Immortal Values

by Spiros Zodhiates

Dr. Zodhiates continues this series, which has explored the implications of Paul's teaching on our future state, when we shall live eternally in the light of God's glory.

"And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13).

A husband volunteered to accompany his wife on a shopping expedition to purchase clothing for herself and the children. "This is pretty material," said the husband, indicating a pastel print. The wife fingered it briefly and said, "Too flimsy. It won't wear well." "Then how about this?" persisted the man, pointing to another bolt of cloth. "Strong enough," said the wife, "but will it wash?" The husband in his inexperience was allowing himself to be influenced by eye appeal. The wife was looking for more lasting qualities.

This illustration sums up the two major approaches to life that characterize the human race. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul presents a sharp contrast between values that fade and those that last, between the temporary and the eternal. His purpose is to persuade men to give first place in their lives to those values that are eternal. It is a tragic mistake to make the trivial important and the important trivial. Material things have their place, but the danger is that we shall let them usurp the place of faith, hope, and love, which are eternal qualities.

Though 1 Corinthians 13:13 has a subject that seems to be plural-"faith, hope, love"-it has a singular verb, "abideth." Grammarians have sought to explain this unusual construction in two ways. Either faith, hope, and love are considered as a single unit, thus taking a singular verb, or else the singular verb is considered as the verb of the first noun only, "faith," and by implication as the singular verb of each of the other two, "hope, love," also regarded separately.

Regardless, it is obvious that you cannot have one without the other-as in love between a man and woman in marriage. Faith always accompanies hope and love; hope always accompanies faith and love; and love always accompanies faith and hope. Each one will always include the other two within its realm of operation.

Paul's purpose in elucidating these fundamental qualities of Christian character to the Corinthians was to make them understand that speaking many human languages, or even an unknown heavenly tongue, is not an accomplishment that will be of any value in heaven; that even the necessity for preaching or prophecy that exists in our present state will be done away with there; and that earthly wisdom and bits of knowledge will seem insignificant in the light of the full revelation of God in the life to come.

Why may faith, hope, and love be said to abide, while so much else passes away? It is because they are attributes belonging to regenerated spiritual character, not inherently to our present physical bodies or earthly possessions. The only garments we shall be wearing when we step into eternity are the clothing of Christ's character-faith, hope, and love-which we put on by the grace of God while on earth.

Though Paul speaks of the superiority of love, he very clearly states that all three of these graces abide eternally. Why should we need faith and hope in heaven, you may ask. Some people hold that faith and hope belong only to this world, and that faith will be "swallowed up in sight" and hope will be replaced by "fruition." As Dr. Watts says in his hymn, "Faith and hope are known no more, but love forever reigns."

But if faith be trust in God's testimony and character, how can we imagine it as being absent from heaven? One ought to conclude that there will rather be more faith, not less, in heaven, and that all the weakness that accompanies human faith will be taken away there.

Likewise, we may expect to have a brighter hope in heaven, for it is inconceivable that we should in one moment experience the whole range of heaven's infinite glories. Our hope for certain specific items may indeed be swallowed up in fruition; but hope itself will not disappear, but will ever look forward to further unfoldings of God's purpose and blessing. Since we remain creatures, and are never creators, we shall always need to believe, and to hope, and to love.

The word "abide" in Greek is ménei, meaning "to stay put, to remain." The preposition at the beginning of the word hupoménei (patience) is hup, which means "under." To be patient, then, is to stay under something without collapsing. It implies antagonism from outside forces. What Paul wants to teach us is that faith, hope, and love are unconquerable qualities that can withstand all adverse forces.

Many a time in the course of history faith in God has seemed to weaken and almost disappear among men. Yet it has never completely disappeared. Elijah, for instance, thought that he was the only faithful man left in his day and had to be shown that there were many others in whose hearts faith was still strong. Hope, too, has never departed from our race. Even the natural man has his own inadequate type of hope. And love of some sort, amid all the oppressions of man's inhumanity to man, continues to exercise its gentle and healing ministries in God's general providence.

Yes, these virtues have continued, and have more abundantly and profoundly increased in the Christian church among all tribes and nations where the church has been planted, in spite of persecution and all that hell and man united could do to destroy them. Faith, hope, and love do not abide in mere passive patience, however. They also contribute to great creative activities to the glory of God. This, then, is not the picture of a strong man merely withstanding oppression and antagonism. Faith, hope, and love also take the offensive and go out to conquer and to win, which they sooner or later do. This, too, is implicit in Paul's declaration that faith, hope, and love abides. The Christian, in whom these graces abide, triumphs.

© From To Love Is to Live, an

exegetical commentary on

1 Corinthians 13, 1967, revised 1998. Available from AMG Publishers.

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