Normally, I give a briefing as to how we got to this point from the beginning of the book, but there is SO much going on in these next chapters that I’m going to drop that so I can maximize the time we spend on what this chapter and the subsequent texts actually say. Long-time viewers will realize we have done this before, especially in the latter chapters of Hebrews, but in other places as well. One of the issues of the expositor is how to best open up and unpack the details of the text, and it comes sometimes in the form of what we do.
However, before I begin, I will remind us all that the letters to the Corinthians that are in Scripture are letters number two and four of a 4-letter set of correctional missives from the Apostle Paul to the Church at Corinth. Corinth was the church with the most problems in the New Testament. We need to keep this top of mind, because it has implications for building sound, biblical theology and doctrine. If we do not keep this in mind as we read through the book, we can very quickly run off into the ditch, much like the modern Charismatic movement has done. I have some mixed feelings about this, because as I have recounted more than once, I was saved in the Charismatic movement. In fact, the Charismatics movement was born as a reaction to the dead fundamentalism of the Catholic church, and it was one of those Catholic Charismatics that preached the gospel to me when the Lord finally did regenerate me. Previously I had prayed at the age of 8 that the Lord would “come into my heart” like the nice Baptist lady said at the Vacation Bible School I attended. I don’t know that I was saved then, I went on living my life for me and not Him, but I do think it kept me from a great deal of heartache in high school and still does.
My first church was a Pentecostal church, and my first pastor was a man named Bruce Nehring, who has gone to be with the Lord at this point. His son Evan is still a friend of mine, and was the valedictorian of my high school graduating class. There are many good and godly men and women in the Pentecostal movement today, and to condemn all of them because they have been taken in by some of these doctrines of men would be a very unkind cut indeed. Even is, I believe, one of those. I know at least one of his sisters (Sheri), and I was in our school choir with her. Back then, she sang like an angel, and I hope she still does. Although, she did once blow the high not of Silent Night at a school assembly, and the boys from the football team made a lot of people laugh by their imitations of her later, in which a couple of them sang higher than she did. Poor girl was SO embarrassed, but I know that that’s like – I blew the money note in O Holy Night in front of Anthony Lemke and his family (he’s a Canadian actor of which I am a big fan – his credits include The Listener, Flashpoint, Whitehouse Down, Dark Matter, and many other things). He was here visiting his parents, who are a member of the congregation where I have been attending of late. His Father has now gone to meet God face to face, but his mother is a friend and still a member of that congregation. Anyway, my point isn’t to name-drop. I missed the note when for me it really counted, and I know how she felt. I think Anthony Lemke was a little more kind to me than those boys were to her. I love them both, and many others I have not named that either are or were in that movement.
However, when I graduated high school and moved to Ottawa for university, I fell out of touch with my first church, and found a Brethren-Assembly-like gathering (they claimed to be open but were more like closed brethren in practice). It was those folks that taught me the importance of actually reading my bible and learning what the Scriptures said, as opposed to what I was doing. When I returned home to try to earn money for my continued study in biology that summer, I naturally went back to the church that I started at, but things had…well, changed. A new pastor was there, and he wanted to be called Pastor Jack. I knew his last name at a certain point, but I have forgotten it. Pastor Jack was actually a oneness Pentecostal, meaning he denied the doctrine of the trinity I had learned, but I didn’t find that out until later. They were doing “bible study” in – I know you’re expecting me to give chapter and verse here, but I can’t – they were actually reading Kenneth Hagin books and calling it Bible Study. I know, it sounds like I’m rambling, but I am coming to a point. The night that I will remember permanently was the night where we read a passage I had read just that morning in context. And Kenneth Hagin used the text out of context. Well, you can just know who had to speak up. Yep, couldn’t shut me up then either. I opened my NIV (the only one I had at the time), and it was a gift, and a paperback copy (it is still around here somewhere). One of my high school teachers (Mr. and Mrs. Bartolo) had given it to me, and they were members of that congregation. I pointed out from that Bible that Kenneth Hagin had ignored the proper context of the verse, and had in fact said the very opposite thing to what the verse meant. Brothers and sisters, you could have heard a pin hi the carpet in that room. The silence seemed to stretch for a very LONG time – although looking back, I’m sure it was only a few seconds – and then all hell broke loose in that room, and it was aimed at me.
My grade six teacher, a man that knew my dad (and was his friend personally – my dad was in the metal shop when Don lost his finger when THEY were in high school, and I was the friend of his son David who was a year younger than me), physically came at me. He stopped short – just – of running into me or my seat, but his face was red with anger. “How dare you?” He hollered at me. The ladies in the room cringed. My friend and first discipler (well he tried anyway) Brian recoiled from him physically. It’s funny what you remember when you look back at stuff like this. I distinctly remember the smell of fresh paint drying in the room (it had been painted a couple of days earlier). The edited-for-length version of the story is that he told me to leave and not come back. The short version of that is that I respected his wishes and never returned. You have to know where he was coming from to understand the anger, and I do. I sincerely hope he repented of his religiosity before he passed away. I was basically tossed out of the Charismatic movement and Pentecostal church for reading my bible and standing against error. I didn’t know at the time who Kenneth Hagin was – he is called the grandfather of the modern Charismatic movement, and even then (he was still alive then I think) held in such high esteem as to be placed next to the Saviour on His throne or some such tripe.
Now, I tell that story with this purpose: If you want to know what the Bible actually says, and then live by its principles and follow our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, I don’t think you can stay in a movement that so abuses and twists His word, the Scriptures for their basic doctrines, MOST of which come from chapters 12 and 14 of this book we are now studying. If you need help with leaving that organization you are in that is attached to the Charismatic movement, or if you have been reading your Bible and having difficulty lining it up with the nonsense coming out of the average Charismatic pulpit, you can contact us at BereanNation.com. I will help find resources for you, and even a decent place to worship in your area if that can be found. You don’t have to stay in a Hillsong-like place or a Bethel “church” in Redding, California. I would be honoured to help you stand in real freedom, and it is largely because of the chapter we are studying this evening. I could tell you some real horror stories, but I won’t. But that doesn’t have to be you. You can leave that kind of brain-damaged theology behind, and we would like to be of service if possible.
Now, we will turn our attention to Chapter 13. Have you ever read a chapter and asked why it appears where it does in Scripture? This is one of those chapters for me. We just read a chapter about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God we worship, the one who seems averse to being named and makes it his business to glorify the Son of God instead. In fact in that chapter, which we had to break in half you will recall, there were two separate lists of gifts that the Holy Spirit gave to the church, and ALL REAL believers. Not all gifts were given to all believers, which contradicts a dangerous and extreme doctrine that says that “speaking in tongues” is the proof of your salvation. We saw last time that it was basically the easiest one to fake, and that many people did so to “prove” their “salvation.” Please note my use of air quotes to indicate that I am most decidedly NOT using those terms in the way they are supposed to be used.
In fact, we spent a little time establishing that a “tongue” was the Greek word glossa and that a proper translation of the word from majority use in Koine Greek is the word LANGUAGE. I state again that we are speaking of the use of language with this term. It may be contrasted with heteroglossa, a compound word that is best translated as “other languages.” I’m bringing this up, because in the very first verse of this chapter, Paul will use the term, and he’s going to use it in a conditional phrase. And we need to understand that conditional phrases must actually have conditions met before whatever they are giving conditions for can happen. You’ll see what I mean as we get into the chapter.
I broke the chapter down as follows:
KV8a: The Most Excellent Way of Agape Love
8a: Love never fails;
1-3: No Love, No Benefit
4-7: Characteristics of Agape Love
8-13: Agape Love is the Completion of Christian Maturity
KV8a: The Most Excellent Way of Agape Love
8a: Love never fails;
Before I jump in to the text as a whole, I must remind everyone that there is a context for this chapter. It follows immediately on a discussion of how not every believer gets every gift, and certainly not in full measure for all gifts. They are given in a proportion that is assigned when we are justified before God at our salvation by the Holy Spirit (12:13), and then the believer begins to use those gifts rightly for the edification of the church, the body of Christ as God desires (12:18). At the end of that discussion, Paul says this phrase:
31b: …And I show you a still more excellent way.
Paul is saying here, that after all of the discussion of these gifts that God gave for the building up of Christ’s body, the church, and desiring all the greater gifts, which he points out in those verses as apostles, prophets, and teachers, those who are to plant, fertilize, and tend the garden, to put it another way, which is what Paul wants all believers in Corinth to pursue (12:31a), he tells us of this hyperboleen, or hyperbolic path, a way that denotes excellence, exceeding greatness, what is beyond just going through the motions in terms of attitude and motivation. The song that expresses this idea in a phrase is We’re on the Upward Way.
What is this way? When we get into the text. We see in the very first part of verse 1, the Greek word agape. This is one of four words for “love” in the Scripture. Greeks seem to have a word for everything, and Greek-like languages do the same. An example of that would be Russian, and it has 27 different words for snow. Now I know there is a linguistic scholar in attendance here, and he can correct my language theory if he likes, but that’s the concept I am illustrating.
This chapter is known by pretty much everyone that is any version of the bible as the love chapter, so we are going to look at the kind of love the chapter is speaking about.
The first word for love in Greek is eros, the more physical kind of love, often involving alluring kinds of ideas, and a seduction of the object, in the best sense of seduction, not involving the dark nature of that word. We get our English word “erotic” from this idea, although in Greek it doesn’t have to have a sexual connotation. One can be seduced by ideas. Examples of that would be Marxism, or its opposite number, Fascism.
The second word is the Greek phileos, which denotes a friendly affection for one’s acquaintances, and can vary in degree of affection by proximity, or by closeness to an individual. This is where most people start for most people, until events and attitudes shift them in one direction or another, either closer or farther from an individual in an emotional sense.
The third word has to do with family, and is the Greek word storge (stor-GAE). This is more like the love within a family, like I have for my son and daughters. It is more than just a friendly kind of emotional attachment, and something like self-sacrifice can be involved. There are very few things I would not do for my children, and under the right circumstance, I would even die willingly to protect them. People other than family can enter that realm. I have a few people that I consider the proverbial brothers (and sisters) from another mother, and they are like that for me. Please don’t ask if you’re in that circle, it is a good way to get moved out of that circle.
The last word is that word agape. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew Equivalent was aheb (aay-HEEB), and informs the reader of the love that consciously chooses an object for itself, though that’s only part of the meaning. It is unlike all the other loves in that there is no emotion that necessarily goes with it. The translators of the Septuagint (LXX) chose this relatively unused word to render God’s love because it is so different than human love of any variety. After its adoption to this purpose, it came to mean the love of God, which is self-giving, self-deprecating, self-sacrificing love of God. It is more of a commitment than mere emotional ties comparatively, and it is best expressed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself on the cross at Calvary. Humans are incapable of this kind of love naturally. The closest this might come in the natural realm is the soldier that throws himself on an exploding grenade to save his friends, who he has become close to, like a strong version of storge I suppose. THAT is the kind of Love that Paul is about to describe qualitatively.
1-3: No Love, No Benefit
In fact, Paul is so serious about this benefit, he is about to tell the Corinthians, and by extension us, that there is nothing quite so good as this way, and that without this particular motivation in play, anything we do is, well, worthless. Let’s get into the text.
1: If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
- Right at the start, there is a need to clarify and define what Paul has said here in the context of what has just passed (chapter 12) and what is coming (in chapter 14). Do you recall that I am always going on about what was going on in the culture at the time? Here is why. You MUST understand that the pagan worshippers of the Greek and/or Roman gods (same beings, different names as near as I can tell) had specific practices. I cannot recall where we looked at it, but I will repeat here that the proximity of Corinth to the Oracle of Delphi geographically can actually explain speaking in the gobbledy-gook that the Corinthians (and after them the early Montanists, the early church version of the Charismatics) were calling “tongues” all on its own. Add to that fact that all of the so-called gods and goddesses of that area and era had versions of that oracle in that the followers wound themselves up into an ecstatic frenzy and babbled unintelligible language-like syllables, and you get a pagan practice that new converts try to incorporate into their new belief because they don’t know any better.
- Paul was challenging that idea. I can actually imagine their countering arguments. When confronted that their polysyllabic nonsense was in fact not real language, they would answer, “But Paul, you don’t understand! This is a heavenly language! This is what the angels speak in heaven!” I think my answer is like what Paul’s would have been. Okay, no it isn’t, and your so-called prayer language isn’t relevant anyway – here’s why. But how is Paul engaging them? With great patience and instruction, as he says later to Timothy.
- Paul is essentially saying in hypothetical style, “Okay, let’s allow what you say for a moment. If I am speaking any known language, of me or even angels (by the way, that’s a valid translation of that phrase, “even of angels,” I did a little lexicon work), if my motivation is not agape love, then I have become a noisy gong or crashing cymbal (another of their pagan practices that were trying to make their way into their new faith because they didn’t know any better).” Basically – look, even if one could allow that, if you’re just doing it for the sake of doing it, it is worthless. And he continues that analogy into the next verse.
2: If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
- Paul continues the same sentence, “Even if I could speak the whole counsel of God to you at once and make you understand what it means for your life, and I could answer any question about anything ever, and had enough faith to really affect change of the kind that only God will do – without agape love, I am nothing. Nada. Bupkis.”
- That is to say, your perceived status does not matter, your ability (real or imagined) does not matter, your belief (regardless of focus) does not matter, even your RESULTS (the moved mountains) DO NOT MATTER if you are not practicing God’s divine, self giving, self-sacrificing love! If you are in this category, you MAY be a false convert, by the way. Just saying – a handful on purpose. And Paul is still not finished.
3: And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
- Giving all one’s possessions to feed the poor has the picture associated with it of an individual that sells their entire estate, liquidating everything they have to get the currency to help those in need where they need help, by the way. Typically that means feeding the poor even today, but I’ve seen other applications. I can remember that the congregation once paid for a fellow’s winter heating fuel. That’s a possible application. The congregation paid my tuition for Bible College when I could not really pay it myself. That’s an application. The idea is helping those without the financial resources in real ways.
- Now this next example is a big deal. Think about what Paul is saying in historical context. When this letter was written, it was the Jews that were doing the majority of the persecution, the Roman stuff came later after the burning of Rome that Nero ordered. This letter was written while on his first missionary journey, so that hasn’t happened yet. He’s talking about letting the Jews stone him to death and then burn the body, just like they did to Achan, the guy that stole the stuff under the ban in Jericho, which led to the defeat of Ai. Paul is talking about surrendering to them and letting them do what they would do, so that they would make him a martyr who died for the faith.
- You can do those things without that agape love, that self-giving, self-sacrificing love of God – and it has NO BENEFIT – to you, or anyone else for that matter.
It is a fair statement here that Paul is telling us that if we do not have that love of God guiding our actions, guiding our choices, modifying our attitudes, or underpinning our motivations, that nothing we do is worth anything. That is a SOBERING thought. Think about how many times somebody said or did something to you where you reacted badly. Now think about what your response was worth in terms of the kingdom of God. Not a personal best, is it. That’s not a question. And we have ALL been here. And we have all seen people do this, sometimes to us, sometimes to others.
I could talk at length about the times people have done things like this that I have witnessed, had to deal with as an elder, had to have people talk to me about, and ad infinitum, ad nauseum…all having someone respond without that love of God in mind or care about the consequences of their actions or words. We won’t. Because it isn’t worth anything.
Instead, we will examine the characteristics of this love of God, which we are calling agape love to distinguish it from all the other kinds of love we could speak about, and we will do so in the next section.
4-7: Characteristics of Agape Love
As you might expect, the love of God has characteristics that are identifiable, and definable. These descriptive statements are yet another list, in this case of the things that God’s love does. If you are growing in this kind of exercise, you are headed in the right direction.
As I stated in brief before, I will say again in more detail. Agape love, the love of God, is different from any other kind of love that we could have. It is different from physical love certainly, although God created that also. It is different than simple friendly affection between friends, and it is even different than a parent’s love of a child, also known as natural affection. All of these have their basis in some kind of emotion. That isn’t a bad thing because emotions are also given by God, but those emotions can be overdeveloped, and strong emotion can often warp responses or even turn things into willful rebellion.
Agape love is different. It is independent of emotions, though emotions can be involved. It can, in fact, be done in spite of how you may feel about a person, object, or situation. It is more of a commitment to see something through than the rest of these other types. Let’s look at what characterizes that love of God. Here we go, a phrase at a time.
4: Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,
- The first thing love is – patient. This is the word for longsuffering, to bear with for long periods, to suffer patiently. Although it says nothing about one’s attitude while suffering, the next phrase does.
- Love is kind. This is the verb form of chrestotes, to be kind, sometimes translated as goodness of heart. KJV says gentleness, but I think the word “pleasant” or “gracious” would be more like what is meant here.
- Every time you see the word “and” you can actually exchange that in lists with a comma, and that is what we will do here. The next phrase say love is not jealous. The Greek here can also be translated as “does not covet.” this is important, because human jealousy is always based on covetous attitudes and desires. However, our God, Moses tells us in Exodus 20:5, is a jealous God. Jealousy, when God has it, is not sinful, because he is altogether righteous in his desires and actions. That’s what “holy” means. He sure isn’t like us. He wants to take back what is actually His and was unjustly removed from Him. We usually want what we have no right to have, and the love of God when displayed, is NOT jealous.
- Love does not brag. The Greek word is perpereuomai, meaning to boast, or more specifically, to “vaunt oneself” (Vine’s). It comes from the root word perperos, a word that we would directly translate as braggart. In other words, if you find yourself using an occasion to make a commercial about yourself, that is NOT Christian love. It isn’t very humble, either. It is the opposite of it – vainglorious is another translation of this word.
- Love is not arrogant. The word here for arrogant is phusioo, and means to “puff up, to blow up or inflate,” and comes from the root phusa, for “bellows.” It is only used in the New Testament metaphorically, accoring to Vine, in the sense of being puffed up with pride. You ever hear a Ray Stevens song called The Mississippi Squirrel Revival? There’s a line in there that describes this non-loving point better than I can. “So he moved on down to the ‘Amen” pew, where sat sister Bertha Better-than-you…” It’s that Better-than-you attitude that best expresses the opposite of love here.
- You know, if you’re anything like me, you can probably find a too-high number of examples of the negative behaviours in your own life on honest self examination. Brothers and sisters, do not despair – this has just become your to-do list for the duration. Take what you normally do and cry out to our merciful God to change you. Be careful though – God answers prayer, and He WILL answer yours.
5: does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
- The list of phrases continues here. Love does not act unbecomingly. The Greek that translates into “act unbecomingly” is actually a compound word that is from the negative (the prefix a) of schema “a form.” This is kind of a reference to manners (the form), but is also about how one engages those manners, which has more to do with the attitude. We must not behave unseemly. If we do that, it isn’t love we are expressing. I have had to a number of times explain why I have been more than cordial with a man that has been known to irritate me and others, often in antagonistic fashion. This is why. To answer back or to take action because of his bad attitude might make me feel better, but it would involve bad behaviour from me most times, and I am called to express – embody really to the degree I am able – agape love. And many times, I cannot do that so I do nothing immediately. I’m not perfect, beloved. I don’t think anyone here is.
- Love does not seek its own. This is another compound word. One of those words is the preposition that refers to oneself. The other simply means to seek, or to seek after. Love does not seek oneself. What does that mean? I think it doesn’t try to elicit a like response, at least in part. It also means it does not seek its own benefit or interest. Think about what Jesus did for us. He came for us and died a horrible death to set us free while He was under NO obligation to do so.
- Love is not provoked. The Greek here means “to sharpen,” and is used in a metaphorical sense to mean to arouse to anger, or in other words to provoke. The KJV here says, “is not easily provoked,” and Vine points out that the word “easily” does not appear in the original manuscript. Love, says Paul, does not have the quality of being able to be aroused to anger. So if someone pushes your buttons and makes you angry to the point you cannot control yourself, you are NOT walking in love. So shouting at a pastor in a parking lot because you didn’t like the sermon sure isn’t love. Yes, my eyes have seen that. Or shouting out in response to an attempt to correct your poor behaviour is also not walking in love. Calling out your brother or sister because they had to change their plans in a way that no longer include you. I could go on. These are just examples.
- Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. The phrase is a short but complex phrase in Greek, and I will attempt to unpack it efficiently. The phrase itself from the text is “hou logizetai to (taw) kakon (kakawn).” More or less, it means “does not take into account a suffered wrong.” The first word hou is a simple negation, like our English adding of “not” in front of a word or phrase. The word logezetai is a derivative of the word logizomai and means “to reckon,” either by calculation or imputation, and so here means that love does not reckon or account or allow for kakon. The word kakon means the lack in a person or thing of those qualities that should be possessed. It refers to bad character in a moral sense, and also in thoughts, words, or actions. So love simply does not have bad things done to it in mind, making no inventory of things or words, or deeds. People have demanded actions of me as moderator on occasion that have required me to resist the idea of meting out someone’s idea of justice on this basis, when they aren’t exactly wrong. My simple answer is, “is that walking in love?” Let the “yeah, buts” begin. I will stand here. And Paul still isn’t finished.
6: does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
- The list continues, though this verse is actually setting up a dichotomy, and that dichotomy indicates a choice. I am speaking in terms of logic, but that’s how Paul set it up, not me. Love, it says, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices instead, with the truth. Let’s unpack that linguistically first by looking at the lexigraphy. The term rejoice is the Greek chairo, which you may recognize as the verb “to joy.” In otherwords, we rejoice or be filled with joy in English. First, it does not find fulness of joy in adikia, the condition of not being right, or in “unrightness.” This is the condition of not being right before God according to his holy standard, or with man, according to the standard of what is right before one’s conscience. So then, love is not filled with joy at someone who is not right before man (i.e., a criminal, or an immoral person) or before God (an unbeliever). I have unbelieving family. They fill me with the opposite of joy. I am sad and terrified for them that they will face the just wrath of God for them and not escape it. All I can do is be faithful and keep preaching the gospel.
- No, instead, love rejoices with the truth, the Greek aletheia, which longtime followers and participants will recognize as meaning truth in an objective sense, the reality that underpins the situation or appearance of itself. The actual essence of a matter made obvious. That stuff that post-modernism says cannot be absolute. Right. Except that one apparently. It speaks of what is actual and real. That is what love rejoices in – reality. This is nothing but love not rejoicing in what is not right and true, but instead rejoicing in the reality of a situation. And especially when that reality is put into words, and truth is spoken. Jesus said, “You will know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH will set you free.” (John 8:32) And in John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life; no one comes to the father except through Me.” Love rejoices in Christ, the Truth, and takes no pleasure from that which is not in Christ.
7: bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
- And Paul isn’t done yet. He describes how the lens of God’s love (and God who is this love) deals with everything. First, Love bears all things. The Greek stego means to protect or preserve by covering, or to keep off something that threatens, causes to bear up against, therefore endure, bear, forbear. The idea is that which supports what is placed on a thing. Vine specially notes this meaning in his expository dictionary and references THIS VERSE. So love supports whatever is placed on a brother or sister. We go through things with them. We help where we can, and listen at all times, and sympathize in their struggles – as they do with ours. Love bears all things.
- Love believes all things. That word is a derivation of the Greek pistis, which means a firm persuasion or an opinion held. Now, the word “all” here is the Greek pas, and it literally means “all,” or everything. One could make a grammatical case that love is gullible, but this is God’s love. What I think this means, and I am not alone in this, is that God’s love will choose to believe the best about a person or a situation. It is not suspicious or cynical, and if there is a question of guilt or innocence, love will believe the best until shown evidence of actual guilt (this is related to that truth bit too). Even then, love does not stop loving. That’s God’s love.
- It hopes all things. This is the Greek verb elpizo (the noun form is elpis), and simple means “to hope.” The concept of hope is built around what you trust, incidentally. What is it you depend on? What do you trust? What do you rely on? Now remember, where is out hope as a Christian, which you have to be to truly have the love of God operating in and through you? Our hope is in Christ. Christ, by the way, is the creator of “all things.” When we place our hope in Christ, it is hoping in all things, but that isn’t what this verse is talking about. We use the word hope today differently than they used to use it. Today we say I hope the Local Sports Team wins the Sports Championship, for example, and it is expressing a wish that may or may not come to be true at the end of the given season, right? Hope in Scripture refers to a certain expectation of events. We know what is going to happen, and we arrange our responses to reality around that. Like living your life as a Christian, when in 14 days, Christianity will suffer a concerted attempt to remove it from North America. We know that whether that attempt fails or succeeds, we are secure in Christ. That’s right, our lives here do not matter. All they can do is end ours here, which means we got to go home early, and with full pay. In that sense, this love hopes for the best, because it has that certainty of expectation.
- Love endures all things. The word for endures in Greek is hypomeno, meaning literally to remain under. It means that you remain in place instead of fleeing, you stay behind to guard the rear of those escaping. In some places, this is translated “to persevere.” This means that the love of God will compel you to remain in place come what may and persevere the hardship no matter the cost, beloved. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship puts it very succinctly when he says that it will cost you everything, including your life. He was martyred for his faith near the end of the second world war in the 1940s because he was one of the people the Nazis were holding that could aid in the reconstruction of the German nation after the war. He was hanged on April 9, 1945. Beloved, that’s what it might cost you personally to endure here on earth – but your reward doesn’t reside here on earth, and never has. You are citizens of heaven, as Paul told the Philippians, in Philippians 3:20.
This is that Love of God that we refer to when we say that “God is love,” with John in 1 John 4:8. This is a description and definition of what that behaviour is and means for us. Again, if you are like me, you read through this list and know where you miss the mark. Don’t be discouraged, beloved. Turn this into a prayer list and then a to-do list of things to work on. We all have a long way to go while we are here on earth. And it is not criminal to hold these ideas. No one could honestly call these ideas subversive! This chapter, for this definition of love, is read at every wedding I have ever been at! And I’ve read it at weddings! It isn’t inappropriate, especially not at a Christian wedding, which is intended to show how a couple is committed to God first and then each other for the rest of their lives! Because God’s love is very different than what the world calls “romantic love.” And we as believers NEED a clear picture of what love is in reality if we are to love people the same way.
And some people seem to confuse the two concepts. Look at how real love is shown in the media or on television if you watch a bit of it. A guy saying “I love you,” to another guy is turned into something on the level of homosexuality. A guy saying “I love you,” to a girl (or vice versa) is immediate justification and permission to jump into bed and have sex with each other. My friends, that has a different definition in God’s Word – lust. And Jesus talked about that in His Sermon on the Mount, and gave a definition of adultery that pretty much covers everyone – if you look on another with lust in your heart, you have already committed that adultery. That isn’t love at all, nor are any of its red-headed step-children, premarital sex, actual adultery or sex with a spouse that isn’t your spouse, or rape (which seems to me not to be about sex, but about power and control). To think THAT kind of thing could actually be God’s love is incredibly childish at a minimum, and beloved, we need to grow up.
8-13: Agape Love is the Completion of Christian Maturity
In fact, growing up is a requirement for Christian Maturity, and with this means the ability to engage divine love through your choices and conscious will, and we can even practice it! Christ didn’t have to – didn’t need to – but He knows that we DO need to practice this. And as we grow in it, we will become more mature as a Christian by default. But don’t take my word for it, look at what Paul says.
Just as a bit of a heads up here, we are going to be seeing some corrective theology here to undo the brain-damaged theology seen in Corinth, and some stuff that the Charismatics try to poach and misconstrue I think. We will do our best to exposit this a little at a time to best unpack meanings and then try to put some order to it, because there are some controversial passages here.
8: Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
- If there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away. For the record that phrase “will be done away” means something like “reduced to inactivity.” By implication, this means that Paul is saying that at a certain point that he does not specify, this gift will stop operating. And we are talking of one of these greater gifts that Paul wants the Corinthians to pursue!
- The first phrase tells us that the love of God NEVER fails. And we have to know it is talking about the love of God here and not “romantic love,” which seems to be a concept dreamed up by Hollywood. It is this love that God has gifted to humanity, and it is best demonstrated in the substitutionary nature of Christ’s vicarious death on the cross for all of our sins. Let me simplify that statement. Jesus died in our place when He died on the cross, as a payment for our sins. It’s like He was paying our fine because we were unable to do so. THAT love NEVER fails, and that should be a clear comfort to us. But here, we need to pay attention, because although Paul starts with the love of God that can never fail, he’s going to follow with some things that apparently ARE able to fail. In fact, they will not fail per se, but they will be…well, discontinued. You’ll see what Paul means.
- If there are languages, they will cease. The Greek for cease means “to come to a complete stop or end.” It isn’t just that they will stop, but that they will stop permanently. That’s right here in the Greek text! Again, Paul has not specified when this will happen, or under what circumstances, but logic can be applied to what we know from the Word to figure things out. This is the first brick in building my case that “Tongues have ceased completely and permanently.” I’ll point out the other bricks on the way there.
- If there is knowledge, it will be done away. This uses the same language as prophecy, it will be reduced to inactivity. What is “knowledge” and how is it used here? The Greek word here is gnosis, which defines a “seeking to know, an enquiry, an investigation.” In the New Testament, this is especially used of spiritual truth and in this verse is used in an absolute sense (Yes, my post-modern friends, there are indeed absolutes). This gift of knowledge was used in gaining knowledge from the Scriptures as to the truth of God as reflected under this New Covenant. At a certain unspecified point, this activity will wind down to zero.
- What can we say here? Paul is comparing these things to the Love of God, which cannot fail, and then explaining that these particular gifts of the Holy Spirit will come to an end point. That is what Paul is actually saying. There is one more thing, in that the way the word “cease” is used in reference to “tongues” indicates that this will happen by itself, like this gift has a built-in stopping point. Other than that, it makes no reference to how these gifts sill end to this point, but that is coming.
9: For we know in part and we prophesy in part;
- Now, Paul is going to talk about at least two of these things, and these are the gifts of knowledge and prophecy. What he is saying HERE is that we know (the knowledge from investigation of the Old Testament Scriptures) in part at this time, and we prophecy in part (we speak divine revelation directly from God for application to people’s lives) to this point in time. That is all we can really say about what Paul says, although from the next verse, I get the distinct impression he is telling the Corinthians that these collective efforts are at this time only partially complete. That’s all we can glean from this verse.
10: but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
- Paul now speaks about that which will cause the end of knowledge and prophecy, causing them to wind down to inactivity. He calls it “the perfect.” What is the perfect? Well, in my opinion, it is the eternal state of the believer, but I have to explain that from the midst of more the marketplace of ideas, as it were. To do that, I have to look at what the “perfect” is NOT.
- The perfect is NOT the completion of the canon of Scripture. I used to actually believe this, until I went to Bible College, where we studied this subject in passing. This concept would have had no reference point or meaning to the Corinthian believers, and Paul speaks about this nowhere else in this letter at a minimum.
- If the perfect is a reference to the completion of the canon of Scripture, then we would be deprived of one of the best resources of exposition of the word today. These are the gifts of knowledge, and the spirit of prophecy that is seen most clearly in the testimony of Jesus. I must mention that in our definition of prophecy, we must say that this is not and never was personal and direct revelation from God that is outside of Scripture. But occasionally, I just know how a text applies. I’ve never read a commentary on it – but I can give what I will later find to be an accurate exposition. Friends, that’s a combination of knowledge and prophecy. I’m not saying I have those gifts. But they are being occasionally manifested through me. And fairly consistently. Thank God for that. Also, we read in Scripture that prophecy will still be active in the Kingdom Age (the 1000-year reign of Christ), so it cannot mean this.
- The perfect is NOT the Rapture. However, if that is true, it would require a resumption for the 1000-year reign of Christ, so that cannot be. Remember, done away means a winding down to inactivity, and that’s a final thing. Once it ceases, it will have ceased for good. There is no pause button, just a stop button.
- The perfect is NOT the maturing Church. This is a relatively new interpretation of the concept of the perfect, and is meant to refer to the number of believers that make up the final church that are all believers without the tares, or goats, or false converts, what have you. And it is true that “perfect” does have the meaning of maturity many times in the new testament, but this would still require a pause during the tribulation, because when God’s work in and with the church is finished, He will rapture it. Again, there is prophecy in the kingdom, but there is no pause button for this, only a stop button. Also, who will preach during the tribulation that is coming on earth? Believers. If these gifts have ceased, they are deprived of their whole existence, are they not?
- The perfect is NOT the second coming. Some hold this view also, but the word for the perfect is neuter in the Greek, so it cannot be referring to a person (MacArthur, J., NT Commentary on 1 Corinthians, p. 365). This also still suffers from the “no pause button” phenomenon, because there will be many preachers in the 1000-year Kingdom of Christ.
- So by process of elimination, that leaves the eternal state of all believers to be what the perfect means. This is the state where we will know all we need to know, we will not require prophecy because it will all have been said and done, and we will not even need to study the Scriptures, because God will be present to answer what we need to know directly, and when it is needed. What does that mean about Cessationism? I don’t really know – but I’ve never claimed to be a strict cessationist.
- The perfect is NOT the completion of the canon of Scripture. I used to actually believe this, until I went to Bible College, where we studied this subject in passing. This concept would have had no reference point or meaning to the Corinthian believers, and Paul speaks about this nowhere else in this letter at a minimum.
- The point you should be getting here is that when the perfect happens, when we reach that great eternal state that all believers will reach, then these two gifts of knowledge and prophecy will cease. But what does that say about tongues?
- Tongues are not mentioned as ceasing in the same way or at the same time as these two other gifts. Most orthodox scholars will recognize that this sign gift (along with miracles and healings for all the charismatics that might be seeing this at a later time) stopped with the capital A apostles. If you want to read a really great treatment of that history in brief, pick up Dr. John MacArthur’ The Monas Commentary on 1 Corinthians, and read pages 359-362. This isn’t really the point behind my study this time, so I will move on after I say that the present Charismatic “understanding” (please note the use of quotes to indicate I am not using that term in the classic understanding of it) of tongues actually arose first in the 17th and 18th centuries in certain Catholic-cult groups and among the Shakers in New England (a proto-Pentecostal group of sorts). Before that, it arose only occasionally in the church, and was seriously questioned and very short-lived. The Church Father clement wrote a letter to Corinth in AD 95, and there is NO mention of tongues, so the practice and its misuse had apparently ceased. Justin Martyr, a great church father of the second century (the 100s) wrote massive amounts to all the various churches of the day, and there was NO reference to tongues or its practice. Origen, a great third-century scholar (the 200s) makes no mention of tongues, and in fact in his written polemic work against Celcus, he argues that the sign gifts were no longer practiced by Christians of his day. Chrysostome (AD 347-407) wrote in his treatise on 1 Corinthians 12 that tongues had not only ceased but were no longer able to be clearly defined having stopped so long ago. Augustine of Hippo in his comments on Acts 2:4 said that the signs that were used to identify and validate (my words, not his) the Apostles as Christ’s messengers were for that time only. The only exception was Montanus, a heretic that lived in the second century (100s) that was successfully refuted and vanished into obscurity, taking along with him the Church Father Tertullian. And they went out from us because they were not of us, said John in 2:19 of his first epistle.
- The Modern Charismatic Movement came out of something called New Thought that was pioneered by Emmanuel Swedenborg and a few others that was taken ahold of by a Pentecostal minister named Kenneth Hagin, the grandfather of the modern Charismatic movement. And what a swamp it has become. And they won’t even police themselves of false teachers like we are supposed to. Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Chris Valloton, Bill Johnson, and all the other names I could use (Jimmy Swaggart is the best known of the old guard, Oral Roberts, like that), have continued to thrive like Creflo Dollar, Jesse DuPlantis, and their latest jet airliner purchases. Moving on.
11: When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
- What Paul begins to discuss here is a startling reality – that these gifts – all of them in fact – are elementary. He begins here to demonstrate what it will mean when “the perfect” comes in response. He takes up an analogy that explains things in the measure of maturity. People who use the gifts in such an immature fashion so as to say, “Hey look what I can do,” which is usually translated as, “I have a word from the Lord for you,” in this day and age need to know that they are completely misunderstanding why the Holy Spirit gave these gifts in the first place at a fundamental level.
- The reality of the situation demands that we sometimes exercise these temporary gifts, these elementary things, these transitory helps – in the spirit of the eternal God who gave them. That means if you are not using these things to express your love to others IN THE HOUSE OF GOD by building them up (edifying), or to draw others TO THE HOUSE OF GOD (evangelism), you have NO BUSINESS USING THEM!!! They are not your “private prayer language, they are not your superpower from God, they are NOT YOURS to DO WITH AS YOU PLEASE!!! These are holy and powerful temporary gifts that the Holy Spirit gives as HE sees fit to be used in the service of Almighty God, and not played with at your whims. And if you think about it, if these gifts are truly being used, they will never contradict the word of God, in fact, they will glorify God through their use in conjunction with the Scriptures, His written word. If you’re not doing that, then you are described by Paul as those who he could not feed meat, but only milk. You are too immature to know the whys and the hows. So stop. Just stop.
12: For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
- Think about what Paul is saying here in the context of this great passage. We use these gifts of the Holy Spirit now (remember, referring specifically to knowledge and prophecy in the correct definition and sense) because we are not able to see and know how to live for the kingdom. God is helping us with these gifts, and these gifts allow us to see through this dim mirror that he speaks of. We see how life will be then in a distorted and backwards fashion, and not perfectly, because our understanding has been limited by darkness, that is our sin nature. We will have that until we die, beloved.
- Only THEN, when the perfect is come, when we enter that eternal state, will we see face to face, in all the fine and excellent detail, in clear and undistorted, unreflected full daylight. Amen, Come Lord Jesus. (Rev. 22:20b.)
- Paul then describes his own state personally, as if to say, “Look, I understand and know what I’m talking about.” “Right now,” he says,” I only know a part of what it will be like. Maybe more than you, maybe more than a lot of people, but then [remember, when that perfect and eternal state comes] I will know and understand everything, and there will be no further need for these rudimentary gifts.” In fact, Paul will be know, like we all are already – fully and completely by our Heavenly Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit all. So if you’re hiding your behaviour, stop. There is nothing you can hide from such a being.
13: But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
- I’ve read this verse many times, I confess. But it was only earlier today that I understood what Paul said in these final words of this chapter. Of all the gifts of God that He has bestowed upon us in His Son Jesus, our Christ, our Saviour, THESE three will remain for sure – Faith [pistis, a firm persuasion or opinion held], Hope [elpis, certain expectation of future events], and Love [agape, the divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love that is more than emotion] – and that of the three of those, the greatest one is Love, because it is GOD’S love, and not ours. It is the only kind mentioned here, and it is how we are to be operating in the present. If we are NOT operating in that love with everyone around us, be of good cheer, we have a good God who has given us a great Saviour, who has sent the Holy Spirit to give it to us and show us how to use it.
Now, in the light of this amazing chapter, one can see why I get a bit amused when this is read at a wedding, but it is still appropriate. We as children of God, because of this great love of God, were adopted by God and made to be His family, His actual sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters to our Eldest Brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, and knit together into that family by that One Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit who is in us all, also as a gift from the Son, not just the Father. A wedding, particularly a Christian wedding is filled with this kind of symbolism, and nobody but someone who understands how we are supposed to be operating in the world today even knows it anymore.
Now, back to the context of the spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit, they exist, and they are not a whimsical thing to be used willy-nilly at the desire of the recipient. These gifts were and are temporary (were because some, specifically the sign gifts, ceased when the last apostle died at the latest, and tongues perhaps even before that. We could have a good discussion on that some time, but I left out details for the sake of time and clarity this time.) helps to help build up the church, both the individuals inside it, and the church as a whole in how it is to function in the world. And that theme is going to continue (because tonight was just detailing about the driving force that is to be behind all the usage of these gifts) into chapter 14.
Now, I did have a chance to look ahead, and we will be splitting chapter 14 into tow. Next week, we will have a look at 1 Cor. 14:1-19, and that will make the rest of the chapter 20-40, and it’s the best way I can see of covering what needs to be covered and still clearly exposit the text as a whole. I have a thought that I want to get through the New Testament before the return of the Lord, and looking at the news headlines, I realize that I don’t have a lot of time left. I’m afraid the Old Testament exposition will have to wait for the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. Heh, I think I know how John MacArthur felt when someone suggested that he begin expositing the Old Testament in order like he did the New. With a chuckle, he looked back at the crowd and answered, “Hey, the New Testament took me 42 years. The Old is bigger – and by the way, have you seen me?” Pointing to himself and his obviously aged status (I think he’s 81 at the moment), the crown simply laughed. I hope he gets to do that in the Kingdom. I’d go!
That’s the study for this evening, let’s close in prayer.