Anyone who has every gone to a church wedding has probably heard someone read the “Love” chapter from 1 Corinthians 13. You know “Love is patient and kind … So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” It is just so sweet and gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. Never mind that the passage is in the middle of a teaching on spiritual gifts or that as soon as the wedding ceremony is over, everyone forgets the passage. But it seems standard fare for all weddings. I understand the point, but there are plenty of other Bible passages that would be appropriate. How about this one, “A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike; to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one’s right hand” (Proverbs 27:15). OK, I’m KIDDING! Don’t send me hate mail. I just like to rant sometimes. My point is not actually about the use of Corinthians in wedding ceremonies, but about the Biblical teachings on faith, love and hope.
I read recently this passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica,
…remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)
This passage written before the Corinthian letter provides remarkable insight into the foundations of the Christian life. It starts out as Paul’s expression of thanksgiving for the Thessalonian’s commitment and perseverance in living out the gospel, but then comes the richness of understanding what faith, love and hope mean for the Christian.
Note first that the “work of faith” is singular. It is not “works” of faith, but one work. It means the business, the undertakings or occupation based on faith. It means that our faith is not just a theoretical, intellectual construct, but a lifestyle of being engaged in our Father’s business. It’s what occupies our thoughts and time and resources. Not only that, but this faith is centered around a Person, not a set of doctrinal statements. It is because of our faith in Christ, in His life, death, resurrection and teachings that we choose to “work” in response to all He has done.
But there’s more. There is the “labor of love.” This word, labor, means an exertion or “intense labour united with trouble and toil.” It is not a fuzzy, smiley, puppy dog love, but an intensity of loving at the cost of difficulty, exertion and trouble. It is a love that goes beyond the superficial and does whatever it takes to reflect God’s character and will for people. Come to think of it, isn’t that exactly what Christ did? He labored at great cost to Himself to love us and that is how He would want us to live also. The labor of love is simply our way to demonstrating Christ’s love.
Finally, Paul mentions the “steadfastness of hope.” We often confuse hope with wishful thinking, as in, “I hope things go well today.” But the Christian hope is the expectation of good, the joyful knowledge that there is a good and loving God, who works all things out for our good; the confidence of knowing that, after all is said and done, God wins and we are with Him. And this hope is centered and focused on Christ Himself. Because of this hope we can be steadfast, we can persevere, we can hang in there. We know how the story ends.
So look at this again. Faith is Christ results in our life work. The love of Christ motivates intense labor. Hope in Christ inspires perseverance. That pretty much sums up the Christian life. Faith, Hope and Love and the greatest of these is…Christ.