Tuesday, 13 January 2015
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
Paul has been contrasting the imperfect world in which we live with the purity of the world to come. He has been doing this by comparing that which is temporary and physical with that which is eternal and spiritual. With that thought in mind, he now gives a description of what our knowledge is like at this time in comparison to what it will be like in the future. In order to do this, he uses words concerning a mirror which would have been perfectly understood by anyone in the church at that time.
However, in his words, he is certainly using an example from the Old Testament as the basis for his thoughts. In Numbers chapter 12, the Lord spoke these words to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam –
“Hear now My words:
If there is a prophet among you,
I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision;
I speak to him in a dream.
7 Not so with My servant Moses;
He is faithful in all My house.
8 I speak with him face to face,
Even plainly, and not in dark sayings;
And he sees the form of the Lord.
Why then were you not afraid
To speak against My servant Moses?” Numbers 12:6-8
Knowing that this is Paul’s point of reference will help to explain his words to the Corinthians. He begins with the word “for” as a conjunction to the previous statement. What is earthly will be explained first. In this earthly existence (now) he says that “we see in a mirror, dimly.” Mirrors of Paul’s time were made of highly polished metal. They reflected an image, but it was far less perfect than our modern glass mirrors. When looking at such a mirror, just as when looking at a mirror of today, it appears that the image is standing on the other side of the mirror.
But the reflection in those ancient metal mirrors would have had imperfections which skewed what a person actually looked like. They could get the general sense of how they looked, but it wasn’t perfect. Hairs which were out of place may have gone unseen, lipstick might have been off a wee bit, and the teeth might not have been as clean as one hoped for. Such a mirror wasn’t capable of giving a perfect reflection and so imperfection in actual appearance was to be expected.
Paul shows that this is comparable to what is spiritual. We now see God’s plan only partially. We now study the Bible with preconceptions and using faulty logic. Our minds are dull in understanding many aspects of Scripture and we are incapable of seeing some things which would otherwise be obvious. But in this earthly existence, they are hidden.
In contrast to this, someday we shall see “face to face.” In Numbers 12:8 (above), the term the Lord used when speaking to Moses is peh el peh, or literally “mouth to mouth.” There was direct and intimate dialogue between the two. The Lord hid nothing from Moses when He spoke to him. This is the way it shall be for us when we are glorified. Until then, we still see dimly and our understanding is therefore obscured.
This word, “dimly,” is from the Greek en ainigmati. It means “in an enigma.” Everything is somewhat obscured in some way or another. Again, this is comparable to what was said to Moses with the words “in dark sayings.” When God spoke to the prophets of old, His word was given in such a way that they often had no idea what God was speaking about. It was as if a dark shadow were cast over the eyes of their minds to keep them from fully realizing what was intended by the words they uttered or wrote down.
This is no different even today. Although we have clarity that the prophets didn’t, particularly about the work of the Lord Jesus, there are still aspects of the Bible that are completely hidden from us. We can understand the surface meaning of the words, but the true depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God which is found in the Bible is beyond our ability to fully comprehend. This is confirmed in Paul’s words which continue on by saying, “Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”
We have the Bible, and with it we can know how to be saved through the work of Jesus. It also tells us about the sure return of Jesus for us someday. But it doesn’t tell us when that will happen. Nor does it tell us an infinite number of details that we might like to know. Instead, with it we can only know in part. However, when we stand in the presence of the Lord in our glorified state, we will have a much more perfect understanding of the Lord and of His work, just as He at this time fully knows all about us.
Life application: Just because we cannot fully know all the mysteries of the Lord in this life, it is no excuse to not do our very, very best to study the Bible and seek out the mysteries which are hidden there. What a shame to spend our time learning an infinite number of sports statistics while knowing almost nothing about the riches contained in Scripture! Study your Bible.
Lord, from time to time, I have to stop and ask myself questions about where I stand with You. Will You be more pleased with me for knowing all the statistics of my favorite football team, or will You be more pleased with me reading and understanding the book of Romans? Are You going to say “Well done” to me for having the shiniest car in town, or will You be more pleased that I went to church and there worshipped You on Sunday morning?” Is increasing the size of my bank account more important than attending Bible Study? Priorities Lord… help me with my priorities. If this is my one chance to get it right, help me to get it right. Amen.