Today’s thoughts are based on 1 Corinthians 13, which is very much a summary of the Christian philosophy; we pose the question: how can we follow the principles of the chapter in our rapidly changing and confusing world?
The short chapter was written in the 1st century for a very different audience; can it still guide us today, 2000 years later?
The words were written by the apostle Paul, a Jewish scholar, who was initially an enemy of the Christian movement. He was certainly present at the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, [Acts 7:57-8:3] and may well have seen the Lord Jesus during his ministry. You may have heard of Paul’s miraculous vision on the road to Damascus, and his complete change of attitude to the followers of Jesus [Acts 9:1-22]. We too, have so much to learn if we would be followers of Jesus.
We first need to clarify our terminology: faith, hope and love. Hebrews 11:1 says...
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Or, as a modern version gives it…
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see [NET Bible].
The context is hope in the promises of God. Faith, in that context, is strong conviction that God exists and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him [This is also from Hebrews 11. It's verse 6].
Love, in the same context, is Agape, a Greek word describing unconditional benevolence, the complete goodwill one person can have towards another. In the New Testament the use of the word is based on the example of God’s love, an unconditional love that transcends and persists despite failings on the recipient’s part.
Our 1 Corinthians 13 text says…
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Whilst this chapter is appropriate advice on our attitude to one another now, it also points us into the future, where Paul echoes God promises that loving care for one another will be the universal way of life [verses 10 to 12].
Hebrews Chapter 11, which we've already quoted twice, gives a chronological survey of Old Testament characters who hoped in God’s promises and remained faithful to him through a catalogue of difficulties. Their examples are a great education for our lives and our hopes, but we could be greatly helped in our efforts to live like that if we had good role models in the here and now. Sadly, these are very difficult to find - social change is the modern war cry, but how can we derive help from modern ideas in a climate where the trustworthiness of our leaders can change so rapidly? It is obvious that they are not the guides we need. Who do we believe when major figures in current affairs seem to be driven by self-interest? Where do we pitch our thinking?
In our complex world, as followers of Jesus, we need to deal with change in the light of Bible teaching. But, if social change doesn't improve life, can a belief in scripture help us? We think so.
We are all affected by a variety of factors and influences: family circumstances, the social attitudes we meet or have ourselves acquired - prevailing culture, education, health and acquired beliefs can be factors that make adoption of Christian belief difficult; yet the people listed in Hebrews 11 also lived in varied circumstances and in times when there was great upheaval. From the earliest times - the dawn of history – people like Faithful Abraham, like the Hebrew Patriarchs, like Moses to whom the Law was given, like Rahab the Harlot living in debauched Jericho and Samson imprisoned among the Philistines were confident that the loving hand of God was always there to support them. That hasn’t changed – in fact, will never change. The Bible does not lightly say…
The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; [Deuteronomy 33:2]
In conclusion let's go back to 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 and the promise of better things to come...
10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The underlying message is that through the application of selfless love we will find answers. VS