In the thirteenth chapter of his first letter “To the church of God that is in Corinth,” Paul addressed also “…those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This chapter is set in the middle of a discussion of the subject of spiritual gifts and is intended to provide readers with the proper perspective regarding what is important in the Christian’s life. After showing the temporary nature of the miraculous gifts, in the last verse of that chapter he draws this conclusion… “Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 GNB).
If we think about what the apostle is saying here for a moment it will become obvious that he recognized that change was expected to take place among God’s people. Change must be expected and it must be accepted. Change is the way of all creation. What God provided for the benefit of human beings in the period of spiritual infancy and childhood was never intended to remain forever. Miraculous gifts such as prophecy, healing and languages, as valuable as they may have been, were never intended to be the normative experience of all Christians for all time. God had – and has – something better in store for us.
The universe is in a constant state of change. As ancient as the stars are, they are changing. They gradually are using up their supply of nuclear fuel and if the universe lasts long enough, may go supernova, ending in a fiery death and dispersal of their remaining elements into the vast expanses of ever-changing space.
The earth is also in a constant process of change. Tectonic activity (the shifting of the earth’s crustal plates) has thrust up the colossal mountain ranges and sunk the yawning rift valleys that characterize the surface of our planet. But those same features are being continuously modified as wind, water and temperature changes break down the mountains into sand, which in turn, fill up the valleys, softening the contours of the earth.
All living organisms go through a process of change. Even from the moment of conception, we as human organisms are in a never ending process of change. Babies are born, grow, develop, mature, grow old and die. Human society is continually changing – and not always for the better. The thinking of one age gradually morphs into a new age and a new way of thinking. Fashions in dress change from month to month and year to year. Language changes. Morals change. Religious perceptions change.
Even what God intends and provides for man’s good changes. The manner in which God revealed Himself to human beings has changed from speaking directly to the patriarchs (fathers) to speaking through prophets to revealing himself through the person of His Son (Hebrews 1:1-3). Paul says in the above text that while God had provided them with the wonderful gifts enumerated in ch. 12, even these were not the best things nor were they intended to be the way for Christians for all time to come. Change would happen. Yet, while some things would end, other things would remain. That is what verses 10-13 are about.
There has long been argument and disagreement over the meaning of “the perfect” in verse 10 of this passage. I claim no special insight to be able to answer to everyone’s satisfaction exactly what the apostle meant here. One thing I do know is that the apostle is saying that change was coming. What had been valued and sought after would no longer be that important. In light of what the apostle does say here, we are able to discern what is of greater value. The gifts the Corinthian Christians had coveted would no longer be seen by them as having the value they had placed on them.
What was of greater value? What is to remain? It is “…faith, hope, and love.” What was to not remain? Everything else! Everything that had characterized the childhood state. Everything that was designed to lead up to and eventually be replaced by “the perfect.” Perhaps a better way of looking at the idea here is not that the lesser things – the things that would not remain – would be replaced, but that they would be displaced. That is the logic Paul is using when he spoke of the contrast between childhood and adulthood in verses 11-12. Incidentally, the word for “perfect” in the Greek is “telios.” It means “mature” and is used of something having reached it’s intended end or purpose. The thought then would be that as Christians, progressing through the necessary changes, reach higher levels of maturity, things that contributed to their growth are progressively removed or replaced. What remains? These three: faith, hope and love. The change has become complete when the Christian is able to operate out of these three qualities.
Why these three things? Think of it this way. Faith and hope relate to the individual. Faith is trust expressed in faithfulness or steadfast reliance on God’s trustworthiness. Hope, made up of the elements of desire and expectation, is what we see as the goal of life and which keeps moving in the right direction. But love relates to society. It is that quality by which we connect to society. Love is not self-centered. It is not about us individually. It is about others. It is about doing good for others. Praying for others. Desiring what is best for others. It is the “glue” that sticks society together – marriage, the family, the community, the church and all of humanity. It is the ideal to which God is moving His people. It is the mark of identity of His people.
These three things will remain into eternity. We will continue to trust in God in the New Creation. Certainly there will be no lack of trust in Him there. There will always be – even in eternity – things that we desire and expect to experience more and more fully just as the angels now desire to fully comprehend God’s love and wonderful deeds toward man. How can we experience all at once all God has in store for us in eternity?
It will be love that crowns our eternal existence. And we will have an eternity to perfect, express and experience love in the beauty and measure God wants for us. The fact that love remains is testimony to the fact that change is occurring in us and among us. That was Paul’s prayer and it should be our desire. As my son, Darrell commented in his blog yesterday (1/1/14), “Collin Raye’s beautiful performance of Tom Douglas and Jim Daddario’s wonderful song, “Love Remains,” describes the passages through which we travel in life. From its “once upon a time” opening—“We are born one fine day, children of God, on our way…”—to the epic conclusion— “We all live we all die but the end is not goodbye / The sun comes up, and seasons change, / But through it all, love remains”—the song talks about the inevitability of change, with love being the constant lodestar.”
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more…” (Philippians 1:9)