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1 Corinthians 13:8-13 Study Guide: When the Perfect Comes

Community Group Study Guide — When the Perfect Comes
1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Main idea:
Spiritual gifts exist to help us know more about Christ and to be built up in love. These gifts are meant for us to serve one another and also a way for us to know the love of Christ more deeply. There will come a day when these gifts will not be needed and we will see Christ face to face. Until that day we’re called and empowered by God to use these gifts to love one another and experience his love. 

Study Information:
After describing love to us in 1 Corinthians13:1-8, Paul now shows us the limitations of spiritual gifts and the superiority of love in the Christian life. Paul shows us that love is a lack of selfishness and a desire for the good of one another (1 Corinthians 12:7). The Corinthian church struggled to love each other as they ranked themselves based on their spiritual gifts and competed with one another instead of using their gifts to serve. Paul told us that this was like having the gift of communication but sounding like a clanging cymbal; or having a generous life but it is nothing if not motivated by love. A loving life is an excellent life and this love is not a warm fuzzy feeling but a commitment to Christ and the people of God. When we know God’s love, love him in return and love one another we are living an excellent life (1 Corinthians 12:31). The spiritual gifts serve a purpose, but that purpose is temporary and points to something greater that will never pass away: Christ.

The Corinthians prized spiritual gifts as a way to measure value and importance. They viewed them the wrong way and suffered disunity for it. The right way to view spiritual gifts is to see them as tools God has given us to build each other up in the faith. But, even with that focus, they will still pass away because a day is coming when they will no longer be needed. The gifts are used by God to help us know God more deeply and point us to Christ and when Christ returns they will no longer serve that purpose or be needed (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). 

This passage is a hotspot in the debate on spiritual gifts, mainly centered around what it means for “the perfect to come” (1 Corinthians 13:10). Paul calls out the spiritual gifts of prophecies, tongues and knowledge as ceasing. Each of these gifts are “word” gifts meant to point us to Christ. They serve a great function in the church as God uses things like preaching, teaching and one on one conversation to communicate truth about himself through his people. This passage indicates that they serve a function but will one day no longer be needed. Some theologians and people think that the spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy have ceased and they build this argument by pointing to the “perfect” as the New Testament canon of scripture. At the time of Paul writing Corinthians, the scripture had not been fully written and there would come a day when we’d have the scripture in full. The argument is that prophecy, knowledge and tongues would not longer be needed because we have everything God wants us to know in the scripture.

The Bible is the word of God, living and active and meant for teaching, correction and reproof (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21). Being people of the Word is essential to our faith and spiritual lives, yet, this passage is most likely not pointing to the word of God as the “perfect”, but rather the “Word” of God,” Jesus as the perfect revelation to come. When the disciples asked to see the Father, Jesus replied if you’ve seen me you’ve seen him, this is not to say that Jesus and the Father are the same but rather that one part of Jesus’ ministry was to reveal God to his people (John 14:8-11). We know that Jesus is going to return to redeem his people fully and to renew creation (Revelation 21-22). The words in 1 Corinthians 13 for “pass away” and “cease” match some of the same language we get with the end times conversations. This means that the gifts serve a function to point us to Jesus but one day they will no longer be needed, namely when Christ, the perfect revelation of God, returns. This position would mean that gifts like prophecy, knowledge and tongues serve a limited and temporary function in the church. As a church we’re “cautious but open” to spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 14 will warn us of many of their abuses in the church and with disordered worship, which mirrors some of what we see in contemporary Christianity today, this leads to caution. However, this passage most likely does not point to them ceasing their need or function until Christ returns. 

To underscore this point Paul uses the images of growing up and of a mirror to help us see the value in the gifts even though they’re temporary. 1 Corinthians 13:11 points to growing up to teach us that things that are childish and limited still have value and purpose. “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.” Spiritual gifts are not childish in the way we think of the term as frivolous and purposeless; Paul is telling us they serve an important function, but one that has an end date to it. As a kid you out grow the crib, the play scooter that helps you learn to walk and no one would pay to watch grown adults play major league tee-ball. Next, Paul talks about seeing into a mirror dimly, meaning a mirror that is fogged up or giving you just a partial image. The image in the dim mirror is still helpful, but incomplete. It is like seeing through someone else’s eyeglasses, fuzzy but you get a general sense of what’s there. The spiritual gifts are helpful in that sort of sense. They communicate truth about God, build up the church in faith and help us to have unity. These are all good things! And more than that, something better is coming! 1 Corinthians 13:12 “Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” The goal of the Christian life is to know and love God as he knows and loves us, and someday this will happen for the believer when we’re in Christ’s presence.

As wonderful as the spiritual gifts are, they are temporary and something greater is given to the believer: faith, hope and love with love being the greatest. Our time on this side of eternity, in the church, will be marked by finding ways to use our gifts to love and serve one another; but let’s do so from a heart of love seeking to point one another to Christ and to fight any sort of desire to compete or divide over meaningless things.

Finally, this passage should give us a great appreciation and value for spiritual gifts like preaching and teaching’s ability to help us learn about the word; the gift of compassion from others which help us understand God’s care and the gift of faith which sustains us in difficult seasons. But those things are just appetizers before the main course. This passage should cause us to long for the day of Christ’s return when we will experience this love and knowledge  in full. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Over the last few weeks we’ve talked about the purpose of spiritual gifts. How does this passage add to our understanding of why God has gifted us spiritually and what they’re meant for?

What does it mean when Paul tells us that “when I became a man I gave up childish ways?” 

How is it that people can use their spiritual gifts in an unloving way? Can you think of some examples?

1 Corinthians 13:12 instructs us that we now know in part but there is a day coming when we will fully know as we have been fully known. How does this vision of the Christian life encourage you today?

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