Now here is a beautiful truth.
But before I get to it, we’ll need a bit of background. During the recent Relay conference that I went to, we had a series of talks on 1 Corinthians 12-14, about the Church reflecting who God is. Now, the Corinthian church was big on “spiritual” stuff – they were very spiritually gifted (1 Corinthians 1:7), and things like speaking in tongues and prophecy might have been a regular occurrence with them. They might have looked super-holy, but theirs was a church with all kinds of issues. They had a kind of snobbery going on, taking sides depending on who their favourite preacher was (1 Corinthians 3). They had issues with taking each other to court (chapter 6), and they thought that they were very spiritual. But Paul wrote to them saying that, actually, for all their gifts they were not spiritual, because they weren’t showing who God is. Chapters 12-14 talk about what true spirituality is – showing God, specifically through love.
So in chapter 13, Paul famously writes:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
This is something we often hear read at weddings. We think “aw, isn’t that nice?” because it’s talking about love. And, in a way, rightly so – because love like this is a great thing! But Paul didn’t write this to be all fluffy and cuddly. Actually, he was writing this as a correction; because this is exactly what the Corinthians weren’t doing. He’s making the point that all these spiritual gifts that the Corinthians were enjoying were pointless if they weren’t showing love to each other, and so showing God’s love. In a Hubbard paraphrase:
“Love is patient, love is kind; and you are not. Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud; but you are, Corinthians. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Can you say this about yourselves? Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. Do you? It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
And also – love won’t disappear. (keep going, we’re getting closer to the point now!) Paul continues:
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears… Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
(1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 12)
Paul is saying that, eventually, gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues and the like will disappear because in heaven we won’t need them. The Greek word that’s been translated as “perfection” here is το τελειον – to teleion, meaning “the perfect”, or, more literally, “the place it was meant to flourish”. Heaven is the place that we were made to flourish! It’s literally what we’re made for – when we will be in our element, where we will be happiest, where we will have what we’re born for. And here is what we’re made for: seeing God face to face. This isn’t like standing in the same room as someone (as much as we would call that a face-to-face meeting), but in the Bible “face to face” is the language of intimacy, carrying a meaning of having your faces filled up with each other. We are made to know God intimately. We are made for it!
So, although we know God “in part” now, when we will be in heaven we’ll know Him as intimately as He knows us. And the most precious thing about this is that it wasn’t easy to make this happen. We don’t deserve to go to heaven, because we aren’t perfect. But God made a way for us to become perfect. Since before time began, Jesus (God the Son) has had a perfect face-to-face relationship with His Father, but He was willing to lose this by being punished as we should be so that we could have it!
The Hubbard paraphrase:
“Love. Never. Fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect such as these disappears. Think of it like this: when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways, such as how you are acting, behind me. Now – in our prophecies and speaking in tongues and knowledge – we see but a poor reflection; then, in heaven, we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known by God now.”
Even better than this, though, is thinking about just who it is that we’ll have an intimate relationship with. Because, let’s be honest, heaven wouldn’t be all that great if God was a bit disappointing. It’s all very well to have an all-powerful nice person with a beard to spend eternity with, but surely it would stop being exciting eventually. There’s only so many times you can make a square circle or the sun glow purple or have wings and play your golden harp on a fluffy white cloud (whilst wearing a bed sheet) before it gets a bit samey. So is God all that great a prize? Is spending forever with Jesus an exciting idea, or will He just get annoying after a few thousand years of being holy?
The book of Revelation at the end of the Bible is brilliant. At first glance, it can seem like LOST on steroids – a load of crazy supernatural stuff with an unbelievable plot – but when you understand that lots of the language used is symbolic and represents a deeper reality than at face value, you begin to see just how awesome its content is. And the picture that we get of Jesus in Revelation is incredible!
In Revelation 1:12-18 it says:
… I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man’, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “… ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
This is describing Jesus in the midst of His Church (the lampstands represent the churches that Revelation was written to) with epic imagery – dressed as a king and priest, wise and with authority (that’s what the white hair bit means), with eyes of fire, skin glowing with His glory, and a voice as powerful as the sea. He holds the Church in His care (the stars, like the lampstands earlier, represent the churches that John was writing to) and His words are penetrating. Jesus Himself says that He is the Beginning and End of everything; that He has defeated death and holds ultimate power over it.
Revelation 4 (sorry, it’s too long to put here) describes God as breathtakingly beautiful, and that He is a life-giver. Chapter 5 describes Jesus as being the only person who can wield history and the loving sovereign power of God. And He uses His power for those He loves:
Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
He uses His power to get rid of evil so that He can bless His people, the Church! Jesus Christ is self-giving, and the nature of His power is self-giving: He can wield the power of God the Father because of His fundamental part in God’s plan to make everything right – Jesus died so that everyone can live.
The Church is often called the “Bride of Christ” because of what it says in Revelation 19:6-9:
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like to roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! [Jesus]’ ” And he added, “these are the true words of God”
You see, the Church is going to get married to Jesus. The white clothes represent God’s righteousness being given to us, which make us worthy of being united with Jesus like this.
And Jesus has brought this about – how?
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no-one but he himself knows. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean… On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS
Our God has gone to war to win us. Here we see Jesus riding into battle in a robe dipped in His own blood, symbolising what He did when He died on the cross. Jesus has won us the victory by shedding His own blood in self-giving love.
So, is it worth spending eternity with Jesus? He has the ultimate authority, He is stunningly beautiful, He has given up His own life so that we can have something better than all the good things we’ll ever know. And, most of all, He gives us Himself to be united to and to know intimately for the rest of time and beyond!
What do you think?
Many thanks to Lewis Green for his talks on 1 Corinthians 12-14, and to Mike Reeves for his talk on Jesus in Revelation, both at Relay 3 2012.