Love and the Spiritual Gifts, Part 3

Feb 20, 2009

Next in chapter 13 comes some of most controversial verses in this section. Paul writes,

As for prophecies, they will pass away, as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Cor. 13.8-12)

Many read these verses as the perfect has already come. Therefore the gifts—and apparently knowledge—have passed away and are no longer available to Christians. This interpretation is one of the saddest I know. When we interpret these verses to mean that the spiritual gifts are gone, we limit the Spirit’s work in our lives in so many ways. God doesn’t completely cease working through the gifts in our lives, but like the Israelites, we see through a veil and miss out on viewing the full extent of his power. As for those who posses these gifts, how many have been limited to lesser works of service due to the lack of faith of those around them? Or have failed to recognize their gifts due to the lack of support or belief from others?

Instead, read in context, these verses do not seem to indicate that idea at all. In them Paul is speaking in present tense: Jesus has already risen, they have the Old Testament, and much of the New Testament is being written, so those don’t seem to be the “perfect” that he is talking about. He writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (13.12 emp. mine). The phrases “face to face” and “fully known” seem to indicate a meeting with Jesus, which points toward a second coming, or us being “transformed” when we die (2 Cor. 5), not anything we are currently experiencing.

He continues, saying he used to reason like a child, but now he reasons like a man. To this statement, he adds in chapter 14, “do not be children in your thinking” (20). In context, these statements seem to mean, thinking that what we see and have now is all there is, is childish thinking. When Paul became and adult, he realized that this world and everything in it—including the gifts and whose higher than whom—will pass away. He realized there is so much more beyond this life. Therefore, loving others and working to accomplish those acts of service that will last is much more valuable.

I find these thoughts rather uncomfortable. While reading through Paul’s letters and of the sacrifices he made, I would like to dismiss many of Paul’s actions as extremist. As something that was good for “that crazy apostle Paul,” who lived 2000 years ago, but not as something I should model. However, as I dug deeper, I realized that Paul wasn’t just extreme. He was living the definition of love given in chapter thirteen. This idea of loving others without limit is the most prominent part of Paul’s teaching. Over and over again, he expresses how much he cares for the churches he is serving, he emphasizes what he suffers because of his love for them, and he examines why we should be willing to sacrifice due to our love for one another (2 Cor. 5. 20-6.13, 12.11-18, I Cor. 8-9.27, 10:23-11.1). If we possessed this type of love for one another, if we gave up our childish thinking, if we refused to limit the Spirit due to our lack of knowledge or faith, what could be accomplished among us today? How might the Spirit of Christ begin to flow through us and change our lives and our world?

Do you find it hard to study the Bible?

It doesn’t have to be.

Let me help you learn a technique for studying that makes it simple. Join me as we study one chapter each week and memorize two verses of scripture each month.

You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your life.

Pin It on Pinterest