The Greatest of These is Love
by Robert C. Veil, Jr.
One of the most quoted chapters in all of the Bible is the 13th of First Corinthians, which ends with these inspired words: “But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three: and the greatest of these is love.” Have you ever wondered why love is greater than faith and hope? Although Paul does not pause to explain that here, may I suggest a few reasons from other passages which shed additional insight on this profound statement.
1. Love provides the reason or basis for the others. In the chapters which immediately precede and follow this, Paul is essentially rebuking the Corinthians for under-valuing the importance of love, and over-emphasizing certain spiritual gifts. Especially tongue speaking had become a proud display, used to show off and overstate one’s own importance. It was totally devoid of love and concern for others. But when we carefully examine the list of spiritual gifts itemized by Paul in 12:8-10, even the miraculous gift of faith “so as to remove mountains” (12:9; 13:20), we begin to understand why Paul goes on to disclose a “more excellent way” (12:31). From the information given, we can easily picture the Corinthian brethren vainly exercising these miraculous gifts without any concern for the spiritual welfare of others. Just as some had rushed ahead of the weaker brethren at the Lord’s Supper (11:33), or trampled the faith of weaker brethren with meats sacrificed to idols (8:1-13), it seems that the spiritual gifts had become a tool to “one up” each other. So Paul plainly and clearly explains that the exercise of even the greatest of the spiritual gifts without love is pointless, (13:1-2). Love must be the ultimate motivation behind them, else they profit nothing.
Perhaps you have known of members of the church who could be described as extremely faithful in their attendance, and who possessed great hope in going to heaven. But did they exhibit the tender qualities of love for God and love for their brethren? This is a separate, additional question. As important as faith and hope are, without love they fall far short, because love is the Christian basis for the others.
2. Also, love gives meaning and purpose to the others. Why strive to be a faithful servant of a master we do not love? Why would we hope to spend an eternity with a Savior we do not love? And why would we seek an eternity with people in heaven that we do not love here on earth? We see that love gives meaning and purpose to what we are doing. It provides the reason for striving to reach our fullest potential in the kingdom of God.
3. Further, we notice that love is the most influential of the three. A person may himself be of the most supreme hope and faith, yet have very little influence upon others. Those who have touched the world most deeply are those who have exhibited in their lives the godly characteristics of love. God has great faith and hope, but he influenced this world most profoundly because of his love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” (Jn. 3:16). “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are,” (1 Jn. 3:1). “Hereby we know love, because he laid down his life for us,” (1 Jn. 3:16). “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 Jn. 4:10). A person does the most good in his life when he acts in love. Things done in love make an impression which endures over a lifetime. People are remembered because of their great faith and hope, but they are especially remembered because of their love.
4. Finally, we can see that of the three qualities Paul mentions, love is the one which will endure throughout all eternity. Faith will not be needed once we see Him in whom we have believed. And our hope will be unnecessary once it is realized in heaven, “for who hopeth for that which he seeth?” (Rom. 8:24) As Mr. Thomas Chisolm poetically observed in 1904, “Only in Thee my heart will delight, Till in that land where cometh no night Faith will be lost in heavenly sight, Only, dear Lord, in Thee!”
Faith, hope, and love “abide” in the sense that they would remain beyond that first century miraculous age. They are had throughout the Christian dispensation. They remain a cherished part of our lives until we are ushered into that heavenly home, in which only love will endure.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.