1 Corinthians 13:9-13

Sermon preached on May 8, 2016 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

When I was a youngster I loved playing hockey. Our family didn't have a lot of money but because my older brother was a hockey player, they were able to equip me with his hand-me-downs. It worked for me and getting equipment was never a problem. That is, until my feet got bigger than my brother's. His old skates wouldn't fit me. So I got a cheap pair of skates and they did me for awhile until one day they came apart at the seams. It happened near the end of the hockey season and I didn't have the money to buy a new pair. So I borrowed a pair from an older guy whose team had been knocked out of the playoffs. His skates were so much better than mine that I decided to get a good pair the next fall. I started saving up for a pair of Tackaberry skates. From what I knew at the time they were the Rolls Royce of skates. They were named after George Tackaberry, who was a shoemaker. He lived from 1874 to 1937. In the early 1900's, when he was living in Brandon, Manitoba, one of his neighbors, Joe Hall, a professional hockey player, complained to him about his skates. At the time you couldn't buy good skates that would last an entire season. They were so flimsy that they would fall apart. So in 1905 Hall asked Tackaberry if he could make him a pair of skates that would be more durable than the skates that were available. Tackaberry made him a pair of skates out of kangaroo leather, which is very durable. He also reinforced the toe. Hall loved them. When Hall's teammates saw his new skates and they all wanted a pair. Tackaberry was flooded with orders from Hall's teammates and soon Tackerberry went into the business of making skates. When Tackaberry died in 1937 his wife sold the patent to CCM and Tacks, as they became known, were CCM's main skate until 2006. They are still on the market today.

So that fall I purchased a pair of Tacks. Now the low down on Tacks was not only were they very durable, and last many seasons, but they also had a reputation for being extremely comfortable. Not at first, but after you broke them. What I heard was that the kangaroo leather, even though it was very tough and thick and would do a good job of protecting your foot— would gradually conform to the shape of your foot and that very soon the skates would fit like a glove. It was true. They were fabulous skates and lasted me the rest of my playing days. From what I knew, compared to the Tackaberry's, all other skates were second rate, inferior—not in the same class as Tackaberry's, not to be compared to them because Tacks were so superior.

Compared to the other spiritual gifts, love is like that, only much more so. Our text shows us the absolute superiority of love to other spiritual gifts. As a Christian you should love the gift of love. Exercising love ought to be your passion. It's the greatest thing you can do. Other spiritual gifts are important. But the problem with the Corinthians was that they focused on the other gifts, like prophecy and tongues to the exclusion of love. The other spiritual gifts, even though they're temporary, are wonderful and they are to be practiced in this present age. Paul makes this clear in the very next chapter of 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 14:1, he wrote,

"Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts,
especially the gift of prophecy."

Paul's point in our text is not to get Christians to despise prophecy or knowledge. David E. Garland writes, (1 Corinthians, BECNT; p. 622)

"Paul's discussion of love is not intended to persuade the Corinthians to abandon their prized spiritual gifts but is meant to convince them to employ the gifts with love. Unless they are governed by love, they are spiritually barren."

Love must undergird all the other spiritual gifts. Unless love is present, all the other spiritual gifts are useless. That's the point that Paul made at the beginning of the chapter. Love is necessary because it binds all the other gifts together. In Colossians 3:12–14 Paul wrote,

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances
you may have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity."

Love undergirds and binds together all the other gifts. It is essential that we exercise the other gifts with love.

To instill this in us, Paul shows us some ways in which love is superior to all other spiritual gifts.

He wrote,

"For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears."

The first thing we should see from our text is that

love is superior to knowledge and prophecy because love is not 'in part'.

Prophecy and knowledge are 'in part'. There are two ways this is true. It's true in the sense that prophecy and knowledge are only for this age. They're not going to survive the transition to the new order of things. They're going to cease. The gifts of prophecy and knowledge are temporary. Secondly, the gifts of prophecy and knowledge are partial in that they don't give the whole. We all know that. The Old Testament prophets were wonderful servants of God. They taught the people about God and how to live. They gave the people of their age glimpses of the Messiah and His work. They gave them great signs about the Messiah, what tribe He would be from, what family He would from, where He would be born, and what He would do. The Old Testament sacrificial system pointed to the work of the Messiah—how He would die to take away the sins of His people. Their work was magnificent. It was glorious.

But we all know it was partial. Little by little the knowledge of the Messiah was given.

The New Testament shows us Jesus much more clearly than the Old Testament. What it tells us about Jesus is amazing. There's nothing like it. It tells of His work in great detail. It tells us about His power, His absolute commitment to His people, His death on our behalf, His resurrection from the dead and of His coming again. But as wonderful and glorious as that is—our age is the age of faith. We don't yet see face to face. We aren't told many things. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul told us that he was taken up into the third heaven, he heard, (verse 4)

"inexpressible things, things that man
is not permitted to tell."

He wasn't allowed to share them with us. Such knowledge is not for us in this age. For us it has to await the age to come.

Ours is the age of imperfection. In John 16:12 Jesus said to His disciples,

"I have much more to say to you,
more than you can now bear."

Jesus said that before His death and resurrection. He went on to tell His disciples that when the Spirit comes, the Spirit would guide them into fuller truth. The knowledge of the disciples after the death and resurrection of Jesus was different, greater than their knowledge before the coming of the Spirit. After the Day of Pentecost their knowledge was different, greater.

In the same way, our knowledge before the second coming of Jesus is still partial. It is only after His second coming that we will know fully. This is not just true of our spiritual knowledge but all of our knowledge of other things as well. Leon Morris writes, (Testaments of Love, p. 253)

"We learn to live with the frustrating realization that the more we learn, the more we recognize how little we know."

But love is not like that. The implication here is that

love is part of the perfection.

The other things will pass away because they are incomplete, imperfect. They are not part of the perfection. They are temporary. Leon Morris tells us that what Paul is bringing out here, (p. 253)

"is love's permanence: love will endure when the value of other achievements fades."

But love, the love that is here for us now, is not imperfect. It's part of the eternal age. It's part of the fullness. It's part of the perfection.

This is an important point to take note of because it has great implications.

The love that we have now is going to abide. It's going to last forever. As I said last week, love is something from the eternal age that has broken into this fallen world. By God's grace we have this wonderful gift. The love God has given us to exercise, here on this earth, is not part of the imperfect. We looked at that last week.

We should also note that it is implied here that love is 'not in part'. Prophecy is 'in part'. Knowledge is 'in part'. That's part of their imperfection. But in contrast to that, love is not imperfect, it is not 'in part'.

But one of the big problems with most Christians today is that

we treat love like it is 'in part', imperfect, when it's not.

We look at love and our sights are set too low. We're content with loving others with a partial love. We're content to love others with an imperfect love. This should not be.

Now don't misunderstand me. The love we show on this earth is always defective. It's always tainted by sin. Isaiah 64:6 says,

"all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;"

Our best works are defective. In 1 John 1:8 the apostle John said,

"If we claim to be without sin,
we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

The love that we show is almost always 'in part', imperfect.

But that's not because the love that is available to us is 'in part' or imperfect. The problem is with us, with our sinfulness rather than the nature of love.

What we should realize is that though God's grace, the love that is available for us to exercise is not 'in part'. It's not imperfect. When you as a Christian decide to show love, you are handling something that is perfect, something that is full, something that is characteristic of the age to come, something that has no defect in it at all.

When you have an opportunity to show love, you should realize what a privilege and honor God is giving you. You are not handling something whose true home is in this age. You are handling a gift from the age to come, a gift that comes directly from God.

So when you are handling love set your sights high. Ask God's blessing on you that you will be able to handle and exercising this gift properly, as much as possible to its full extent. Ask for God's grace to do this. Love, by it's very nature should not be exercised 'in part', imperfectly. Partial love is an affront to love. Partial love is against its very nature.

So we should be striving to handle love correctly. We should be striving to love others completely, fully, not in half measures, but unconditionally, like God has loved us. We should strive against love that is 'in part'.

Jesus is our great example here.

Jesus, while He was here on earth, in our time, as a human being, practiced perfect and complete love. He showed us what love is and how to practice it. Jesus, on this earth, in this age, practiced love. He died for us, when we were God's enemies. (Romans 5:10) The love that He practiced was the love of the eternal age.

But the problem with many of us is that we assume that's an impossible goal so we don't make much of an effort in trying. We are content with partial, imperfect love. Shame on us. We need to take this command seriously.

What did Jesus tell us about this command? Did He tell us that we can't possibly hope to show this love, that it's beyond our capacity? No. Quite the opposite. In John 15:12 Jesus said to His disciples,

"My command is this:
Love each other as I have loved you."

Jesus called us to exercise the same love that He had for us.

We see the same teaching in Ephesians 5:25–27. The apostle Paul wrote,

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her to make her holy,
cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,
and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without
stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."

We are to give ourselves for others. Jesus gave Himself for us, the church, in order to make us holy. Husbands are to give themselves for their wives.

We are to love others as Christ loved us. That's the goal. That's the standard. We should strive for nothing less.

The fact that Jesus, as a human being, living in the New Testament age, lived a life of love and practiced love that was not 'in part'—shows us that this love is with us in the here and now. His love was part of the perfection. His love shows us that we too, as human beings, living in this age, can practice that kind of love.

Christians, seek greater love. Strive after this. Love is first. Love is primary. Love is more important than anything else. Give yourself to love. You are here not to make money, not to enjoy yourselves, not to waste your lives on empty, temporary things—but to exercise love—love that is perfect, full and complete.

May God give us grace to do so.