Friday, December 29, 2006

True Love

For Christmas, my kids gave me a bag of things they either saw in the dollar store and had a dollar for or things they had laying around their bedrooms and thought I might like to have. One thing they gave me is one of those colrful rubber bracelets with a few words molded onto it. The one they gave me came from my daughter. It reads, "HOPE+FAITH+LOVE". (The "+" signs represent Christian crosses.) The reference is to what we recognize as the thirteenth chapter of the first letter we have that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. This chapter can be summed up by the last verse which reads, "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." (I Cor 13:13 NASB)

I can see love being greater than hope. Hope is nice. It's like a warm feeling, right? But who needs it for anything besides quelling despair? Actually, true hope is more than simply a feeling. There is a certainty to the hope of God that goes beyond simple wishful thinking. We may say of the weather as a the big game approaches, "I sure hope is doesn't rain." However, God's hope is akin to the anticipation of what we know will happen: "I have high hopes for this evening. We're going to hear the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and they're always good."

If the highest hope is a certainty that one has salvation, it isn't as important as having what one needs to obtain salvation. This would be faith. What about love? If I lack love for anyone but have faith even still then I may not have assurance that I have eternal life but I may yet have salvation. So by a squeak, I may be inclined to say that faith seems to be of greater importance than love. Even many unbelievers seem to have love for others. If I can have love but not faith, then what good is love if I am yet eternally condemned? This of course begs the question, is love without faith the same as love with faith? What love is Paul talking about?

Other places in scripture the Greek word "agape" (uh-GOP-peh), translated "love", is explicitly defined as sacrificial. While not explicit in this passage, it is heavily implied as Paul expounds on the manner in which this sacrifice can be applied in practical principle. The difference here between love and the other important concepts of faith and hope is that faith and hope are selfish. I cannot have faith or certain hope for another. I cannot have sacrificial love but for another (for if I sacrifice for myself, I only destroy by the sacrifice that for which I sacrifice).

In other words I have faith and hope only for myself and have sacrificial love only for another. Sacrificial love is the greatest because it follows the pattern of Christ who sacrificed even faith and hope for a time (for He cried out from the cross "Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?"), and He did this for love.

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