New Testament saints already have the righteousness of God? Yes and no. The futuristic perspective of God's righteousness was clearly expressed by Paul:
Galatians 5:5 (NKJV) For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
If righteousness were already a fulfilled or completed event, Paul made a big mistake in making "righteousness" by faith a matter of hope.
Romans 8:24-25 (NKJV) For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
Salvation was not a completed event in the lives of the first century believers, it was their hope, they looked forward to its soon arrival.
Romans 13:11-12 (NKJV) And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
He equates their salvation with the "day" which was at hand, referring to the day of the Lord. "Knowing the time" is the Greek word kairos; it means, season, a special critical strategic period of time. It is used of a season of great importance in redemptive history. The completion of redemptive history was at hand.
Question: When Paul said, "the night is far spent," was he referring to the Christian age? No, the Christian age had just begun; it wasn't quite 30 years old. Paul wrote Romans around AD 58. The darkness was the Old Covenant age that was just about over, and the day was the consummation of the New Covenant age.
Peter also states that their salvation was not yet complete:
1 Peter 1:5 (NKJV) who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Salvation was ready to be revealed, when?; in the last time, which would happen at the return of Christ.
1 Peter 1:7 (NKJV) that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
The incompleteness of believers during the period of transformation, 30-70 AD, does not contradict Paul's affirmation that "ye are complete in Him" (Col. 2:10). The certain completeness of Christ's work was the basis and confidence of the transformation already at work, with the future fulness drawing near.
So when Christ returned, redemption was complete and believers came face to face with Christ. This face to face relationship could not occur until the Jewish temple was destroyed.
Hebrews 9:8-10 (NKJV) the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. 9 It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience; 10 concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.
They could not enter into the presence of God, face to face, as long as the Old Covenant stood. Israel's hope was to enter into the veil and stand face to face with God. Hebrews 9 tells us that as long as the Old Covenant still had standing there was no access to the very presence of God. No face to face reality.
John, in Revelation 11, foresees the judgement of the great city, which is Jerusalem.
Revelation 11:8 (NKJV) And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
Revelation 11:19 (NKJV) Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.
What would this mean to John, a Jew, to be able to look and see the temple open? Could John now enter into the temple? Not yet.
Revelation 15:8 (NKJV) The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.
No one could enter the most holy place until God's wrath was completed. When would it be completed? Rev. 16:4ff and chapter 17. When God's wrath against Babylon, that great city, where the Lord was crucified was judged. In Rev. 18, judgement falls on Babylon, which is Jerusalem. What do we find in Rev. 22?
Revelation 22:1-4 (NKJV) And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. 4 They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.
This is Isaiah 52:8 fulfilled.
Isaiah 52:8 (NKJV) Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, With their voices they shall sing together; For they shall see eye to eye When the LORD brings back Zion.
When physical Israel was destroyed, spiritual Israel was brought into a face to face relationship. Israel was judged in AD 70. So seeing face to face speaks of our being in the presence of God in the most holy place, the New Jerusalem.
Paul also says that at that time he will, "Know as I am known" -- does this refer to perfect knowledge? No! This is not referring to intellectual knowledge. It refers to the knowledge of Jesus Christ as our Savior and husband. This is speaking of our relationship to Jesus Christ in the New Covenant.
Hebrews 8:10-13 (NKJV) "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 "None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. 12 "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." 13 In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
The church, once married, her husband had now consummated the marital relationship by dwelling in her. The husband had become face to face with His bride, and now His bride had fully known Him.
When that time arrived in AD 70, there was no longer a need for spiritual gifts. So Paul has given us two illustrations as to why spiritual gifts are transitory. One, they are related to the immaturity of the church. The other is because they gave us only a partial knowledge. When the perfect came, the gifts ceased.
Paul has spent much time on the transitory character of gifts. He stated it, then he explained it, then he illustrated it. He has gone to great lengths to impress the Corinthians that what they esteem very highly was transitory, just for that age. Now he concludes this paragraph by restating the permanence of love.
1 Corinthians 13:13 (NKJV) And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
"Now" is not to be taken temporally in this context, but as introducing a conclusion. He began verse 8 by saying that love never fails, now he says love abides. Love is eternal, it will endure forever. The gifts have ceased but faith, hope, and love abide. Faith abides, we are to live by faith, faith pleases God.
Hope abides. Hope abides because hope is the expectation of dropping this body and dwelling in God's presence in heaven.
Then Paul says again that love is also eternal. And love is the greatest of these virtues. Why is it the greatest? The word he uses here greatest is the Greek word meizon; it is the same word he uses in chapter 14:5.
1 Corinthians 14:5 (NKJV) I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
In both occasions Paul is telling us that what is greater is so because it is more useful. That is why love is better than faith or hope, because it is more useful. Faith is used for your benefit. Hope is used for your benefit. But love embraces you, your wife, your children, the church, and the community in which you live. Love does not seek its own but is directed toward somebody else. For that reason, it is superior to faith and hope.
What the Corinthians had been doing was placing a high priority on spiritual gifts, they were very proud about them, they were disputing over them. And among those spiritual gifts were the miraculous gifts such as prophecy, tongues and knowledge. They had placed a very low priority on Christian love. So to them, Paul says that the virtue of love is a higher priority than those spiritual gifts because love is eternal and gifts are transitory. That is why love is a higher priority, it is eternal.
Now, the struggle in our lives is not between love and spiritual gifts. But the application continues. For some of you who are athletes, the tension may be between winning a game and Christian love. The principle is that Christian love is a higher virtue, a higher priority than winning a ball game. Because love is eternal, winning a game is transitory. With many of you business men, the tension comes between love and getting that business deal. The principle is that love is a higher priority than getting that business deal by cheating or hurting someone. The reason again, is that the business deal is transitory but love is eternal. For some of us this conflict is between this type of love and winning an argument. The virtue of love in your relationship to your wife or your brother or sister is a higher priority than winning an argument. Because love is eternal, winning that argument is transitory. The principle has tremendous dynamic to it. We could state the principle like this, "what is of eternal value is a higher priority than what is of transitory value." I don't imagine that any of you would want to debate that with me. I'm sure that you all would agree with me that what is of eternal value is a higher priority than that which is of transitory value. It is when you take that principle and apply it specifically to your life, that I get the static and resistance and all of the arguments. If I were to say to you, "if you are a Christian than the cultivation of your spiritual life is a higher priority than the cultivation of your social life, your physical life, or your intellectual life. The reason is that your spiritual life is eternal. Your social life, your physical life, your intellectual pursuits are all transitory." There is the priority. The cultivation of your spiritual life is a higher priority than any other area of your life because that, and that alone is eternal while everything else is transitory. If you are a parent, the teaching and training of your children in the truth of God and the ways of God is a higher priority than buying clothes for their back, providing a house for them to live in, food for their table, or bicycles or automobiles for them to ride in. And that is because their spiritual teaching and training is eternal and everything else is transitory. If you are a school teacher, the welfare of that young person's spiritual life is a higher priority to you than teaching him his algebra or geometry because the spiritual life of those students is eternal and everything else is transitory. If you are a builder, building on the foundation of Jesus Christ is a higher priority than building a sixty story building that will gain fame and reputation for you as an architect or a builder.
That is the application. If you are a Christian, your Christian service is a higher priority than your employment Monday thru Friday. Because your Christian service is eternal and your secular employment is transitory.
What Paul has done in the majority of this passage is to emphasize to the Corinthians that what they had their highest priorities in was transitory. Don't invest your life in those areas that are passing. Invest you life in love for it is eternal.
Love is preeminent because love is permanent. Are you practicing love? Is it your highest priority? If it is not, your priorities are wrong. May God help us to hold clearly in our minds and understand the reality of these words, "the greatest of these is love."