Thursday of Epiphany IV – I Corinthians 12:31b-13:13

And I will show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

I heard it in a Don Henley song of some years ago, but I doubt it originated with him. He sang that he had never seen a hearse with a luggage rack. The point was clear: you cannot take it with you. You can collect much wealth, accolades, advanced degrees, or the coolest of toys, but death will strip you of all of it. You cannot take it with you.

Paul says something similar here. Even those Christian virtues of knowledge, faith, hope, etc., will not be in heaven’s glory. My facility with ancient languages will not matter that day, for Babel’s confusion will be undone. My knowledge and skill will pass away.

There is only one thing which marks this life now which passes through death, and which will mark that resurrected life: Love. We love here and there. Love does not end. It does not pass away. Now my knowledge is incomplete, but then it will be complete. Now my faith is in something which I cannot see, but then I shall see. I will not need faith. Hope looks forward to a promise fulfilled and, on that day, I will know every promise fulfilled. I will still love. In the prior chapter Paul has been discussing spiritual gifts and just before these words, in the first part of 12:31 he exhorts us to desire the higher gifts of faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these gifts is love. Love someone today. I am not talking about the emotion. Christians know better. I am talking about the gritty, serving, sometimes difficult things we are called to do for another human being, perhaps even for an enemy. Feed them, comfort them, forgive them, clothe them, help them – love them. Rejoice that this comes with you to heaven’s glory.

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