Verse 13 – So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Paul arrives at the conclusion that he has had in mind all along. The adverb of time (Νυνὶ, “now”) serves as a “temporal marker with focus on a prevailing situation.”[1] Paul had spoken of the “now” (ἄρτι) in verse 12, but the emphasis there was on the present moment or situation. Here “the idea of time [is] weakened or entirely absent.”[2] The combination means “as the situation is” or presents itself[3] and serves as “a marker of a summary statement.”[4] So Paul is not so much speaking about the believer’s present experience of partial knowledge as opposed to their future experience of fuller knowledge. Rather he is drawing a logical conclusion on the whole of that reality. In essence asking, “So what should we then conclude as significant about the way God has decided to parcel out knowledge to us, partial now and in fullness later?”

The apostle now introduces a triad of virtues that are stock language for him: “faith, hope and love” (πίστις, ἐλπίς, ἀγάπη). The three are found together again in Galatians 5:5-6, Colossians 1:4-5, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 and 5:8. The noun (“faith”) appears 142 times in Paul’s letters, while (“hope”) appears 36 times and (“love”) 75 times. Various combinations of two of the elements occur almost fifty times. Paul has said much in this context about “love” (vv.1, 2, 3, 4 [3x], 8, 13 [2x]). But he does not use the noun ἐλπίς (“hope”) anywhere in this discussion of spiritual gifts generally (1 Cor. 12-14) or in his discussion of love specifically here in chapter 13. He does, however, use the cognate verb once, in verse 7 to say, “Love hopes [ἐλπίζει] all things.” Hope comes into the service of love or gives expression to it. Regarding the noun ἐλπίς (“faith”) he marked it as a gift the Spirit gives to some within the body of Christ (12:9). He opened the discussion of love by supposing himself as having “all faith” (v.2) but concluded that apart from love it would mean nothing. Faith again, must come into the service of love. He did use the cognate verb in verse 11 to say that “love believes [πιστεύει] all things.”

This trio of virtues, says Paul, “abide” (μένει). The singular form of the verb gathers up the trio of virtues and applies its action to all three as forming a unit. The verb is placed forward, in front of the three nouns, for emphasis. The verb here has the sense of “to continue to exist”[5] and thus “not to perish.”[6] The present tense indicates an ongoing state of affairs. It is action without word of its ending. This stands in contrast, of course, to Paul’s comments about the temporal nature of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge (v.8), tying verse 8 through 13 together with an inclusion of thought. Prophecies and knowledge “will pass away” (καταργέω) and tongues “will cease” (παύω, v.8). Yet love “abides.” In the end, these three virtues stand unchallenged and unrivaled in the things of God. The changing of time and epochs in God’s dealings with man do not change the essential and basic nature of these three virtues.

Does Paul mean they “abide” in this life? Or they “abide” also beyond this life in heaven, and thus eternally? If the latter, what will “faith” look like in the eternal state when it will give way to “sight” (cf. 2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7)? What will be the nature of “hope” when we have come into the realization and experience of everything promised to us by God? In short, is there room for “faith” and “hope” in heaven? Or will they of necessity pass away because of the realization of that in which we have trusted and placed our hope?

In this regard listen to Ajith Fernando’s insights. They may not prove to be the last word, but it is a good word and worthy of our reflection.

Why does faith last? Because faith is an abiding trust in the word of another, and we will always, even in heaven, relate to God by trusting him for everything we have. The same is true with hope. In heaven, there will no longer be sorrow or pain. So why will we need to hope, if there is no fear that God will fail to meet our needs and keep his promise? Hope is the future-oriented aspect of our faith. Heaven will not be a static, unchanging reality. Though we do not fully understand how this will happen, we know that we will continue to actively seek God and look to him to provide for us—both in the present and in the future. We will continue to enjoy the thrill of childlike trust in God who loves us like a father.[7]

We might expect, then, that in heaven we will continue to exercise “faith” and rest in trust in God because He will be the everlasting fount of all we will enjoy forever, pouring it out to us in the immediacy of each moment (if “moment” is a term even appropriate to the eternal state). There will no longer be a great tension between the seen and unseen because we will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). So, trusting Him for the continuing eternity of bliss will be as easy and natural as breathing.

So too we should expect that “hope” will continue in some abiding way (does not Paul hint at that in 1 Cor. 15:19?). The present anxious tension will be removed, but the glories and joys of heaven will not only go on forever but will continue to expand and grow and become more wonderful. In this we will continue to hope for all that unrestricted, unreserved life with our Father will mean for the remainder of forever. Presently His appearing is our great and blessed hope (Titus 2:13). But then it will be the sight of Him that will transform hope into all it can be and was meant to be from the beginning. While we will openly see Him who is now our hope by faith, our transformed and perfected faith will continue to issue in the purified hope of continuing to live in this realized hope with Him forever.

So, all three of these superlative virtues will “abide” forever, always in this life and continuing throughout eternity. Yet even this is not Paul’s last word on the subject. He adds by way of an adversative (δὲ, “But”) the final and ultimate point: “the greatest of these is love” (μείζων … τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη). The demonstrative pronoun (τούτων, “these”) is in the neuter plural form, identifying the triad of virtues: “faith, hope, and love.” The adjective (μείζων, “the greatest”) however, applies only to “love” (note again for the fifth time, as in vv.4 and 8, the presence of the definite article: ἡ ἀγάπη). The adjective describes its object as “being relatively superior in importance.”[8] It is not superlative in the ultimate sense, for only God is worthy of that description. But among all things, only three survive the cataclysm of turning from this present world to the eternal one. Only these three will “abide” and remain in eternity. Thus, there is a separating of all things from these three. But then, Paul, further delineates and distinguishes! For among these solitary three, there is a clear superior—“love”!

In context, faith and hope, along with love, outlast the present gifts of the Spirit. But in the inner circle of three, “love” is supreme. So, if faith and hope continue in some perfected form even in heaven why is “love” the greatest of these? That is simple, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). God is not “faith.” Nor is He “hope.” He is the worthy object of both, in some way that will be transformed and perfected for us. But “God is love” (emphasis added).

Thus, when we love, we taste and share in the very nature of God. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

[1] BDAG, 5152.2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Louw-Nida, 91.4; Friberg, 19213.

[5] BDAG, 4816.2.

[6] Thayer, 3398.2.

[7] Ajith Fernando, Reclaiming Love (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 175-176.

[8] BDAG, 4763.4.b.