I mentioned earlier in this series that I get nervous sometimes over the hyper-romanticism of weddings. All too often that which begins in dreamy splendor ends in the all-too-real sadness of disappointment or divorce. Romantic love is just fine, but it won’t last for the long haul.
1 Corinthians 13 envisions another kind of love, a love that lasts, well, forever. Here’s what we read in the latter part of the chapter:
Love will last forever, but prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will all disappear. Now we know only a little, and even the gift of prophecy reveals little! But when the end comes, these special gifts will all disappear.
It’s like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.
There are three things that will endure–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:8-13, NLT)
As we’ve seen before, Paul writes with the Corinthian conflicts in mind. Their prized possessions – speaking in tongues and special knowledge – don’t hold a candle to love, which alone lasts forever. But, once again, Paul also includes the spiritual gift he values most, prophecy, among those things that will pass away. So, though nailing the Corinthians for their unloving priorities, Paul makes sure to keep his own preferences in mind.
To understand this passage correctly, we must note Paul’s eschatological perspective. Eschatology, the understanding of the end of history, called the eschaton in Greek, shapes Paul’s theology throughout his writings. It’s particularly obvious in 1 Corinthians 13. Here Paul envisions life in this world as a rather childlike reality. Though we see spiritual things, we do so imperfectly. But the time will come when we will know everything completely, just as God knows us now. (The NLT renders the thought accurately here, but misses the marvelous imagery of seeing God face to face. What an extraordinary hope we have of knowing the Lord so intimately and fully!)
In light of the eschaton, love gains value while the worth of other good gifts diminishes. Prophecy won’t be needed then because it will be completely fulfilled. Special knowledge won’t count for much when we know God perfectly. Speaking in tongues will pass away as well. Even faith and hope pale in comparison with love when seen in eschatological perspective. After all, faith will be rather easy when we see God face to face. And hope, well, that won’t even be necessary because our hopes will have been realized. But love will last forever. (Photo: A red rose is a powerful symbol of love, but it does not last.)
I would suggest that you and I need to learn to see life in terms of eternity. We need to equip ourselves for the long haul. When this happens, we’ll see just how much love is really worth. It’s worth more than prophecy, tongues, knowledge, faith, and hope.
Remember that the love Paul speaks of isn’t the touchy-feely kind. It isn’t about having warm fuzzies. Rather, love is costly, sacrificial care for others. It’s being patient, kind, etc. etc.
When we’re in the middle of conflict with other Christians, it’s terribly easy to value many things more than love, things such as: vindication, winning the argument, putting others in their place, proving how right we are, and so forth. Love gets lost in the flurry of argument and anger. We can actually think that temporal things have eternal value, while devaluing that which truly lasts forever, namely love.
In my next post in this series, I’ll share an example from my own life of taking the long view of reality helped me to love.