First Corinthians 13--The Big Three
Aug 18, 2017
Paul concludes his discussion of love by saying in 1 Corinthians 13:13,
13 But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Earlier, in verse 7, faith and hope are the thirteenth and fourteenth characteristics of love in Paul’s list. When he says that love “believes all things,” he uses the Greek word pisteuo, which is the verb form for faith (pistis). The word elpizo is the Greek verb, “to hope,” and the noun is elpis.
Paul singles out faith, hope, and love as the most important virtues for Christian believers to seek and to acquire. Yet since faith and hope are just parts of love—the greatest Christian virtue can be summed up in the word love (agape). In other words, without all sixteen virtues listed in this chapter, love is incomplete.
Faith and hope are limited by time, whereas love is timeless. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” In other words, faith sees what is not yet there. Faith has foresight to see beyond the present reality in the continuous flow of time. Faith is exercised only until the object of faith becomes full reality. Abraham had faith in God’s promise to give him a son, and when the promise was fulfilled, he no longer needed to exercise faith in that particular promise.
Hope is likewise time dependent, because, like faith, hope ends when the object of one’s hope is seen and received. Paul says in Romans 8:24, 25,
24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Hope waits eagerly and with perseverance until that which is hoped for is seen. Once it is seen, hope ends, because “hope that is seen is not hope.”
Faith is the gift of love that makes it possible to respond to the voice of God. It is the door opener to a new way of life that follows the leading of the Spirit toward the final goal. Hope refers to the goal itself, rather than the means of getting there.
So we understand that faith and hope are transitory things. They are necessary elements of love in this realm of time, but being time-based, they have no further function when that which is perfect has come. Only love remains, for it transcends time. There is never a time when love will cease to be a necessary component of life. Love is the very nature of God, and we now have faith in His promise to fill us with His love. This is our hope—to be like Him—and when we finally achieve the state of perfect love, our hearts will be satisfied. We will no longer have to hold on to the promise by faith, nor will we have to hope for something yet to come.
Faith and hope are two of the big three, so we should never minimize their importance. However, the greatest of these is love.
This is part 90 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.