In 1812 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first edition of a collection they called ‘Children’s and Household Tales’. The book contained 86 short stories or fairy tales. Although they were called “Children’s Tales”, they were not regarded as suitable for children since they were often dark and twisted. Responding to public displeasure, a later addition was called ‘German Legends’. Finally, they settled on the title most of us recognize today, ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’.
Walt Disney was especially taken by the Grimm Brother’s stories. He ‘saw inspiration’ for a full length cartoon in ‘tale number 53’, “Little Snow White”. In the 1937 Disney classic, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ the Evil Queen utters the famous line “Magic mirror, on the wall – who is the fairest one of all?”.
Although, in the original Brothers Grimm story (translated into English), it actually reads, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all?” Apparently, Disney felt viewers would better understand why the mirror was special, if it was called the ‘Magic Mirror’.
Early mirrors were somewhat crude, made from polished metals. In fact, good mirrors didn’t exist until 1835. ‘At the time Paul traveled to Corinth’, the Corinthians had 2 thriving industries; they produced fine pottery – and bronze metal works.
The bronze in Corinth had an unusually high ‘tin’ content (14%) that gave it a very shinny, reflective quality; so metal workers went into ‘the business of making mirrors’. Corinthian mirrors were well known and sought after worldwide.
Jewish Historian Josephus wrote about the use of Corinthian bronze – when he described the gates of the Second Temple. He wrote, “Now, 9 of these gates were on every-side covered over with gold and silver, as were the jambs of their doors and their lintels; but there was one gate that was without it, in the holy house, which was made of Corinthian brass, and it greatly excelled those – that were only covered over with silver and gold.”
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he was trying to stop the bickering, arguments and over-all-drama that had developed in the church. Then Paul turned his attention to discussing the qualities and importance of love.
Because there are no real breaks in the scripture; as it was originally written, most scholars believe the chapter begins with these words, “And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, – but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries – and all knowledge, – and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (finally,) If I give all I possess to the poor – and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
You probably know it from here on out, “Love is patient, Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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 4-7)
You may have noticed, as Chapter 13 opens, Paul addresses speaking in tongues, the gift of prophecy and the desire for insight or knowledge. These were the 3 favorite gifts at Corinth. Those in ‘the know’ had the power.
Prophesying is the gift of unveiling the mysteries of God. It is not always the gift of predicting the future – so much as revealing the meaning of the present, and that, therefore, informs the future.
The gift of tongues is the gift of supernatural utterance of a language ‘never learned’ in praise and thanksgiving to God. It is the ability to speak a language, a real language, that was never learned. Finally, the gift of knowledge is the ability to grasp a great range of Biblical truth.
Of the three, Paul says, tongues will cease. The other two gifts, prophesying and knowledge will slowly fade away. But love will not – because love never fails. God’s love, that is. Clearly, people are fickle. Our love wavers and falters. People fall in and out of love.
But here, Paul is talking about God’s perfect love and he says it does not fail. The Greek word translated fail literally means ‘does not fall, collapse or ruin’. In other words, God’s love never falls away or disappears; it never quits, or gives up. God’s love just keeps coming; it multiplies and over-flows onto us.
Like many of those who Jesus spoke with, the Corinthians were looking for miracles, signs and wonders. By looking for the sparkle meant, they sometimes they missed the source of all good things. They were more impressed with ‘the gifts that men had’ – then the God who gave them their gifts.
Paul writes, “For we know in part – and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” Scholars have been arguing for generations about what this sentence means. Some suggest that it means ‘when the New Testament is finally written and passed around, — then the gifts of tongues, prophecy and inside knowledge will be done’.
Others say, when Jesus returns, perfection comes and the things of the past will disappear. Still others suggest; that once the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, God’s perfection was made complete in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And in a way, maybe they are all (in part) right.
Yet Paul is also pointing us in another direction. He writes, “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I put ‘the ways of childhood’ behind me.”
Paul is suggesting the thoughts and ideas of our youth are sorely inadequate but when we mature in our faith, we have a fuller understand of God’s amazing love. And the more we understand love, the more we understand God, – since God is love. (I John 4:16)
Since God is eternal, love is also eternal. It never ends. Everything else will cease to exist. Paul is saying to them and us; focus on ‘the one thing that remains’. The quality of Christianity does not lie in its showmanship, miracles, signs or wonders – but in our ability to love ‘as God loves’.
Since the Kingdom of God was ushered in by Jesus, – but will not be fully known until he returns, …Paul writes, “For now, we see only 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’.”
A city like Corinth, famous for its bronze mirrors, ‘would have particularly appreciated’ Paul’s final illustration. One of our deepest desires is for clarity — and mirrors are very honest. In fact, the better the mirror and the lighting, the more flaws we see. And the mirror, unfortunately, does not lie.
But the truth is; a mirror is one dimensional, it is only a reflection. Mirrors show our outward reflection – not our inward beliefs and values. They may ‘mirror’ our emotional state – but mirrors cannot reflect our spiritual depth or our deepest thoughts. Only God sees those things.
And sometimes, ‘what we see on the outside’ is a poor representation of who we are. As Jesus said to the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Matthew 23:27, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside – but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”
Our real beauty ‘is only seen’ in how we love God and others. The beauty of love is that it often overshadows our others flaws and imperfections. None of us is perfect, scripture is clear on this. Paul reminds us in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” All of us are sinners, we are all fallen.
But 1 John 4:12 gives us hope, it reads, “No one has ever seen God; – but if we love one another, God lives in us – and his love is made complete (or perfect) in us.”
I think, that is what Paul was speaking about when he said, “For we know in part – and we prophesy in part, – but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.”
To put it another way, God’s love is greater than the sum of our parts. We are not perfect – but perfectly loved. And when we mature in faith, – we can love as Christ loved. That is, in essence, the story behind ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
How can anyone love me? Paul explains in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Then Paul finally comes full circle when he writes, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Faith hope and love – beat out speaking in tongues, the gift of prophecy and the desire for knowledge. Faith ‘trusts when it cannot see’, Hope exists when all sees lost – and of course, Love goes on eternally because God is love. So the greatest of these is love. So, all who follow love, follow the most excellent way.
Author John Joseph Powell writes, “It is an absolute human certainty that ‘no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth’ – until it has been reflected back to him ‘in the mirror of another loving, caring human being’.”
So, if we are living as Christ, we become the mirrors that reflect God’s love. We shine, when we reflect that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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.”
Finally, Paul reminds us ‘to make love our aim’. We are to ‘follow the way of love’ in all that we do. (1 Corinthians 14:1) This passage is really about how we should treat one another every day.
And even though we are imperfect, — may others see the love and goodness of God, in us; because we are more than the sum of our parts, with God’s amazing love.
Your assignment is…to count the ways you are loved by God and others. Also, look up and highlight in your bibles, 2 Corinthians 3:18 – “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” – New American Standard
And you will recognize ‘that love truly covers a multitude of sins.’ (1 Peter 4:8)