Faith, Hope, Love

1 Corinthians 13:13

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

This is a familiar and favorite Bible verse for many people. Yet do we understand what it means? This is an important verse, but we need to consider it in its context so that we can learn the lessons we ought to take from it. So let us consider this passage and see how we should understand it.

What Do These Terms Mean?

Anytime we study the Bible (just as with anything else), it is important that we understand the principle terms.

Faith is an obedient trust and confidence in the Lord. It is the “assurance [substance, KJV] of things hoped for, the conviction [evidence, KJV] of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The source of our faith is the word of God (Romans 10:17). The Hebrew writer explained that “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6). We are “justified by faith” (Romans 5:1), which means that faith is the basis by which God declares us to be righteous. However, while we are “justified by faith” (Romans 5:1), James indicated that this justification is “not by faith alone” (James 2:24). True faith includes not just belief, but also obedience. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).

Hope is more than just a desire or a wish; it is the expectation of something good. We are “saved” by hope (Romans 8:24) as it provides us with the motivation to keep moving forward and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Christians have “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3), which is “the hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2). This hope is “an anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19), providing us with stability in a world of uncertainty. Peter said we must be “ready to make a defense…for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15), indicating that our hope is something that we can articulate and not just a vague wish. Even if our lives on earth never improve, we have hope for something better after this life. As Christians, even if we die, we still have hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

Love is from the Greek word agape and is about putting God and others ahead of ourselves. There are different Greek words for love, but agape is the one used primarily in the New Testament. This chapter helps define this type of love. Paul wrote,

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

God is love” (1 John 4:8) and we are to be like Him (Matthew 5:48); therefore, we are to “love one another” (1 John 4:7). Loving God also means that we will obey Him. John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Many like to talk about love, but we are to do more than just talk about it. John admonished us, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).

Why Do These Three Abide?

It is important that we remember the context. In the chapters before and after this one, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about miraculous spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12, 14). He even discussed these in this chapter on love as this was a continuation of that discussion, not an unrelated tangent. Paul explained that these miraculous spiritual gifts would one day cease:

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).

These gifts would end when the word of God had been fully revealed. It has been. Jude said it was “once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). Paul warned that anyone who preaches “a gospel contrary to what we have preached…is to be accused” (Galatians 1:8-9). Since the will of God has been fully revealed, these miraculous spiritual gifts are not continuing today.*

After the word of God would be fully revealed, these three – faith, hope, and love – would remain.

  • Faith is based upon the word of God (Romans 10:17), which has been preserved for us in the Scriptures. Even if we do not witness a miracle, we can still have faith through what has “been written” (John 20:30-31). Even if we do not receive direct revelation from God, we can still have faith “through [the apostles’] word” (John 17:20-21).
  • Hope is tied to our faith. As we noticed earlier, the Hebrew writer defined faith as “the assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). Through what is “written” in “the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
  • Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). No matter what happens – here and in eternity – it will always be necessary to love God and others (cf. Matthew 22:36-40).

Why Is Love the Greatest?

Love will endure longer than faith and hope. John described how our faith in what is currently unseen will become sight: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). Peter reminded us about how our hope will one day be realized: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). However, even when we are in heaven and can see the Lord whom we have accepted by faith and are enjoying the promise of eternal life for which we hoped, love will remain.

Love is the reason why we do what we do in service to God. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). James noted that “the demons…believe” (James 2:19), yet they do not obey God because they do not love Him. Some, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, may think they can “earn” God’s favor (Luke 18:9-14); but Jesus explained elsewhere that those who believe they had “little” for which they needed to be forgiven will love “little” (Luke 7:40-47).

Love leads us to obey God. John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). The reason why “His commandments are not burdensome” is because of the love we have for Him. It is like Jacob who “served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:20). If we truly love the Lord, serving Him will not seem like a burden, but a privilege and a blessing because we want to do all that we can to honor and please Him.

Conclusion

The Corinthians focused on miraculous spiritual gifts. These are no longer necessary or given since the New Testament has been completed. Therefore, we are to focus on these qualities:

  • Faith – Live by faith. Believe in the Lord and obey Him.
  • Hope – Look forward to the reward in heaven and keep pressing on to the goal.
  • Love – This is to be the motivation for everything that we do.

As we go through life, let us “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7), “rejoice in hope” (Romans 5:2, KJV), and “let all that [we] do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

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* For more on this topic, see the articles Do Miracles Happen Today? and Is Divine Revelation Ongoing Today?


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