Begin by reading verse 13, and give thanks for your present experience of God’s love in the last few weeks and months.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Paul pictures time with two poles: what Christ did for us in the past, and what will happen when Christ returns. In between is the present, the messy middle, and it is in this period that Paul lived and we live. In this time, our experience of Christ and his Spirit is real, but partial (see verses 9,10), far less than we shall experience ‘when completeness comes’ (v 10) at Christ’s return. Our spiritual gifts are not the final perfection: our spiritual knowledge and experience, prophesying, and tongues-speech are partial (vs 8,9). One thing that will last into eternity is love (vs 8,13), for God’s own character is love.
Paul gives two illustrations. First, our present situation is like childhood. There’s nothing wrong with being a child – this isn’t a put-down of the Corinthians’ spiritual experience – but children are meant to grow up (v 11). That’s something to look forward to, rather than wanting to live in a spiritual Never-Never Land like Peter Pan. Second, Corinth was known for its bronze mirrors, which were good by the standards of the time. But even the best reflected image does not compare with seeing a person face to face (v 12), in the way Moses saw God face to face (Numbers 12:8) – and that’s what we look forward to!
Make a plan to help you keep the hope of Christ’s return before your mind and act on it.
Deeper Bible study
‘… the greatest of these is love’ (v 13). Praise God that he loves us and created us with the capacity to love others.
We shouldn’t forget that this chapter in context relates to the practice of spiritual gifts. In its original setting, it comes between two passages which deal in detail with the use and abuse of such gifts. More broadly, it is set in a letter addressed to a church whose members were struggling to show love for one another.
One of the ways Paul exalts love is by pointing out that spiritual gifts will cease (v 8) at the coming of ‘completeness’ (v 10). This is not a reference to the completion of the canon of Scripture, as some have argued, for this does not fit with verse 12. Rather it is a reference to the return of Christ. All the gifts of the Spirit continue today. However, they will cease, for a time is coming when they will no longer be necessary. Love, by contrast, will never fail – either now or in eternity. It is at the heart of God’s very nature and the hallmark of authentic Christian discipleship.
This is the crescendo of Paul’s overarching argument. What’s the answer to the misuse of spiritual gifts? It’s love. The abuse of freedom? It’s the same answer. The problems with worship, the issues with Communion? Once again, the answer’s love. This is not to reduce the gospel so it just becomes about loving people in some vague way. There is content, there is truth (who could read Paul and think otherwise?), but love must be shot through everything we do, from the doctrine we teach to the ways we practise evangelism. Love is over all and will characterise our future when debates about charismata have become redundant. Let’s allow that future to break into our present and do everything, without exception, in the name of the greatest virtue. Let’s do everything in the name of love.
Pause and reflect on one dimension of your discipleship (eg church, home or work). How can love better shape the way you follow Jesus there?
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Jeremiah 19,20; John 8
Pray for Scripture Union
Please pray that many more churches across the country will grasp the importance of sharing Jesus with children and young people and commit to invest in this vital work. (This week's prayers relate to this article)