And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.But the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Cor. 13:13
When Paul wrote about love in 1 Corinthians 13, he was revealing an eternal truth so powerful that it is the sustaining force of all creation. Most of the time, when we read this chapter, or when someone refers to it, we think of the emotion we call love. But what is revealed here is so much more than that.
But before we get to what Paul meant about love, it would be useful to explore the first two principles as well to see that they, too, are deeper than we are accustomed to thinking of them.
Faith is often thought of more like positive thinking than what faith truly is. For example, many people when they say the word "faith" think of something they want to happen in the sense they want a better job, or a new car, new house or even the healing of a disease or infirmity. And, while there is an element of that included in the concept of faith, that is very near the surface. Deeper into the idea of faith lies the certain expectation that the desire has been already fulfilled which thus gives rise to a spirit of thanksgiving instead of a spirit of yearning for the thing or event to maybe arrive one day.
James 1:5-8 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do."
Jesus said in Mark 11:22-24, "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. ‘Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
Over and over again, Scripture tells us that faith is not wishful thinking but a firm conviction that what is believed is a present reality. Jesus says we should "believe that you have received it." That kind of faith is not looking forward wishing and hoping that it will happen. That kind of faith is thanking God that it has already happened, even if our eyes cannot see it and our experience does not confirm it. That is true faith that brings God into action on our behalf. It is where we touch the supernatural. It is beyond understanding or knowledge or sight or experience, but it is more real than all of those — it is limitless in it’s scope.
Then there is hope. Ah, hope. Yes, we all know about hope. We hope things get better. We hope we get that promotion at work. We hope the kids are well. That kind of hope is much like what a child does when he or she asks Santa for something for Christmas. They hope they get it. But that it not the kind of hope Paul is writing about. The word translated "hope" in 1 Corinthians 13 is a Greek word, elpis, which more fully means confident expectation. Few people mean confident expectation when they use the word hope, but that is the meaning of what Paul wrote in this passage. This kind of hope is not limited by circumstances or conditions that surround us. This kind of hope also puts us in touch with the supernatural. It is endless and limitless, and it is certain, confident, and expectant. It is not wishful.
Finally, there is the greatest of the three: love. All of us have some experience with love, both good and bad in human terms. We have loved and been loved. We may have had our hearts broken by love or for love. But the kind of love Paul is writing about here is God-like love, supernatural love, love that knows no boundaries — endless love. There are, to be sure, poems and songs that have been written about endless love, love forever and ever amen, and so on. But this is greater than all of that. Even that love of the poems and songs is limited by our human capacity to keep it alive. We know somewhere in the depths of our being that it is possible for that endless love to actually end. But supernatural love never ends. What did Paul say? Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. This is the force behind the force that created the creation. God is love and it is His love that He put into the creation from the very beginning. Scripture is filled with examples of God’s longsuffering love for His children, even after they rejected Him. He never stops loving.
Is it possible for humans to have that kind of love? Yes. But it can only be a present reality through faith and hope, and they can only exist in supernatural love. Scripture tells us it is impossible to please God without faith. And it is impossible to have that faith without supernatural hope — that confident expectation of the present reality of the object of our faith. And all of that is made possible because of the supernatural, limitless, unending love that sustains the whole creation and our lives.
How can we experience that kind of love? The only way to truly experience that kind of love is to surrender. We must be willing to give up self for the new creature God has prepared us to be by the rebirth and regeneration of our spirits through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. And that means a total surrender. That means giving up envy, boastfulness borne out of selfish pride, elevating ourselves at the expense of others, being offended and holding a grudge for wrongs done to us by others, and by giving up our desire for "getting even" for the hurts heaped upon us by foes, friends, and family. In other words written by Paul found in Colossians 3: 9-10, we must take off our old self with all of its practices and baggage, and put on our new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of our Creator.
This requires living intentionally every day. It requires a daily decision, even moment-by-moment decisions throughout the day to live in our new skin, in our new self that is being transformed constantly into the image of our Father. When we decide to live this way, we will learn to love supernaturally, and it will transform out lives into supernatural lives.