13:13 Of faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest because it continues into the next age. Both faith and hope will be fulfilled in eternity, and so will not remain. This statement concludes a semantic bracket that began in v. 8—“Love never ends.”
13:13 “Love” is a translation of the Greek noun agapēg. In this nominal form the word has only seven possible appearances in secular Greek writings. The writers of the N.T. virtually coined the word to describe Christian love. Eros, the common Greek word for “love,” is never found in the N.T. The appetitive, self-interested love of eros could never describe the selfless giving of Christian love. Philos (Gk.) is a term often employed, its general meaning of esteem and affection heightened by a Christian context. There are occasions when agapēg and philos are apparently used interchangeably or synonymously. The primary term for Christlike love, however, is the Greek word agapēg. To comprehend precisely what the early disciples meant by agapēg, one must examine the attributes of love listed in vv. 4–8. Here Christian love is not described by feelings but defined in loving acts.
13:13 remain May imply that there is a temporary aspect to faith and hope (see Rom 8:24; 2 Cor 5:7); or these virtues may remain through eternity as believers trust and hope in God in the new era (1 Cor 15:19).
the greatest of these is love Love is the greatest because it is eternal and reflects God’s fundamental character (e.g., Rom 5:8). Love is also greater than the gifts because it remains while they cease (1 Cor 13:8).
13:13 faith, hope, and love. The relationship of these three Christian qualities is a frequent theme in Paul’s letters. See Rom. 5:1–5; Gal. 5:5–6; Eph. 4:2–5; Col. 1:4–5; 1 Thess. 1:3; 5:8.
13:13 love. The objects of faith and hope will be fulfilled and perfectly realized in heaven, but love, the God-like virtue, is everlasting (cf. 1Jn 4:8). Heaven will be the place for the expression of nothing but perfect love toward God and each other.
13:13 — And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Hope will disappear in heaven, because we will already have everything we’ve ever hoped for. Faith will not be required, since we will see the King in His glory. But love will remain forever.
13:13. Paul has talked about a triad of gifts that are short-lived—prophecy, knowledge, and tongues. Now he talks about the triad of fruit that abide—faith, hope, and love, which is the greatest of these. Faith is an expression of love because love believes all things. Hope is also an expression of love because love hopes all things.
13:13 Faith, hope, and love are what Kelly calls “the main moral principles characteristic of Christianity.” These graces of the Spirit are superior to the gifts of the Spirit, and they are more lasting, too. In short, the fruit of the Spirit is more important than the gifts of the Spirit.
And love is the greatest of the graces because it is most useful to others. It is not self-centered but others-centered.
Now before leaving this chapter, there are a few observations to be made. As mentioned above, a widely accepted interpretation of verses 8–12 is that they contrast conditions in this life with those in the eternal state.
But many devout Christians hold to the COMPLETED CANON view, believing that the purpose of the sign gifts was to confirm the preaching of the apostles before the word of God was given in final written form, and that the need for these miracle gifts passed when the NT was completed. While this second view merits serious consideration, it can hardly be proved decisively. Even if we believe that the sign gifts largely passed away at the end of the apostolic era, we cannot say with finality that God could not, if He wished, use these gifts today. Whichever view we hold, the abiding lesson is that while the gifts of the Spirit are partial and temporary, the fruit of the Spirit is eternal and is more excellent. If we practice love, it will save us from the misuse of gifts and from the strife and divisions that have arisen as a result of their abuse.
13:13. Paul completed his three- paneled portrait of love (vv. 1–3, 4–7, 8–13) with a final triad: faith, hope, and love. Much discussion has focused on whether faith and hope were portrayed by Paul as being (with love) eternal. The solution is probably found in verse 7. Faith is an expression of love (the word “trusts,” pisteuei, v. 7, is the verb form of the noun “faith,” pistis), as is hope (cf. Gal. 5:5–6). Faith and hope, as manifestations of love, will endure eternally. So too everyone who follows the way of love (1 Cor. 14:1) finds “the most excellent way” (12:31b), because every individual characterized by love carries that mark eternally. The spiritual gifts will one day cease to exist, but love will endure forever.
(3) Priority of prophecy to tongues (14:1–25). Chapter 13 is one of the most sublime digressions in any letter in any language. But it was nonetheless a deviation from the central theme of gifts and their use by the church which Paul began in chapter 12 and then concluded in chapter 14. Paul had intimated in chapter 12 that the Corinthians were perverting the purpose of gifts from a unifying influence on the church to one fostering fragmentation and discord (esp. 12:21–25). A contributing factor to their factious spirit was the Corinthian pursuit of individual freedom and personal enhancement at the expense of other members of the body whose needs may have been trampled or ignored along the way. Manifestations of this self-centeredness affected each of the problem issues taken up since chapter 8.
The focal problem in the matter of the use and abuse of gifts seemed to be the Corinthian fascination with tongues, a gift which apparently lent itself most readily to perversion from something intended “for the common good” (12:7) to something employed for personal enhancement (14:4). Paul’s corrective was not to stifle the use of gifts (14:39; cf. 1 Thes. 5:19–20) but to urge that their use be regulated by love. The gifts of the Spirit should be controlled by the fruit of the Spirit, chief among which was love (Gal. 5:22). This would lead to exercising the gifts so they would benefit the church body as a whole (14:5) and also honor God (14:25, 33, 40). By way of illustration and correction, Paul compared and contrasted the Corinthians’ preoccupation with tongues with their apparent disinterest in prophecy.
13:13. But introduces a contrast between the permanence of faith, hope, and love in v. 13, and the temporary nature of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge in v. 8. But now (nuni de) usually carries a temporal sense in Paul’s letters (see the phrase in Rm 3:21; 6:22; 7:6, 17; 15:23, 25; 1Co 15:20; 2Co 8:22; Eph 2:13; Col 1:22; 3:8; Phm 9; 11; though 1Co 12:18 and 15:20 may be exceptions), now signifying the current Church Age (for a similar use of now, cf. Rm 11:30–31). Faith, hope, and love abide (they “remain,” “stay”) throughout the entire age in contrast to tongues, prophecy, and knowledge, which cease at some time during the Church Age. See the chart at the top of the following page for a graphic depiction of 13:10–13. Love is the greatest of the three virtues both from the standpoint that it is the most important for driving the use of gifts and from the standpoint that love for one another and for God lasts into eternity, while faith and hope are realized and will not.
13:13. Paul closed his discussion of “the most excellent way” (12:31b) with a summary statement that must have been familiar to the Corinthians. Paul spent much of his ministry emphasizing the importance of faith and hope. He presented faith primarily as the means by which believers are joined to Christ and thereby receive the blessings of salvation (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:9). Hope, in turn, Paul described mainly in terms of the glories of salvation that believers receive in heaven, including things like bodily resurrection. For Paul, faith and hope represented the means of obtaining the blessings of the gospel (faith), and the ultimate blessings themselves (hope). In this context, he placed even more value on love.
Paul also said that faith, hope, and love remained now. Although some commentators understand now to introduce only a logical conclusion, it is difficult to disregard it completely as a temporal marker because of the present tense verb remain. Thus, Paul meant that faith and hope existed at the time he wrote, not that they would always continue to exist. Hope does not continue when its object has been realized (Rom. 8:24). Faith similarly relates to that which is yet unseen (Heb. 11:1).
To show the importance of Christian love, Paul included it alongside faith and hope. The centrality of love would have been evident if Paul had stopped at that point, but instead he raised love to an even higher level. While faith, hope, and love stand above all spiritual gifts (displacing the Corinthians’ favorites: prophecy, tongues, and knowledge), the greatest of these is love. In this statement Paul raised a crucial question for the Corinthians. As their church struggled in its worship, especially in the practice of prophecy and tongues, what was its highest priority? Paul’s position was plain. The highest virtue for them to pursue was love for one another.
13:13 “hope” This Greek term does not have the ambiguity and uncertainly of the English term. It is a confident assurance that God’s promises will be reality in His timing.
|SPECIAL TOPIC: HOPE
Paul uses this term in many different senses.
1. the Second Coming, Gal. 5:5; Eph. 1:18; 4:4; Titus 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:13
2. trust in the gospel, Col. 1:23
3. ultimate salvation, Col. 1:5; 1 Thess. 4:13; 5:8
4. the glory of God, Rom. 5:2; 2 Cor. 3:12; Col. 1:27
5. assurance of salvation, 1 Thess. 5:8
6. eternal life, Titus 1:2; 3:7
7. redemption of all creation, Rom. 8:20
8. faith, Rom. 8:23–25
9. title for God, Rom. 15:13
10. Paul’s desire for believers, 2 Cor. 1:7
© “but now faith, hope, love abide” The verb is SINGULAR (cf. Gal. 5:22). Paul often uses this triad (cf. Rom. 5:2–5; Gal. 5:5–6; Eph. 1:15–18; Col. 1:4–5; 1 Thess. 1:3, 5:8; Heb); other NT writers do as well (cf. Heb. 6:10–12; 1 Pet. 1:21–22).
© “the greatest of these is love” It is greatest because these others will cease at the consummation of the new age. Faith will turn to sight and hope will have its fulfillment, but love remains because it is the basic character of God (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 4:8, 16).
13. Now remain faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Paul returns to the word love that was mentioned last in verse 8a but which remained in the background all along. Next to this term he places faith and hope, so that these three virtues form a well-known triad that occurs frequently in the New Testament.
The first word in this verse, “now,” can mean either “for the moment” or “therefore.” The first explanation relates to time and the second to logic. The preceding verse features adverbs of time, “now” and “then,” so that the temporal aspect fits the context of verse 13. But in the light of Paul’s discourse, he differentiates the triad of faith, hope, and love from the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. These gifts are set aside and cease, but the three virtues remain. Hence it is apparent that Paul wrote a logical conclusion to this chapter and not merely a temporal description of the present age.
However, the verb in the first clause of verse 13 is difficult to interpret: “So faith, hope, love abide.” Does the verb signify that this triad of Christian virtues extends from the present into eternity? The Scriptures teach that faith and hope pertain to the present age, but they cease when faith becomes sight (2 Cor. 5:7) and hope becomes reality (Rom. 8:24). Saving faith in Jesus Christ comes to an end, but another aspect of faith, namely, trust in him, remains forever; similarly, hope in Jesus Christ is timeless (see 15:19). Faith and hope are intimately linked, so that where there is faith there is hope. We interpret the three virtues of faith, hope, and love to endure without end, for they are present in both time and eternity. Accordingly, it is impossible not to recognize a temporal element in the word now of verse 13, yet the logical connotation predominates.
Why is love the greatest virtue in the triad? We note that in this entire chapter Paul extols the characteristics of love but makes faith and hope subservient to love (v. 7). We presume that the triad was well known in the early Christian church. Indeed, Paul twice alludes to these three virtues in this chapter (vv. 7, 13).
Paul singles out love but sees no need to explain the attributes of the other two virtues. For him, love is basic because of God’s eternal love for his Son and through him for his people (Eph. 1:5–6). In both his Gospel and first epistle John echoes the same truth: God is love (e.g., John 3:16; 1 John 4:7–8, 16). In time and eternity the concept love remains foundational in divine-human relationships.
Will the saints in glory extend the virtues of faith, hope, and love? Scripture is silent on the life hereafter, which in itself contains a warning not to speculate. Yet we know that God does not set aside the three virtues he has given the individual believer. Love for God and trust in Christ continue to endure in eternity.
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