|Mercy Street Church of Christ
Gifts that Survive the Titanic
Praise God for Resurrection Sunday! Today we continue in our series from 1 Corinthians 13 about the kind of love that God in Christ has displayed... a love so amazing, so selfless... that Jesus of Nazareth would redeem the world through the cross and be vindicated by his resurrection. Praise God through Jesus Christ. He is risen! Amen.
Historians think it may be the third most written-about story of all time . . . right after Jesus Christ and the American Civil War. It happened on a cold April 14 back in 1912 — the sinking of the Titanic, of course. There’s something about that tragedy that fascinates people: how an unsinkable ship can hit a North Atlantic iceberg on its maiden voyage, and then 1,523 people have a full two hours and 40 minutes to basically wait to drown at 2:20 in the morning.
Maybe you recall that after 17 movies, 18 documentaries, and at least 130 books already, CBS aired a four-hour miniseries, giving another look at the tragedy. And then director James Cameron put something like $200 million worth of disaster up on the big screen as Titanic and its hundreds of tiny subplots unfolded yet again.
But you know, there’s something about this icy story that illustrates Bible truth. In this series as we’ve explored the topic of pure love, what the Scriptures call agape love, in First Corinthians 13, it’s fascinating to note that many other things are there as well. Some bad things . . . but also some good things. After envy and pride and self-centeredness and grudgekeeping — which are the very antithesis of love — the Bible moves to a more positive list. There’s prophecy . . . a good thing. There’s biblical knowledge, another recommended commodity. The eloquence of what the Bible calls “tongues” — also one of heaven’s gifts. And yet, as we read in verse eight, the Bible tells us that all these other things will pass away. Prophecy and knowledge and tongues are all going to come to an end. Their usefulness will cease and they’ll be relegated to the sidelines. But then there are these three words:
“Love never fails.”
In other words, love stays. Unlike prophecy and “knowledge,” love doesn’t ever become obsolete. Right at the end of the chapter, verse 13, Paul clearly says it again:
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.”
There are several points to be made here, and you’ve got to be wondering what they have to do with the Titanic. Let’s think about this, shall we?
First of all, we’d easily agree that love is going to survive this beat-up old planet. Our skyscrapers may fall and sinful kingdoms will be toppled and orphanages and bars and prisons are going to be bulldozed by heaven’s armies. But love — the very epitome of God’s own character — of course that’s going to survive. Paul is right; as long as there’s a God, there will be love too.
But isn’t it interesting that good spiritual things like prophecy are said in Scripture to be temporary. Of course, that makes sense when you stop and think about it. Prophecy in God’s Word has been provided as a gift to show us the future, to give us confidence in the ways and methods of God, to provide us with signposts to the Kingdom. But friend, after we’re in the Kingdom, will we keep looking for signposts? Will we need confidence boosters, when our King and Savior are dwelling among us? There won’t be a need for prophecy when the Source of all prophecies is living right next door as our Neighbor!
The same is true of the gift of tongues, which we’ll discuss more another time in Chapter 14. Whether you think of the Bible’s gift of tongues as an ability to speak many foreign languages, or as an ecstatic experience of worship to God in a language you don’t even know, isn’t it plain that when we enjoy face-to-face fellowship with our Redeemer as one unified redeemed Body, we won’t need that gift? We’ll be right there; we’ll see “face to face,” as Paul exclaims in verse 12.
Likewise with knowledge. You know, there are some among us who are so smart. They really are. You watch them on Jeopardy! and you remember college professors you had. Or you think of people who invent Pentium chips or write the great books or build the tallest buildings. But when we get to heaven, what will become of our opinions of our great knowledge? Again, as Paul himself describes it, we’ll realize that “now we know in part.” And it’s a pretty tiny part at that.
Friend, do you see why Paul cuts right through our little list of achievements?
“Now we know in part,” he writes. “We prophecy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.”
“Much of what we’ve learned will vanish” is how this verse is rendered in a paraphrase. So many of what we lovingly — and even proudly — call our spiritual gifts are going to melt away when we bow at Jesus’ feet in heaven, aren’t they? All the Greek we know, all the Bible definitions we’ve memorized, all the victories we piled up in Sunday School playing that board game, Egypt to Canaan, will fade away in Paradise. Useful tools they’ve been, to be sure; let’s not misunderstand. As we studied in the last chapter of First Corinthians, we want to thank God for our gifts and use them all we can here on this earth. But what greater glory to be in the presence of God! One writer put it this way:
“The light of a candle loses its importance when placed in the bright light of the sun.”
And in a way, this is where I think Paul is taking us in his next paragraph. You’ve heard this before, I’m sure.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”
Then he goes on:
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
What a picture he paints, where our old thoughts, made so murky by sin and selfishness and confusion, are finally cleared away when we reach the distant shore. The fog and smog and haze are gone; the dreadfully limiting effects of sin are gone.
The talented contemporary Christian group, Glad, sings about this in their song “When He Comes Again,” by John Keltonic. It goes like this:
“And when He comes again, He comes again to take us home. And oh to know His love and grace, To finally see His face, our King. No longer through a dim and clouded glass, When Jesus comes to take us home at last.”
And as Paul describes it, boys turn into men. Spiritually speaking, small children, whose fondest dream was to drive the little go-karts at Disneyland’s Auto-Rama, are given keys to real Cadillacs.
What does all this mean? Friend, nothing we’ve piled up here is going to survive the trip to the New Jerusalem. Our talents and gifts and assets and bank accounts; they’re going to be obsolete. Oh, we’ll have assets there too, and talents and abilities. But they’ll be so vastly improved, so completely different, that we may as well consider that we’re starting new.
Which takes us back to the Titanic. Nothing survives, the Bible tells us, except faith, hope, and love. None of our carefully packed suitcases, our luggage, our trinkets and treasures, are going to make it across the cold, dark ocean.
You probably noticed how, along with the fictional Jack Dawson and Rose Dewitt Bukater, how multimillionaire John Jacob Astor IV went down into a watery grave along with his money and his Airedale, Kitty. Isa and Isador Straus, the owners of Macy’s. They both lost their lives when the wife wouldn’t leave her husband. Streetcar magnate Harry Widener, whose mother dedicated a library at Harvard to her son’s memory. Benjamin Guggenheim, traveling with his mistress, changed into fine evening clothes before perishing in the 28-degree water. All the fortunes in the world couldn’t keep 882 feet of ocean liner from going down to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with its 1523 victims.
How true it is, as Paul writes, that nothing is going to survive except love.
So friend, what are you piling up today, right now? Talents and possessions and even some character traits you’re kind of proud of? Or the gift of love? Chapter 12, which describes spiritual gifts, explains that we don’t all get the same gift. We can’t all have the same thing. It might be impossible for you to be a preacher or a prophet no matter how hard you try.
But love, rather than being a spiritual gift, is a fruit of the spirit. It’s in that classic List of Nine over in Galatians 5:
“Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Let me say again: love’s not a spiritual gift, it’s a fruit of the spirit. Meaning that every single one of us can have it!
The Number One thing that survives, Paul tells us, is a thing we can have. We can indeed learn to love in the way this beautiful chapter commends and commands.
Tell me: is your confidence misplaced today — invested in Titanic stock, so to speak? Years ago, on a January 17, many rich people had fortunes get smashed into rubble during the Northridge Earthquake. One year later, January 17 again, 1995 this time, our friends in Kobe, Japan had that same experience. High-rise apartments and million-dollar mansions passed away. But agape love endures.
There’s a beautiful text note in the New International Version’s study helps. Listen:
“Love supersedes the gifts because it outlasts them all. Long after these sought-after gifts are no longer necessary, love will still be the governing principle that controls all that God and His redeemed people are and do.”
“Love remains,” Paul tells us. “Love outlasts them all.” Friend, if you knew that was true of a certain kind of stock, wouldn’t you begin to do some investing?
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