1 Cor. 13:8-13 – Grow up and Prioritize Love

Sermon and translation by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 20 Sept 2009



4. Love suffers long1,

Love practices kindness2,

Love does not envy3,

It does not boast4,

It is not puffed up5,

5. It is not rude6,

It does not seek its own7,

It is not irritable8,

It does not think the bad9,

6. It does not rejoice upon unrighteousness10,

but rejoices together in the truth11,

7. It contains all things12,

It believes all things13,

It hopes all things14,

It endures all things15.

8. Love never falls down,

even if prophecies will be put out of commission,

even if languages will cease,

even if knowledge will be put out of commission.

9. For we have knowledge of a part and we prophecy of a part, 10. but whenever the completion comes, that which is of a part will be put out of commission.

11. When I used to be a baby,

I used to make utterances like a baby,

I used to think like a baby,

I used to reason like a baby.

When I had become a man, I had put out of commission the things of the child.

12. For we see now by means of a mirror in riddles, but then face to face.

Now I know of a part, but then I will fully know just as I was known.

13. So now these three remain: faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.



·         Ch. 12 = The Gifts of the Spirit and a “most excellent way”

·         Ch 13:1-3 = The Need for Love: Gifts are “Nothing without Love”

·         13:4-7 = The 15 Characteristics of Love

·         13:8-13 = The Eternal Value of Love (in light of temporary Gifts)

·         Introductory illustration of lovers on the couch emailing each other.
“I’ve been waiting all day to see you! Do you like the attached photo of me?” She punches Send.
“Very nice. It’s nice to just be here together. Oh, Charlie just sent me an instant message, let me answer that.” He replies.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea; why don’t we sit a little closer together on the couch?” She writes.
“If we were any closer together we’d be bumping elbows when we typed, and besides the heat from two of these little beauties gets to be too much.” He punches Send.
“Well,” she replies, “We could just put away the computers and sit together.”
“But we wouldn’t have anything to do then!”

·         I hope you find this anecdote absurd and funny – a married couple that has been apart all day, using computers for work and long-distance communication, and then continuing to use those computers built for long-distance communication even when they are face to face.

·         The truth is, we do this kind of thing all the time. We are living in a world that is passing away along everything in it, yet we pay insane amounts of attention to things that are temporary and neglect the things that will last forever. The #1 thing that will last forever, says God’s word in 1 Cor 13, is love.

·         Paul gives 5 reasons in vs. 8-13 why we should prioritize love over everything else in our lives.


I. Love won’t fall out of commission (v.8)

·         Love never fails (lit. “falls”- πιπτω)

o       “love never ends; it never quits; it is never used up. Love keeps on coming; the more we use it, the more there is. The more we love, the more we can love. The more love we give away, the more we have to give away.” (Jack Arnold)

·         But gifts of prophecy will fail/pass away/cease/be done away with/put out of action/abolished (καταργηθησονται)

o       The gift of prophecy, which the Corinthians (and Paul) made much of in their day would, at some time future to the writing of 1 Cor. be put out of commission. The verb does not have so much a sense of destruction as it does of setting aside and allowing to fall into disuse.

o       This verb is also used in 1 Cor.:

§         1:28 the ones without class of the world and the ones that have been despised God chose for Himself – and the ones who do not exist – in order that He might put out of commis­sion the ones that do exist, 29. so that all flesh might not boast before the face of God.

§         2:6 Yet it is wisdom that we are uttering among the mature, but a wisdom neither of this age nor of the rulers of this age who are being put out of commission. 7. Rather we are uttering GOD’S wisdom which has been hidden in a mystery…

§         6: 13 Foods to the stomach and the stomach to foods, but God will put out of commission both it and them, and the body is not to sexual immorality, but rather to the Lord – and the Lord to the body.

§         15:24-26 Then comes the end, when He shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put out of commission all rule and all authority and power. 25) For He must reign, until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26) The last enemy that will be put out of commission is death.

o       ILLUSTRATION: Disposable dinnerware. One of the things we do at our house to minimize our regular work on Sunday is to use disposable plates and forks and cups. When Sunday rolls around, I often have to tell my kids, “Stop, don’t use regular plates and silverware, use the disposable ones! I don’t want to have to wash those dishes today!”

o       But when we have guests over on Sunday, we invariably get a different question, “Do you re-use the plastic cups and forks? Shall I put them in the dishwasher?”
No! Throw them away! I bought them so we wouldn’t have to wash anything!

o       You see, we can do the same things with the spiritual gifts. We can say, “They’re temporary, so let’s only use the eternal things. Leave the disposable dinnerware in the cabinet. Don’t use it because it’s disposable!” No, we should use them, but use them appropriately.

o       Likewise, we should not treat the temporary spiritual gifts like they are permanent. Don’t wash the disposable forks and expect to use them for years to come; they’re not built to last.

o       So how long was prophecy intended to last? There is debate over whether prophecy, tongues, and miracles ceased at the end of the first century A.D. (as the apostles finished writing the books of the N.T.), or whether these things continue into the present.

§         I don’t think Paul’s aim in 1 Cor. 13 is to identify exactly when this happens, although I believe there are clues. The main point is that the spiritual gifts are not for ever; they are temporary, therefore they need to be treated as such and not raised to absurd levels of priority. Hopefully we can all agree on that much.

§         But when does it cease? I will tell you my position: I believe that when the Bible becomes available to people (and that has happened at different times in different places), there is a change in the focus of prophecy from revealing initial messages through a prophet to expounding on the written word of God, but I do not believe that prophecy will utterly be set aside until the second coming of Christ.

§         Of the 10 commentaries I read, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was the position of 8 of them, and for what it’s worth, John Calvin was one of the eight.

§         I believe this is also consistent with what is written in the introduction to I Cor. starting at v.5. “in everything, y’all were enriched by Him in every word and in every [piece of] knowledge, 6. even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed by you, 7. so that y’all don’t miss out on any [spiritual] gift as you are eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ…” From this introduction it appears that every spiritual gift will be used until the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

o       Once we get to heaven, there won’t be any more mystery to the future and we won’t need prophecy any more than we would need a penlight to see better at high noon! (Thistleton)

·         and tongues/languages will cease/be stilled (παυσονται)

o       Much the same can be said for tongues or the use of languages (plural).

o       The sign of tongues certainly was a special gift to signify the coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended to heaven,

o       and a significant shift occurs in the use of this gift after that time such that wherever there is a community of believers that speak a certain language, there is no need for other languages unless it be for them to go preach the gospel among another language group.

o       I don’t believe that the need for translating and speaking foreign languages ceases – either by natural or supernatural means – until Jesus comes back and we all get to heaven.

o       The fact that tongues/languages will cease at some point indicates that there is something imperfect about them.

§         This eliminates in my mind the possibility that the tongues in this verse is referring to a language only spoken in heaven.

§         I rather think that we will see a reversal of the tower of Babel in heaven, although I don’t know exactly how it will work.

§         Rev. 5:9 and 7:9 specifically mention that when John saw his vision of heaven he perceived that there were speakers of every language on earth there. Did he hear their different languages spoken, or did he just recognize that he was seeing representatives of every language group?

§         Whatever the case, there won’t be people in rebellion to God in heaven so they won’t need to be separated anymore by languages. Tongues will cease.

·         and knowledge will vanish/pass away/be done away with

o       Same verb as what will happen to prophecy (καταργηθησεται)

o       Just as prophecy and tongues are spiritual gifts listed in the previous chapter, I suspect that this word “knowledge” also refers to a spiritual gift from chapter 12, that of the word of wisdom and knowledge listed in 12:8

o       Once again, there is a substantive shift in the knowledge of God in the New Testament (or the New Covenant) as Jeremiah prophecied in chapter 31 of his book: “I will make a new covenant … declares Jehovah … they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know Jehovah;’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them…” (vs. 31 & 34) The knowledge of God has become internalized with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon every believer. But it will get even better in heaven.

o       Later on in this chapter 13, verse 12, a future transformation in knowledge is described which makes the knowledge that the Apostle Paul himself had pale by comparison to what we will know in the future.

o       Even knowledge as we know things in this life will be done away with.

·         Paper plates are convenient for certain occasions, but if you’re buying tableware for your family, invest in the Corel or China or even nice plastic plates, not the paper plates!

·         So, if prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will pass away at some point and love won’t , which of these things should you invest most in?


II. Love will not become obsolete (v.9-10)

·         Have you ever seen anyone frame a puzzle?
Have you ever seen anyone frame an incomplete puzzle? Why not?

·         As we have see in v.8, spiritual gifts will be done away with. Why? For the same reason that we don’t frame incomplete jigsaw puzzles: “For/because we know and prophesy in part (εκ μερους) But whenever the perfect (τελειον) comes, the partial will be done away with (καταργηθησεται – v.8).

·         [Click] This phrase “In part” was last used in 12:27. “Now y’all are the body of Christ, and members of a part, 28. which God also set up for Himself in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administration, [and] kinds of languages.”

o       In other words, you are part of the body of Christ, but you are only a part of it; you alone do not constitute the whole body of Christ: You bring your part into the church and combine it with people who have all the other gifts and parts of the body to make a whole.

o       In the same way, the knowledge you carry in your head does not make up a complete body of knowledge.

·         What the apostle Paul is saying here is that if he were to add up everything that he knew and everything that he taught in his lifetime, it would still only be a small peice of all the marvels of God’s truth. And I don’t think any of us can claim to know more than Paul did.

o       There are things that we just don’t know about. For instance, if there is no marriage or giving in marriage in heaven, what will my relationship with my wife be like there? That’s what sparked Nathan Clark George’s song “Feels so foreign” The lyrics go: “Will we love again? It’s such a stumble this could be. To want you more than what hope can see… Will we meet again? Why does heaven feel so foreign?”

o       I think there will be a lot of “Aha” moments when we get to heaven: “So that’s what John meant by a sea of glass and a tree that is somehow on both sides of a river, now it all makes sense!”

·         Does that mean that the partial knowledge we have now is not true, since it is incomplete?
No. The knowledge of God which we currently have from the Bible is perfectly true.

o       For instance, in Rev. 19:9, an angel instructs John to write one sentence, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.and then bears testimony that “These are true words.” That would indicate that not only the sentence but the words in the sentence are true. Each word is a fragment of knowledge, but even the fragments of truth are true.

·         [Click] However, there will come a time in the future when perfection/completion/maturity comes and makes the partial knowledge outmoded. When does this come?

o       Some scholars believe that this passage is speaking of the completion of the writing of the N.T. by the apostles. In their view, Paul is writing Holy Scripture and looking forward a few decades to the time when the Bible would be complete and there would be no more need for apostles, prophets, tongues, words of knowledge, or miracles. (JFB, Clark, Coppes)

o       However, in 2:6 and 14:20 Paul uses this same word to indicate mature Christians currently living in Corinth. So some of it has already arrived in the lives of some of his readers.

o       But at the same time, the grammar of the sentence with a very indefinite particle followed by a subjunctive verb (which is also indefinite with regards to time) seems to indicate that Paul him­self doesn’t know when this completion/perfection will come: “whenever it happens to come”

o       It appears to me that this completion/perfection whose time of coming is unknown is speaking of when Jesus will come back and meet us face to face. Most scholars seem to agree on this point:

§         Thistleton wrote that our “piece-by-piece knowledge ends when we see the whole revelation at the end.”

§         Calvin put it, “…it is our imperfection that necessitates prophecy for now… Perfection begins at death.”

·         [Click] Once the puzzle is all put together, you don’t look at the individual puzzle pieces any more, you look at the big picture.

·         Are there ways in which you are taking pride in puzzle pieces – steps along the way – rather than keeping the end goal in sight?


III. Love will not lose interest (v.11)

ILLUSTRATION: Poly: My wife used to sleep with a teddy bear. His name was Poly. My wife even took Poly to college with her. He was pretty ragged by that time, with a button eye missing, but he was her companion every night since she had been a child. Now when we got married, I told my wife that the teddy bear had to go or else I’d be jealous of him. My wife thought about it for a while and finally quit sleeping with Poly so we could get married! She left behind that relic of her childhood in order to get married. There are other relics of childhood that are just as hard or harder to give up:

·         Now in v.11 Paul says that we should prioritize love because it will grow with us as we mature; it won’t get left behind. He gives the analogy of his own maturing from a child to a man:

·         [CLICK] “When I was a baby/child I used to:

o       Speak/talk/utter sounds (ελαλουν – v.1) like a baby

o       Think/understand/have the sentiments of/form opinions (εφρονουν) like a baby

o       Think/reason/count value (ελογιζομην) like a baby

·         “When I had become a man, I did away with/put away/gave up/put behind (κατηργηκα – v.8&10) the baby things.”

·         [CLICK] Child/baby (napios) indicates the age after being a newborn, but before being old enough to talk

o       is mentioned in: 3:1 “…I was not able to utter a word to y’all as spiritual men but rather as fleshly men – as babies in Christ.”

o       The baby stage is characterized by extreme selfishness and a constant desire to gratify the wants of your flesh. (cf. Rom 8:5)

o       & 1Cor. 14:20 Brothers, don’t be children (paideia) in mind… but in mind be men. (cf. Eph 4:14)

·         [CLICK] Here we have a second triad of childish talk, sentiment, and reasoning that parallels the first triad of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge in v.8 – both threesomes will be done away with.

·         Babies play with things because they are there and they appeal to the senses. “Oh look, Papa’s dinner plate is just within reach, I think I’ll just grab and pull and see if I can get any of it into my mouth!”

·         [CLICK] A mature person does not think that way. He focuses on what is ultimately important and passes by some things that promise immediate gratification.

·         Are there teddy bears/baby ways that you are holding onto that you need to let go of so that you can love in a mature way?


IV. Love will not lose usefulness (v.12)

In the next verse (12) the metaphor changes from human development to make a comparison between optics and knowledge.

“For NOW we see through a glass/in a mirror darkly/dimly/poorly (αινιγματι)
But THEN face to face;

NOW I know in part (εκ μερους-v.9)
But THEN I will fully-know just as also I was fully-known (επιγνωσθην).”


·         This word for “mirror” (KJV “glass”) is only found here

o       and in James 1:23 (where a man is looking at his face in a mirror)

o       and in a verbal form at 2 Cor 3:18 which describes people hearing the Bible read,
“But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror (or mirroring) the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory…”

·         Chrysostom from the 3rd century apparently thought it spoke of an animal horn that has been thinned down and polished so that you could see through it, and the KJV translation goes in this direction by translating “glass.” The Greek preposition which literally means “though” could lead a translator in this direction, as in the KJV “through a glass” but the preposition can also be translated figuratively “by means of” which is the direction the other major English translations went when they translated the preposition “in.” All modern commentators seem to be agreed that it was actually a mirror.

·         Corinth had a mirror-making industry that was reportedly world-famous.

·         Silver –backed glass wasn’t invented until the 13th century, so what they used in Corinth for their mirrors was highly-polished bronze.

·         The image in a bronze mirror certainly wouldn’t be as clear as looking at a person face to face.

·         [CLICK] This verse is clearly an allusion to Numbers 12:8, the ancient Greek text of which could be translated, “Mouth against mouth I will make utterance to him, in view, and not through riddles/enigmas/dark sayings. He even saw the glory of the Lord…” (For the other instances of “enigma” in the Bible cf. Deut 28:37, 1 Ki. 10:1, 2 Chr. 9:1, & Prov 1:6). Thus Paul is saying that even though our understanding is dim, there will come a time when we will be face to face with God like Moses was, and the dimness and poor quality reflections will no longer be wanted or needed because we will see God face to face!

[CLICK] ILLUSTRATION: Photo of a wife taking a picture of her husband. Will she continue to use that camera to look at her husband? No! If she wants to see what he looks like, she should pull the camera from in front of her face and just look at him face to face! The camera doesn’t help her see him better.
Likewise the spiritual gifts will no longer be useful once we see Jesus face to face. Why go to a prophet when you can just ask Jesus face to face!

·         Thistleton suggested that this metaphor was alluding to the Platonic theory of knowledge that there are absolute ideals which are heavenly things and cannot be seen or touched, but out of which all concrete reality is an expression. Thus, all knowledge which we have here on earth would just be an indirect reflection of ideals because we cannot come into direct contact with ideals. This is similar to the theory of knowledge taught by a reformed seminary professor by the name of Cornelius van Till. He taught that God is so much greater than we are that we cannot possibly know anything like He knows it, and therefore all our knowledge is analogical to the ultimate truth that God alone knows.

·         However, the actual Greek word rendered as an adverb or adjective in the standard English translations “darkly/dimly/poor” is actually a noun that means a “saying/story/proverb,” with the connotation that it required wisdom to understand it.

·         So I prefer Calvin’s take on it: “there can be no doubt that it is the ministry of the word, and the means that are required for the exercise of it, that he compares to a looking-glass For God, who is otherwise invisible, has appointed these means for discovering Himself to us. At the same time, this may also be viewed as extending to the entire structure of the world, in which the glory of God shines forth to our view, in accordance with what is stated in Romans 1:16; and 2 Corinthians 3:18… [after all,] the angels have no need of preaching, or other inferior helps, nor of sacraments, for they enjoy a vision of God of another kind; and God does not give them a view of his face merely in a mirror, but openly manifests himself as present with them. We, who have not as yet reached that great height, behold the image of God as it is presented before us in the word, in the sacraments, and, in fine, in the whole of the service of the Church.”

·         1 Cor. 8:2. If someone seems to know something, he does not yet know as he ought to know, 3. but if someone loves God, He is known by him. (cf. Gal 4:9)

·         1 John 3:2 Loved ones, now we are children of God, and what we will be [in the future] has not yet been brought to light. We know that whenever it is brought to light, we will be similar to Him because we will see Him just as He is.

·         Can you imagine what it will be like in heaven?

o       No more need for church buildings and sacraments because you will be with God.

o       No more feelings of uncertainty that come from not understanding what is going on.

o       No more feelings of shame and fear of your sins and weaknesses being found out.

o       No more need to keep distance to protect yourself from others.

o       You will be able to know and love others – and especially God – fully, in delightful relational intimacy just as you are known by God.

·         Hold your mirrors & cameras lightly and be ready to throw them away and get face to face with God!


V. Love is Permanent & Paramount (v.13)

So NOW these three things remain: faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.

ILLUSTRATION: The guy in the picture here is walking forward with his sights on the goal ahead of him, he is not going to get distracted because he has narrowed his sight down to one thing.

·         [CLICK] Here we have a third triad, which,
         in contrast to the baby talk, thought, and reasoning which are given up upon maturity,
         and in contrast to prophecy, tongues, and knowledge which will pass away,
faith hope and love are remaining. They are permanent.

·         Not all have tongues, prophecy, or words of knowledge, but all Christians must have faith, hope, and love. (Strauch) You can’t get into heaven without loving God and placing your faith and hope in Jesus to save you.

·         [CLICK] Not only is faith, hope, & love permanent, but love is paramount of the 3 (“greatest of these”).

·         Why is love the greatest?

o       “Faith and hope are used for our own benefit, but love serves others.

o       Second, love is the root of faith and hope, and without it we have nothing.

o       Third, faith and hope are not the essence of God; God is not faith; He is not hope, but He is love (1 John 4:8).

o       Therefore, to learn to love is to achieve the absolute, paramount value in the entire universe: to become like God. ” (J. Arnold)

·         [CLICK] Does this mean that faith and hope won’t exist forever?

o       Theologians have debates on this point, and I don’t want to get in over my head, but... it does seem that faith and hope will have to change when we get to heaven:

o       Tertullian: “Faith departs when the things hoped for come about. But love both comes to completion and grows more when the perfect has been given.” (Who is the Rich Man? #38)

o       Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not seen”

o       Rom. 8:24 “hope that is seen is not hope” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7)

o       However, the late Dr. Jack Arnold noted that, “Throughout eternity we will be trusting God, depending on Him, seeking His guidance. Hope is eternal; it is the confident expectation of yet more to come, so throughout eternity God is going to keep opening our eyes to new vistas, opening our spirits to new opportunities and to new adventures. Heaven will never grow old; it will never be diminished; it will never be boring. We will keep hoping because God is infinite…”


“The future provides the model for the present in working out priorities” (Thistleton p.1074)

1.      Love will not fall and be put out of commission

2.      Love will not be outmoded and go obsolete

3.      Love will never lose your interest; maturity won’t result in leaving it behind

4.      Love will not lose usefulness and have to be discarded in the intimacy of heaven

5.      Love is permanent and paramount

Therefore we must prioritize love over all the other gifts of the spirit.


CONCLUSION How to prioritize love

·         For the couple in the opening illustration, they need to set down the computers and relate face to face. What things do you need to set down?

o       Have you been majoring on paper plates instead of what is permanent?

o       Are there ways in which you are taking pride in puzzle pieces – steps along the way rather than keeping the end goal in sight?

o       Do you still have teddy bears/childish ways that you’re holding on to?

o       Are you clinging to mirrors/cameras that keep distance between you and God, between you and others?

·         [CLICK] “don’t use this [passage] to tell other people they have no love… speak to yourself,. Strive to be an example to others of love.” (Strauch)

·         “Love is more important than winning a game or an argument because winning is transitory but love is eternal.

·         Love is more important than manipulating people to get a business contract because contracts are earthly but love is eternal.

·         The cultivation of faith, hope and love in our spiritual lives is more important than our social, physical or intellectual lives because these things are transitory, while faith, hope and especially love endure.

·         We should pay more attention as parents to what we teach our children by the example of faith, hope and love than that we feed them, clothe them, shelter them, educate them or shower them with in terms of earthly gifts because all these things are simply of earthly value while faith, hope and love are of eternal value.

·         If you are a doctor, it is more important that you show your patients faith, hope and love and seek to introduce them to Christ than that you heal their bodies.

·         If you are a teacher, it is more important that you teach your students about faith, hope and love than that you teach them algebra and geography.

·         Christian, what place do you give to developing eternal values? Are you diligently cultivating faith, hope and love?

·         Have you placed your boyfriend, girlfriend, mate, family, material things, social acceptance or even church service above faith, hope and love? Only the cultivation of eternal values will count for time and eternity.

·         If you are without Christ, I want to ask you several questions. Would you like to be loved by God with the most secure love in the universe? Would you like to be able to love others as God does? Would you like to be loved by others with a strong sensitive love? If your answer is yes, then I point you to Christ who laid down His life that people might have their sins forgiven, be granted eternal life and be given a divine reason for living. Christ died for sinners and He invites any and all men, women and children to come to Him by faith.

·         You must believe Christ died for your sins and you must bow to Him as your Lord and King. Then you will experience God’s love.” (Arnold)