But now faith, hope, love abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NASB)
Why is love the greatest? Because love never fails!
Many of the Corinthians continually had their eyes on the wrong things. They focused so much on things that were only temporary in nature instead of focusing on those things that are permanent (MacArthur, 1984).
The word translated "Fails" is a word that means "to fall." It is a word that means a "final falling," like a leaf or a flower that falls to the ground and then withers and decays.
The word translated "Never" is a word referring to time in the sense that there will never be a time when love will fail or fall, especially fall in a way that will cause it to wither or decay (MacArthur, 1984).
By its very nature, love is permanent. Throughout all of eternity, including both eternity past and eternity future, love will always be in operation, because God is love, and God is eternal.
Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians, in the 13th chapter, compares love's eternal nature to that of the temporary nature of spiritual gifts. While the context is primarily focused on the temporary nature of spiritual gifts, the same could be said for anything that we put too much focus on that is temporary, rather than eternal in nature.
"Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away." (1 Corinthians 13:8 NASB)
Notice in verse 8 that Paul refers to 3 gifts and uses two types of language to describe them. For prophecy and knowledge, he says that they will be done away. For tongues, he says that they will cease. This is because there are two different Greek verbs in use here.
The first verb that Paul utilizes is the one that is translated "done away." This verb is in the passive voice which means that the subject is being acted upon. So, in the case of the two gifts being "done away," this means that some outside source will at some point in time cause them to end, or become inoperative.
In the case of the other verb translated "cease," this one means that it will come to an end naturally and due to the participation of the subject itself. This means that the subject itself has a built-in expiration date. Its time span is finite as opposed to infinite. So, in the case of tongues, there is no need for anything to act upon it to render it inoperative because it will naturally end when its lifespan is up.
John MacArthur in his commentary on 1 Corinthians states about this gift of tongues that, "God gave the gift of tongues a built-in stopping place." MacArthur goes on to say in the same paragraph that the gift of tongues is much like a battery in that its "life span is limited and finite" (MacArthur, 1984. 359).
So, while tongues will naturally pass off the scene, the gifts of prophecy and knowledge will require something to occur in time to cause them to become inoperative.
Just a quick side note: This is exactly why I can never again in my life be a King James Onlyist on the radical level. There are many groups within the Onlyist movement. Those that simply prefer or choose to only use it as their personal choice of translation are neither a problem or anyone to be avoided, for they are not doing anything in error.
No, the only group within Onlyism to avoid and call out for their error is the group that says as Dr. White puts it in his book on the subject, "The King James Bible Alone = The Word Of God Alone" (White, 2009. 26).
This group is by far the most cult-like in their mentality and approach and they are also the group that says that the KJV is inspired to the point that it is God's replacement for the original languages in which the Bible was written. In fact, many in the Peter Ruckman or Sam Gipp like wing of this group have stated many times over that you should never use or appeal to anything that in their opinion, "corrects the King James Bible."
This is very sad especially in light of what I just covered above concerning the different types of verbs that were used. If you engage in the most radical form of King James Onlyism then there is zero way for you to not only know what the verbs behind the English mean but also no way for you to know that they are in different "voices" in the Greek language.
The bottom line is that in radical King James Onlyism there is no way for you to have the freedom to study the Bible for all of its truth. No, you start out with both hands tied behind your back and you are only "allowed" to use the English words of the King James Bible. So, if the English definitions of the words used don't match the definition and verb tenses of the original languages, then you open yourself up for gross error in interpretation and application.
When will these temporary gifts be "done away" with? When will the gifts of prophecy and knowledge pass off the scene?
A quick note of review before answering these questions:
The gift of prophecy is simply the "speaking forth" of God's revelation. For us, in our day this would only include the completed canon of revealed Scripture. There is no new revelation to be looking for in our day. The only thing for us as Christians to be looking for is Christ's return.
The gift of knowledge would include the ability to grasp and understand God's revealed truth in such a way that enables you to be able to teach that revealed Word to others. It includes some other elements but this is the primary function which is in view here.
The temporary will pass off the scene when "the perfect" comes!
"For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away." (1 Corinthians 13:9-10 NASB)
The need for the "perfect" to come is found in the fact that the prophecy and the knowledge are only in part. The "perfect" is what will replace the "partial" and it will be a permanent replacement for the "perfect" is in fact, the eternal state.
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
The eternal state is the time when Christ returns and His Kingdom will last for all of eternity! There will no longer be any sin or any of the curse that is a result of sin. We will exist in perfect righteousness and will be able to see our Savior face to face and learn from Him directly for all of eternity.
These verses in Revelation are some of the most comforting in Scripture, for they point to one of the most central facts of Christianity, and that is that this life is not all there is. It is all about the next life when we will be in the literal presence of our Creator. This life is important to be sure, but we can endure tragedy, we can endure pain, we can endure sorrow, and we can endure sin, because we know there is a day coming when all the temporary, all the partial will be done away, and the perfect will come!
"When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:11-12 NASB)
After making the point about how the partial must pass away and the perfect will and must come, Paul explains why this should come as no surprise to anyone, especially believers.
Paul speaks of the fact that just as a child grows, matures, and puts away childish things as they become an adult, so too, the natural course of history will require certain things to pass off the scene and be replaced with new things.
In the case of biblical revelation, it did require at one point the installation of spiritual gifts to Christians including such gifts as prophecy and knowledge and tongues. However, these will one day either naturally or by being acted upon, pass off the scene in light of the revelation that Christ will return and we will enter the eternal state, the perfect!
"But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13 NASB)
Yes, love is the greatest! Why? Because love never fails! It is never abolished! It is never replaced! It will always be in operation!
Faith and hope just like prophecy and knowledge will pass off the scene one day, but love will remain. Why do faith and hope go away as well? Because one day in the eternal state we will no longer have need of either faith or hope.
We will have no longer any need for faith, because our faith will be made sight when we see Jesus face to face! We will no longer have any need of hope because our hope will be fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ who we will see face to face.
Praise God for the perfect! Praise God for the eternal state! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Chicago, Illinois. Moody Publishers. 1984.
White, James R. The Kings James Only Controversy. Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bethany House. 1995, 2009.