Love is Eternal
September 11, 2022 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Growing in Grace
Topic: Love Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Today, we continue our series, Growing in Grace, working our way verse by verse, passage by passage on our journey through the letter of 1 Corinthians. This letter is the holy, inspired, inerrant word of God revealed to us for our blessing. It is wisdom from above, given not so we would simply be better informed, but so that we would be transformed. As we hear what God says this morning, let’s not only meditate upon what his words mean, but what they are intended to accomplish. Let’s think about how, by God’s grace, is he calling us to grow and change in light of these truths?
If you have a Bible, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 13. If you are using the blue bible in the pew, it is on page 1197. If you do not own a Bible or have need of one, please take that one as our gift to you.
You may recall that the Corinthians were celebrating certain spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues above other gifts and it was causing problems in the church. Paul encourages their pursuit of the gifts but is concerned that they understand that love is the more important priority.
Last week, we looked at what love was and what it looked like in action. Today we continue with Paul’s teaching on love and will see that love is superior not just because of the practical blessings it brings to ourselves and others, but because love is one of very few things in the present world that extend into the next. Love is a bridge that connects our current experience of the kingdom and the fullness of it.
The main point of our message this morning is that we should pursue love because love is a present experience of the future reality of God's kingdom. Christian love is not something that points us forward to the kingdom, it is part of the kingdom that is with us already. Love is a present experience of the future reality of God's kingdom.
Paul begins in verse 8,
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
The spiritual gifts that so impressed the Corinthians turned out to be temporary. They are important, but they are not eternal. They are blessings, but ultimately will become obsolete.
The gifts are like training wheels on a child’s bike. They are a necessary and useful, but eventually their purpose is fulfilled and they will no longer be needed. The gifts are like training wheels, but love is like the frame. The frame is the central component of a bike. Even the most advanced Tour de France bicycles need a frame. If you don’t have a frame, you don’t have a bike. The gifts prepare us for the kingdom, but love is part of the kingdom.
Throughout the letter Paul has been making distinctions between “now” and “then”. The coming of Jesus marks a turning point in history. The kingdom of God is already dawning but is not yet fully realized. Believers in Jesus have received a new identity as citizens of God’s kingdom. We experience some realities of that new world “now” but do “not yet” fully experience it because we live, for a time, in the old world that is passing away.
This “already but not yet” framework is the basis of how believers should think about the world. The world appears a certain way now, but it will be different then. What looks like foolishness now is wisdom then. What looks like weakness now is glory then. Believers must therefore be careful not to assess things as the world does but according to the promise of Jesus’ coming.
That is why Paul cautions us in chapter 4 verse 5 to “not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes.” And reminds us in chapter 7, verse 31 that 31 … the present form of this world is passing away. The same logic is behind all his ethical teaching in this letter.
Many people are drawn to the more dramatic expressions of spirituality. Tongues, prophecy, and other showy expressions of spiritual power get a lot of attention, but Paul says they are part of what is passing away rather than what will abide.
When my kids were younger, we camped a lot. Often, I would ball up newspaper to help get the campfire started. Paper burns very brightly and very hot so when you light it you get a dramatic eruption of heat and flame. It looks impressive, but it doesn’t last long. You wouldn’t want to use paper as the main source of fuel for a campfire. If you want to stay warm all night you need the slower, more consistent, fire from wood that will continue to burn.
The paper may be more impressive in the short term, but it isn’t enough to keep the fire going. Like paper in a campfire, the spiritual gifts are transitional. They belong to an age that is ending. They are useful for a time but then are no longer required. Once the fire is going, you don’t need to put in more paper.
The gifts designed for the church in this age are not needed once we are with the Lord. The Kingdom of God does not emerge from the old; but instead makes the old obsolete. The coming Kingdom is not simply the old in new form. It is a new creation brought forth by an act of God.
But love is part of that new creation, that begins the moment God graciously implants a new heart into his children and will extend into our eternity with the Lord. I like the way 18th century theologian Wilhelm Besser describes it. He said, “love passes over into eternal joy because it is eternal life already in time”
So, love continues but in verse 10 Paul tells us that the spiritual gifts will pass away when the perfect comes. There is a lot of controversy about this verse because of the role it plays in debates about whether gifts like tongues and prophecy are still functioning in the church today.
Those who argue for them ceasing point to the fact that Paul says the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will cease and they usually argue the perfect refers to the completion of the New Testament. Those who argue those gifts continue claim Paul says they will continue until the perfect comes and usually argue the perfect refers to the return of Christ.
We are going to look more closely at tongues, prophecy, and knowledge when we get to chapter 14 but since this is such an important verse and I know it is of interest to several of you, let me just say a couple things before moving on.
I do not think what is usually called the gift of tongues today is a continuation of the gift we see in the New Testament. I also do not think the gift of prophecy, or special gifts of knowledge are in general operation within the church today. I do not deny that people have legitimate experiences along those lines, but I think those are best described in other ways.
But I also do not think this verse refers to the completion of the New Testament. In fact, I don’t think this verse is decisive for either view. Our ultimate conclusions on the matter of gifts must rely on several other factors in addition to this verse.
So, I am not going to deal too much with the technical details of interpreting this verse this morning. If you were looking forward to that I am happy to follow up with you individually. Just write “let’s talk” on the back of a connection card and turn it into the box.
The perfect in verse 10 is contrasted with the partial in verse 9. It is clear from the context that the partial refers to the gifts. Although he mentions tongues, prophecy, and knowledge specifically, the flow from chapter 12 into 13 suggests these are representative of all the gifts. These may happen to have been the ones that were most relevant to the situation in Corinth but Paul’s observation in verse 10 is a general observation that includes all the special enabling gifts.
Paul’s grammar indicates the partial will continue until the perfect comes. It is clear, however, as we trace Paul’s argument that his main purpose is not to identify exactly when any particular gift would end, but to emphasize that the gifts themselves are all temporary, while love is permanent. The gifts belong to an era that will end when the perfect comes but that doesn’t tell us anything about whether all or any specific gifts continue until then.
God grants the gifts as he sees fit and a gift may cease or continue based upon his purposes. Back in chapter 12 verse 11 Paul said, all the gifts “11 … are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” And then in verse 18 he says God arranges the members as he chooses.
Remember that the purpose of the gifts is to empower believers to make the Spirit of Christ visible, to reveal it. So, Paul is not saying that all the gifts must continue until the perfect comes but only that all the gifts belong to the era of partial revelation that will end when the perfect comes.
So, what is the perfect? Some have argued that since Paul specifically highlighted gifts of revelation the perfect refers to the completion of the New Testament or the end of God laying the foundation of the church through the apostles and prophets. There is some strength to that and it would certainly be more convenient for my view, but I don’t think that fits with the overall flow of Paul’s logic or with his references in verse 12 to what happens when the perfect comes.
Rather than referring to a specific event, it seems Paul is referring to the coming age that brings about the realization of the perfect and complete reality to which the gifts always pointed. The perfect is the revelation of the Kingdom that comes with the return of Jesus Christ. It is the culmination of the people of God moving from the “now” of faith to the “then” of realization.
Paul began the letter with the following words in chapter 1 verses 4–7,
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The perfect is not a point on the timeline of history, but the destination toward which all history is flowing. It involves not only the completed revelation of God’s truth in the propositions of the Bible, but also in our beholding the glory of Jesus Christ face to face.
Therefore, love is of an entirely different and higher order than these other gifts. It is part of the image of Jesus Christ in believers that will be perfected in glory. It is the completion of the journey of a sinner from one who hates and rejects God to one who loves him and has become a partaker in the divine love.
All of us have rejected God as king, broken his laws, and pursued our own desires. We have been greedy, selfish, and unloving. Sin is essentially a desire for there to be no God so that we could use the things he made for our own selfish pleasures without any guilt or accountability. But a day is coming soon for each of us when we will stand in judgment before a holy God, and we will stand there guilty. When our sinful hearts are examined in light of God’s love, we will be found to have nothing worthy to commend us. If our only defense is to point to our own lives, we are doomed.
But in an extraordinary act of love and mercy, God sent his son Jesus who took on a human nature and a human body and lived a perfect life. He was the only human being who was righteous in the flesh. Then He exchanged His perfect righteousness for the sin of all those who would put their faith in Him. He took the sin and death and gave righteousness and life in return.
On the cross, Jesus was punished in our place. He experienced the wrath of God, being tortured, and crucified on a cross. He was forsaken so that we could be forgiven. He died and then three days later, He rose again proving that sin and death have been defeated. On that basis God now calls sinners everywhere to repent and believe in Jesus.
He promises that all who do so will be freed from the penalty of sin by the blood, freed from the power of sin by the new birth, and will one day be freed from the presence of sin, resurrected, and glorified to be with God forever when the perfect comes.
Friends, if you believe in Jesus Christ, you are being transformed by the power of God and are looking forward, trusting in the promise, that a day is coming when we will be freed from all our sin and weakness and made suitable as citizens God’s kingdom. That new life and that new age are characterized by love for we are being transformed into the image of Christ, and Christ is God, and God is love.
It does not therefore make sense to allow divisions to come from the expressions or pursuit of gifts, or anything else, because their entire purpose of them is to bring us to maturity in love for God and each other.
Paul gives us two illustrations to help us understand his point. In verse 11 he says,
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
As we grow, we leave behind those immature ways of thinking and communicating that were natural to us when we were younger and mature in our ways of thinking. If you were to go into work this week and hear one of your coworkers’ singing songs from Barney or Sesame Street, it would probably raise some eyebrows, right?
A failure to move on from infantile entertainments as we mature into adulthood would be foolish and indicate a serious problem. These Corinthians saw these gifts as evidence of spiritual maturity, but Paul says they are being childish. He is really telling them to “grow up”. The time has come for them to stop pursuing things that pertain to development and focus instead on those things that pertain to maturity.
The gifts that were causing the most issues in Corinth were gifts connected to revelation and knowledge. Part of Paul’s argument for why love is better than these gifts is because each of these only produces a partial or incomplete knowledge.
We will still have love once the fullness of knowledge comes, but there will be no need for a partial disclosure of knowledge or wisdom once we are with Christ in glory. That’s why Paul says in verse 12,
12 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.
We again see this emphasis on the “now” vs. “then”. Now we see dimly but when the perfect comes we will see face to face. For us seeing someone in a mirror and see them face to face may not be that big of a difference. Perhaps you have seen those carnival attractions where you go into a room full of mirrors so people appear all around you and you can’t really tell which image is the real one.
Well, in the first century they did not have the kind of mirrors we have today. In Paul’s day, a mirror would be a polished piece of metal or mercury behind glass. Although you could tell what you were looking at it would not be a perfect reflection. The image would be distorted and cloudy in places.
Similarly, Paul says in the same way our knowledge is limited now, but it will be made complete. Paul is not saying we will know everything or that we will become omniscient. We know that because in the next verse we see that faith and hope also continue. He is talking about the knowledge of the revelation of Christ in our salvation.
It is similar to what the apostle Peter says in 1 Peter chapter 1. In verse 3-5 Peter says,
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Like Paul, Peter is also looking forward to the full revelation of salvation that comes in the last age. After encouraging believers to persevere through trials Peter says this in verse 8,
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Both Peter and Paul recognize that believers know Jesus but do not experience the full revelation of our lord until He returns. Both encourage us to look forward in great anticipation to that time when we will see him face to face. It is then that our transformation will be complete.
The apostle John explains it this way 1 John 3:2 when he says,
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
In the “now” we are already God’s children but what we will be has not yet fully been realized. When Christ returns, we will see him as he is, and we shall be like him. The church will no longer need the gifts to build us up into the image of Christ, because we will be like him.
Our faithfulness, which is so inconsistent now, will be made perfect like his. Our joy, which is so easily stolen, will be perfect like his. Our love, which is so weak at times will be perfect like his. As Paul will say a couple chapters later, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will bear the image of the man of heaven.”
We wait in anticipation of that day that none of us deserve, but which comes to us by grace. The extraordinary thing though is that we get a taste of it even now through love. If we will humble ourselves, repent, and believe, we can experience God’s love for us even now. It is a love that is not dependent upon our goodness, but his. Not our faithfulness, but his. And we can make that love visible in our love for one another.
Paul finishes in verse 13,
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
It isn’t Paul, but John that is known as the apostle of love but as we conclude chapter 13 we must admit that there is perhaps no greater single meditation on love than the one Paul gives us. As he concludes, he once again affirms love as the greatest of all virtues.
God does not need faith and he cannot cherish hope, but he loves. Not only does he love, he is love. Love is the most Christlike of all virtues because Jesus has made known the love of the Father to a world of sin and darkness that hated him. Jesus not only proclaimed the love of God, he embodied it. His entire ministry was marked by love, and it was love that led him to die in the place of sinners.
Love is the greatest because love alone is an end to itself. Faith is not an end; it is a means to something else. By faith we are united to Christ from whom all the benefits of salvation flow. Faith is like an extension cord. Our faith has no power of its own but unites us to Jesus who is the source of all the blessing and power. Saving faith is trusting in God’s promise to save based upon the work of Jesus and is the means of eternal life, but not the life itself.
Hope is also not an end in itself; it is a settled assurance in and waiting upon God in confidence. Today people use the word hope to refer to something uncertain that they want to happen. That isn’t what Paul means. Biblical hope is a settled assurance that God will keep his promise. It is like the confidence that you have that you will be admitted to an event because you are holding the ticket. Hope is the confidence of the faithful in eternal life, but it is not life itself.
But love is different. Love is life in the kingdom. Theologians may disagree as to what it means to have faith and hope in heaven, but there is no such quarrel about love. Love is the greatest expression of Christian grace. Even faith and hope can never carry us beyond love because to love is to be like God.
Love is the true test of spiritual maturity. We may follow all the rules with external obedience but until we mature in love, we are novices in the faith. We may be able to discuss doctrine with incredible precision and breadth, but until we reach maturity in love, we are still children in the faith.
It is my prayer that the greatest desire of this congregation would be to constantly grow in our love for God and for each other. I want us to preach and teach the truth not so that we can get smarter, but so that we can love better. I want us to fellowship and outreach not so that our numbers can grow, but so the love of God can be known and shared by as many people as possible. It is my prayer that we become known more than anything else as a church that enjoys and shares God’s grace in the love of Christ.
I would like to finish the message this morning with the words of the apostle John in 1 John 4:7–11,
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
 Highlight verse 10 and underline Perfect
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