As we conclude our look at Paul’s exposition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, we should understand that love and not the possession of spiritual gifts defines the spiritual person. The first-century Christians in Corinth had a deep desire to be people of the Holy Spirit, a desire that all believers in Christ possess. But they had not yet grasped that the virtues and fruit of the Holy Spirit define His people, not the gifts. To overemphasize gifts such as tongues, as the Corinthians did, is to miss the point, for while individual believers do not possess all the gifts of the Spirit, they are to bear all of the Spirit’s fruit (Gal. 5:22–23). Love is the preeminent fruit of the Spirit, a virtue that lasts forever (1 Cor. 13:1–10).
In today’s passage, Paul continues to emphasize the superiority of love over the gifts of the Spirit by noting how the gifts are for the present era of the church, not for the church in glory. First, he notes that when he was a child he acted like a child, but when he became an adult, he put away childish ways (v. 11). The point here is not that spiritual gifts are for the childish and immature; rather, Paul is comparing two periods of time. Just as adults pass out of childhood and stop behaving like children, so the church will pass from the era of the church militant—the church in the present age, facing many troubles, toils, and snares—to the era of the church triumphant—that is, the church in glory. Once Christ consummates His kingdom, the gifts will no longer be needed. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are for the present, when our knowledge of the Lord is more limited and when we do not have access to Him face-to-face. That all will change in the consummation of the kingdom, when we will be in God’s presence forever and will no longer need spiritual empowerment for ministry in a fallen world (v. 12).
Love is the greatest Christian virtue (v. 13). Faith and hope, which focus on what we cannot see in the present, will pass away when we see God directly, but love will endure. Matthew Henry comments, “Love fastens on the divine perfections themselves, and the divine image on the creatures, and our mutual relation both to God and them. These will all shine forth in the most glorious splendors in another world, and there will love be made perfect; there we shall perfectly love God. . . . There shall we perfectly love one another, when all the saints meet there, when none but saints are there, and saints made perfect.”