Paul, in his attempt to correct the church at Corinth's ignorance and resulting abuses in the area of Spiritual gifts, wrote what is now known as Chapter Thirteen, the Love Chapter. He began by saying that the gifts are worthless unless rooted in, and motivated by, love (1-3). He then defined agape love by teaching them what it is, and what it is not (4-7). The last six verses teach that, while love is eternal, Spiritual gifts are not; they will serve their purpose, and then cease. Today, there is great debate over when that would occur. There are two main views, based upon different interpretations of the words "when that which is perfect is come" (10). The Greek word translated "perfect" is teleion, from the root teleo. The word is uses to describe: completeness, maturity, and perfection.
Now comes the hard part. What is the goal? Some say the gifts were given to establish the Church until the New Testament was completed. The three gifts specifically mentioned seem to support this view. Tongues were a sign to unbelievers and served as "credentials" to authenticate (1 Corinthians 1:22; 14:22). There is also evidence that it was the speaking in tongues that convinced Peter that the Samaritans and the Gentiles were to be considered part of the Body of Christ (Acts 2:4; 8:17-18; 10:44-47). Since the New Testament clearly teaches that there is no exclusion to admittance (Galatians 3:26-29 for example), members of the Body of Christ no longer needed to see proof of salvation. Jesus said that the whole world would know His disciples by their love, one for another (John 13:35). While many Christians still believe tongues are necessary, their position on the gifts of knowledge and prophecy is less ridged. Most everyone, whether Charismatic or not, views the New Testament as the measure against which "words of knowledge" and "prophecies" are judged.
A second interpretation suggests that spiritual perfection or maturity is the goal. This is less likely since Christians never reach total Christ-likeness in this lifetime (Romans 7; 1 John 1:5-10; 3:2). Even if it were possible for an individual to achieve spiritual perfection this side of heaven, the gifts are for ministering to others. The gifts, therefore, would only cease when all the Body of Christ has reached spiritual perfection. Another interpretation, closely related to the individual becoming spiritually perfect, is that they will cease when the Perfect One returns. While true that we will be like Him at that point (v. 12; 1 John 3:2), Paul's correction would again seem pointless.
Paul compared the gifts of the Spirit to "childish things" and whatever was to come with being "a grown up" (v. 11). He suggested that the gifts of the Spirit provided only partial knowledge, but that when the "perfect" comes, we shall have complete knowledge. By comparing James 1:22-25, we discover what it is that accomplishes this; the Word of God. If the Word of God, being completed, determines when the gifts mentioned would cease, the modern Church has a serious problem with doctrine. It is hard to believe that the interpretation of one word could result in the fragmentation of the Church, especially since its division is due to a lack of love and a desire to fulfill Christ's prayerful plea for unity (John 17). To be continued....