Sunday, October 23, 2011

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 : The Supremacy of Love

TEXT : 1 Corinthians 13:8-13   
TITLE:  The Supremacy of  Love     
Date : 23  /10 /2011

“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So  now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 
(1 Corinthians 13:8-13 ESV)

Heaven is a world of love ! I would like to capitalize on this thought  today . The  famous American Theologian Jonathan Edwards ( 1703-1758)   wrote a sermon [1],     on  verses 8-13  , entitled “Heaven is a world of love” .   The sermon script on  A4 format  is 22 pages  long ! By comparison  , I normally give you 4 pages  of sermon notes . Clearly, we are living in a different age . We seem to be much more ‘compact’  and poorer  in our preaching .  Edwards  left virtually no stone unturned  in the exposition of this text. He  mined the text  to the limit  . 

The Text and Context :
Having concluded  his  detailed  exposition  on  the nature of  biblical love , the apostle Paul  now  makes  some important  conclusions   concerning the nature of this love .             
Today   the Bible  wants   to make a strong case  as to why  we  should strongly invest  in  understanding   and practicing  this biblical  love . Paul gives  us two reasons why  this love is worth investing in  :
1.       Love never ends  ( KJV never fails)  while  spiritual gifts  will pass away
2.      Love   is the  greatest  of all virtues. Faith and hope  will cease , but love  goes through the curtain   of death and beyond  the grave , and  heaven will be a world of love.

  1. Love  never ends
Love,   in contradistinction to the gifts  ( Paul mentions prophecy , tongues and the word  of knowledge (cf 12:8)   in particular ) endures forever .  Prophecy  and tongues  and  the word of knowledge  will cease  in  time . There will be no ignorance in heaven , for we shall live in the full revelation of  the  truth and the love of God .We are now living in the state of imperfection . Paul  speaks about the state of perfection  in verse 10 , when the partial  will pass away .  Many theologians have  been puzzled by   what Paul means “ when  the perfect comes, the partial  will pass away” . What do we mean  by  “ the perfect” ?  Some have maintained  that this must refer to heaven ( and thus tongues , prophecy and knowledge will no longer be necessary)  , while others  have maintained  that  with the closing of the canon of Scripture  all need for  additional revelation through prophecy and tongues  and words of knowledge  had ceased to be necessary .
Who is right ?  Well , if we take  Jonathan  Edwards explanation , then both are right . I will summarize what he says in  a nutshell   :
Edwards says  that  “there is a twofold imperfect, and so a twofold perfect state of the Christian church. The church in its beginning, or in its first stage, before it was strongly established in the world, and settled in its New Testament state, and before the canon of Scripture was completed, was in an imperfect state - a state  … of childhood, in comparison with what it was to be in its ….later ages, when it should have reached its maturity …  or of comparative earthly perfection.
(However )… this comparatively perfect church of Christ, so long as it remains in its militant state ( that is, down to the end of time)  will still be in an imperfect, childish state, in comparison with what it will be in its heavenly state, … in its state of …. perfection.
And so there is a twofold  ending  of these miraculous gifts of the Spirit here mentioned. One was at the end of the …infant age of the church, when the canon of Scripture was completed, and so there was to be no need of such gifts for the church in its latter ages, when it should have put away childish things, and come to a state of maturity  before the end of the world, and when the Spirit of God should most gloriously be poured out and manifested in that love , which is its greatest and everlasting fruit.
And the other will be, when all the common fruits of the Spirit cease with respect to particular persons at death, and with respect to the whole church at the end of the world, while  love  shall still remain in heaven, and there the Spirit of God shall be manifested in perfect love in every heart to all eternity.
The apostle, in the context, seems to have respect to both these states of the church, but especially to the latter. For though the glorious state of the church in its latter age on earth, will be perfect in comparison with its former state, yet its state in heaven is clearly the most perfect state  .

Jonathan Edwards sees a progression of  knowledge and revelation  here on earth . So it is ! The  knowledge  and the  teaching that the Lord  Jesus  gave  to His disciples and apostles  was a revelation of the heart and the will of God( Hebrews 1:1-3  ;  2 Peter  1: 19-21)  . And we now  have so much more understanding than Moses  or Abraham had ; we have had more  clear information than the saints of the early church  had  .  And we with the early church have had the Holy  Spirit  poured out  upon us to give us wisdom and understanding , counsel and conviction  through this Word  .
And  now we have these words  in our hands . We have the  help of the Holy Spirit. We know   how God wants us to live . We know  how  to let our loving behaviour guide  our  thoughts and actions while we live on the face of this earth . We do not need anyone to prophecy or speak in tongues or  bring a word of knowledge concerning  how we should live with one another – and how we should love one another . It is all here for us to believe and to  implement  with the help of God the Holy Spirit.
We are no longer children , ignorant with respect  to the will of  God . Only the new Christian may perhaps be excused in these things , for he / she will still have to discover and apply the Word of God , but  you who have been Christians for   some time  , you should no longer be children  who need milk . You are able to digest solid food .

And yet  it is true that the   most solid believer among us is  so  sluggish and slow to apply  God’s truth  . Why ? It is true,  dear brothers and sisters , that  with all the wonderful complete  knowledge of  Scripture  which was given to us in Christ , and despite the outpouring of the Holy Spirit ( who enlightens the Scriptures  for us)  we remain  in  a state of imperfection  , because our total  being is  so affected by sin  that from one day to the next we  find it hard  to maintain our vision of biblical love .

But take heart  ! Heaven is before you , and  in heaven you will no longer need faith or hope for you shall live in the presence of unclouded   truth and love . Love is the only virtue that will  pass through the curtain of death into heaven . The state of imperfection caused by our fallen bodies  and the fallen environment  in which we live  will soon  cease to be . In the meantime  focus on what shall be  : heaven , which is before you,  is a world of perfect love !

2. Love is the greatest virtue . Heaven is a world of Love

Here are some( selected)  encouragements  from Jonathan Edwards  to that end!

·         The God of love Himself  dwells in heaven . Heaven is a part of creation that God has built for this end, to be the place of his glorious presence, and it is his abode forever; and here will he dwell, and gloriously manifest himself to all eternity. And this renders heaven a world of love; for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light….  There  in heaven, dwells the God from whom every stream of holy love, yes, every drop that is, or ever was, proceeds. There dwells God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, united as one, in infinitely dear, and incomprehensible, and mutual, and eternal love. There dwells God the Father, who is the father of mercies, and so the father of love, who so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son to die for it. There dwells Christ, the Lamb of God, the prince of peace and of love, who so loved the world that he shed his blood, and poured out his soul unto death for men. There dwells the great Mediator, through whom all the divine love is expressed toward men, and by whom the fruits of that love have been purchased, and through whom they are communicated, and through whom love is imparted to the hearts of all God's people. There dwells Christ in both his natures, the human and the divine, sitting on the same throne with the Father. And there dwells the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God, as it were, flows out, and is breathed forth in love, and by whose immediate influence all holy love is shed abroad in the hearts of all the saints on earth and in heaven. 

·         There are  only  lovely objects in heaven :  No  sinful  ,  polluted person or thing is to be seen there. There is nothing there that is wicked or unholy.  (Rev. 21:27). There are no false professors or hypocrites there; none that pretend to be saints but are  not  …..  There shall be no pollution, or deformity, or  defect of any kind, seen in any person or thing; but everyone shall be perfectly pure, and perfectly lovely in heaven. That blessed world shall  be perfectly bright, without any darkness; perfectly fair, without any spot; perfectly clear, without any cloud. No moral or natural defect shall ever enter there; and there nothing will be seen that is sinful or weak or foolish; nothing, the nature or aspect of which is coarse or displeasing, or that can offend the most refined taste or the most delicate eye. No string shall there vibrate out of tune, to cause any jar in the harmony of the music of heaven;…. Every Christian friend that goes before us from this world, is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven. There will be the infant of days that we have lost below, through grace to be found above; there the Christian father, and mother, and wife, and child, and friend, with whom we shall renew the holy fellowship of the saints, which was interrupted by death here, but shall be commenced again in the upper sanctuary, and then shall never end. There we shall have company with the patriarchs and fathers and saints of the Old and New Testaments, and those of whom the world was not worthy, with whom on earth we were only conversant by faith. And there, above all, we shall enjoy and dwell with God the Father, whom we have loved with all our hearts on earth; and with Jesus Christ, our beloved Savior, who has always been to us the chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely; and with the Holy Spirit , our Sanctifier, and Guide, and Comforter; and shall be filled with all the fullness of the Godhead forever!

·         In every heart in heaven, love dwells and reigns. The heart of God is the original seat  of love…. Love is in God, as light is in the sun, which does not shine by a reflected light, as the moon and planets do, but by its own light…. And from God, love flows out toward all the inhabitants of heaven. It flows out, in the first place, toward his only-begotten Son …. the Son of God is not only the infinite object of love, but he is also an infinite subject of it. He is not only the beloved of the Father, but he infinitely loves him. But this love is not only confined to  the  mutual love of  the Father and the Son  .  It flows out… toward all the created inhabitants of heaven, to all the saints and angels.  As God has given the saints and angels love, and  their love is chiefly exercised back  towards God . They all love God with a supreme love.  The love of the saints, one to another, will always be mutual and reciprocated.  The joy of heavenly love shall never be interrupted or damped by jealousy. – We will have no doubt of the love of each other. We  shall have no fear that the declarations and professions of love are hypocritical; but we shall be perfectly satisfied of the sincerity and strength of each other's affection.   There shall be nothing within us  to clog or hinder  us  in the exercises and expressions of love.  In this world the saints find much to hinder them in this respect. They have a great deal of dullness and heaviness. They carry about with them a heavy body ,  a mass of flesh and blood that is not fitted to be the organ for a soul inflamed with high exercises of divine love.   In heaven they shall have no such hindrance. There they will have no dullness and unwieldiness, and no corruption of heart to war against divine love, and hinder its expressions; and there no earthly body shall clog with its heaviness the heavenly flame. The saints in heaven shall have no difficulty in expressing all their love.   

[1] Jonathan  Edwards  :Charity and its Fruit , published by Banner of Truth

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