Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Glad Deliverance

“How sweet it suddenly became to me, to lack the ‘sweetness’ of those follies, and what I was afraid to be separated from was now a joy to part with! You cast them forth from me, You who are the true and highest sweetness. You cast them forth and entered in their place Yourself …” –Augustine

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 — exposition

We live in a disposable culture. Nothing lasts anymore.

I will go so far as to say that things can’t last. The whole creation will be subject to a big bonfire at the end of time (2 Peter 3). All that can be burned will go up in smoke.

We don’t even last—our bodies, I mean. For “our outer self is wasting away” (2 Cor. 4:16). And there isn’t much to be done about it.

But there are some things that do last. Not many, but some. Those are the things we want, really, deep down. This is because God has placed eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). God has made us so that we cannot rest until we rest in the things that last.

Paul gives us good news in his closing words of 1 Corinthians 13: “Love never ends” (v.8a). God’s final word on love is simple: love lasts!

Because it does, Paul closes with four exhortations:

I. Only love lasts, so focus your gifts on eternity. (8-10)

II. Only love lasts, so focus your heart on maturity. (11)

III. Only love lasts, so focus your mind on humility. (12)

IV. Only love lasts, so focus on God’s priority. (13)

1 Corinthians 13:13

Verse 13 – So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Paul arrives at the conclusion that he has had in mind all along. The adverb of time (Νυνὶ, “now”) serves as a “temporal marker with focus on a prevailing situation.”[1] Paul had spoken of the “now” (ἄρτι) in verse 12, but the emphasis there was on the present moment or situation. Here “the idea of time [is] weakened or entirely absent.”[2] The combination means “as the situation is” or presents itself[3] and serves as “a marker of a summary statement.”[4] So Paul is not so much speaking about the believer’s present experience of partial knowledge as opposed to their future experience of fuller knowledge. Rather he is drawing a logical conclusion on the whole of that reality. In essence asking, “So what should we then conclude as significant about the way God has decided to parcel out knowledge to us, partial now and in fullness later?”

The apostle now introduces a triad of virtues that are stock language for him: “faith, hope and love” (πίστις, ἐλπίς, ἀγάπη). The three are found together again in Galatians 5:5-6, Colossians 1:4-5, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 and 5:8. The noun (“faith”) appears 142 times in Paul’s letters, while (“hope”) appears 36 times and (“love”) 75 times. Various combinations of two of the elements occur almost fifty times. Paul has said much in this context about “love” (vv.1, 2, 3, 4 [3x], 8, 13 [2x]). But he does not use the noun ἐλπίς (“hope”) anywhere in this discussion of spiritual gifts generally (1 Cor. 12-14) or in his discussion of love specifically here in chapter 13. He does, however, use the cognate verb once, in verse 7 to say, “Love hopes [ἐλπίζει] all things.” Hope comes into the service of love or gives expression to it. Regarding the noun ἐλπίς (“faith”) he marked it as a gift the Spirit gives to some within the body of Christ (12:9). He opened the discussion of love by supposing himself as having “all faith” (v.2) but concluded that apart from love it would mean nothing. Faith again, must come into the service of love. He did use the cognate verb in verse 11 to say that “love believes [πιστεύει] all things.”

This trio of virtues, says Paul, “abide” (μένει). The singular form of the verb gathers up the trio of virtues and applies its action to all three as forming a unit. The verb is placed forward, in front of the three nouns, for emphasis. The verb here has the sense of “to continue to exist”[5] and thus “not to perish.”[6] The present tense indicates an ongoing state of affairs. It is action without word of its ending. This stands in contrast, of course, to Paul’s comments about the temporal nature of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge (v.8), tying verse 8 through 13 together with an inclusion of thought. Prophecies and knowledge “will pass away” (καταργέω) and tongues “will cease” (παύω, v.8). Yet love “abides.” In the end, these three virtues stand unchallenged and unrivaled in the things of God. The changing of time and epochs in God’s dealings with man do not change the essential and basic nature of these three virtues.

Does Paul mean they “abide” in this life? Or they “abide” also beyond this life in heaven, and thus eternally? If the latter, what will “faith” look like in the eternal state when it will give way to “sight” (cf. 2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7)? What will be the nature of “hope” when we have come into the realization and experience of everything promised to us by God? In short, is there room for “faith” and “hope” in heaven? Or will they of necessity pass away because of the realization of that in which we have trusted and placed our hope?

In this regard listen to Ajith Fernando’s insights. They may not prove to be the last word, but it is a good word and worthy of our reflection.

Why does faith last? Because faith is an abiding trust in the word of another, and we will always, even in heaven, relate to God by trusting him for everything we have. The same is true with hope. In heaven, there will no longer be sorrow or pain. So why will we need to hope, if there is no fear that God will fail to meet our needs and keep his promise? Hope is the future-oriented aspect of our faith. Heaven will not be a static, unchanging reality. Though we do not fully understand how this will happen, we know that we will continue to actively seek God and look to him to provide for us—both in the present and in the future. We will continue to enjoy the thrill of childlike trust in God who loves us like a father.[7]

We might expect, then, that in heaven we will continue to exercise “faith” and rest in trust in God because He will be the everlasting fount of all we will enjoy forever, pouring it out to us in the immediacy of each moment (if “moment” is a term even appropriate to the eternal state). There will no longer be a great tension between the seen and unseen because we will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). So, trusting Him for the continuing eternity of bliss will be as easy and natural as breathing.

So too we should expect that “hope” will continue in some abiding way (does not Paul hint at that in 1 Cor. 15:19?). The present anxious tension will be removed, but the glories and joys of heaven will not only go on forever but will continue to expand and grow and become more wonderful. In this we will continue to hope for all that unrestricted, unreserved life with our Father will mean for the remainder of forever. Presently His appearing is our great and blessed hope (Titus 2:13). But then it will be the sight of Him that will transform hope into all it can be and was meant to be from the beginning. While we will openly see Him who is now our hope by faith, our transformed and perfected faith will continue to issue in the purified hope of continuing to live in this realized hope with Him forever.

So, all three of these superlative virtues will “abide” forever, always in this life and continuing throughout eternity. Yet even this is not Paul’s last word on the subject. He adds by way of an adversative (δὲ, “But”) the final and ultimate point: “the greatest of these is love” (μείζων … τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη). The demonstrative pronoun (τούτων, “these”) is in the neuter plural form, identifying the triad of virtues: “faith, hope, and love.” The adjective (μείζων, “the greatest”) however, applies only to “love” (note again for the fifth time, as in vv.4 and 8, the presence of the definite article: ἡ ἀγάπη). The adjective describes its object as “being relatively superior in importance.”[8] It is not superlative in the ultimate sense, for only God is worthy of that description. But among all things, only three survive the cataclysm of turning from this present world to the eternal one. Only these three will “abide” and remain in eternity. Thus, there is a separating of all things from these three. But then, Paul, further delineates and distinguishes! For among these solitary three, there is a clear superior—“love”!

In context, faith and hope, along with love, outlast the present gifts of the Spirit. But in the inner circle of three, “love” is supreme. So, if faith and hope continue in some perfected form even in heaven why is “love” the greatest of these? That is simple, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). God is not “faith.” Nor is He “hope.” He is the worthy object of both, in some way that will be transformed and perfected for us. But “God is love” (emphasis added).

Thus, when we love, we taste and share in the very nature of God. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

[1] BDAG, 5152.2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Louw-Nida, 91.4; Friberg, 19213.

[5] BDAG, 4816.2.

[6] Thayer, 3398.2.

[7] Ajith Fernando, Reclaiming Love (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 175-176.

[8] BDAG, 4763.4.b.

1 Corinthians 13:12

Verse 12 – For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Paul now moves to explain further the point he is making (γὰρ, “For”). To do this he takes us from an illustration of transitioning from childhood to adulthood, from immaturity to maturity (v.11), to an illustration regarding seeing one’s own reflection (v.12). Once again there is a contrast, this time it is repeated twice, once in illustration (v.12a) and once in explanation (v.12b). The first time Paul sets forth the illustration; the second sets forth the point being illustrated. The contrast involves the difference between “now” (ἄρτι) and “then” (τότε). The difference is as simple as it appears. The first indicates the present time; the second a future time.

The previous illustration contrasted “a child” (νήπιος) and “a man” (ἀνήρ). Here the first line of comparison is between seeing one’s reflection “in a mirror dimly” (δι᾽ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι) and seeing “face to face” (πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον). Let’s consider the former. The noun for “mirror” (ἔσοπτρον) is used in the NT only here and in James 1:23. James uses it to speak of the temporary nature of the knowledge gained by looking into a mirror (i.e., he goes away “and at once forgets what he was like,” v.24b). But here the point is not the temporary nature of the knowledge, but the imperfect nature of the image seen in the mirror. The technology of mirrors was not then what it is today. In Paul’s day mirrors were generally made of flattened, polished metal (like bronze) and the result was that one’s reflected image was less that crisp and exact. Corinth was renowned for its manufacture of such mirrors.

We generally think of seeing ourselves “in” a mirror, but the preposition here (διά) more literally means “through.” It could perhaps carry the idea of seeing “through” the medium of reflection in a mirror. The NET Bible suggests that the preposition should be read as “through [= using].”

The perception presently under consideration is expressed further through a prepositional phrase (ἐν αἰνίγματι, “dimly”). The noun (αἴνιγμα) most literally refers to “that which requires special acumen to understand because it is expressed in puzzling fashion” and thus might be considered a “riddle.”[1] Such an image is an enigma that needs to be decoded and a riddle that needs to be solved. The preposition ἐν ought to be rendered “in.” Thus the perception provided in the imperfect reflection of the metal mirrors of the time was of oneself “in a riddle” (cf. NLT: “puzzling reflections in a mirror”). That is to say, one could only see oneself “indirectly.”[2] And this “because one sees not the thing itself, but its mirror-image.”[3] That image in the mirror does not constitute looking myself in the face, but only looking at a reflection of my face.

In contrast (δὲ, “but”) to such imperfect representation in a mirror, Paul that at a later time (τότε, “then”) we will see “face to face” (πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον). Now instead of representative knowledge by reflection in a mirror, we have immediacy of personal knowledge through “face to face” encounter.

Paul may be alluding to Numbers 12:8 where God confronts Miriam and Aaron for speaking ill of Moses. He says, “With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles [οὐ δι᾽ αἰνιγμάτων, LXX], and he beholds the form of the LORD.” Paul may have had something of this kind of “face to face” knowledge in mind when he later wrote to the Corinthians: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Having set forth the illustration of the mirror in the first half of the verse, Paul now proceeds to the explanation in the latter half of the verse. Paul makes two definitive statements, one about present experience and another about a kind of experience to come later. He says, “Now I know in part” (ἄρτι γινώσκω ἐκ μέρους). The temporal adverb (ἄρτι, “Now”) and the prepositional phrase (ἐκ μέρους, “in part”) are identical to those just used in the illustration. The verb is repeated from verse 9 where he said, “we know in part.” As noted above, the verb tends to stress the personal and experiential nature of the knowledge. The form here is identical to that in verse 9, except for one subtle change. Tellingly, as Paul begins his explanation, he transitions from the first-person plural (“we”) of the illustration to the first person singular (“I”) for the explanation. Paul, the great apostle, admits that the knowledge he possesses is only partial. He is the very one who will later disclose to the Corinthians—though in an indirect way—that he had experienced “visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Cor. 12:1) and had been “caught up to the third heaven” (v.2a) and “paradise (v.3a). But even in these exalted experiences, he admits, there were things about them that eluded his knowledge (vv.2b, 3b). Despite an ecstatic experience that could dwarf the ecstatic experiences the Corinthians so valued, Paul admitted here and again later that it left him with only knowledge “in part.” This is an amazing concession made by a man who had as intimate an access to God’s presence as any human being in history, yet he admitted that his ability to comprehend it was limited in some sense.

To this Paul added a conclusion: “then I shall know fully” (τότε δὲ ἐπιγνώσομαι). There is a contrast (δὲ) here that the ESV avoids rendering in the English. But some translations preserve it (“but,” e.g., KJV, NKJV, NLT). The temporal adverb is repeated (τότε, “then”) from the first part of the verse. The verb is a compound (and thus intensified) form of the verb used in the first statement of explanation (γινώσκω, “to know”). The compound word is comprised of ἐπί (“upon”) and γινώσκω (“to know”). It points to a knowledge which is full, deep, and complete.[4] Present knowledge through God’s revelation of Himself in Christ and the written Word of God is true knowledge, though it is partial. It will be found to be in accord with all that is ultimately true but is presently unknown. When this promised fullness of knowledge arrives it will show that what had been previously revealed was all along in accord with that fuller reality which for a time lay behind a veil of secrecy, available only to God Himself. But the promise is that we shall one day come into possession of this fullness of knowledge.

Paul then expands upon and explains more completely this full knowledge. It will be, the apostle says, “as I have been fully known” (καθὼς καὶ ἐπεγνώσθην). The further insight is set forth by way of a comparison (καθὼς, “as”). In origin it served as a compound of the simpler comparative (“as”), being originally a compound of κατά (“down”) and ὥς (“as”).[5] The result was an intensified sense of a deeper or more emphatic comparison. It indicates a comparison “in accordance with a degree as specified by the context.”[6] The ESV renders the conjunction καὶ as an intensive (“even,” cf. NIV, NRSV). The NASB renders it as an addition (“also,” cf. NKJV). The NLT renders it in a temporal sense (“now”). Some scholars believe it an unnecessary overuse of verbiage to make the point.[7] The verb is a repeat of the first line, the compounded ἐπί (“upon”) and γινώσκω (“to know”). The change in form is significant, however. The first was a future tense, speaking of a knowledge that is beyond and before us as believers, a knowledge that will only be ours in our fully redeemed and glorified state. The verb here is in the aorist tense, pointing to knowledge that is a settled fact in the present. This belongs to God alone. The former verb is in the middle voice, specifying the inward and personal nature of the knowledge God’s people will one day possess by His grace. The present verb is passive, pointing to the fact that God is the one who does the knowing, and that the believer is the object of that knowledge.

In the present God deals with me according to full and perfect knowledge, but for now I trust Him with divinely given and reliable, though limited, knowledge of Him and His ways in the world He has created. But one day I will know Him as He now fully knows me.

But this raises questions! Does this erase my finitude? For how can a finite creature, even a fully redeemed and glorified one, fully know a being who is infinite?  Is it a cop-out to reply, “I don’t know, I’ll have to get back to you on that from the position of eternity”?

[1] BDAG, 196.1.

[2] Ibid., 3156.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Briberg, 163; cf. BDAG, 2935.1a.

[5] Friberg, 14592.

[6] Louw-Nida, 78.53.

[7] BDAG, 3845.2.c.

1 Corinthians 13:11

Verse 11 – When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

Paul now illustrates what he has been saying—that the present is not the fullness; the perfect is coming and, though we are not yet experiencing it, it will come and when it does it will utterly transform our present (even Spirit-given) experiences, understanding, and insight.

To illustrate, Paul goes back to a time “When I was a child” (ὅτε ἤμην νήπιος). The temporal adverb (“When”) marks “a period of time coextensive with another period of time.”[1] It thus might be translated “as long as” or “while.[2] The imperfect tense of the verb underscores the abiding and ongoing state. The noun (νήπιος, “child”) designates a very young child, probably to be considered an infant or a small baby.[3] It referred to a child who had not yet learned to speak.[4]

Three things were true of that time in Paul’s life. He presents them in telescoping fashion, moving outward from the simple (ἐλάλουν, “I spoke”) to the more foundational (ἐφρόνουν, “I thought”) and on to the root of it all (ἐλογιζόμην, “I reasoned”). The first verb (λαλέω) simply describes the human ability to emit sound—ranging from simple noises to actual speech.[5] The second verb (φρονέω) means simply “to think,” that is to say, have thoughts about something, form an opinion and hold a view of things.[6] The third verb (λογίζομαι) describes the more advanced ability to apply logic, reason, extrapolate one thing or a series of things into another. All three are in the imperfect tense, depicting the ongoing nature of a child’s speaking, thinking, and reasoning. The third verb it cast in the middle voice, indicating that the subject takes action upon itself. Thus, Paul underscores the inward, self-driven nature of the reasoning he sets in view.

A child speaks before it is able to embrace mature thought and the child thinks before his powers to reason are fully developed. Yet in each of these (notice the three-fold repetition) he did so “like a child” (ὡς νήπιος). With regard to speaking, he babbled and made “baby-talk.” With regard to thinking, he was fixated only on the moment and the person or item in front of him. With regard to his powers of reasoning, he as yet had no ability to connect concepts, string together ideas, and formulate logical, linear thought. The child cannot anticipate something that is not yet in existence and thus he cannot practice patience in the face of hope or the discipline of delayed gratification.

But Paul did not remain “a child.” He continues his illustration by taking up that time “when I became a man” (ὅτε γέγονα ἀνήρ). He employs again the same temporal conjunction (ὅτε, “When”; see comments above on this verse). The noun (ἀνήρ, “a man”) is most often used to distinguish an adult human male, but here in contrast to “a child” (νήπιος) it has emphasis upon the mature, fully-grown nature of the individual. The verb (γέγονα, “I became”) is in the perfect tense, emphasizing the completion of the action in the past and the ongoing state that results. This contrasts with the imperfect tenses of the three preceding verbs. There was a decisive break when Paul left behind the ways of a child and entered into a settled state of full maturity.

In that state of maturity, necessarily, he says, “I gave up childish ways” (κατήργηκα τὰ τοῦ νηπίου). More specifically, “childish ways” is “things of the child” (τὰ τοῦ νηπίου). These Paul can testify, “I gave up” (κατήργηκα). Here again is the thematic verb found also here in verses 8 (2x) and 10. In those verses it was rendered “pass away.” As noted in verse 8 the verb can range in meaning from to cause something to be unproductive, to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, or, as here, to cause something to come to an end or to cease to exist.[7] In three previous usages (vv.8, 10) the verb was in the future tense, looking to a day yet to come. Here the perfect tense, like the verb just preceding the present one, pictures a decisive break with childhood and its ways. In the previous three usages it was in the passive voice, indicating someone or something acting to bring the partial (though divine) provisions of prophecies and knowledge to an end. Here the active voice pictures Paul’s own personal action in transitioning from childhood to adulthood. He “gave [them] up” of his own free volition, for that is what healthy, normal people do as they age and grow.

We should not read in Paul’s illustration him labeling as childish those gifted in prophecy, knowledge, or tongues. Nor should we read into their expression a comparison to childish gibberish. The comparison is with the child’s advance into mature manhood. The transition from “the partial” divine provision of gifts that we enjoy by His grace in this present world will give way to “the perfect” divine and final provision of eternal life in all its fullness as experienced in the presence of God in heaven.

[1] BDAG, 5412.2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] BDAG, 5087; Friberg, 18993.

[4] Liddell-Scott, 29569.

[5] BDAG, 4502.

[6] Ibid., 7819.

[7] Ibid., 4047.

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