As part of our series on Building Treasure in Heaven, we’re looking at living by faith, hope and love. This trio comes from one of the most famous passages in the Bible: St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. It concludes with this assurance: “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” We read this chapter at many weddings because it captures the essence of what love is.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Why Are Faith and Hope Tied to Love?
What surprises many people about this beautiful passage is that St. Paul is writing these words to put down a church fight! He is writing to a church that is facing infighting about all kinds of issues, especially around questions of who is the most spiritual. He is trying to set them straight by reminding them that everything they think is important in the church pales in comparison with the need to love.
So why does he spend the chapter writing about love, and then at the end throw in faith and hope as well?
Love’s Ongoing Work
The work of love is not finished. While Jesus has begun to build the Kingdom of God (God’s great project of the restoration of all things), we still live in a broken world. How do we, as faithful followers of Jesus, live love in painful and uncertain times? St. Paul says that we need faith, hope and love, because faith and hope are how we respond to God and live out God’s love in the world.
Faith Participating in Love
What does that mean? Quite simply, the world often doesn’t seem like it is being ruled by a sovereign God. In fact, it can seem quite chaotic. The wonderful gift of faith gives us the conviction that chaos and violence is not the truth of the world. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) God invites us not to rely on ourselves but on his grace and strength. Living by faith is saying yes to God, relying on God, trusting in God.
Responding to God with Faith
Faith allows us to have a relationship with God. St. Paul says that we are justified (made right with God) by faith. Why is that? Because faith is our response to what God has already done. In Jesus Christ, God has removed every barrier between us and God. Jesus has done everything: defeated sin and death, inaugurated the kingdom of God, started the new creation, sent the Holy Spirit, invited us to know God as Father, promised to walk with us always…
Being justified by faith means that we do NOT have to pass a religious test, or master some esoteric meditative practice, or earn God’s merits, or attend the right church, or any other barrier that we imagine stands between us and God. Jesus Christ has removed everything that stood between us and God, so we can respond with faith. We ONLY have to respond. All we have to do is say yes. That’s it.
Living by Faith in the Presence of God
The letter to the Hebrews tells us that we should approach the throne of grace with BOLDNESS. This is good news! As St. Paul tells us in another place, “The righteous live by faith.” Living by faith is the beginning of our discipleship… as well as the middle and the end. When everything else is gone, only faith remains, along with hope and love.
In the next two installments, we will talk about hope and love.