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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 13:11-12 In a mirror, darkly

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, June 2, 2023

With two simple examples, childhood and first-century mirrors, Paul describes the difference between knowing Christ fully in heaven versus knowing him in the partial way we do now.

11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I did away with childhood things. 12 Now we see as if in a mirror, darkly; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

“When I was a child…” These words are so simple that some Christians are struck by them and become unable to understand the language, the comparison, or the point the Apostle is making. It is as if their minds have turned to stone. They imagine a deep spiritual transcendence here, as if each syllable has been spoken in tongues. But Paul is making a simple and clear point: Childhood does not see the world in the same way that adulthood sees it.

“I spoke like a child.” Does Paul mean the first babblings of babies when they are learning to talk? Many children carry on with troubled speech for years; some adults see this a “adorable” and do not encourage any change, so the two children the same age can sound and act completely different, with one child barely able to say “bascetti” while his friend is fully competent to make a meal of spaghetti from scratch: noodles, sauce, and side dishes. But the apostle might also mean the difference that comes to a young man when his vocal chords change and he drops from being a soprano to a tenor or a bass.

“I thought like a child.” A child’s thoughts are not those of an adult. A child often enjoys a thing for its simple nature. A child will appreciate an athlete because of the athlete’s skill and his record, but an adult will take into account that athlete’s flaws and irascible personality. Children in the Teens and Twenties of the 20th century loved Ty Cobb; adults often disliked him.

“I reasoned like a child.” Children lack the ability to reason with abstract thought. This is why we teach younger children Bible stories and have them memorize passages and parts of the catechism, but we do not actually teach the catechism and Christian doctrine until they have reached sixth or seventh grade (about twelve years old).

“Childhood things” is not necessarily “childish,” but simply all of the things of childhood. Sometimes preachers will try to draw direct lines between “spoke, thought, and reasoned” and the “prophecy, tongues and knowledge” of verse 8. Should we do this? While it is tempting to draw a line between “spoke” and “tongues,” what would correspond to “thought”? Would it be prophecy, or knowledge? If it is knowledge, does that mean we must make a direct connection between wisdom and reasoning? Also, they are out of sequence with one another. But most importantly, Paul is making a general comparison of childhood vs. adulthood.

When Paul says, “In a mirror, darkly,” he is referring to mirrors of his day. They were not silvered glass like our mirrors. They were usually polished bronze. The darkness of the metal or a flaw in the surface made the reflection “a riddle.” The adverb “darkly” is really a reference to riddles that were hard to understand; we get our word “enigma” from the Greek noun. If a man saw his beautiful wife standing behind him as he looked in such a mirror, he would much rather turn around and look at her face-to-face, to see her truly and as she actually is.

Our perception of theology, of God, of God’s plan and Christ’s victory, is something we comprehend only dimly, darkly, and as if we are children. We need the Word of God to put things in clear words for us. “And,” Peter says, “you will do well to pay attention to it, as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). In the resurrection, everything will be clear.

“In the other life, the reborn aspire to full freedom of choice, which we can call ‘freedom from sin and changeability,’ because at that time the elect will be cleansed not only from the slavery of sin but also from all the remnants of sin and will be confirmed in the good in such a way that they will no longer be able to fall out of that happy state through sins. For they will be ‘equal to angels’ (Matthew 22:30), ‘they will see God face-to-face’ (1 Corinthians 13:12), ‘they will see God as he is’ (1 John 3:2).”

Everything that was lost in the fall through Adam’s sin will be restored, and even more will be ours. Why? Because Adam’s freedom was to be able not to sin, but the freedom we will have is that we will be unable to sin at all. Therefore “every error will depart from reason, every grief will depart from will, every fear will depart from memory, and they will be replaced by that for which we hope: pure serenity, full sweetness, eternal security.”

Benard of Cluny’s lines come to mind to comfort and to stir the spirit:

I know not, oh, I know not
What joys await us there,
What radiancy of glory,
What bliss beyond compare.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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