The Love Chapter Revisited (Again)

Today’s post is part two. For part one, scroll down. Thanks.

So, we’re trying to solve the mystery of 1 Corinthians 13:8… what does Paul mean by “that which is perfect”? The answer to that question will give us an INDISPENSABLE CLUE ABOUT LOVE.

10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:10, NKJV).
One good way to decode a biblical word is to examine the other ways the same book (or author or section of Scripture) uses the same word. Fortunately, we have some examples in Corinthians. I’ll underline the English word that translates the Greek word teleion (perfect, complete).
  • 6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.(1 Corinthians 2:6, NKJV).
  • 20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20, NKJV).

In many contexts, teleion means mature. Spiritually mature. A follower of Jesus who has sunk down deep roots into Jesus through Scripture and prayer and a faithful walk with the Master. Someone who has graduated from spiritual elementary school and is living the adult life of the follower of Christ. A teleion-Christian is no longer a baby, tossed around by life’s storms, but a steady, strong, capable example of Jesus living through you.

We should be mature Christ-followers, don’t you think?

Let’s substitute the word “maturity” for “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:8:

10 But when SPIRITUAL MATURITY has come, then SPIRITUAL IMMATURITY will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:10, NKJV).

True enough. Our next test is to see if “maturity” works in the IMMEDIATE CONTEXT.

WAIT! Wait! Wait! Wait! Let’s remember what we’re talking about. We are talking about LOVE! Love is the ultimate goal life, for the follower of Jesus. Didn’t Jesus distill the whole Scripture into love for God and love for others? Love is the goal.

But what kind of love?

1 Cor 13 tells us… A LOVE THAT FLOWS FROM A MATURE HEART, ROOTED AND GROUNDED IN CHRIST, DISPLAYING THE LIFE OF CHRIST FROM WITHIN.

That’s my interpretation of this passage. 1 Cor 13 isn’t just the love chapter, it’s mostly THE MATURITY chapter. Watch this: here’s verse 8 with verse 9 added on. Ask yourself if “maturity” doesn’t make the most sense as a translation for teleion:

10 But when [SPIRITUAL MATURITY] has come, then [SPIRITUAL IMMATURITY] will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:10, 11, NKJV).

C’mon! Who can argue? True love MUST put away childish things. In Christ, an immature person’s love is flaky, fickle, and dysfunctional. Only a mature person’s love never fails.  When you speak as a child, you speak selfishness and impulse. When you understand as a child, you understand from your own shoes only; you cannot put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and you cannot deeply love. When you think as a child, you don’t get the difficulties of life, you don’t fathom the forces of the heart, and you don’t rise above the passion of the moment, or the offense of your spouse, to CHOOSE a love that endures.

Childish love is flaky. It is the opposite of Christ-like love.

If you want to display the love of Christ, you have to grow mature in Christ FIRST.  That is the argument of 1 Corinthians 13. I am saying that the correct interpretation of 1 Cor 13:8, and the only one that makes sense of the context, is that “the perfect” should be translated “maturity.”

But it gets deeper, and we’ll save that for the next blog.  Thanks for stopping by. If you thought this was helpful, would you please give me a mention on Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog or website?  Thanks.


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One thought on “The Love Chapter Revisited (Again)

  1. Hi, Bill…

    The Apostle Paul seems to indicate that knowledge (derived from tongues and/or prophecy) has meaning due to the existence of ignorance. That is why Paul says “we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Cor 13:9). Until we are with our Lord in heaven, we are stuck with having to coexist with ignorance, which is why we have “temporary” gifts of knowledge, tongues, and prophecy. These temporary gifts therefore fill the gaps of ignorance at the present time. In other words, when we are face-to-face with Jesus, then we will “fully” know (1 Cor 13:12), at which time these gifts will then be superfluous, because there will no longer be any ignorance, and therefore any need for the “temporary” gifts.

    But now we’ve got to address ignorance… and Paul does NOT seem to describe ignorance so much as the “absence of knowledge” but more as the “absence of fully knowing Christ’s Love”. For example, Ephesians 3:19 says, “…and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” So in this context in Ephesians, ignorance is NOT restricted to the absence of information/knowledge, but instead is related to “the love of Christ.” Thus love surpasses knowledge, which brings us back to the Corinthians passage.

    In the Corinthians passage we have been looking at, Paul is essentially saying: Get with the program and smell the coffee! Temporary gifts (knowledge, tongues, and prophecy) are contingents of Love (with a capital-L), because Love is the essence of Person of Christ. Paul is saying: Grow up and realize that the gifts of knowledge/ tongues / prophecy are not toys, which are always temporary and about which children always fight and play, but that love is the only gig that matters, because it is permanent (eternal), since Love is the essence and expression of God’s character (in Christ). After all, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8).

    So, to sort of consummate (“perfect”) this concept, we find what Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-16…
    “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become PERFECT, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are PERFECT, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”

    My guess is that Paul’s concept of “PERFECT” refers to those Christians who have cracked the code, and have dedicate their lives to consistent and increasing reliance on God’s Holy Spirit through the daily renewing of the mind in the word of God and fellowship with other believers. Such believers are never “perfect” on this earth in the sense of sinlessness, but they are mature (“perfect”) in the sense that they have understood that what matters in life is Love — that is, knowing Christ — in the fullest sense and in fullest expression possible on this earth. When we are in heaven, on the other hand, then we will “fully” know and therefore be “perfect”….

    Grace,
    Joseph

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