I was asked to read 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 at a funeral last week. It had never occurred to me that this reading is a great help for those who are grieving.
Every grieving person realises, to varying degrees, that love does not end at death. Death does not remove love, only the object of that love. The Apostle Paul writes, “love never ends” (verse 8). The level of our grief is directly related to how much we loved someone. Spouses and parents grieve more than anyone because their love is greatest.
It’s been 30 years since 13-year old Stourbridge paper boy, Carl Bridgewater was shot dead at point blank range by burglars at Yew Tree Farm. In a recent interview in a local paper, his parents speak openly about their ongoing grief. Love never ends. Grief is wanting to express that love but being denied the opportunity. Death is truly our greatest enemy, nothing has the potential to hurt us like the death of someone we love.
And yet, in 1 Corinthians 13, we find that God has provided the way for us to find relief from part of this pain. It is ours to have by faith. We will never bring the person back, but we can live in hope. Paul tells us that what we see around us is in perfect and that one day it will pass away and the perfect will come (verse 10). And so Paul has faith in God and hope in a time when everything will be made right once more. When the imperfect passes away there will be no more hospitals, no more hankies to dry our tears and no more hearses or funeral directors or ministers like me. Paul says that today we see as if in a mirror dimly, but in that day we shall see God face to face.
Then, as we grieve, we can ask, “why?” “Why does it have to be this way?” “I don’t understand!” “Why now?” “Why him?” “Why in such a cruel or wicked way?” These sorts of questions are natural but unanswerable. Paul tells us in this passage that we only have partial knowledge (verse 12). We don’t know why things happen the way they do, because we can’t know everything. And yet when we meet God face-to-face he will explain why everything happened the way it did. God knows fully as he knows us fully (verse 12). There’s nothing he doesn’t know about us. Is and that amazing he knows everything there is to know he knows we’re going through and he understands were going through.
And so, at the end of the passage we find one of the greatest verses in the Bible. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love (verse 13).
Three things are all we need, writes Paul: faith, hope and love. He explains that our faith must have an object, in chapter 15 he writes:
1 Corinthians 15:1-6 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you- unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
The death and resurrection of Christ for sin produces hope through faith. But faith and hope are not as great as love, because when believers see God face-to-face we will not have to have faith in his Son or to hope that his gospel is true, these two will no longer be required. But love will remain because love never ends.