1 Corinthians 13:13
And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1. It is proof of the importance of this Divine trio that they are universally necessary. Excellent and wonderful are the gifts of healing, etc.; precious and indispensable are those more ordinary gifts through which the edification of Christ's body is provided for; but they are not gifts of which it can be said that a man must possess them in order to be saved.
2. The practical value of these three gifts is enhanced by the fact that they are universally attainable. Miraculous gifts might, even in the age of miracles, be sought without success; and they were withdrawn long ago. But of the gifts of faith, hope, and love, we can say that "every one that seeketh findeth," and it is a man's own fault if he has them not.
3. There is a remarkable pairing and grouping of these graces in the Scripture (1 the 1:14: Ephesians 6:23; Galatians 5:6). Observe also the coupling of faith and hope (1 Peter 1:21; Colossians 1:23). We also find them grouped all together (Colossians 1:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3).
4. The admirable nature of these graces is proclaimed by the functions assigned to them as part of the Christian's heavenly armour (Ephesians 6:16). Consider them —
I. IN A GENERAL WAY.
1. Love has the first place in point of time. There was a time when there was, and could be, no faith and no hope; but the gospel tells us of an everlasting love. What is declared of the Word is true of love (John 1:1).
2. While love can, and does, dwell wherever faith and hope find a home, it makes its chief abode in a quarter to which they have no access. But love takes a higher flight. God neither believes nor hopes; but God loves.
3. All three are springs of human action. But love is more; it is a spring of action on the part of God. Faith and hope beget great deeds; but they are only the deeds of men after all. Love awakens to action the powers of omnipotence, and God arises at its summons.
II. AS GRACES WHICH ARE FOUND IN EVERY REAL CHRISTIAN'S HEART. When thus considered, love is the greatest of them all.
1. It excels in respect of its success and range. The Christian's love is the companion of his faith and hope in all their exercises, and goes forth upon the object on which they lay hold: but it is also the companion and follower of God's love, and makes for the objects of Divine regard.
2. It carries off the palm among the graces, because it imparts a likeness to God. God is love. "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil."
3. The disinterestedness of love gives it pre-eminence. Love's office is to give. Faith and hope are exercised in the reception and anticipation of benefits. Love "seeketh not her own."
4. The greatness of love may be estimated by its relation to holiness. Faith, indeed, is a holy principle, and holiness is the result of its influence and operation. So hope also is a holy principle, purging away the defilement of sin. Every man that hath it in him, purifieth himself, as Christ is pure. But love is holiness itself — the end for which these means and instruments are employed.
5. Love is greatest in respect of the ultimate importance of the part it has to act.
(1) There are various respects in which faith and hope are greater than love. Take the case of a man convinced of his guilt, and longing for pardon and acceptance with God. Love can do nothing there. When the jailer cried, "What must I do to be saved?" it was faith that was summoned to the rescue. Take the ordinary case of God's people on earth, exposed to danger from the world. Love would be borne down and put to death, did not faith cover love with the buckler of its protection. Or take the case of one who is visited with protracted trials and afflictions. Is it love that will keep him from despair? No. That is the office of hope.
(2) But then the offices of faith and hope now glanced at do not last for ever. The time is coming when there will be no such work as we have spoken of for faith and hope to do. We do not say that faith and hope will then disappear. For the redeemed will always trust in God, and look to Jesus; and in viewing the eternity that stretches out before them, they shall be animated by a hope on which there will never be a cloud. But faith and hope will not continue in the front of the scene. They will then confess themselves to be but the handmaids of love, and will make way for love by withdrawing into the shade: Having nursed and defended love in her infancy, and watched over her ripening years, and having, at last, conducted her to the steps of her destined throne, their work is comparatively finished. Then will be the glorious reign of love.
Parallel VersesKJV: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.