Permanence of Love
Tim Temple


Henry Drummond was a scientist with some recognition. He was professor of natural science at the Freechurch College of Glasgow in Scotland. During his tenure as professor there, he wrote a science textbook that was a best-seller by standards of that day–40,000 copies in the first year of publication, translated into at least six other languages. It continued to be published in thirty subsequent editions over the years. He was a recognized scholar and scientist, but he was also an imminent theologian. During the last fifteen years of his life, he served as professor of theology in the seminary associated with the University of Glasgow. He wrote a number of religious books, but in his lifetime, his major claim to fame was preaching, particularly his preaching among college students.

When Dwight L. Moody came to Europe, Drummond was one of his major helpers there on the continent. Later Drummond came to the United States and had a tremendous ministry to college students in the United States as he had in Europe. The most famous of his sermons was an exposition of I Corinthians, chapter 13. The title of that sermon was, “The Greatest Thing in the World.” In that sermon, Henry Drummond said this, “We have been accustomed to being told that the greatest thing in the religious world is faith. That great word has been the keynote for centuries of popular religion. We have easily learned to look upon it as the greatest thing in the world. Well, we are wrong. In this passage, Paul deliberately contrasts faith, hope, and love, and without a moment's hesitation, the decision falls, 'The greatest of these is love'.” Drummond goes on to explain that faith and hope certainly have their place, but the greatest thing in the world is love.

We have been looking at this passage in our last two lessons. I hope that you would agree from these studies that the greatest thing in the world is love, the kind of love Paul is writing about in this chapter, because it is not a kind of love that we would manufacture within ourself. Paul is not talking in this chapter about just being sweet to each other and about smiling all the time. Rather, he is talking about the kind of love that God uses in our hearts if we allow Him to. He is talking about the kind of love that God is. We have talked about the Greek word agape , which describes this love. It is love that is given without any view to whether the love is returned or not. That sets it apart from our human kind of love. Most of our love from a human standpoint is pretty much based on the kind of response we get from others, isn't it? God's love is a love that gives. God's love is a love that goes out whether anything is even expected to come back or not. It is love that proceeds from the worthiness of the lover rather than the acceptability of the loved one.

Today we come to the third section of the chapter, which I have entitled “The Permanence of Love”, in verses 8-13. As we look at these verses, I hope we will be able to see why love is the greatest of these, because he is not downplaying the importance of faith or hope. He is not saying that we can forget about those things, but he is saying that the thing that is most important is love.

The Cessation of Gifts

The first step that Paul takes in developing this idea is to explain the cessation of gifts in verses 8-10:

I Corinthians 13

8Charity [love ] 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.

Let's stop there for a moment and think carefully about the wording that Paul is using here. When he says, “Love never fails,” and “…whether there are prophecies, they shall fail…”, he does not mean failure in the sense that love always works no matter what. We have just been saying that this kind of love is a love that is given sometimes with the realization that it won't be returned. From a human standpoint, if we reach out to someone else in love, and they respond in a negative way, or they don't respond at all, haven't we said at one time or another, “I just don't know what to do. I have tried to love that person, and they just don't respond at all. My love has just failed.”? From a human standpoint, there is a sense in which love can fail. Paul is not talking about love failing in that sense. He says prophecies will fail, but again, he is not talking about the fact that prophecies don't come true, that they fail in that sense; rather, he is talking about the longevity of love and the longevity of prophecy, the endurance of the whole concept of love and the endurance of the whole need for prophecy.

Prophecies Fulfilled

There is a general human sense in which both of these statements are true and there is also a spiritual sense, which is what Paul is talking about. Think about it just from a general standpoint for a moment. Prophecies fail, not in the sense that they don't come true, because in the Old Testament the test of the prophet was if he prophesied something and it didn't come true, that was an indication that he was not a true prophet. Prophecies, by their very nature, come true. If they don't come true, they were false prophecies in the first place. Prophecies fail in that sense that when they have been fulfilled, then there is no longer any need for them in the sense of expecting them to happen. When a prophecy is fulfilled, then it becomes history. It may be a very valuable part of history, and it may be something that we should refer to as an indication of the faith that we can have in the prophecies that haven't yet come true; but in the sense of expecting that prophecy, we don't need to any more. It has come to pass, and it has come to an end, and it is now relegated to the category of history. There are many, many things that had been predicted by God's prophets and by human forecasters that have now come true and are no longer in the category of prophecy. They are no longer in the category of predictions. Some of those things that were predicted, from a human standpoint, have not come true, and they are now relegated to the status of foolishness.

Languages Ceased

We have already talked about the fact that the word “tongues” is a translation of the Greek word for languages, and he says in verse 9 that “tongues will cease”. If you think about it for just a moment, you will realize that there are many languages which have ceased already. They are dead languages. There is a sense in which even our own language has ceased. If you go back and try to read the works of Milton or Donne or some of the other middle English writers, it is like reading another language. English, as it was five hundred or a thousand years ago, is not at all like it is today. There are other languages which really are dead languages–Latin, Greek, Biblical Hebrew. It sometimes bothers me that the languages that I have invested my time in learning are all dead languages. I can't speak to anyone in any of the languages that I have studied. So there is that sense in which tongues cease; languages come to an end; they become dead languages.

Then he says, “…knowledge will vanish away.” Again, in a general human sense, it doesn't take much thinking to realize that knowledge vanishes away. Why else do they sell a yearly update with the encyclopedia? It always amuses me. The encyclopedia salesman says, “Everything you need to know is in this book; and by the way, for a little extra money, you can sign up for all the new stuff each year.” Well, if all we need to know is already there, why do we need to sign up for the supplement? Because knowledge vanishes away; knowledge quickly becomes outdated. Think about it this way: Would you want a surgeon to operate on you who had not been to any professional seminars or kept up on the reading in his field in the last five or six years? Certainly not! Because knowledge vanishes away. Today's knowledge becomes outdated in just a few years. That's why we have used book sales.

Gifts for the Foundation of the Church

Much more important, there is a spiritual sense in which these things are true, and it is this sense that Paul is talking about. As we have seen in our two other studies on this chapter, this gifts of prophecy and tongues and knowledge were all specific gifts. These gifts were given for the establishment of the Church. They were given for the foundation of the Church. The gift of prophecy was given so the New Testament could be written. God gave to those first century prophets information about things that needed to be included in the New Testament. John, who wrote the book of Revelation, was a prophet, and God gave him the ability to see the future. So that gift was for the establishment of the Church, for the establishment of the New Testament, around which the Church would be built. The gift of tongues was given for the ability to evangelize without taking the time to learn foreign languages. Knowledge was the ability to understand those prophecies and the ability to get up and preach to others about those prophecies. Apparently those were separate gifts. God would give one man the gift of prophecy and another man the gift of knowledge to be able to expand and apply the prophecy. Those things had to do with the foundation of the Church.

Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 11 and 12, says that God gave to the Church various kinds of gifted men for the establishment of the Church, for the purpose of bringing Christians to maturity. So spiritual gifts were given for a somewhat temporary purpose. God still gives spiritual gifts today, but we need to remember the purpose of spiritual gifts. It was for the establishment of God's program and its various phases.

The Process of Gifts

Verse 9 brings out the fact of the process of gifts. Notice:

I Corinthians 13

9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

Paul lived in a unique period of history. He lived in that period in which the New Testament was beginning to be established, but it wasn't completed yet. At the time Paul wrote these words, much of the Gospel of Matthew was still not written. John was preaching the things that were going to be written in his Gospel, so the New Testament was in part. Paul said, “We know in part, and we prophesy in part.” In other words, the gift of knowledge and the gift of prophecy were still operating and yet some of it was already written down. Even as he wrote these things, those gifts of prophecy and knowledge, etc. were passing away. He says, “…we know in part, and we prophesy in part.”

What is the point of all this anyway? Remember, what Paul is saying here is that by contrast, the need for love never fails. It never passes away. Those spiritual gifts had their place; they had a very important place. But some of those gifts fulfilled their function, and they passed off the scene; but at the same time, love continues. Even though some of those gifts are no longer being given today, except perhaps in very unique situations, love is still as much a part of our Christian life and our unity of the Body of Christ as any of those gifts ever were. That is the point. There is a process in the gifts, but love never fails.

There is another angle from which we can look at the permanence of love, and that is from the standpoint of completion of God's plan as described in verses 11-13. Here the subject shifts a little. In verses 8-10, he is talking about the completion of Scripture and how even though the completion of the Scripture was a process and some of the elements of getting that process completed have now been accomplished and have not passed away, love is still there; but the emphasis is shifted in verses 11-13 and he talks about the completion of God's overall plan, not just the completion of the Scripture, not just the establishment of the Church.

Transition In Life

First, in verse 11 and the first part of verse 12, he talks about “the present darkness.” Look at verse 11:

I Corinthians 13

11When 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.
12For now we see through a glass, darkly;…

The first part of verse 12 is another way of stating the truth that is in verse 11. Verse 11 points out the transitions in life that we are familiar with. There is nothing derogatory about childhood in this verse. I think we tend to read this verse to say, “Well, now that I am a man, I am no longer childish.” We speak somewhat derogatorily of childishness. There are some things about childhood that are perfectly legitimate. In fact, anything that a child does is perfectly legitimate for a child. It may be sinful; it may be against the rules, but it is the kind of thing that a child does, and as long as it is a child doing those things, we don't think that it is anything out of the ordinary. In fact, sometimes we are amazed at the things they do, but we don't think there is anything totally odd about it. However, if an adult does some of those same things, we think there is something extremely strange about that. So what he is talking about is this transition in life, these things that are perfectly legitimate in one area of life, but are not legitimate in another area of life. But faith and hope are things that relate to this earthly existence. Paul looked at this period of time in which we live now, and he says, “This is like our childhood, and there are things about this life here on earth which are perfectly legitimate.”

Faith and hope are tremendous virtues, and they are things that we extol and that we encourage. We honor people who have great faith and who act on their hope; but they are things that are only appropriate in this life. The time is going to come when faith and hope will no longer be necessary. When we get to Heaven, and God's earthly plan is completed, we will no longer need faith or hope because those things that we have believed by faith will have been fulfilled. Those things which we have put our hope upon will have come to pass. So there is an area of eternal life which is just like childhood, and we are living in that era now. But the time is coming when we will put away these childish things and have a different kind of life. Paul is using the illustration of adults in Heaven–children here in earth; adults in Heaven.

The Present Darkness

In Heaven we will no longer need faith and hope, but we will still have love. The first part of verse 12 gives a vivid description of this present life. He says, “…now we see through a glass [mirror] darkly…” I am sure you know that in Paul's day, mirrors were made of polished brass or some other metal that would be polished to a sheen. If you didn't know that already, then the statement of verse 12 really doesn't make much sense, because a mirror is not a dim or dark thing. Except for the dimensional aspect, we can see perfectly in a mirror. In Paul's day, a mirror only gave a dim reflection of the person looking in it. What he is saying here, and this certainly rings true with our own experience I think you will agree, is that there are many things that we don't fully understand. We might as well go ahead and be honest and admit that God sometimes does things which catch us by surprise, doesn't He? And God sometimes does not do things that we had really hoped He would, and sometimes we pray fervently about something, and God says, “No,” or God says, “Wait.” Sometimes Christians are a little hesitant to talk about that because they seem to think it is some kind of a reflection on their love of the Lord. Let's go ahead and be honest and admit that, because the Scripture does that. It says that we can only see God's overall plan dimly (darkly) in this life. There are many wonderful things that we can see. The Word of God tells us everything we need to know for life and godliness, but even at that, we can only see dimly.

C.S. Lewis, in one of his books, explained it in this way, and even though it is not Scripture, I think it fits with the whole web of Scripture. Lewis said, “Suppose that we here on this three dimensional earth were to be able to go to another planet, and when we got to that planet, we discovered that the inhabitants only thought in two dimensions. We think of height and width and depth, but suppose they could only think of height and depth. There are many things about our home planet that we could explain to those people because they understand two dimensions; but there are some things that no matter how smart those people are, we would not be able to explain to them fully. That is the way Heaven is; that is the way God's overall plan is. His mind is so much greater than ours, His understanding is so much fuller than ours, that there are some things that simply can't be communicated to us, and God has told us what we can understand. The problem is that we don't know enough of what God already has told us. We worry about the things that we don't understand, and we don't even bother to learn the things that we could understand.”

That is the same sense that Paul is using here in verse 12. We see things dimly in this life. We don't understand fully all the things that God does or what the outcome will be. When I read this verse, I always think about the only office that I have ever had that had windows in it. It had stained glass windows in it. Those stained glass windows were pretty to look at, and they added a nice little touch to the office, but have you ever tried to keep track of what is going on outside looking out through a stained glass window? You can tell whether it is daylight or dark. The windows that I had in that office looked out into the parking lot. I could see that a car was driving in the parking lot and that someone was getting out of the car, but I had no idea who they were. I couldn't even tell what kind of a car it was. So I had a general sense of what was going on, but I couldn't really understand the details. That is the way this life is. God, in His grace, has allowed us to see the general scope of things. He has given us all that we need to know for life and godliness, but there is much, much, much that remains to be revealed to us. That is a comforting thought to me. It is wonderful to know that there is that day coming when we will understand those things we only see dimly now.

Our Perfect Destiny

By contrast to this present darkness, verses 12b and 13 describe the perfect destiny which is ours:

I Corinthians 13

12…but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

In my opinion, one of the most beautiful statements in all of the Scripture is here in verse 12–“then shall I know even as also I am known.” God tells us again and again in the Scripture how thoroughly He knows us. In the book of Isaiah, there is a beautiful verse that says, “I have engraved you on the palm of My hand.” The word “engraved” there is a translation of a word that in our language would be something like “tattooed”. “I have tattooed you on the palm of My hand; I will never let you go,” God says. You know that there is a difference between marking with pen in your hand and getting a tattoo. A tattoo is something that becomes a part of your flesh. God says, “That is how thoroughly I know you; that is how much I care about you. I have engraved you; I have tattooed you on the palm of My hand.” Jesus said when He was on the earth, “The very hairs of our head are all numbered.” That is how much He knows about us and how much He cares about us. Do you wonder how much different things will be in Heaven than they are now? Look at verse 12:

I Corinthians 13

12…but then shall I know even as also I am known.

The day is coming when we stand in His presence in Heaven and throughout eternity, when we will understand the plan of God and the Person of God just as thoroughly as he knows us now. There are mysteries of God, actions of God that really seem inexplicable to us now. Why do children have to die? Why do wars and atrocities have to take place? Why do there have to be such strong disagreements between people? Rest assured, the day is coming when we will understand them fully.

Earthly Activities From Heaven's Viewpoint

There is an example of this in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9. It is the story of the transfiguration experience. Let me remind you of how in that passage Jesus took Peter and James and John and went up on the mountain, and He was transfigured in their presence. Typical of Peter and James and John in some cases, they fell asleep while it was all taking place, and they woke up to find Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus. Notice verse 31:

Luke 9

31Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.

Moses and Elijah had been dead many, many years; but here they were on the earth again. This passage tells us many elementary but important things about death and about Heaven. It tells us that death is simply a transition. Moses and Elijah had been dead for hundreds of years from a human standpoint, but here they were alive. They had been in Heaven all of that time. Notice what they were doing: They were talking of His decease. They were speaking with Jesus. Don't you imagine that Moses and Elijah, when they heard that they were going to be the ones to carry out this assignment, began to compile a list of things they wanted to talk about with Jesus? Probably, if those guys were like us, they made a list of things that they were going to ask Him. What were they talking about? Were they bringing Him up to date on what had gone on in Heaven for those thirty-three years? No. They spoke of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.

Look at the word “accomplish” there. That is a very significant word. The English word “accomplish” translates it very adequately; but in the Greek, it is a word that means that this event is going to take place, but it will have far-reaching results. Isn't it interesting that they spoke of the death of Christ as an accomplishment? It was not just that Jesus was going to die, but that that death was going to accomplish all kinds of things. They were talking about His death, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension–all that was involved in the death of Christ. The things that is significant about that is that these men who had been in Heaven, who were now on earth, in their position as inhabitants of Heaven, they understood what was going on on the earth.

On the basis of this verse and on the basis of the whole context of Scripture–there are Bible teachers who disagree with me on this–I believe that those loved ones of ours who have gone on to Heaven are aware of what we are doing here on earth. I think every believer who goes to Heaven views His own funeral, and he sees the grief of his family. He sees the days that follow that. Someone might say, “You know, if so-and-so were alive today, how disappointed he would be in his son [daughter].” Here is the exception to that. You see, these men not only knew what was going on on earth, but they knew what the end result of that was going to be. They knew that Jesus was going to die. That is all that His followers here on earth really knew, but Moses and Elijah, with Heaven's viewpoint, knew that He was going to die, and that that death was going to accomplish all kinds of things. That is what knowledge in Heaven is like. We will understand what is going on on the earth, but we will also understand all the ramifications of that. We will see how all those things work together for good.

Those of you who have lost a loved one might take comfort in the fact that that loved one does see those good things that are happening in the family that you wish they could see and that you wish they could be there for. They do see their children growing up if it is a mother or a dad. They do see their parents going on with life if it is a child. They understand, but not only do they understand what is going on, but they see all that that is going to accomplish and how all that is going to fit together to honor and glorify Jesus Christ. When you get to Heaven to join them, I imagine they will be there to say, “See, I wish I could have told you how well it was going to turn out.” That is what it will be like for us when we get to Heaven. We will know even as we are known. What a wonderful thing to look forward to!

There is one last thing to notice. Go back to I Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 13:

I Corinthians 13

13And now abideth faith, hope, charity [love] , these three; but the greatest of these is charity [love] .

Why is that true? We have talked about the fact that it is true because faith and hope are a part of our childhood. They are now bad in the sense that they are foolishness, but they are part of our childhood; and when we get to Heaven, we will have outgrown them. In Heaven, our need for faith will be fulfilled and the things that we had hoped for will be ours, but the greatest of these three great virtues in the human life is love because love will still be a vital part of our relationship with God and each other even when we are in Heaven. Especially when we are in Heaven, I think we will understand how much God did love us. We will understand in a new way that sacrifice that Jesus Christ made to leave all that and come to earth and die for us. We will see Him in all of His glory. Love will be the central focal point of all of our relationships in Heaven.


As we conclude, isn't it a relief to know that all of these things that we don't fully understand now will be perfectly plain? What a comfort that ought to be. But there is one aspect of Heaven that we already have and that is agape love. One thing that we will still have when we get to Heaven that we already have in this life is the love of God. How can we have that love? We have said a number of times that it doesn't come just by being sweet and keeping a stiff upper lip and turning away insults. I John, chapter 4, verse 10, says in the Greek that we love because He first loved us. Do you want to know how to have agape love? Learn more about Jesus Christ. We love because He first loved us. Learn more about how much He loved us. All you have to do to learn that is to learn more about Him. Spend time in His presence. All the things that we do in the Christian life, all those things that we have sort of formalized as part of the Christian life, are really designed for that purpose. Why do we get together for church on Sundays? So we can have fellowship with each other and so that together we can worship the Lord. It is designed to give us the opportunity to spend time in His presence, to know more about Him. Why do we pray? So we can verbalize those things to God that may already be in our minds and hearts, but it gives us that fellowship with Him to spend time in His presence. Why do we study His Word? So we can know and learn and be reminded of more and more about Him. As we spend time in His presence by these various means, we become more and more like Him, and we love because He first loved us. As we do that, we can start participating in Heaven in advance.

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