1 CORINTHIANS 13:9-12
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
1 Cor. 13:9a “For we know in part, . . .”
We know very little, and this little is mixed with much which is erroneous and useless. A lot of what we do know was discovered accidentally. Cars have good tires because in 1839 Charles Goodyear by chance dropped some rubber and sulphur on a hot stove. Columbus headed for India, but found America. Bell wanted a better telegraph and better hearing aids, but wound up with a telephone. The high-pressure steam engine made modern industry possible. Oliver Evans said he invented such an engine after he noticed steam blow a cork out of a gun barrel filled with boiling water.
At best, our knowledge is fragmentary. For every one thing we learn, ten new things appear to confound us. Only beginners are smug about their intellectual feats; they who have learned the most are often the humblest. The more we learn, the more we should see how little we actually know.
Anyone in the avid pursuit of knowledge must be cautious. It can become a source of pride. One might think our partial knowledge would automatically keep us ever humble and undogmatic, but as one increases in knowledge, pride tends to enter.
The more knowledge we possess, the more we need God to keep us humble. The higher our knowledge reaches, the lower our heads should bow in prayer. Preachers and Sunday School teachers should spend more and more time in prayer. As we gain more experience, the tendency is to lean more on our own intellect and less on God. Be careful! We need the spirit of the preacher who read his Bible while kneeling in the position of prayer.
When we come together, the emphasis on intellect must be left behind. The church does not consist of philosophers, clever persons, or highly trained minds: the question for these people is whether they can come at all or not. “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called” (1 C 1:26). The church is made of the contrite and brokenhearted. We gather to see God as He is, to see ourselves as we are, to narrow the gap between the two. Our purpose is not to dazzle with information, but to help each other live a better life. Knowledge can never be the main thing, for at best “we know in part.”
1 Cor. 13:9b “. . .and we prophesy in part.”
The fact we need preaching proves our imperfect state; and even our prophecy is “in part.” We who are called to speak the truths of God also struggle with partial knowledge. God has revealed everything to no one. Thus, even we preachers have but a partial glimpse of the truth (Morris).
Paul once dove into the doctrine of predestination (RM 9-11). He went deeper and deeper, but finally gave up, and had to declare: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God: how unsearchable are his judgments, and His ways past finding out” (RM 11:33). After this confession, Paul returned to practical matters. Even the spiritual giant, Paul, was beset with partial knowledge. We all–apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, each believer–know only “in part,” and at best “prophesy in part.”
1 Cor. 13:10-11 “But when that which is perfect is come, then that
which is in part shall be done away. When I
was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as
a child, I thought as a child: but when I
became a man, I put away childish things.”
Paul compares our present state to childhood; the future is manhood. Our childish ways will be matured someday. Our partial knowledge will be exchanged for perfect knowledge. Imagine, Paul, Peter, James, John, David, and Moses were merely children. I can hardly wait to see what a man is like! In the meantime, we accept the fact we are in the childhood stage as long as we live on Earth. Our greatest growth here, compared with our future dimensions, will never transcend the size of children.
Remembering we are in our childhood should help us not to expect too much of each other. Remaining constantly aware we all are deficient in knowledge can save deep disappointments toward our brothers and sisters.
Our limited, child-like knowledge is actually quite appropriate to our present condition. It is a blessing God does not let us know all His spiritual secrets. If we knew more of our own sinfulness, we might be driven to despair; if we knew more of God’s glory, we might die of terror (HS).
If we knew all the coming trials, sorrows, deaths, and other things to befall us, life would be intolerable. We would be crushed, fearful, heartbroken. Mercy has woven the veil which hides the future. God will allow us to see the future only when that future contains total bliss.
Partial knowledge can serve as a stimulus. If we had all knowledge, we would be complacent and wither. Our hunger and thirst unsatisfied are a continual promise of the coming time when we shall be full (Bacon). Let our lack of knowledge be the stimulus for a never ending desire to have more knowledge of God. Do not be satisfied with the minimal amount the preacher pours out on Sunday morning. Search the Scriptures yourself, seek to know more of God and His ways.
Never be satisfied in this lifetime. Desire more learning. Unfortunately, some reach a certain point, and then let multiplied amounts of knowledge fossilize. Their minds harden rather than stay open. Some in the world suffer from hardening of the arteries, but many more suffer from hardening of the smarteries. They forget the littleness of their knowledge and become satisfied. Remain studious. Keep learning of Jesus and be encouraged that someday your thirst will be quenched.
1 Cor. 13:12 “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then
face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I
know even as also I am known.”
“Darkly” means in a riddle, indistinctly. “Glass” here means a mirror. Corinth was famous for its mirrors. Ancient mirrors were made of metal and left much to be desired. Even at their best, they gave an imperfect reflection.
Our knowledge of God is presently indirect and indistinct. We can only discern things at a great distance, as through a telescope wrapped in clouds and obscurity. This blurred vision of God will someday be replaced by a face-to-face look.
In Heaven the saints will be perfect. We will know God as we are known by Him. While we are here on Earth, God knows us completely, we see Him “darkly,” but in Heaven the light of His presence shall remove all riddles and all darkness.
What a reunion! I remember the Vietnam POW’s coming home. I remember my brother-in-law coming home from Taiwan. The next person Joni Erickson shall put her arms around will be Jesus. The first plain voice my sister shall hear will be that of Jesus. Dear old saint with weakened eyes, your next unmarred view will be Jesus’ face.
What a reunion awaits us. Streets of gold will have small attraction to us compared with seeing God. John the Revelator saw God the Father first, God the Son second, and spoke of the city’s beauty last.