Paul is drawing the argument for love’s excellency to a close, and he will return to the more explicit treatment of spiritual gifts in Chapter 14. I have tried to stress that the chapter on love must not be separated from the context of spiritual gifts though because Paul is showing it is the more excellent and desirable pursuit rather than the gifts of the Spirit.
The main thrust of Paul’s argument from our text today is pretty much an extension of what we saw in verse 8. There Paul said love has no end, but the exercise of the spiritual gifts will come to an end. In verse 9, the first word is “for,” and it shows that Paul is providing further explanation for what he has said.
He says that the knowledge we currently have is partial at best, and the same can be said for prophesying. This is certainly harmonious with the idea of ongoing, progressive sanctification. At best, we are a work in progress. This side of eternity, we will never be sinless, have perfect knowledge, or exercise our gifts without taints of our fleshly remnants.
However, there is coming a day when the partial will pass away. The exercise of sign gifts such as knowledge, tongues, prophesying, etc. was never meant to be eternally lasting. Their scope was always of limited duration. The ultimate goal is the coming of the perfect and not the abiding of the partial (v. 10).
Paul now uses a general analogy to explain himself further. There was a time for the presence and exercise of the more childish, immature things in life. As a child, there will be childish speaking, thinking, and reasoning. This is because there is a lack of wisdom, maturity, experience, and sound reasoning skills.
Nevertheless, those things will come to an end. The childish is not meant to last, as Paul says he gave those things up. When did he give them up? As he grew into a man, mature, wiser, with more age and experience, the childish was left behind. The childish things are no longer satisfying; the goal is more maturity and wisdom.
Paul builds on that idea in verse 12. We again see the word, “for.” Paul says that now, in this life, we see only in a dimly lit mirror. There is not clarity and purity of sight. That will come one day when we see face-to-face. Paul’s knowledge now is in part, at best. One day though he will know fully, even as he has been fully known.
Those ideas are easy to grasp. The questions revolve mainly around verse 10. When the perfect or completed comes, knowledge and prophecies will pass away. There are differences over exactly what Paul means here. Does he mean when Christ comes? Is the perfect referring to Christ, or is it referring to the realization of the promises of God? Others think Paul is referring to the completed, written revelation of God. When the completed, closed canon comes, there will no longer be the need for the sign gifts.
No matter what view a person takes on this idea, it cannot be denied that Paul is clearly emphasizing that true, biblical love as described in the first past of this chapter should be the goal of Christians. The arguments, divisions, and chaos over focusing on spiritual gifts are all exhibits of childish behavior. Those things will not last, and therefore, they should never supplant the more worthy pursuits of growth in love, holiness, righteousness, humility, and other Christ-like attributes.
Is your life being built on the more Christ-exalting traits such as humility, love, holiness, gentleness, joy, peace, etc.? Are you laying up treasures in heaven, or are you pursuing those things that will not last?
Love never ends! – v. 8