First Corinthians 13:8 contrasts tongues and other gifts with love, and states tongues shall cease but love will never fail. Our charismatic friends say, Yes tongues will cease when the Church is caught up with Christ. But notice verse 13, "And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love." Regardless of how we interpret verses 9-12, verse 13 tells us that faith, hope and love abide after something ceases. And the only thing that cease in Paul's discussion are the tongues and gifts of verse 8. After tongues and the other gifts of verse 8 cease, then faith hope and love abide or continue on. There is a time that faith and hope will exist after tongues and the other gifts cease. How long will faith and hope last? Until the Church is united with Christ in the first resurrection. Then there will be no need. Faith and hope will end in the reality of being with Christ. Therefore tongues must cease sometime before the Church's history on earth ends.
First Corinthians 13 is crucial to our subject and warrants a more detailed consideration. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul shows that the exercising of any gift or service for God is worthless unless it is prompted by love. Then in verses 4-8 he lists all the beautiful qualities of love. In verse 8 Paul lists the last quality of love, "love never faileth," and uses it to show the transitoriness of the gifts by contrast.
Verse 8 reads: "Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." Paul is referring back to the miraculous gifts of prophecy, tongues, knowledge in 1 Corinthians 12 and reveals they are only temporary.
Verses 9 and 10 - "For we know in part, and we prophecy in pary. But when they which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." Some Pentecostals apply this phrase "when that which is perfect is come" to the return of Jesus to take his Church. But note these two points. (1) The Greek word for "that" is definitely an impersonal pronoun which cannot apply to a personality. (2) The whole construction of this verse in the Greek defines a growth from the partial or incomplete to perfection or completion and not the return or coming of something which is already perfect. The Greek word here translated "perfect" is often translated "complete" elsewhere in the New Testament. Our perfection at our resurrection change is referred to by the phrase, "when that which is perfect is come." Even the miraculous gifts of knowledge and prophecy in this life are but partial or incomplete compared to the complete or perfect knowledge and vision of eternity that will be ours when we are joined with Christ.
Verses 9 and 10 show a contrast between this life and eternity. Then in verses 11 and 12, Paul makes a contrast between childhood and maturity in the Church of his day and designated tongues as the mark of childhood.
Verse 11, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." Here we may conclude that Paul associates tongues with the childhood stage in the Church. This is confirmed by a parallel statement of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:19 and 20 where Paul call those who speak in the Church in tongues, without interpretation, as children in their thinking. And even though the Church was to pass out of its childhood stage of gifts, maturity now is only a glimpse of the perfection to be had at our resurrection change.
Verse 12, "For now [even in maturity] we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
Verse 13, "And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." After the childhood stage of tongues and other miraculous gifts cease, the developmental qualities of the spirit, faith, hope and love will sustain the Church until her resurrection change at the end of the age. These qualities are of a more enduring nature, thereby enabling the Church to withstand the trials and besetments of the age.
Note again that the faith, hope and love of verse 13 endures after something ceases. And the only thing that ceases in 1 Corinthians 13 are tongues and the other gifts as mentioned in verse 8. Therefore, there is a period in which faith and hope will continue after tongues and the other gifts cease.
Some apply verses 9-12 of 1 Corinthians 13 to the completion of the Bible. The thought expressed is that the Church knew in part and prophesied in part (verse 9) until that which is perfect is come; that is, the Bible is finally complete (verse 10). Then the childhood stage of gifts is over (verse 11). But even having the Bible complete is a partial knowledge compared with the resurrection change (verse 12).
Whatever the merits of this application of 1 Corinthians 13:9-13 this much is certain, gifts are mentioned in the book of Acts and 1 Corinthians. Traces of the gifts are found in the earlier epistles to the Romans, the Galatians, the Ephesians. However, there is no mention of them in the later epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 and 2 Peter and John's epistles. This is significant. The New Testament writings are being circulated. Doctrinal truths, the abiding graces of faith, hope and love are what the apostles exhort the Church to rest on rather than the exceptional gifts. The tongues as foretold in 1 Corinthians 13:8 were already in the process of ceasing in the apostles' day.