Love is eternal. Paul reminds us that only three things of this present world will remain to inherit the world to come, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Most of what we see around us is temporary and will perish along with the present heavens and earth. The Bible is explicit that this present creation will not last but will one day come to an end and will be replaced with a new creation that is permanent and eternal. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.” (Revelation 21:1)
In contrast to the eternal nature of love, Paul lists some things that are merely temporal. “But if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) Prophesy, tongues, and knowledge will all one day ceases. These “gifts of the Spirit” or “emanations of the Spirit” are not eternal; they are given for a specific period of time for the edification of the Body of Christ. One day, when we stand in the very presence of God, there will no longer be any need for prophesy, teaching, pasturing, evangelism, and other ministries and spiritual services. What I find interesting is how much energy is spent by the Christian church today on things that are not eternal. There are many conferences on finding and developing your spiritual gifts. There is also an abundance of books, tapes, and seminars on becoming and growing as a leader. While spiritual gifts and leaders are important, they are not most important. We can focus on the work of the kingdom and forget to give ourselves to things that are truly eternal. This was the problem with the Laodicean church. They had works and service, but they had left behind their love for God. Paul warns us about focusing on temporal gifts while neglecting eternal love.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)Spiritual gifts are vital to the maturing of the Body of Christ, but they are fruitless unless combined with love. If we fail at love then our lives will amount to nothing more than a series of meaningless successes and failures bearing no fruit unto eternity. This is why Paul said, “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1) Notice that we are to “pursue” love and “desire” gifts, not the other way around. Let us pursue love while eagerly desiring spiritual gifts, and let us always remember that “the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)