Saturday, October 9, 2010

Faith, Hope, Love, These Three…

Why abide faith, hope and love? More so, why is love the greatest of these three? The statements regarding faith, hope, and love are found in 1st Corinthians 13, a surprisingly controversial chapter of the New Testament. It is controversial in the sense that many within the body of Christ do not want to read what Paul clearly says concerning the fate of certain gifts.

Those gifts, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge, are said to have an end, and that end is declared when that which is perfect has come. The Greek word for “perfect” is “teleios” which can also be translated “finished or mature.” This is the general sense of the word in the New Testament when the writer applies it to believers becoming perfect. The writer urges that the listener/reader grow into maturity, not literal perfection, which is impossible on this earth and in this body of flesh. The fate of these gifts is that they will vanish away, fail, and cease. In the context of this passage, Paul is clearly not referring to the return of Jesus to earth as that which is perfect, but the completion of revelation which we today refer to as the New Testament.

Prophecy, knowledge and tongues are no longer needed in an age when the finished, inspired Bible is freely available in hundreds of languages. Such gifts were necessary in the fledgling years of the church when the New Testament had not yet been written and the Holy Spirit was inspiring men to speak divine truths which would guide and undergird the church age for its duration. Unless the Bible is inadequate for the task (and the indwelling Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth) the gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge are not needed any longer. God warned that this was so, saying that anyone who added to the Bible would receive the curses written therein, Revelation 22:18-19. He was warning that further revelation would not come; He gave us all we needed to know for life and godliness through the written epistles and gospels. The only feasible way such gifts would still be employed within the church is if further revelation (apart from the New Testament writings) were needed to reveal God’s purpose and will to humanity and the church. Clearly, this is not the case if we as Christians believe in the inspired, divine, inerrant authority we should regard the Bible with.

Why would faith, hope, and love abide more than these? And why is love greatest? The answer is possibly quite simple: God is love, according to the Apostle John, 1st John 4:16. Love has always existed, shared and enjoyed within our Triune God an eternity before the age of time and material existence began. There has always been love, and there will always be love, because there always has been, and there always will be, God. Faith and hope are powerful spiritual gifts, but they were created for man. God had no need of either before creation; God neither hopes nor has faith as it were. These are human aspirations directed toward God, even though they are inspired by our Lord. When we are with God they shall cease.

On hope and faith:
Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we are saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance,” Romans 8:23-25. (We have hope in the redemption of our bodies and the consummation of our salvation on earth; when we have been taken to be with Christ there is no more need of hope, because now we see, and the Apostle states that sight removes the need to hope any longer.)

For we walk by faith, not by sight,” 2nd Corinthians 5:7.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,” 1st John 3:2. (Likewise with faith; on this earth our walk is in faith, looking at the invisible God rather than the physical world, 2nd Corinthians 4:18. When we come before Christ our walk of faith is no longer needed; we shall see Christ and be perfected when we behold Him; the great hymnist caught the essence of this transition when he wrote: “Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,” Horatio G. Spafford, It Is Well With My Soul.)

Finally, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” Hebrews 6:19-20. (The object of our hope, Jesus, has entered the veil on our behalf, sure and steadfast. When we, as we enter glory, follow Him through the veil we shall be with Him, Philippians 1:23. Hope is no longer necessary when the object of our faith and hope is realized and appropriated. Faith and hope serve on this earth; such trials which test and try our faith cease when we enter our Heavenly rest. Here we are tested, so our faith in God may glorify Him while we live on earth; in Heaven we shall be monuments and jewels of God’s wondrous and infinite grace when we see in eternity how our God refined us while we walked in faith.)

Love is the spiritual gift that is the most excellent way, because the quality of love is eternal; it is woven from the very fabric of God Himself. Faith and hope are gifts that are priceless on this earth; hope never disappoints a Christian, Romans 5:5; faith is the very shield we raise up to quench the assaults of the enemy, Ephesians 6:16. Yet one day disappointment will vanish, too; and the enemy will be consigned to the Lake of Fire and we shall enter our rest, where such an armory is no longer needed. But so long as there is God, as there is Christ, as there is the Spirit of grace, there will remain love.

There is an inordinate lust for gifts among Christians today that distracts from our singular task of preaching the gospel to every creature under Heaven. Like the Corinthians, to whom Paul wrote so much concerning spiritual gifts, as well as their use and misuse, we seek the greatest ones. But are these the greatest for the edification of the church and selfless service of others, which is the sole purpose the Holy Spirit gives them? Or do we seek ones that will enhance our reputation and exalt us above the norm? It is Jesus our Lord who is only worthy of exaltation; and our gifts (whatever they may be) should only and always point to the merciful Savior, who gives good gifts to men, Ephesians 4:7-8.

Doubtless many will disagree with my conclusions regarding spiritual gifts. I do not claim to know more than anyone else, but I do challenge others to ground their understanding and answers in the word of God alone. What we want the Bible to say is irrelevant. It is what the Bible actually says that we must pay the closest attention to. “Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way,” Psalm 119:128. God bless anyone reading, and may we meet in Heaven, in the full light and love of our God and Father. Amen.

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All Scripture is taken from the King James Bible (KJV) or New King James Bible (NKJV). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.