Aired on radio, January 17, 1997. Reprinted with permission from The Voice of Prophecy, P.O. Box 55,Los Angeles, CA 90053
Summary: Love is not a spiritual gift; it’s a fruit of the spirit. That means every single one of us can have it! ?Love supersedes the gifts because it outlasts them all. Long after these sought- after gifts are no longer necessary, love will still be the governing principle that controls all that God and His redeemed people are and do.?
Historians think it may be the third most written-about story of all time, right after Jesus Christ and the American Civil War. It happened on a cold April 14, back in 1912--the sinking of the Titanic, of course. There’s something about that tragedy that fascinates people: how an unsinkable ship can hit a North Atlantic iceberg on its maiden voyage, and then 1,523 people have a full two hours and 40 minutes to basically wait to drown at 2:20 in the morning. After 17 movies, 18 documentaries, and at least 130 books already, CBS aired a four-hour mini-series, giving another look at the tragedy. And James Cameron put $120 million worth of disaster up on the big screen for Titanic and its hundreds of tiny subplots to unfold yet again.
But you know, there’s something about this icy story that illustrates Bible truth. I Corinthians 13 explores the topic of pure love, agape love. Many other things are mentioned in this chapter too--some bad things, but also some good things. After envy and pride and self-centeredness and grudge keeping which are the very antitheses of love, the chapter moves to a more positive list. There's prophecy, a good thing. There’s biblical knowledge, another recommended commodity. The eloquence of what the Bible calls tongues is also one of heaven’s gifts. And yet, verse eight tells us that all these other things will pass away. Prophecy and knowledge and tongues are all going to come to an end. Their usefulness will cease and they’ll be relegated to the sidelines. But then there are these three words: Love never fails. In other words, love stays. Unlike prophecy and knowledge, love doesn’t ever become obsolete. Right at the end of the chapter (verse 13) Paul clearly says it again: And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.
There are several points to be made here, and you’ve got to be wondering what they have to do with the Titanic. Let’s think about this, shall we?
Gifts are temporal
First of all, we’d easily agree that love is going to survive this beat-up old planet. Our skyscrapers may fall and sinful kingdoms will be toppled and orphanages and bars and prisons are going to be bulldozed by heaven’s armies. But love, the very epitome of God’s own character, will survive. Paul is right--as long as there’s a God, there will be love too. But isn’t it interesting that good spiritual things like prophecy are said to be temporary. Of course, that makes sense when you stop and think about it. Prophecy in God’s Word has been provided as a gift to show us the future, to give us confidence in the ways and methods of God, to provide us with signposts to the kingdom. But after we’re in the kingdom, will we keep looking for signposts? Will we need confidence boosters, when our King and Savior are dwelling among us? There won’t be a need for prophecy when the Source of all prophecies is living right next door as our neighbor!
The same is true of the gift of tongues. Whether you think of the Bible’s gift of tongues as an ability to speak many foreign languages, or as an ecstatic experience of worship to God in a language you don't even know, isn’t it plain that when we enjoy face-to-face fellowship with our Redeemer as one unified redeemed Body, we won’t need that gift? We’ll be right there; we’ll see Him face to face (verse 12).
It is likewise with knowledge. Think of people who invent Pentium chips or write the great books or build the tallest buildings. But when we get to heaven, what will become of our opinions of our great knowledge? Again, as Paul himself describes it, we’ll realize that now we know in part (verse 12). And it’s a pretty tiny part at that. Friend, do you see why Paul cuts right through our little list of achievements? Now we know in part, he writes. We prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. Much of what we’ve learned will vanish is how this verse is rendered in the Clear Word paraphrase. So many of what we lovingly and even proudly call our spiritual gifts are going to melt away when we bow at Jesus’ feet in heaven, aren’t they? All the Greek we know, all the Bible definitions we’ve memorized will fade away in Paradise. Useful tools they’ve been, to be sure; let’s not misunderstand. We want to thank God for our gifts and use them all we can here on this earth. But what greater glory to be in the presence of God! One writer put it this way, The light of a candle loses its importance when placed in the bright light of the sun. And in a way, this is where I think Paul is taking us in his next paragraph. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Then he goes on: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. What a picture he paints, where our old thoughts, made so murky by sin and selfishness and confusion, are finally cleared away when we reach the distant shore. The fog and smog and haze are gone; the dreadfully limiting effects of sin are gone.
Soon we’ll be going home
The talented contemporary Christian group, Glad, sings about this in their song When He Comes Again, by John Keltonic. It goes like this: And when He comes again, He comes again to take us home. And oh to know His love and grace, to finally see His face, our King. No longer through a dim and clouded glass, When Jesus comes to take us home at last.
And as Paul describes it, boys turn into men. Spiritually speaking, small children, whose fondest dream was to drive the little go-karts at Disneyland, are given keys to real Cadillacs. What does all this mean? Nothing we’ve piled up here is going to survive the trip to the New Jerusalem. Our talents and gifts and assets and bank accounts; they’re going to be obsolete. Oh, we’ll have assets there too, and talents and abilities. But they’ll be so vastly improved, so completely different, that we may as well consider that we’re starting new. Which takes us back to the Titanic. Nothing survives, the Bible tells us, except faith, hope, and love. None of our carefully packed suitcases, our luggage, our trinkets and treasures, are going to make it across the cold, dark ocean. In the CBS mini-series of the Titanic, multimillionaire John Jacob Astor IV goes down into a watery grave along with his money and his Airedale, Kitty. Isa and Isador Straus, the owners of Macy’s, both lose their lives when the wife doesn’t leave her husband. Streetcar magnate Harry Widener dies and his mother dedicates a library at Harvard to her son’s memory. Benjamin Guggenheim, traveling with his mistress, changes into fine evening clothes before perishing in the 28-degree water. All the fortunes in the world couldn’t keep 882 feet of ocean liner from going down to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with its 1,523 victims.
Only love survives
How true it is, as Paul writes, that nothing is going to survive except love. So, what are you piling up today, right now? Talents and possessions and even some character traits you’re kind of proud of? Or the gift of love? Chapter 12, which describes spiritual gifts, explains that we don’t all get the same gift. We can’t all have the same thing. It might be impossible for you to be a preacher or a prophet, no matter how hard you try. But love, rather than being a spiritual gift, is a fruit of the spirit. It’s in that classic list of nine over in Galatians 5:22,23--Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Love is not a spiritual gift; it’s a fruit of the spirit. That means every single one of us can have it! The number one thing that survives, Paul tells us, is a thing we can have. We can indeed learn to love in the way this beautiful chapter commends and commands. Is your confidence misplaced today, invested in Titanic stock? There’s a beautiful text note in the New International Version’s study helps: Love supersedes the gifts because it outlasts them all. Long after these sought- after gifts are no longer necessary, love will still be the governing principle that controls all that God and His redeemed people are and do.
Love remains, Paul tells us. Love outlasts them all. If you knew that was true of a certain kind of stock, wouldn’t you begin to do some investing?