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1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV) … “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

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.[1]

[1] Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, pp. 235–236). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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