“And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
- I Corinthians 13:13
It is hard to imagine something that could be greater or more important than faith. It is by grace through faith that we are saved. (Ephesians 2:8-9) It is by faith that we are justified. (Romans 5:1) It is by faith that we walk with the Lord. (II Corinthians 5:7) It is by faith that we overcome the world. (I John 5:4) Without faith, we have no means of pleasing God. (Hebrews 11:6) The fact that Jesus Christ is referred to as “the Author and Finisher of our Faith” makes it difficult for us to fathom what could be more necessary in the Christian life than faith.
It is equally hard to imagine something that could be greater or more important than hope. It is hope that allows us to rest when we are facing distress and persecution. (Psalm 16:9) It is hope that gives us reason to rejoice. (Romans 5:2) It is hope that keep us from being ashamed. (Romans 5:3) It is hope that gives us patience to keep on waiting until we receive the blessings we need. (Romans 8:25) The fact that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” makes it difficult for us to identify something that could be more vital to the Christian life than hope.
But charity is something that surpasses the excellence of both faith and hope. In the process of examining this surprising and somewhat controversial statement, we are going to look at three specific ways charity is greater than faith and hope. A thorough understanding of this truth will motivate us to be more charitable toward others. People need to see by our example why charity is referred to as “a more excellent way” in I Corinthians 12:31.
Charity is greater than faith and hope is because charity can be seen. Faith and hope are both primarily internal, but charity, although it comes from the heart is expressed externally. You can possess faith without action and experience hope without action, but charity demands action. Charity is the driving, motivational force that puts faith and hope to work and demonstrates their existence. The second chapter of James argues that faith without works is dead. But it is charity that motivates faith to action and proves its existence. Charity moves faith to care for widows and orphans. Charity provides food for the hungry and offers help to the needy. Because charity can be seen, it serves as the most supportive evidence of our genuine faith and steadfast hope.
Charity is greater than faith and hope because charity is permanent. Right at this moment we desperately need faith in order to be aware of spiritual realities. By faith we believe in the existence of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the reality of heaven. But one day our faith will become sight and will no longer be needed. Right now we need to have hope “as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19.) We must be able to look forward with confident anticipation to that day we will experience the joys of Heaven, the presence of our Saviour, and comfort from all suffering forever. Hope will no longer be needed on that blessed day! For “hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” (Romans 8:24.) When faith is transferred to sight and hope delivers its expectation, charity will remain. Throughout eternity we are going to perfectly love God and be surrounded by his limitless love because charity is permanent.
Charity is greater than faith and hope because it is profitable for others. Our daily walk with God cannot survive without faith and hope, because both are profitable for me. However, charity is profitable not just for me, but for others as well. I Corinthians 8:1 confirms that “Charity edifieth.” Charity builds up the body of Christ! Not everyone will appreciate your faith, and not everyone will value the same hope to which you cling. It is almost impossible to resist or dislike someone who treats you with the agape love of God. Charity often works when all else fails. Jude 22 says, “And of some have compassion, making a difference.”
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love (charity) one to another.”
- John 13:35