“But that isn’t loving,” is an objection often offered to undermine clear biblical teaching. “A loving God wouldn’t punish anyone with eternal judgment,” is an evil hermeneutic that attempts to gut the justice of God. Love has become unmoored from its biblical foundation, is set adrift in culture, and now passes for the new religion of cultural niceness. But even when we step out of culture and into the pages of Scripture, we can still misinterpret the biblical meaning of love. And one of those misinterpretations is drawn from what is arguably the most popular chapter in the Bible on the topic of love: 1 Corinthians 13.
In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul writes, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” leading some Christians to conclude that love is more important than faith or hope. This might not seem to be a problem, unless, of course, these three attributes—faith, hope, and love—are designed by God to be mutually reinforcing, built in such a way that to diminish any one of the three is to undermine the integrity of them all. A baker will tell you that the critical elements of bread are yeast, water, flour, and salt. If we agree that unsalted bread is rather bland and conclude that salt is the greatest of these four, then we will run into problems with our bread as we pay less attention to adding flour, yeast, and water. Likewise, love that is not balanced by faith and hope undermines the very definition of biblical love.