First Corinthians 13--Temporary gifts and callings
Aug 05, 2017
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10,
8 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. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
Paul says that “love never fails,” but prophecy, tongues, and knowledge are different. Agape is the nature of God Himself. By definition, it is not something that is partial, nor will there ever come a time when it is not present, because it will always be necessary in our lives. This is unlike prophecy, tongues, and knowledge.
Prophecy, broadly speaking, is a spiritual gift that is given to teach the church or to inform the church of hidden things that it needs to know and understand. Prophecy is needed as long as the church’s knowledge is partial. Likewise, the gift of tongues is a backup spiritual gift when the church lacks the ability to hear word of prophecy. (Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 14.) When everyone has the full ability to hear God’s voice, prophecy and tongues will no longer be necessary. And, of course, the partial knowledge in the church will also be swallowed up by the full knowledge of God, His nature, and His will.
Hence, things will change at some point in time. Spiritual gifts, after all, were never meant to be permanent. The five-fold ministry itself, through whom many of these gifts are administered, were God’s “gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:8). Good as they are, these ministry gifts were also temporary, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:11-13,
11 And He gave some [of those gifts from verse 8] as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.
When Paul says “until,” he lets us know that these God-given gifts—in the form of the various callings in the church—are temporary. They are temporary, because at some point they will no longer be necessary. Why? Because there is no use in prophesying to someone who already knows and understands that which is being prophesied. When “all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,” what further need is there for apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers? Their job is to bring the saints to maturity and thereby work themselves out of a job.
The New Covenant itself makes this abundantly clear. Hebrews 8:10, 11 describes this, saying,
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.
The New Covenant, when it is fully operational in all, “from the least to the greatest of them,” will make prophets and teachers unnecessary.
“Let me tell you my latest revelation.”
“Oh, I already know that, but thanks anyway.”
“Let me teach you this great truth that I learned.”
“Oh, I already know that, but I appreciate the thought.”
"Do you need some pastoral counseling?"
"No, I'm fine."
Paul clearly understood the temporary nature of spiritual gifts and callings. Only love will never fail, or cease, for it is the bond between God and all of creation. Without love, there would be no creation, and there would be no Creator.
Jesus came to die on the cross as the Mediator of the New Covenant, which had been prophesied since the beginning through Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many others. There were many prophecies explaining the nature of this New Covenant, but there was only one Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) and one ratification by blood.
At the present time, Paul says, we need all the spiritual gifts, because not all men are spiritually mature. Not all men know God, and those who do know Him have only an incomplete knowledge of His love. Until we are fully changed into His image, we will be incomplete, or partial. And even when the overcomers come fully into their inheritance through the feast of Tabernacles, they will constitute only a tiny minority of people on the earth. They will continue to prophesy, teach, pastor, and evangelize those who are yet in need.
Hence, the gifts and callings of God will be needed for a very long time to come. When some say in their pride that these gifts are not necessary today, they reveal their own partial understanding. Perhaps if they had ears to hear the sure word of prophecy, they would have less need for these gifts and callings, but I can assure you that everyone today suffers from partial understanding of the love of God.
Some argue that we now have a complete Bible, and that is why the gifts have ceased. But Paul does not link the cessation of gifts to the writing of the Bible. Ephesians 4:10, 11 clearly link it to the time when all men come into full unity as mature saints who have reached the stature of Christ. How many can claim such stature today? Even if a few might make such a claim, what about everyone else? The New Covenant is God’s promise to all men—or, as God told Moses in Deuteronomy 29:13, 14, 15, to those present and those not present.
In other words, everyone on earth, past, present, and future.
The gifts and callings of God will cease only when the promises of God in the New Covenant are fulfilled in their entirety. That will be at the end of time, after all things have been put under His feet and when God is “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
This is part 87 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones