Reigniting Hope: These Three Remain

If we only ever look at the world and our lives with limited nearsightedness, hope plummets. We don’t see a way forward when our lenses are scratched and smudged with despair and cynicism. We fail to believe that how we feel or what we see will ever get better when our vision is hindered – and jaded – by the darkness threatening to overtake us. 

But. With God as our fuel, Jesus as our oxygen, and the Holy Spirit as our heat, we are equipped to reignite our lagging hope. The perfect combo of our holy trio – faith and hope and love – completes us because these three graces are gifts from God. And these three will remain. Always. Forever. Yes, even now.

Love’s Work in Paul

Paul, the man who ran into His Savior on a road that ‘Saul’ had intended to lead to Christianity’s destruction (Acts 9:1-6), understood the power of faith. Blinded by holy, searing, purifying light, Paul realized his misplaced faith in the law and quickly repented (Acts 9:8-9, 18-19). And immersed Himself in Christ’s presence (Galatians 1:13-17) – so that his faith, that assurance of things hoped for, would be anchored and aligned with Jesus Himself.

As he did the hard work of alignment, Paul learned how to put his hope in Jesus – not in himself or leaders or a history of God working through prophets, priests, and kings. Paul’s hope shifted, landing squarely on the shoulders of Messiah, the Anointed One he’d read about and hoped for his entire life (Acts 17:2-3). You could say Paul’s hope was realized in Jesus – much in the same way his eyesight was restored the moment Ananias prayed in Jesus’ name (Acts 9:17-18).

But, perhaps the most intriguing change that happened to Saul-who-became-Paul was a transformation of the heart. Love molded Paul into one who, saturated with the love of a Savior who died for him, could withstand beatings – while loving the one who inflicted the pain (1 Corinthians 4:14-21). He could bear imprisonment because he knew Christ’s love as strength – a love he always shared, even with his accusers (Acts 16:22-34). He could endure every trial that came his way because he let Christ’s love sustain him – a love that overflowed to everyone else and aided in their endurance too (2 Timothy 2:1-3, 9-10).

So when Paul writes to the Corinthians an entire chapter about love it’s because he knows of its sustaining, strengthening, saturating power (1 Corinthians 13). It’s because he knows that of all the gifts – and he names several throughout his letters – only three will ever go with us beyond the grave: faith, hope, and love. And of those three, Paul names love as the greatest (v.13).1

Love’s Action

We can take Paul at his word because we know his story and the way he lived his life, full of faith and hope and love. We can rely on his teachings because he spent so much time with people just like us who bickered about who was best and knew what was ‘really’ true. Paul taught, spoke, and wrote every waking minute after his blinding-light experience with Jesus because, more than anyone else, he knew God’s love. God loved Paul enough to send Jesus to set him right and to forgive him for his wayward enthusiasm. God loved Paul enough to invite him into a life of redeeming work and to surround him with faithful partners in such a mission. 

Paul knew God’s love was a feeling yet so much more. Godly, biblical, holy love is – actually – mostly action.

God gave His one and only Son (John 3:16).
God sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).
Christ died for us – while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). 
God helps us wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us to eternal life (Jude 1:21).
God rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).
God calls us His children (1 John 3:1).
God drives out fear (1 John 4:18).
God draws us to Himself (Jeremiah 31:3).
God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions (Ephesians 2:4-5).
God lifts us up and allows us to cast all our anxiety on Him (1 Peter 5:7).
God directs our hearts into His love and Christ’s perseverance (2 Thessalonians 3:5).
God equips us to be more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).

And every single one of these is accomplished by and through God’s love for us.

Too often we get caught up in the over-used and over-sexualized ‘love’ the world touts. Friends, as followers of Christ, we must, like Paul, get in the Lord’s presence to learn of His kind of love. 

God’s love is patient and kind. 
God’s love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others.
God’s love is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 
God’s love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
God’s love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love. never. fails. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8, additions mine

Then, as we align our hearts with the heart of Christ, we’ll receive this love in all of its forms and actions. We’ll be moved and made holy, redeemed and repurposed, anchored and awakened to all His love is doing within us.

We’ll begin to see the truth of all that Paul has said about love and the gifts of the Spirit. We’ll start to understand that spiritual gifts are great and needed, but they don’t remain. Not like faith and hope and love. That even faith and hope don’t stand a chance of doing their great work in us and the world unless we have love.

And when we have love, we will begin to give love. Just as God’s love is full of action toward us, His love will propel us into action for others.

Can you hear Jesus speaking to the expert in the law who asks what the most important commandment is? Are you starting to see why Jesus answers the way He does?

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  

Matthew 25:37-39

Do you feel your heart warming to John’s point, that “we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16)? 

God. Is. Love.

And we love because He loved us first (1 John 4:19).

All of this explains why Jesus would elevate love as the highest commandment and why John would say anyone who does not love does not know God (1 John 4:8). Because God is love.

Love is the greatest of our trio of Christian graces because Jesus said so. Because God is so. 

And, paradoxically – at the same time – love is also intertwined with its partners, faith and hope. We’ll see throughout this series that these holy three-amigos can hardly be separated because all three are gifts to us from God. And these three will always remain. 

Just as we’re meant to remain in Christ’s love (John 15:9).

Love’s Unifying Power

Huey Lewis has the right idea when he sings about the “Power of Love” making some sing and others weep and of its ability to change us — because love is more than a feeling. When he croons, “with a little help from above you feel the power of love,” we’re reminded that love really does have power because the Omnipotent One in heaven is love. 

In His final discourse with His disciples, Jesus speaks much of the power of His love – how we can spiritually unite with Him because of His love in us. Seven times – a number that means completeness, wholeness – in six verses Jesus uses the word “remain” to describe a knitting together that happens between Himself and His Father because of love (John 15:5-10). Then Jesus exhorts us to remain in His love so that we will also remain, stay…abide in Him and the Father. In fact, by the time Jesus concludes this discourse, His language uses unifying language, praying that we become one with Him, just as He and God are one (John 17:20-21). 

And, that same love full of power on high unites us with each other (vv.22-23). To what purpose? So that the world will know that God sent Jesus and has loved us even as God has loved Jesus (v.23). So the world will know…

Put all that together, and we could say that love is the greatest grace because of its power to bring us together – with God and with each other.2 

How hope-giving is that? In an age when every newscast and podcast, every buzz-feed and political seed seek to divide us, when so many families face fractures, and when churches collapse in on themselves because we’ve each taken to our corners, how much hope do we have when we realize and receive the love that binds us together?3  

That’s action – love binding us, God’s people, to Him and to each other.

This was Jesus’ prayer for believers then. It’s still His prayer for us now. Friends, if we want hope – and I know we long for it – we’re going to have to lean heavily into this notion of receiving Christ’s love so that it can do its purifying, unifying work in us. And through us.

As we zoom our focus out a bit to see beyond ourselves and our situations to look at Jesus – to set our minds on Him, to focus our eyes on Him – we’ll be able to align our hearts with His. And as we do, His love will heal us, grow our faith, and bless us with a persevering, reignited hope. Of all the gifts God gives us, only faith and hope and love remain. Hallelujah!

For our prayer today, we’ll turn to our holy-love-guide, Paul:

As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We bear with each other and forgive one another when we have a grievance against someone. We forgive as the Lord forgave us. And over all these virtues, we put on love, which binds us all together in perfect unity. 
Because we have encouragement from being united with Christ, comfort from His love, common sharing in the Spirit, and tenderness and compassion, we make our Father’s joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility we value others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of the others.
Out of his glorious riches, God strengthens us with power through his Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And being rooted and established in love, we have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, to know this love that surpasses knowledge, being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever, amen!
(Colossians 3:13-14, Philippians 2:1-3, Ephesians 3:16-21, changes mine).

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • 1 – This Got Questions article elaborates on the context for our conversation, “Paul had just listed another set of three gifts that would not remain: ‘Where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away’ (1 Corinthians 13:8). So, the passage contains a contrast: three gifts of the Spirit that will cease, and three gifts that will never end. Faith, hope, and love will always remain.” And, “It’s easy to see how love will last forever, since love is an essential part of God’s nature (1 John 4:16). But what about faith and hope? Those two gifts will likewise last forever. Faith in the Son of God will not cease in the eternal state; we will not stop trusting Jesus just because our faith has become sight. If anything, our trust in Him will grow greater. Similarly, our hope will not cease just because our blessed hope has come.” 
  • 2 – If we’re tempted to doubt love’s power to bring people together, we really don’t have to look any further than Paul. The feared Pharisaic persecutor, who was avoided and, at first, doubted by the church leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26), was not only welcomed into the new flock of followers in Jerusalem (Acts 15:4) but well-loved and respected (vv.25-26). And encouraged by them to go to “the ends of the earth” to bring the Good News to Gentiles (Acts 1:8, 21:17-19). The church grew, not just in numbers but in love. And because of love.
  • 3 – We can’t say “love binds us” without mentioning the great hymn, “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.” And, yes. I added it to our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist!

    Blessed be the tie that binds
    Our hearts in Christian love;
    The fellowship of kindred minds
    Is like that to that above.
  • 4 – If you’d like to read more about Paul and his call and ministry to the Gentiles, check out this Got Question article. Truly, I never realized how MUCH Paul speaks of love in his letters.
  • Two more resources:
    • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson). Please share them!
    • My newsletter’s first issue will release at the end of September! I’m excited and honored to be able to share with subscribers peeks into my actual life, the things (like books) that are feeding me, and extra tidbits I don’t share anywhere else. I think it’s gonna be FUN and full of ways we can continue to engage in the abiding life! I hope you’ll subscribe! (You can subscribe to my blog on the homepage of my site — or at the bottom of any page on my site. I’ll have a page coming soon to subscribe to the newsletter specifically, but if you’re already getting my blog in your inbox, you’re IN!)
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • It’s fall and it’s busy! So, we’re settling in for some stillness. We’re building the rhythm of getting still before the Lord into our lives — to still our bodies, our minds, our hearts — so that we can release all the things that hinder God’s love from permeating us. To receive the love He has for us. And to remain in Him.
      • Get still anyway you want — in your favorite chair, at your favorite park, or in a corner of your closet. Try using this prayer from Lectio 365 to get you started, “As I enter prayer now, I pause to be still, to breathe slowly, to re-center my scattered senses upon the presence of God.” I just keep repeating it till my scattered senses settle and get centered on Christ.
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured Photo by Emily Park on Unsplash. Bits & Pieces Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

2 thoughts on “Reigniting Hope: These Three Remain

  1. Shelley,
    Thank you for sharing insight into the intertwining of faith, hope and love.
    “…how we can spiritually unite with Him because of His love in us.” 💜

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