1 Cor. 13:8-13
Context: After having shared that Love is permanent and will not fail [vv. 1-7], Paul now shares that spiritual gifts will cease; some gifts now and others later.
1. Spiritual gifts are temporary, partial, and elementary [v. 8].
Note that He says that tongues will cease and prophecy and knowledge shall fail or vanish away. “Vanish away” in verse 8 and 10 means to abolish gradually. Prophecy and knowledge will one day be made inoperative. The verb is passive which means something or someone will cause them to stop. That something is the coming of “the perfect” [v. 10].
“Cease” in regards to tongues means “to stop, to come to an end.” The Greek means tongues will cease in a self-causing action. God gave the gift of tongues a built-in stopping place. Many believe it ceased at the end of the apostolic age.
Prophecy and knowledge will be stopped by something outside themselves. They both will end when the perfect comes [v. 10]. Tongues are not mentioned in relation to the perfect coming [v. 10].
2. Prophecy will vanish when the perfect comes [vv. 9-10].
Both prophecy and knowledge are partial now, and represent all gifts that will be done away when the perfect comes.
We as God’s servants know and prophesy in part. When the perfect comes we will no longer need a Bible, preaching or teaching, and prophecy, because we will be in the presence of the Living Word.
3. What is the perfect [v.10]?
A. The perfect is the completion of the Scripture.
How would the Corinthian believers have understood the perfect, certainly not as the Scripture, but moral and spiritual perfection? If the perfect refers to Scripture, then prophecy and knowledge have already ceased. Prophecy will be active in the Kingdom age [Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17]. Scripture does not allow us to see “face to face” [v. 13].
B. The perfect is the rapture.
If prophecy and knowledge they are done away with after the rapture then they could not be present in the tribulation and Kingdom age. Paul clearly states that once done away with, they will end permanently.
C. The perfect is the second coming.
The Greek word “perfect” is in the neuter, which means it can’t refer to a person. You still have the problem of prophecy in the Kingdom age [Isa. 11:9; 29:18; 32:3-4].
D. The perfect is the eternal state.
If the others are not the perfect, then it leaves only one possibility. Spiritual gifts are for time, but love is for eternity. The eternal state allows for knowledge and prophecy in the Tribulation and Kingdom age. Only in heaven will we see God “face to face,” and be known as we are known.
4. Gifts are elementary [vv. 11-12].
Paul compares the believer’s earthly life to what they will be like in heaven. We will be complete and mature in heaven. Now we are spiritually childish, imperfect, and limited. We see in God’s Word dimly, but in heaven we will see completely and fully.
Conclusion: Spiritual gifts are temporary, but love is eternal. It will last in the eternal state.