Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Missed Message of the "Love Chapter"

I Corinthians 13 is widely known as the “love chapter”. And rightfully so. But there is a message that is often overlooked with I Corinthians 13. Though on the surface it seems unrelated to “charity” (a specific type of love- unconditional love), it actually tells us what is replaced by charity.

Early on in the chapter this message is hinted at:
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. –v. 2
The relation between these gifts, charity, and God’s Word is developed later after Paul relays what charity does:
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. –vv. 8-12
We are told outright that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge are finite. They would not be with Christ’s church forever. Before we get to when that is, let’s examine what these words mean.

The first two have rather simple definitions. Prophecy is how God worked through mankind for much of history. The first prophecy was made directly by God in Genesis 3:15. Look through the Old Testament, and many of the books are written by or about prophets. They even continue into the New Testament, as Jesus and other people whom the Holy Spirit came upon in speech or writing told of things to come. All in all, there are about 2500 prophecies in the Bible. Two thousand have already been fulfilled and 500 will be.

Tongues were a gift given to some in the early church. Tongues is especially seen on the day of Pentecost. But there is an important distinction. Every time tongues are mentioned, it is a known language:
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance….Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. Acts 2:4, 6-11
Tongues is not some unknown language, or something that cannot be understood. It was a gift that enabled one who did not know a certain language to communicate with others of that language. This was very important as the gospel began to spread abroad.

“Knowledge” refers to special revelation. Before the Word of God was completed, God revealed Himself only to specific people for specific purposes. Paul himself received this in the wilderness after his conversion. Before Christ, this was often transferred through prophets and occasionally through angels coming to individuals. Sometimes, this revelation would be shared; sometimes it wouldn't. Later, visions seemed to become more common, as Peter, Paul, John, and others were visited through them.

So we know these would end at some point after Paul’s writing. But when would they end? What is “that which is perfect”? My first thought would be Jesus. But we know these gifts continued after He was gone. Others would claim this is at death or the coming of Christ; however, nowhere else in the Bible is the word “perfect” used in this manner. What “perfect” is used with is that Christians can be “perfect” (blameless) before God, and that God’s words and works are “perfect”.

So what is it? James mentions looking “into the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25), which we know to be God’s Word, the Bible. When Paul writes, “when that which is perfect is come,” he speaks of the Bible. When it the last book was written just before the turn of the first century, these gifts ended.

God gave these gifts for a short time. When fishermen and tax collectors went out and preached around the world, they needed the ability to work miracles to show themselves legitimate. Jesus told his disciples this:
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. –Mark 16:17-18
By all means, go drink something poisonous, and see if it hurts you.
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? –Hebrews 2:3-4
God showed then that his disciples spoke the truth through the miracles the early church did. Today, His Word speaks for itself.

Why does this not speak of our bodies being perfected in Heaven (thereby meaning that prophecies, tongues, and “knowledge” continue today)? The Greek word translated “perfect” is “teleios.” It is used nineteen times in the New Testament. Of those, ten refer to men, or us Christians, being “perfect” (once it is translated “of full age”). We are not currently perfect like our bodies will be in Heaven. The word "teleios" is not a reference to perfect as God is perfect, but is a reference to having a completed work, or being matured.
But let patience have her perfect  work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. –James 1:4
Strong’s Concordance defines the word as “brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” While this seems like it could refer to us in Heaven, we must remember that over half the uses of the word teleios refers to our ability to be perfect, or complete, while yet on Earth. This is Christ’s work in us, that we would be wanting nothing spiritually.

Falling in line, this is a perfect definition of the Word of God at that time. Since Paul’s writings are a part of the New Testament, obviously the Bible was not complete. So these works of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge continued, each of which can be seen over and again in Acts and other books. But Paul writes to say that the Bible will be completed- “brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness”. And when it is complete, “the perfect (teleios) law of liberty”, there will be no need for such works anymore.

There is no need for us to prophecy any longer. There is no need to speak in tongues. There is no need for individual knowledge of the law. God’s Word has taken their place.

And for this we should be thankful. Recall the words of Peter:
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: –II Peter 1:19
The Word we have today is “trusty” and “stable,” better than what was had in the past. Peter also says in the next verse that “no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation.” This, as all other scripture, is not a matter of opinion. It’s not up for debate. It’s biblical fact.

This is not at all to say that God does not speak to mankind. He works as much as He did back then, if not more due to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But we have God’s completed, infallible Word to tell us all we need to know.
And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. –II Timothy 3:15-17
Contained in the Book God has given us is all we need. From the last revelation given by John and the completion of his writing on the Island of Patmos, these gifts ceased.

Hence come the comparisons at the end of the chapter. These gifts are “childish things,” but when the Bible matured, those were put away. “When I was a child, I spake as a child (prophecies), I understood as a child (tongues), I thought as a child (knowledge): but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Before the Bible was completed, they looked into a dark mirror (v. 12). But after its completion, we can see “face to face” in the “perfect law of liberty”; our mirror and litmus test for our spiritual condition is available now as God’s Word. This allows us to know ourselves and examine ourselves. As opposed to the hazy knowledge that these gifts provided, the Bible is clear.

We may look longingly back at those days when such unique gifts were given. But which is better: for God to move through certain people, or through anyone who reads His Word? We have been given what we need for salvation, what we need to know God’s willwhat more do we need? God still gives gifts to accomplish His work, but not these gifts.

(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) II Corinthians 5:7
We are not to look for signs from God that we are to do something, or fill in the blank. We now live a life by faith, learning from the written Word God has given us. These gifts are the workings of God that are directly involved with man. They would cause one to believe because of what they have seen, rather than place faith in what they believe.

“But we can have revelations.” True, but not in the sense that you may think. I have revelations all the time, I’m sure any Christian desiring to follow God’s will does. But these revelations are of Biblical truth. We may be reading or reflecting on God’s Word or perhaps a message or song that is biblically based and gain a fresh perspective. But revelations today are based on truth that already exists. God does not give anything extra-Biblical to us. “God is no respecter of persons,” the Bible repeats. He does not tell one what He does not tell all- and that is what He’s told us in the Bible.

“But people speak in tongues today.” As stated before, tongues were always in a known language. Any “tongues” we hear today are not able to be understood. I believe that people truly believe they speak in tongues, but I think we can pretty well convince ourselves of anything. That's the danger in letting our experiences speak louder than the study of scripture. In Paul’s list of gifts in I Corinthians 12, the chapter before the “love chapter,” tongues is actually listed as the least of them all. He tells the Corinthians to “covet earnestly the best gifts.” “…Yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” Paul ends the chapter. That more excellent way is explained in the next chapter.

“I’ve had God-given dreams about what He wants me to do and what is going to happen.” It is like with ghosts: if you believe in them, you’ll probably see them. But that does not make ghosts real any more than the belief that a dream was God-given makes it given of God. God operates through faith now. We pray in faith asking for His guidance, and by faith we follow through the wisdom He gives. We must be careful to think that God is speaking to us in ways that are not Biblical. God doesn’t audibly speak to us anymore. We can certainly “hear” His still small voice through the pricking and leading of the Holy Spirit, but not through dreams. If you want to dream about something bad enough, you probably will. That’s you speaking to yourself though, not God. Dreams aren’t in a vacuum; they reflect what is going on in our lives or our sub-conscious mind (don’t read too deep into Sigmund Freud, please). But they aren’t used of God. With the completion of the Bible, there is no use for it. Or as my old pastor used to say, “Maybe you had some bad cabbage, but that’s not God telling you to do something.” I fully believe that the Holy Spirit will give us messages. Those may come in something He brings to mind, maybe a word or an image. That can be used to say, "You need to pray for this person," or, "Speak this over her life." The difference is that these things are not special revelation. They are not prophecies in the Old Testament sense. These are messages that we can already find in the Bible.

Please don’t think that I’m trying to put the Holy Spirit in a box. The working of this person of the trinity is often undermined in some churches. His work is prevalent, that’s why He lives within us. But the Holy Spirit reckons with us to remind us of God’s truth and that we are God’s children. He doesn’t show us things God hasn’t said. And do not mistake me for saying that God does not work anymore. I personally have seen Providence saturate my life, and many others can relate. He is intimately involved in the affairs of man. (I will have to write more later on the subject.) But God no longer works through these gifts.
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. II Peter 1:19-21
Today’s “spiritual gifts” emphasize the one faking them instead of the One who gave them. The test of spirituality has been made how frequently one babbles inaudible words, or who can boast of their newest “revelation” from God. The Holy Spirit never came to give glory to Himself. The emphasis of Pentecost was Jesus Christ and the need for Him, not the Holy Spirit and certainly not those speaking in tongues. This was a necessary thing then, but these particular gifts are no longer needed and no longer exist.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. –II Timothy 3:16-17

It is the Bible that makes us perfect, not fits of emotion. For more specifically on tongues, read this article. And for special revelations, read this.

Our more sure word of prophecy are the words God has given to us and preserved through time- His Word that He places at such high emphasis (Psalm 138:2). Don’t be disappointed that God moves differently among us now. Our “more sure words” are a much firmer foundation (as the great old hymn says) than anything they received or we think we receive through these gifts.

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