Updated: Oct 6, 2020
"Love never ends...So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:8a & 13
You are likely quite familiar with these words. They are often recited at weddings, funerals, and other special occasions. The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is commonly referred to as "the love chapter" and with good reason. Many beautiful and lofty truths about the virtue of love are mentioned that cause our hearts to soar.
We should always remember that a key to biblical interpretation is context. Bible verses do not exist in a vacuum. The same is true for 1 Corinthians 13. Paul is dealing with the application of spiritual gifts and the importance of avoiding jealousy while remembering that every part of the body of Christ has value.
For now, though, I want to narrow our focus to consider why the statement is made that of faith, hope, and love, that love is the greatest. After all, faith and hope are both essential parts of the Christian life. In fact, Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that without faith it is impossible to please God. Philippians 1 encourages us with the truth that hope in Christ is how we remain steadfast in the midst of suffering and strife. Faith and hope are mightily important. Yet the greatest of these three is love.
I believe there are three crucial things to consider as we answer the question.
Love will not pass away
This is the great promise of verse 8, which says, "Love never ends." The word used here (ends) refers to something that falls, or fails, or collapses. Love will not do any of those things. Love is timeless and death-less. Think of the moment you pass from this life to the life to come. Your faith becomes sight. Your hope is realized. They are both fulfilled and brought to a Christ-exalting fruition. Yet love is only going to be intensified. When you see the beauties of heaven and behold the glory of Christ, no longer through a mirror dimly, you will experience love even greater than before. When you meet the Savior face to face, love is only beginning, and it will have no end.
Love will not be surpassed
Not only will love never end, but it also will never be surpassed. In other words, it will never lose its value nor diminish in beauty. Why is love never to be surpassed? Because it is the very character of our God. 1 John 4:8 says, "...God is love." In verse 16 of the same chapter, it declares, "So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." Simply stated, God is love. Therefore, when we show love, we are reflecting the character of our Lord. God needs no faith and has no hope in anything outside of Himself. Yet, God is love. Further, it is only by God's love towards us that we are enabled to have faith and hope. For these reasons, the greatest of these love.
Love is our identity
As Christians, love is our very identity. Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). The world should look at the life, words, and character of believers and see something altogether different from the world. We are to be known by our love. And we are to encourage each other to grow in love. We are reminded in Hebrews 10:24 "to stir up one another to love and good works."
So if you want your life to be built on something that will never end, will never be surpassed, and reflects the character of God, build your life on true, biblical love. After all, this is the first and greatest commandment. Jesus Himself declared, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39). Love will never end, it will never be surpassed, and as we express love to our God and our neighbors, we live out our identity as God's children.
A new favorite song of mine sums it up this way:
All beauty and vanity, power and fame, just for a moment they shine.
Riches and treasures all simply fade, just pass away in time.
I choose to live my life on things above,
Now these three abide: faith, hope, and love
And the greatest of these is love.
The next time you are tempted to treat someone in an unkind way or wonder if another is deserving of your love, remember, there is nothing greater you can do than display your love for God by loving people. And when you live your life based on love, you are building your life on that which will never end.
I encourage you to take a few minutes and listen to the song entitled, "Faith, Hope, and Love" by my friends, the Foto Sisters. The beauty of the song is amazing; the message of the song is eternal. You will be blessed!
"Anchored in Hope" is a book Michael has written that contains forty daily devotionals. Whether you are a new Christian or a seasoned believer, these daily readings will strengthen your faith as they point you to Christ. To order your copy, click here. To request prayer, please click here.