This post finishes a three-part series, so scroll down if you want to start at the beginning. Thanks.
Recap: The Love Chapter (a.k.a. 1 Corinthians 13) wraps its theme in the broader theme of maturity. Paul argues that Christ-like love is the by-product of maturity. It’s hard to argue with the context: “when I was a child… when I became a man…”
Have you ever loved an immature person? It’s a lot of work.
Have you ever loved AS an immature person? Your love endures until your next tantrum.
The structure of the chapter is cool. The Love Chapter describes four shifts. If you want to love the way God wants you to love, you need to make four shifts. (I won’t go into how the Greek offers parallel language to introduce each shift: just notice the parallel language “…but when, …but when, …but then, …but then.” Notice how the “but then/when” words introduce the shift from immaturity to maturity.)
The shifts all move you from SPIRITUAL IMMATURITY to SPIRITUAL MATURITY. Check it out:
1. From UNSTABLE LOVE to STABLE LOVE
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. (1 Corinthians 13:8, 9, NKJV).
When your love-life is based on ACTIVITY for Jesus instead of MATURITY in Jesus, it will flame out. This passage is not about certain spiritual gifts going away in history. It is about the relation between love and maturity. When you are immature, you love is as unstable as your service, your ministry, your works of kindness. You’ll take your bat and ball and go home; it’s just a matter of time.
[Please no comments arguing cessationism, okay? thanks.]
“In part” is a reference to spiritual immaturity. You look like a kid with missing teeth. Your love-life has gaps in it.
But when that which is perfect [i.e., spiritual maturity] has come, then that which is in part will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:10, NKJV).
IN vv. 8,9, the loving service vanishes. In v. 10, the fickleness vanishes. If you want to love the way Jesus loved you have to grow mature in Christ. Spiritual babies can love; it’s just that their love is unstable.
2. From CHILDISH LOVE to NOBLE LOVE
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 13:11, NKJV).
Immature Christians display a CHILDISH LOVE. Your speaking, your understanding, and your thinking are all childish. So your love is fragile, and it quickly shifts into self absorption. This is why you should pick your spouse very carefully. If you marry someone who is spiritually immature, you will be dealing with a brat for the rest of your life. And if you yourself are immature too, then you have two brats. Dueling brats. And how sad that kids get caught in the middle!
But mature Christians display a NOBLE LOVE. Quiet, steady, passionate, and strong. Manly love. Womanly love, that can withstand any hardship and not collapse. A love that puts away childish things… you’re not a kid anymore, and you can endure the self-sacrifice it takes to seek another’s welfare.
Don’t you think it would be cool to see a generation of Christ-followers showing off a mature, noble, self-sacrificing love?
3. From SELF-ABSORBED to CONCERNED FOR OTHERS
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face… (1 Corinthians 13:12a, NKJV).
When you look in a mirror, who are you looking at? YOURSELF.
When you look face-to-face, who are you looking at? SOMEONE ELSE.
One of these days, I want to preach a sermon on “staying with the other person” in a conversation. Some people never grow out of their need to talk about themselves.
I like this definition: egocentricity: The vanity that makes you wonder what people are thinking about you when they are really wondering what you are thinking about them.
4. From SHALLOW RELATIONSHIPS to DEEP RELATIONSHIPS
…Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12b, NKJV).
Plus, they hide themselves and don’t care to deeply know others. They know in part. They isolate themselves in a cocoon of self-protective lovelessness.
Mature love is about self-revelation as much as it is about self-giving. That self-revelation is risky, but it’s part of the maturity that comes with love.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJV).
And now abide… Remain… Stay Steady… Character that doesn’t flame out. Not based on hype or the emotion of the moment. True love. Christ’s love in you.
This is like a half-time speech from a great coach. There is a reward for your spiritual effort: LOVE. True love is the God’s reward for reaching the end zone. You can get there. You can get to this kind of life. You can demonstrate the virtue love that flows from your own integrity, your own character, and your own integrity.
But you have to grow to get there. That’s all I’m saying.
Let us love one another.