Faith, hope, and love are all important Christian virtues. Why does Paul elevate love highest among these three in 1 Corinthians 13? Today, Derek Thomas offers a response to this question that directs our gaze to eternity.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: This week on the Ask Ligonier podcast, we’re joined by Dr. Derek Thomas. He’s the senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina. Dr. Thomas, why does Paul say in 1 Corinthians 13 that love is greater than faith and hope?
DR. DEREK THOMAS: Yeah, he talks about that triad, doesn’t he, in that wonderful chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, which is all about love. And it’s often read at weddings—one of the favorite passages to read at weddings—although I think Paul is speaking about something much more than—it’s not less than, but it’s certainly more than—the love of a husband and wife. And he talks about faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13).
So, among the three Christian virtues of faith, hope and love, love is said to be the greatest. And again, I don’t think Paul is saying that in order to disparage other virtues like faith and hope. But faith and hope are virtues that are demonstrated largely in the age in which we live—that is, in the interadventual age. They’re earth-bound virtues, we might say. Whereas, you won’t need faith when you’re in heaven because you will see Him face-to-face. You won’t need hope, although there is an aspect of hope in the Greek sense of hope, that is a constancy of belief, and I don’t think that’s going to disappear in the world to come. But love will always be a necessary feature of Christian virtue in the next world.
And you might argue that love is one of the supreme—and here we need to be careful about saying that one attribute is more important than another—but demonstrably the greatest attribute of God in redemption is love, because it’s a love that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes should not perish but have everlasting life.
And we can conjecture that God could have just simply abandoned us and allowed His holiness and justice to take its course. And there’s certainly a sense in which the atonement, at least in our Reformed understanding of it, satisfies the demands of divine justice. But what is it that propels that atonement? What is it that propels the heart of God to save sinners? And the answer to that is love—a love that will not let us go.
And so, I think that’s part of the reason why Paul says, “And the greatest of these is love.”
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