So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13 is a well quoted verse, but what does it really mean? How are faith, hope and love related? Why is love greatest?
Jesus spoke often of faith, stating that belief is the principle requirement for eternal life (Jn 3:16). What is it we are to believe? Jesus made it clear that we are to believe in him. We should accept the testimony about him given from by the prophets and later the apostles. Old Testament prophets told us what to expect. Jesus fulfilled those prophecies. The apostles gave us their eye witness testimony in the New Testament. Our own born again spiritual experience and the indwelling Holy Spirit confirm the historical witness. Our testimony is added to theirs. Faith does not require great understanding or knowledge, but it does require trusting in and responding to Jesus as he is revealed to us. Faith encourages hope and love.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) You can’t hope for the past – it is already finished. Hope expects what God has revealed about the future. We place faith in God based on experience and testimony, but our hope for eternal life is something we expect. Scripture reveals many more promises. We have hope that yet unfulfilled prophecies will come to pass because the prophets have been right so far and our own spiritual experiences confirm scripture. Hope encourages faith and love.
Paul writes that love is greater than faith or hope (1 Cor 13:13). Love is experienced in the present. We live in the present. We cannot change the past or control the future. We have faith and hope, but love is a present tense verb. Love is a choice. Love is other-centered. Love is what we do about faith and hope. Faith and hope are substantially intellectual elements. Their ultimate value is not in themselves, but in how they inform our choices in the present. Faith and hope guide us to action. Faith and hope in self leads to selfish action. Faith and hope in the world leads to worldly action. Faith and hope in God leads to Godly action. God is love. The rest of 1 Cor 13 describes the nature of love and in so doing describes the character of God. Love is the greatest of the three because it is what we do, not what we think. Love is about others, not self. Godly love builds faith and offers hope. Love covers a multitude of sin because love forgives. The greatest act of love was Jesus dying to forgive our sin – the ultimate selfless act. Jesus summarized all the law in the command to love God and one another. Faith can save nothing without love. Our eternal hope is hopeless without love. God first loved us, even while we were yet sinners. Love encourages faith and hope. Love really is greatest.