The Greatest (1 Cor 13:13)

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, KJV)

Throughout history, there have been renaissance men. The phrase refers to people who have many talents. The concept was understood by the ancient Greeks in the concept of polymath, a transliteration of polymathes, which comes from poly and manthanein, which means much learned. Some of these much-learned men are familiar. Pythagoras was a Greek mathematician, philosopher and scientist. Archimedes was a Greek mathematician, engineer, inventor, astronomer, and physicist. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher, physician, playwright, politician, and biologist. There were many others.

After these polymath men came what we know as the renaissance men. Most consider Leonardo da Vinci to be the original. He was an Italian painter, sculptor, scientist, inventor, philosopher, and engineer. You will remember others such as Michelangelo, Galileo, and Isaac Newton.

All of these men had multiple areas of expertise. Yet, there is one thread that held each area of expertise together. It was that they were men of polymath, men of much learning. Every skill or virtue that these men had was connected by one overriding virtue. They were men who engaged their minds in learning. Just as these renaissance men had many skills that were all produced by their ability to pursue knowledge, Paul wrote that “faith, hope, charity” have a principal virtue. In verse thirteen, Paul wrote of three connected virtues of which he stated the greatest is “charity,” that is love.

Paul in chapter thirteen, the love chapter, was communicating with the church in Corinth regarding a serious issue. The church had many issues that stemmed from being driven by the flesh. Being driven by the flesh, they demonstrated narcissistic tendencies in worship. The great problems that Paul targeted here was their proudful abuse of spiritual gifts in their corporate assembly, namely the inappropriate use of tongues.

To deal with this issue, he emphasized the virtue of love. He wrote about the power of love. He reminded them that they, like all believers, still have not experienced the reality of perfection in Christ and that a day of perfection would come when they enter into the glory of heaven.

Now, he summarized this emphasis on love by presenting three combined virtues, “faith, hope, charity.” Faith, hope, love will abide. Yet, he stated that the greatest of these is “charity,” that is love. What does he mean here? If the three virtues are combined, why does he specifically point out that the greatest is love? You might think that faith is essential, and where would we be without hope? We would not have hope if it were not for faith. Moreover, we would not know love unless we had a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, which comes by faith (1 John 3:16).

The point is that as we live out our Christian lives, as we engage with others, especially in the church context, one virtue stands out preeminent. It is love. Paul stated it in verse seven, love “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7, KJV). Consider it like this. The walk of faith flows forth as a manifestation of love, as does hope. In dealing with the issue of spiritual gifts, Paul introduced chapter thirteen by stating that there was a more excellent way (1 Cor 12:31). We see it now as the way of love. Some day spiritual gifts will cease, but love will never fail (v8) and it will never fade away. The greatest of these is love.

Published by Steve Hankins, Th.D.

Steve has had extensive military, business and ministry experience. He has served for over 16 years in full time vocational ministry and many years of part time ministry in churches. He has led churches through start-up and recasting of vision. Now He resides on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he is working to help smaller churches and believers to renew their hearts and regain the joy of the Lord.

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