LOVE IS ETERNAL, SPIRITUAL GIFTS ARE TEMPORAL
A QUICK STUDY OF 1 CORINTHIANS 12 – 14
From time to time, religious topics come up for discussion and debate in my High School classmate WhatsApp forum. In the last couple of weeks, the current debate has been about prophets and prophecies. This debate is partly in light of the many prophecies that have gone forth regarding the US Presidential election. The following was one of my contributions to the debate.
Thanks for the insight and for enriching this discourse. Please, permit me to add from my own very limited knowledge to what you’ve shared.
As you all know, I’m not an MOG and hold no religious title; I don’t even belong to any church talk less of pastoring one. I’m just a naive simple minded ordinary Christian who is insistent that the Scripture be interpreted contextually and accurately, and who is particular for the Word of God be understood properly and correctly.
1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most popular Bible Chapters among the Christian Charismatic Movement. 1 Corinthians 13 is also one of the most misinterpreted and misunderstood.
You see, 1 Corinthians 13 is one of triplets of Chapters on Spiritual Gifts; which spans 1 Corinthians 12 through 1 Corinthians 14. To fully understand Paul’s teaching on the Spiritual Gifts, you must study the entire 3 chapters contextually. Taking one chapter out and interpreting it out of context of the other 2 always leads to wrong conclusions and lots of confusion. And that’s exactly what we have in the Church today; confusions and error.
Here’s how I break down these triplets of Chapters based on my understanding:
1 CORINTHIANS 12 - THE GIVING
In this chapter, Paul discusses the assembly, constitution and organization of the Spiritual Gifts by Holy Spirit for their function. It is also a chapter about how we receive the Spiritual Gifts.
One of the key takeaways here is that:
1. There are varieties of gifts
2. All of them are important
Paul rebuked the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 12:31, for not being content and satisfied with the gift God has given each of them but instead they were envious and coveting the more showy and flashy gifts.
Here’s the rendering of 1 Corinthians 12:31 in the Message Bible:
“And yet some of you are competing for the so-called “important” parts. But now I want to lay out a far better way for you.”
1 CORINTHIANS 13 - THE PURPOSE
Paul is here teaching about the real motive, and true purpose of Spiritual Gifts. It is a chapter about the proper atmosphere in which the Spiritual Gifts operate and function.
Here, Paul began to teach the Corinthians about the “far better way” he mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:31. And that “far better way” is LOVE.
The whole essence of the Spiritual Gifts is love. And love is the real purpose of the Spiritual Gifts. It is the energy and power of the Gifts. Every other thing is secondary and subservient. Nothing else matters. Love is the dynamos (i.e. engine) of Spiritual Gifts, without love all our gifts are empty...noisy gong...clanging cymbals…as Paul described it.
Paul also talked about some gifts going away and some remaining.
In 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 we read that:
Love is Permanent
Verse 8: “Love never fails” (MSG rendering: “Love never dies”) - ie love is never terminated, love never fades, love lasts forever, love is eternal.
Verse 13: “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
The Other Spiritual Gifts are Temporary
Verse 8: “prophecy will be done away with”; “tongues will cease”
Verse 9-10: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”
Verse 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.
If you notice, Verse 8 says, “Prophecy will be done away with” and “Tongues will cease.”
While the former is a passive tense (done away with) the later is active tense (will cease).
We also see this repeated in verse 10 (when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away with)...in relation to partial knowledge and partial prophecy. This is saying, our knowledge is incomplete, and our prophecy is incomplete. But even then, the incomplete knowledge and incomplete prophecy will both be done away with when that which is perfect comes.
Tongues, we read here, will simply cease to be on its own. It will just stop.
So, what does this all mean?
From Church history, we know that tongues did indeed cease to be by AD 50. By the middle of the 1st century, the early Christians no longer spoke in tongues.
But prophecy (ie the reiterative prophecy...the forth telling) will be brought to an end when the perfect thing comes.
The question you are probably asking is, “what is the perfect thing and when will it come?”
The perfect thing, from my own study of Scriptures, is Eternity. The “perfect thing” is when the Saints of God are in God’s kingdom. It is the eternal new Heaven and new Earth that begins at the end of the 1000 year reign with Christ.
Therefore, all these Spiritual Gifts that we put so much premium on, and attach so much importance to, are temporary things. Love is the only thing that is permanent. The gifts are temporary, but love is eternal.
We won’t need prophecy in eternity, we don’t need hope, we don’t need faith in God when we are with God, we won’t need knowledge. Because in eternity we are with God and we have no need to hope or exercise faith. In eternity we don’t need to be thought knowledge because we will know all things fully just as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).
And that is the message of 1 Corinthians 12 - 14. The primary objective of these 3 rich chapters is to contrast the temporary gifts with the permanent love; they are intended to draw a contrast between the temporal and the eternal.
1 CORINTHIANS 14 - THE OPERATIONS
This is where we learn about the exercise of the Spiritual Gifts ie how to use and how not to use the Gifts.
Here we learned that we are to use our Gifts to edify others and not ourselves. In fact, the Spiritual Gifts are given to us to use for the benefit of others and not for our own benefit. We are to use our Gift to build other people up and not ourselves. Spiritual Gifts are to be poured out into the lives of other people and not for us to pour into ourselves.
1 Corinthians 14:2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.
1 Corinthians 14:3 One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.
1 Corinthians 14:4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.
When you speak in tongue, you are only edifying yourself (i.e., you are only vainly pumping up yourself), your tongue benefits no one. That is an improper use of a Spiritual Gift.
Now, the tongue spoken of here is ecstatic speech and the gibberish utterances which is typical of pagan religion. True tongues are human languages that are spoken and understood by people. True tongues are not the languages of angels. This is the speaking in tongues spoken of at the Pentecost in Acts 2. In Acts 2:8 we read, “Everybody understood in their own language.” That is the true tongue, it is human language.
The tongue, i.e. ecstatic speech, that Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 14 was a carryover from the pagan religion of Corinth. It came from the cults of Diana and all the other pagan religions that were in Corinth.
Jesus alluded to this type of ecstatic speech in Matthew 6:7: “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition (i.e. vain repetition, babbling) as the Gentiles (or pagans) do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.
The Greek Word translated vain repetition or babbling is actually an onomatopoeia. It is the origin of the name, Barbarian. The actual word in Greek is “bata bata bata, bata bata bata, bata bata bata.”
Jesus was literally saying, when you pray don’t go “bata bata bata, bata bata bata, bata bata bata” like the pagans do.
Sadly, this is exactly what people who speak in tongues in Christianity do today. They all go “bata bata bata, bata bata bata, bata bata bata.”
The one who prophecies (forth telling, reiterating, teaching, preaching,) though, is exhorting and edifying others. When you prophecy i.e. reiterate already revealed truth, you build people up, you strengthen their faith, and they grow.
Anyways, that’s the little I have to add to the discussion.