Imperfect versus Perfect

Friends may fail us—lovers may fail us—but love itself never fails. But then the eternal “God is love” (1 John 4:8). In keeping with the staying power of love, John continued, “All who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1 John 4:16). It’s that last phrase that makes all the difference: and God lives in them. Now that’s an eternal matter!

The speaking gifts will cease.1There was a time when many Evangelicals argued “that which is perfect” referred to the completed New Testament canon, and then they said the completion of the New Testament eliminated any need for a continuation of the speaking gifts. Now there is wider agreement among Evangelicals that the “perfect” that Paul describes is still in our future, that it will accompany the Lord’s return, rather than being in our past, accompanying the passing of the apostolic age (1 Cor 13:10, 12). When what is perfect reaches its fulfillment, prophecies, tongue talking, and the special words of wisdom or knowledge will go quiet (1 Cor 13:8). Even prophecy and a word of knowledge are “incomplete” and thus can reveal “only a part of the whole picture” (1 Cor 13:9). Paul uses a couple examples of this. The first comes from childhood development: He says, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things” (1 Cor 13:11). The second comes from the shaving mirror: He says,

Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know is now partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (1 Cor 13:12)

When the eschaton brings “full understanding” in the blazing light of the full revelation of Jesus Christ, “these partial things will become useless” (1 Cor 13:10). To that end, we say, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20). But until that day, we will hold fast to the gifts that Jesus Christ has distributed in his church. Until we’re glorified and living in the New Jerusalem, we’ll enjoy the manifold blessings God has given to his church for its growth and encouragement.


Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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