So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
—I Corinthians 13:13
This verse has sadly been taken out of context so often and has been hijacked by popular culture. It is frequently posted on social media pages. It is a popular verse to get tattooed on a person’s body. There is even a very popular secular song with this verse as a lyric in the main chorus.
Many people — even unbelievers of Scripture — resonate with this verse. But everyone has missed the point. Do people really know what the verse — as well as the terms faith, hope and love — means?
In chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives a list of various spiritual gifts that are useless if not conducted in love. He wants to impress upon the Corinthians that ministry will not produce fruit if not conducted in love.
He then explains the characteristics of love and the attitudes and acts that exemplify a loving person. He writes that “love never ends.” Whereas the spiritual gifts will cease — and some have — love is eternal.
Why is love eternal? First, we have to define faith, hope and love biblically.
According to Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Biblical faith is not a blind trust. It is a well-reasoned belief in God and His Word. It is a belief that God will do what He says He will do. Faith allows a Christian to hope for the future.
For the Christian, hope is not a wish or a longing for something to occur. Hope is an expectation that a future event will — and has been promised to — occur. For example, December 25 is the Christmas holiday. It is not a date that we wish were Christmas. It is actually the day on the calendar on which we celebrate Christmas, and we expect that Christmas will occur each year.
Christian hope is Christ’s return. Just as the ancient Jews hoped for the birth of a promised Savior, so too do New Covenant believers hope for the return of the Savior to gather His people and judge the world. Titus calls this a “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).
Love is an action, not a feeling or emotion, and is best exemplified in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” which Christ Jesus did on his own accord for all those who believe in him alone (John 3:16).
Faith and hope are earthly. Faith is a confident trust in things unseen. Hope is an expectation in Christ’s return.
Love is an act of worship to God. When Christ returns and gathers His people to live with Him forever, faith and hope will have been realized. Christ will be seen. The blessed hope will have occurred.
What remains is an eternity of love for Christ. That’s what makes love greater.
Greg Judy serves on the pastoral staff at Hancock Reformed Baptist Church.