Scripture says that supernatural gifts of tongues, prophecy and knowledge will cease when "the perfect" comes (1 Cor. 13:10). "When will that be?" a gracEmail reader asks. "Does this verse refers to the last biblical book being written?"
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The notion that "the perfect" here refers to the completion of the New Testament is of fairly recent origin. Barton W. Stone, a pioneer father of the Churches of Christ, spoke for Christians throughout most of the last two millennia when he wrote, "That time has never yet come; nor can we expect it in this state of mortality" (Christian Messenger, August 1835, page 179). This anticipated state of perfection is the church's goal, focal point and reason for being. As such, it puts spiritual gifts -- which are only for here and now -- in proper perspective (1 Cor. 1:4-8).
Nothing in the text or context of 1 Corinthians 13 suggests that spiritual gifts will cease before the End (telos). Then, for the first time, we will "know fully, as we are fully known" (1 Cor. 13:12). The "Perfect" (teleios) is another way of describing the state of affairs when Jesus returns and "makes all things new" (Rev. 21:5). Scripture also calls this the "regeneration" (Matt. 19:28), the time of the "restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21). "The Perfect" will be the fullness and fulfillment of all that God is now doing and has been doing from the beginning. What is now only partial will then be complete.
Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God at his first Coming and he will bring it to completion when he returns. Between those two milestone events, God's people experience the breakthrough of heavenly power from time to time in various dramatic ways (Matt. 12:28; 28:20; Mk. 16:17-20). These include spiritual gifts of all sorts, miracles and other divine manifestations -- always according to God's own sovereign will. Meanwhile, we are to strongly desire spiritual gifts, not to forbid tongues, not to despise prophecy, not to quench the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:1, 39; 1 Thes. 5:19-20). Most of all, however, we are to live in love -- eagerly awaiting the time when our Lord Jesus Christ will be unveiled in all his glory before the watching world (1 Cor. 12:31; 1:6-8).
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