Faith, Hope, and Love: 1 Corinthians 13:13

The greatest of these is love

Faith, Hope, Love on Stones
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As virtues, faith, hope, and love have long been celebrated. Some Christian denominations consider these to be three theological virtues — each representing values that define humankind's relationship with God himself.

Faith, hope, and love are discussed individually at several points in the Scriptures. In the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul mentions the three virtues together and then goes on to identify love as the most important of the three:

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJV)

This key verse is part of a longer discourse sent by Paul to the Corinthians. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians aimed to instruct and correct young believers in Corinth who were struggling with matters of disunity, immorality, and immaturity.

Since this verse extols the supremacy of love over all other virtues, it is very often selected, along with other passages from the surrounding verses, to be included in modern Christian wedding services. Here is the context of 1 Corinthians 13:13 within the surrounding verses: 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:4-13, NIV)

Faith Is a Prerequisite

As believers in Jesus Christ, it is essential for Christians to understand the meaning of this verse. There's no doubt that each of these virtues — faith, hope, and love — has great value. In fact, the Bible tells us in Hebrews 11:6 that, "...without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God, must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (NKJV)

The value of faith cannot be disputed. Without it, there would be no Christianity. Without faith, we couldn't come to Christ or walk in obedience to him. Faith is what motivates us to move forward even when the odds are against us. And faith is closely related to hope.

The Value of Hope

Hope keeps us moving forward. No individual can imagine life without hope. Hope fuels us to face impossible challenges. Hope is the expectation that we will obtain what we desire. Hope is a special gift given by God through his grace to combat the day-to-day monotony and the most difficult circumstances.

Hope is there for the single mom who doesn't know how she is going to feed her children and keep a roof over their heads. She might give up, if not for the hope that a breakthrough is right around the corner. Hope is the invisible hand that holds up the head of a desperate prisoner of war so that he can see the light of day. Hope hangs on to the promise of a Savior who is coming to set him free.

Hope encourages us to keep running the race until we reach the finish line.

The Greatness of These Is Love

The Bible states that love is greater than both faith and hope. We couldn't live our lives without faith or hope: without faith, we cannot know the God of love; without hope, we would not endure in our faith until we meet him face to face. But in spite of the importance of faith and hope, love is even more crucial.

Why is love the greatest?

Because without love, the Bible teaches there can be no redemption. In Scripture we learn that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us — a supreme act of sacrificial love. Love is what motivated God the Father to send His only Son to die for us. Thus, love is the virtue upon which all Christian faith and hope now stand.

For the believer, love is the foundation for every good thing in our lives. Without love, nothing else matters.

Variations in Popular Bible Translations

The phrasing for 1 Corinthians 13:13 varies slightly in different Bible translations. 

(New International Version)
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

(English Standard Version)
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

(New Living Translation)
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 

(New King James Version)
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

(King James Version)
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

(New American Standard Bible)
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (NASB)