Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away (1Co 13:8).There is a very good reason why Paul put 1 Cor. 13 in the middle of chapter 12 and 14. His intention is very clear. Love is permanent while tongues, prophecy and knowledge were temporary. This is the focus Paul wants to establish. He ends 1 Cor. 12 with: “And I will show you a still more excellent way”. He then goes on to explain the real focus. He tried to show the Corinthians that the correct focus is love, which is pure and unselfish. They were so taken with tongues that he had to point them to the correct focus. They were like children discovering a new toy. “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1Co 14:20). He also said: “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.”. He said they should rather desire prophecy than to speak in tongues. Tongues was the least of all the gifts. He tried to get them to focus rather on prophecy.
Paul is clearly saying to the Corinthians that they are to pursue love. “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1Co 14:1). He also said to them, “desire the gifts”, but they were to peruse love like a precious gift, because of its permanency. He also said to them it is good to desire tongues, but it is more excellent to desire to prophecy, because it builds the body. No where did Paul gave it as a command that must be obeyed. He said it is good to long for it, but not to seek after it as something that must be done. It is love which they must follow as a command. Those without love are not children of God. Therefore the emphasis to follow in the way of love (1 John 2:4-5).
The gift of prophecy Paul was referring to was to speak forth the Word of God. It was not about future predictions. The gift of prophecy he was referring to was to speak to God’s people His words in the absence of the written revelation from God. To teach, build and comfort God’s people. This was the purpose of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:12). Paul said since they were eager for spiritual gifts, they must desire to build the church. The people must understand them. There is no purpose in speaking in a tongues when no one understands. They would speak in the air and not build the body. The purpose was for people to understand what was said so that they can be built up (1 Cor. 14:6,13). Therefore they had to keep quiet unless it could be interpreted (1 Cor. 14:2).
In 1 Cor 14:7-12, Paul explains that tongues are intelligible languages with meaning and structure, not just unintelligible noise. It should also be used in an orderly fashion. He uses examples of musical instruments to explain to them that tongues are not gibberish and unintelligible noise. It is known languages with vowels and consonants. He also explains that it has meaning and can be understood like soldiers who understand the tune the trumpet makes that call them to action in war. He uses this analogy of musical instruments to show them that the gift of tongues is not like that of the pagan world which was a bunch of purposeless sounds and unknown noises.
Let us go back to 1 Cor. 13 and discover what Paul was trying to say to the Corinthians about the nature and lifespan of prophecy and tongues. What is the “perfect” he is referring to?
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away (1Co 13:9-10).
When Paul was writing this, he knew they were prophecying in part. This means the full revelation of God was still unfolding. Jesus said to the apostles that the Holy Spirit will teach them the things to come and will guide them in all truth. They were expecting the unfolding revelation of God (John 16:12-13). When Paul wrote this, he knew that they were still awaiting the full revelation from God, which was the Bible. Thus he wrote “we prophecy in part but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away”.
The context of 1Cor.13:8 is revelation and knowledge. When they were prophesying then, they knew that they were doing it under partial knowledge and a day would be coming when God’s full revelation (the Bible) to the church would be available. Jesus told them that there were still many things that He would teach them, but it would happen when the Spirit was given at Pentecost (John 16:12-13).
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 (1Co 13:11).
Why did Paul put this exactly here in the context of love being permanent, and tongues, prophecy and knowledge being temporary? The context was immaturity. When we are children we do things in childish ways. The church was still in infancy and a few decades old. The apostles was still busy writing the revelation they received from God. The full revelation (the Bible) was not available yet.
Jude said that there is a full revelation that was ONCE delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Not again and again. This revelation is the Bible. At the time Paul was writing his letter to the Corinthian church, the New Testament revelation of God was still being written. Paul was anticipating a time when God’s full revelation to humanity would be complete, the church would have grown to maturity, and the gifts of tongues and prophecy, which was the medium of revelation in the absence of the Bible, would cease.
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deut. 29:29).
There are no secrets for man to know. They belong to God. What God wanted to say, He did in the Bible. When the Bible was completed, God gave teaching gifts of the Spirit like pastor and teacher that would explain the Word to His people by the wisdom and insight the Spirit gives. The purpose of these teaching gifts is to edify, build and equip the saints for every good work.
God has spoken in the Bible and God continues to speak by His Spirit through the Bible. Not through revelatory gifts like tongues and prophecy. There is no need for new revelation. The full counsel of God is available to His people. Everyone can read what God wants to say. The Spirit empowers every person to understand His word. Now we must study and devote ourselves to prayer and wait for His guidance in His word. We must listen to the teachers and elders God has appointed and gifted with wisdom and insight to expound the Word.