And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Since my car accident at the end of November, I have been faithfully attending therapy sessions to realign my neck and spine. If you have to go, it is a blessing to have friendly people to work with you. Where I go, the therapist’s ages are all about mid-thirties and younger, and they are all very friendly and caring.
Last week a new one showed up at the clinic, and she fit in perfectly with the rest of the crew. One day as I picked up my chart to check out, I noticed an interesting tattoo on the posterior side of her left wrist. Personally, I dislike tattoos, but this one caught my attention. It was an anchor with an unfinished heart above the stock of the anchor. I asked her what it signified, and she said it stood for faith (the anchor), hope (the cross), and love (the heart). I picked up my chart, smiled, and said, “Nice,” and left to start the rest of my day.
At my next appointment, I saw her again, pointed to her tattoo and asked, “And the greatest of these is ______?” She looked at me as if I had two heads, so I clarified. “Your tattoo stands for faith, hope, and love. Of the three, which is the greatest?” She looked at me and then looked at her tattoo and then answered with a question in her voice, “Love?” I asked why, and she said, “because it’s bigger?” I told her that it was from a passage in the Bible, and I quoted, “And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). She smiled, took out a pen and scribbled “1 Cor 13 13” inside the heart, and said, “I’ll have to look that up.”
At my next session, I asked her if she had looked up the verse. She confessed that she had been too busy. I pulled out my cell phone that has my favorite Bible app on it. I looked up 1 Corinthians 13:13 for her and let her read it for herself. She was a little confused when she read “charity” instead of “love.” I explained that the Greek word translated “charity” is agapē which is translated as “love” in other parts of the New Testament. The reason the KJV translators used “charity” here is that “charity” explains the nature of agapē more clearly. Charity is a kind of giving or expressing of love that is offered freely without expectation of receiving anything in return. She seemed to appreciate the brief lesson, and I think she gained a better appreciation for her tattoo. (I still dislike tattoos.)
As I left the clinic, I thought about that verse. Why is love the greatest of these three? The verse begins, “And now abideth…” Currently, right now, exist faith, hope, and charity. We need “faith” because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, emphasis mine). John’s Gospel records, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The word translated “believeth” is the Greek word, pisteuō, and it means “to have faith in.” We must have “faith” in Jesus in order to be saved.
Once we have trusted in Jesus for our eternal salvation, then we have “hope” that one day He will return to take us to be with Him as He promised. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3, emphasis mine). All of this is future, and we have no “hard” evidence that it will come true, but in Hebrews, we read, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Our “faith” is “substantive,” and we have the evidence of the Holy Spirit within us to confirm the truth of those “things not seen.” That same Spirit assures us that our hope is real.
Then there is “charity” (love). The pages of the Bible are replete with demonstrations of God’s love. John reminds us, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16, emphasis mine). Paul tells us that “charity” (love) never fails. It stands to reason that if “God is love,” then love will never fail. Paul makes it clear that all things will fail, but love will never fail (1 Corinthians 13:8).
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:13). On the day we enter into our Lord’s presence, there will be no need for faith because our faith will be transformed into reality. There will be no need for hope, for our hope will be realized. However, love will remain as eternal as God Himself. Now remain faith, hope, and love, these three, but the greatest, because it will outlast the other two, is love.
I searched the internet for a picture of a tattoo like the one this young lady had and could not find an exact match. The one I selected for this post was a close match, but I had to do a little “photoshopping” to get it to look right. Notice the unfinished heart. That made me think that the love – even God’s love – that we experience in this life is incomplete. Not until we are in His presence will we experience the completeness of His love. That is something for which to look forward!