1Cor. 13:8 ¶ 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.
1Cor. 13:9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
1Cor. 13:10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
1Cor. 13:11 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.
1Cor. 13:12 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.
1Cor. 13:13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth brings us to this climatic moment in his writings. He has talked about being a part of the body of Christ and about different gifts within that body but now his language shifts focus. This entire chapter, known as the love chapter, is completely different because the focus on love is not on a "thing" but rather on God, himself. This word describes the very nature of God and therefore Paul's descriptors are of God's nature.
Love never fails! That's right -- love can't fail because love is the nature of God and God never fails. We have been invited to become partakers of the divine nature -- to partake in the very nature of God's love and this surpasses anything else, any gift of the Spirit, which we may encounter. All of those things become fringe elements when it comes to participating in the love of God.
The people had been arguing about which gifts were greater. Compared to the love of God they are all nothing! Therefore if you have a gift of prophesy -- that's nice, but it will come to an end. If you have the gift of speaking multiple languages -- you are blessed, but that's not going to make any difference. Wesley reminds us that in heaven there will be only one language and the gift of tongues or languages will be completely obsolete. And what about knowledge that we gain while here on earth? Can't you imagine that the things that we learn here are but a small glimpse of the knowledge and understanding of God? That's why all of our study and all of our degrees will be nothing in the presence of God. If we are united with God, wouldn't we all have access to the same knowledge? Therefore our limited knowledge which is locked up in the flesh will come to an end.
We are limited in our knowledge, understanding and ability to prophesy by ourselves. It is our lack of spiritual growth that stunts all that God wants to do and accomplish through his people. Interestingly the Greek word used in verse ten is te-leion often translated perfection or goal. Maybe what Paul is telling us is that we are to continue to grow spiritual, continuously reaching toward the goal which brings about perfection or completion. But what is the goal? The goal is love because love is the nature of God and as we grow in him, there is ever increasing participation in him.
Paul talked about this growth in the spiritual life, referring to the fact that when we are children we have the characteristics of children. We speak, think and reason like children. But when we grow up we change -- and the same is true spiritually! We are never to be staying in the same place spiritually but always to be growing and maturing. There are things that we don't understand at this point and time of our journey but the goal is none other than God himself and if we continue to face in his direction, the closer that we get to him, the clearer he will become until finally when we are in his presence we will be with him, face to face. As I grow in him, my participation in him increases.
Yes, I can have faith and hope in my loving God, but there is nothing greater than love -- because love is God and God is love. This is so profound that Paul wants his followers to understand that everything else that we fuss or argue over is nothing compared to participating in God through Christ and allowing his love to transform us into his holy people.
If we become focused on the wrong things we will be drawn away from the goal or telos of all humankind -- which is love. That's exactly what Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand and it's important for us today as well. Too often in the church we have become focused on externals -- on our own personal holiness (if there can actually be such a thing) that we have drifted along with the Corinthians. We need to be reminded that there is only one goal or purpose in life and that is to get to know God. It is in knowing him that we are invited to partake in his divine nature, which is love. This is not an earthly or human kind of "luv" but it is knowing God. God's passions become our passions -- God's heart becomes our heart -- and we are driven by our desire for him. When we fall deeply in love with God we also fall deeply in love with the world that he created. His desires for all of creation become our desires for all of creation and our daily lives are driven by God's desires. That is why everything else becomes fleeting in light of the depths of our personal relationship with him. All these other things -- prophesies, tongues, knowledge -- can become a distraction to truly knowing love. This is the goal. There is nothing better than love, because love is God.
Lord, please help me to know your love -- and you more and more each day. Amen.