If your experience with 1 Corinthians 13 is limited to wedding ceremonies and greeting cards, you will have probably missed the important theological message of this chapter.
The Corinthians church believed in what scholars call “realized eschatology.”
Don’t let my 50 Cent words scare you off. Eschatology comes from the Greek word, “eschaton.” The eschaton is the goal of history.
The goal of history is the new heavens and new earth that God will bring about in the future.
The Corinthians church overemphasized the present-day experience of God and acted like their current experience was the best anyone could expect.
The church focused on the gifts of the Spirit because the gifts allowed them to experience heaven on earth.
They placed a high value on tongues because it was the language of heaven. Prophecy was the means by which heaven communicated with earth.
Their theology reflected the culture of Corinth. Citizens of the city didn’t believe in life after death.
The worship of pagan gods in the various temples in Corinth was focused on making daily life better. The gods were sought out for economic prosperity, physical health, children, and the like.
The church was influenced by the prevailing culture. They placed little emphasis on resurrection life and overemphasized the benefits of spiritual gifts in the present.
Already, but not yet.
Paul knew the church was living “between the times.” Christ had “already” accomplished salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit for his followers.
However, God’s plan was “not yet” complete. The eschaton which is the goal of history was not yet realized.
Resurrection life for the church is yet to come.
Let’s read the “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians in the light of gifts that are “tools” for the “already” portion of our existence. At the same time, love will endure when the goal of history has arrived.
— 1 Corinthians 13.8-13 – Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Here are some points to consider.
(1) The spiritual gift “tools” are valuable in the present. They enable us to have a personal relationship with God.
We speak to him in a heavenly language and he communicates with us through revelation knowledge and prophecy.
While these gifts are important, love is even more so. Love will last through this age and will be the most important quality when the goal of history has been achieved.
(2) Children have ways of speech and action that are appropriate and beneficial to their age.
Once children grow into adulthood, adult behavior is expected.
The gifts that are valuable in the “childhood” of our relationship with God are important. Yet, when history reaches its goal, childhood gifts will no longer be useful.
In chapter 14, Paul describes the use of spiritual gifts. His words in chapter 13 do not negate the use of the gifts of the Spirit.
His words point to the “more excellent way” of chapter 12. The church should pursue the more excellent way of love.
(3) The gifts of the Spirit allow us to know God as if viewing him through the means of a bronze mirror.
Corinth was known for its bronze. Glass mirrors like we have today were not in existence in the first century.
The gifts of tongues, prophecy, and revelation knowledge are important in the “already” portion of history. They allow us to see God “dimly.”
When the goal of history has been realized, we will not need these “tools,” because we will see God face to face.
(4) The spiritual gifts that are so valuable in this age will not be needed when we experience the full revelation of God and his glory.
Love is highly valued in the presence of God. The atmosphere of heaven is God’s continual breath of love and human love is the only quality that can appreciate it.
(5) Clearly, chapter 13 should be more than pretty words for weddings and greeting cards.
Our most important priority in life should be the development of love. It is the only thing that will be necessary in the world to come.
The best definition of love is not a combination of words in a dictionary or a beautiful poem.
Meditate on the cross and resurrection of Jesus and you will have the best picture of love.
To pursue love is the same as desiring to live a Jesus-kind-of-life. If we make this our priority, the Holy Spirit will develop love within us.
Rudy Ross and I have produced a YouTube video on this passage. It can be seen on the Bob Spradling channel.
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