Lasting Truth: Love’s Permanence

1 Cor. 13:8–13

Why is love more permanent than spiritual gifts? How is love the sign of mature people? What did Paul mean by seeing through a glass, darkly? How is love placed above faith and hope?

Verses 8–13: 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. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Love never faileth (“ends,” ). “It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen” (Phillips). To put it another way, love lasts. This is not true of all human love. Ideally, when Christians marry, they should have a commitment with a love that lasts. This chapter is often part of a Christian wedding. It is a commitment to unconditional love.

Paul contrasted the permanence of love with the impermanence of spiritual gifts. In Verses 1–3 he showed that spiritual gifts without love amount to nothing. In verses 8–10 he showed that spiritual gifts belong to this age and come to an end, but love lasts forever. He mentioned three gifts, which are representative of all gifts. Prophecies, which Paul considered the highest gift, shall fail (“come to an end,” ). Tongues, which Paul saw as a personal gift with little value to the church but which some considered the chief gift, shall cease. Knowledge … shall vanish away.

Some Bible students see this as the end of spiritual gifts. This view emphasizes words such as fail … cease … vanish away. Others believe the gifts will remain but will be totally transformed. Whichever group is right, this does not mean that heaven is a place of inactivity. There will be ways of serving God and one another.

The difference between using spiritual gifts now and the service of the future life is not true versus false but partial versus complete. We know in part, and we prophesy in part now, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. The word for perfect means to be “complete” or “mature.” In verse 11 Paul used an analogy based on his growth from childhood to adulthood. When he was a child, he spoke, understood, and thought like a child. When he became a man, he put away childish things.

Paul used another analogy in verse 12. The word glass means “mirror.” The word darkly is the word from which we get our word enigma. It means “in a riddle” or “indistinctly” (). This is what Paul meant by seeing through a glass, darkly. Paul contrasted this imperfect image with seeing and being seen face to face. When people of that day peered into the future of God’s people, what they saw was blurred and imperfect. But the time will come when believers shall see clearly. When that time comes, Paul wrote, Then shall I know even as also I am known. “My knowledge now is partial; then it will be whole, like God’s knowledge of me” (NEB). “At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!” (Phillips).

Verse 13 again brings together “faith, hope, and love.” All three are said to “abide” (). This word can also mean “remain” (). These three basic Christian responses are lasting. We may wonder how faith, which in this world means to be able to see the unseen realities of God, will function in heaven. The same question can be asked of hope, which shall have been realized. No doubt their functions will be different from what they are now, but these words can refer to the objects of faith and hope that will comprise heaven.

Paul said that love is the greatest of these. What did he mean? For one thing, God’s love is the basis for both faith and hope. The Bible says that God is love. Although God is called faithful, He is not called faith. And although God has a future plan and He is our hope, the Bible does not say that God is hope. Another factor may be that love is the only one of the three that provides the foundation for genuine fellowship, such as will characterize heaven.

What are the lasting truths in 1 Corinthians 13:8–13?

Christian love lasts forever.
Spiritual gifts as practiced in this life will pass away.
The partial knowledge of this life will give way to full knowledge in the future life.
Faith, hope, and love will remain, but love is the greatest of these three Christian virtues.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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