1 Corinthians 13:13
And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Charity is —
I. INTRINSICALLY EXCELLENT. Faith and hope, however good and useful, derive their value from the limitation of our nature.
1. Faith is necessary because we have not personal knowledge of objects. What is beyond the range of our bodily organs and intuitive feelings is alone an object of faith.
2. And so there is implied in hope something more or better than we have; only those that are imperfectly blessed can hope. Faith implies something without, hope something beyond, us.
3. God cannot believe, for "He fills immensity"; He cannot hope, for "He inhabits eternity." But He can love; and the more we have of this gracious disposition, the more we are assimilated to that glorious Being who "giveth all things" and "needeth not anything," who has no necessity but that of doing good.
II. THE MOST INDEPENDENT GRACE. Faith and hope, however rich and strong, are recipients, to a great extent. But it is the glorious distinction of charity that, instead of recognising a good that exists, it forms a plan of originating one that is not. This is its description: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; seeketh not her own." While faith and hope are the ample vessels of grace, charity is its free fountain; while they are its reverent worshippers, it is its self-denying missionary. They accept, but it dispenses; they regard self, it looks not on its own things, but on the things of others.
III. THE END OF WHICH FAITH AND HOPE ARE MEANS. Whatever is imparted to us, in the form of present truth and prospective good, is with a view to some result. God can have no lower or other design than the sanctification of our entire nature: and what is that but the shedding of His love abroad in it by the Holy Ghost, constraining us to all good works? "Love is the fulfilling of the law," and of the gospel. Faith is the nourishment of love, hope is its luxurious entertainment. Faith is the soil in which it grows, hope is the bright sunshine that quickens and beautifies it. Love cannot be intelligent unless it be taught of God, and cannot be free and cheerful unless He smile upon it.
IV. PERMANENT. In a sense doubtless we shall believe and hope in a future state; but in that state there will be the realised enjoyment of the main objects of present belief and pursuit. In that state will be fulfilled, not comparatively as here, but to a glorious extent of accomplishment, the strong representations of our context. We shall "see face to face," we shall "know even as we are known." But love will undergo no change of this sort: its change will be of another kind. The perfection that lessens the need and intensity of other graces will increase the power and enlarge the sphere of love. Conclusion:
1. If charity is the greatest, so manifestly let us beware of losing sight of its pre-eminent excellence. Many put faith before it. Forgetting the real nature and office of faith, they dishonour the charity that dwells in others, and suppress instead of cherishing it in themselves. No spectacle of Christian error is more painful than that of a man taking his stand on faith and violating charity. If we must err at all, let it be on the side of the "greatest" thing; and, erring or not, let us never forget that whatever is accurate in belief, and pleasant in hope, is far exceeded by love, and has its use and worth only in its promotion.
2. Ponder the emphatic words of vers. 1-3. What a thought, for a man to be nothing! nothing, and yet gifted with spiritual faculties; speaking angelic tongues; though impoverishing himself to relieve his brethren; though yielding up His life in defence of faith! Oh, receive the love of God into your hearts, and that shall be in you a fountain of all charity; you shall love like God as well as rejoice in His love: and be something for ever!
(A. J. Morris.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.