Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1 Corinthians 13:8-12
Last week, I only covers these verses briefly because I wanted to look at them more closely this week. In these five verses we see that love is an eternal gift. Paul discusses the temporary nature of the spiritual gifts and the eternal nature of love. In 13:8, Paul talks about the temporary nature of gifts when he writes, “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” When Paul says, charity (sometimes interpreted as love) never faileth, he means love/charity/agape never ends. The synonym for this expression is “love abides” in 13:13. These phrases serve to bookend this final section where Paul argues that the spiritual gifts will be done away with one day.
The reason that spiritual gifts like prophecy and tongues will come to an end is revealed in 13:9-10. Paul writes, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” Paul explains that we are limited in our understanding, but this will not always be the case. A time of perfection is coming. The “perfect” refers to the returning of Christ. When we recall that 1 Corinthians 1:7 “So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” Paul pointed out the ongoing role of the gifts until the return of Christ, there can be only one possible interpretation of “perfection”—it is the life in the world to come, after Jesus reappears on earth.
Paul explains himself further in 13:11-12: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Paul explains that our understanding of God is indirect in this life. He uses two analogies: childhood and a mirror. In using the analogy of childhood, Paul is not suggesting that those who speak in tongues are childish and immature. Rather, he is adopting an eternal perspective and simply saying that there will come a time when the gifts of the Spirit will no longer be necessary. In essence, I have always been taught that speaking in tongues was something that would go away after the apostles did. The church would no longer be in it’s infancy.
The phrase “through a glass, darkly” is an often reused phrase that has spawned the title a of many works. The ‘glass’ that Paul describes here is actually a mirror. The analogy of the mirror implies that our visibility of Christ is indirect. In other words, Paul is comparing the nature of looking in a mirror to the relationship we will enjoy with Jesus when we see Him “face to face.” The mirrors of the ancients were of polished metal, in many cases they were of brass and they required constant polishing, so that a sponge with pounded pumice-stone was generally attached to it. And it was the apostle Paul who wrote this famous passage from the Bible in a letter to a church in Corinth, which was famous for the manufacture of these kinds of mirrors. The images reflected in these brass mirrors were indistinct in comparison to our modern mirrors. They were seen darkly.
Which, literally translated from the original Greek language in which he wrote, means, “in a riddle or enigma…that the revelation appears indistinctly, imperfectly.” Paul is telling us that this is the state of our knowledge of divine things–imperfect and incomplete. “Now I know in part,” Paul mourns. There were limitations upon the knowledge even of Paul; only a part was seen. But wonderfully, it will not always be so. One glorious moment in the future every single human being on earth will suddenly face Jesus.
This reminds me of the refrain from one of my favorite hymns,”When We All Get To Heaven:”
When we all get to Heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!
It is in that day that we will no longer “see thought the glass, darkly” but we will rejoice in the knowledge of the universe and be assured of God’s love. As 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” The English Standard Version translate this last verse to say, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” It is a truly wonderful thought that out of faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest. If only more people would keep that in mind, then we could truly “We’ll sing and shout the victory!”