Within our modern church context, what are the pastoral implications of 1 Cor 13:13.

Part 2 Continued from Part 1

Throughout this letter, Paul’s answer to their issues is that of love. He builds up a case of what love is and is not. He begins by reminding them of God’s perfect love for them through his message of Christ. He reminds them of his own love towards them, not just in words, but through his whole lifestyle and moves to encouraging them to love one another. He arrives at a climax in chapter 13 which is recognised as a digression in the narrative, whereby the church is deliberately appealed to for love to be the foundation of all they do and say. Love builds up, whereas divisiveness destroys; and therefore Paul is urging the Corinthian church to let love be their way of life in speech, action, service to each other, and in the usage of Spiritual gifts. He begins his exhortation in chapter 13, where he describes that love is: patient, kind, rejoices with the truth, always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. He tells them that love is not or does not: Self-seeking, easily angered, keeps records of wrongs, delights in evil, boast and is not proud, and he caps it off with the reminder that love never fails. 1 Cor 13:1:8. Finally he ends his exhortation with the following statement; “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor 13:13

The people of Corinth would have faced many of the same type of life’s difficulties in the face of suffering, pain and discomfort resulting in disjunction and discordance. Within the church, Paul was faced with tensions of correcting false theology and practice, as well as reconcile where bad blood has developed. Earlier I noted that Corinth was a combined New York, Los Vegas and Los Angeles, and our modern church and society faces the same tensions and difficulties as all humanity has done in the past.

Since Moltman’s book “Theology of Hope” [1] burst upon the scene in the 1960’s, there has been a wide theological reflection upon the subject of “Hope.” Derek Michaud in reviewing Moltman says;[2] “Moltmann presents Christian eschatology as an active doctrine of hope in order to give hope for an alternative future to the oppressed and suffering of our present time.” Pope John Paul II writes, “Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the life of God.”[3] Within this framework, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen writes of his confrontational experience when holding a child dying of cancer, a doctor asks him what has Christian faith to offer this child an innocent sufferer.

Helpless and speechless, I whispered a prayer to God. Soon

I heard one word coming out of my mouth: “Hope.” “Hope?” the doctor

responded. “What do you mean?” My response was brief: “Unless there

is hope beyond this suffering, there is no point in life at all.” [4]

And of course there have been volumes written on the subject of faith. This ranges from Luther’s declaration of justification of faith, heated discussions between and among Calvinists and those of other theological persuasions, faithfulness in service, devotion to God and prayer, and the current have faith in your faith movement which has permeated through much of modern Christianity.[5]

While indeed “Hope” and “Faith” are important subjects, my question is why there is such an emphasis on these, when Paul says in 1 Cor 13:13, that Love is deemed to be the greatest among “Faith, Hope and Love.” While indeed there has been much reflection on the love of God within himself and towards his creation[6] and love in general; it appears that there is little reflection done within a theological and pastoral framework of the implications as to why Love is greater than Faith and Hope and how do they intertwine and link together.[7] Therefore the latter emphasis of this essay will be to explore the pastoral implications of why Love is the greater, with some discussion on the area of feelings and emotions.

Within any discussion about Christian love, feelings and emotions are often minimalized as being non important, and instead love is promoted as being an act of the will. New Testament theologian C. H. Dodd, wrote, “It is not primarily an emotion or an affection; it is primarily an active determination of the will. That is why it can be commanded as feelings cannot” Elliott makes a solid case that this type of thought has done much damage to the church / God’s people and that Paul’s description of love in 1 Cor 13 :13 as well as the 10 commandments, are closely tied to the emotional core of our very being[8]. Piper writes about “Christian Hedonism” in his book “Desiring God,” in which he makes a case that indeed our affections / emotions are supposed to be fully involved in our love for God and each other.[9]

In Pentecostal / Charismatic circles, we have much leeway and acceptance for tears and laughter within a slain by the Spirit experience. Yet, when it comes to other pastoral care and oversight we are more hesitant in allowing people to grieve, to feel numb, to speak of their pains, frustrations, fears, doubts and even unbelief. This hesitancy is indicative within the church at large.[10] Cambell-Reed labels this area as the “Tragic Gap” and asks, “What do we do in the “tragic gap” between what is and what we want or hope the world to be?” The tragic gap is the awkwardness we feel when we are confronted with our own, or another’s pain and or sin. Here we are often tempted to jump in with platitudes and offers of easy believerism, or we ignore the issue and pretend it’s not there. [11]

Kärkkäinen says that,

Out of three cardinal Christian virtues—faith, hope, and love—hope is the one that helps carry believers in the midst of the calamities and ambiguities of life. Like Abraham of old, Christians are often called to “hope against hope” (Rom. 4:18)[12]

But, he misses the important foundational link here where they are not individual virtues; rather they are deeply dependant on each other. We find a key to understanding this in 1 Cor 13:7. My paraphrase of this verse is, “Lover never gives up and is always hopeful. Love never loses faith, but endures through every circumstance.”

In the midst of the tragic gap of life, we discover that our faith dwindles when hope fades away. When we further analyse this dwindling of hope, we find there is a lack of love, or more truthfully, there is a lacking of the awareness of love.[13] In the midst of this lack of hope, it’s unbiblical to tell someone to just have faith and just believe. For many, the effort of doing this leads to more heart break, and instead of the intended increase of faith; a deeper sense of faithlessness and hopelessness is the result. And when we take this analysis further we discover that there is a sense of lovelessness in the individuals or communities despair. [14]

However the reverse is true. When we confront this tragic gap with love and provide a foundation of love through support networks, build up a sense of God’s love and help the community / individual to be able to love their-selves, and accept both God’s[15] and our love, we find the law of love leads to increased hope. This hope doesn’t disappoint us, because of the love that has been poured out into our hearts by the Spirit of God Rom 5:5, which in turn creates increased faith, both for the now and for the future. [16]

Bibliography

Bennett, Craig. The Power of Love, Trinitarian Dance Blog. https://craigbenno1.wordpress.com/?s=faith+hope+and+love [Accessed 7th September 2012]

Campbell-Reed, Eileen R. “The healing power of love in the “tragic gap” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).” Word & World 30, no. 1 (December 1, 2010)

Elliott, Matthew. “The Emotional Core of Love: The Centrality of Emotion in Christian Psychology and Ethics.” Journal Of Psychology & Christianity 31, no. 2 (Summer 2012 ): 105-117.

Fee, Gordon. D. “The New International Commentary on the New Testament”,The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987

Hillyer, Norman. “1 & 2 Corinthians” in New Bible Commentary 3rd Edition, ed. D. Guthrie. England, Intervarsity Press, 1970

Kärkkäinen, V. (2006). “March Forward to Hope”: Yonggi Cho’s Pentecostal Theology of Hope. Pneuma: The Journal Of The Society For Pentecostal Studies, 28(2)

Michaud, Derek, “Moltman”, The Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/moltmann.htm [Accessed September 6, 2012].

Moltman, Jurgen. Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology. Minneapolis, First Fortress Press, 1993.

Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love, A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1996.

Piper, John. Desiring God. England, Intervarsity Press, 1996.

Witherington 111,Ben, Conflict & Community in Corinth, A Socio- Rhetorical Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm. B. Eerdmans,1995.


[1] Jurgen Moltman, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology, (Minneapolis, First Fortress Press, 1993)

[2] Derek Michaud, “Moltman”, The Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/moltmann.htm [ Accessed September 6,2012].

[3] Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love, A Theology of the Holy Spirit, (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1996),151.

[4] Kärkkäinen, V. (2006). “March Forward to Hope”: Yonggi Cho’s Pentecostal Theology of Hope. Pneuma: The Journal Of The Society For Pentecostal Studies, 28(2),253.

[5] My usage of the term here is to do with the “Believe and you will receive” type scenario that is popular within Pentecostal / Charismatic circles. If only you believe, you will receive healing, financial freedom, deliverance, prosperity, position, favour etc.

[6] A Google search shows that there is over 20,000,000 hits on the subject alone about books on the love of God.

[7] It seems that in general Faith, Hope and Love are treated as separate subjects. While each indeed is worthy to investigate and reflect on, I believe that Paul sees them as holistically working together and intrinsically entwined. On that note, it appears through initial research that little reflection is done on how Faith, Hope and Love work and entwine together.

[8] Matthew Elliott, “The Emotional Core of Love: The Centrality of Emotion in Christian Psychology and Ethics.” Journal Of Psychology & Christianity 31, no. 2 (Summer2012 2012), 106.

[9] John Piper, Desiring God,(England, Intervarsity Press, 1996) Piper draws from the Westminster Confessions in that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. He builds upon the commandments to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, noting how we are to do so with our will, strength and emotions.

[10]Matthew Elliott, The Emotional Core of Love,106. The author notes that within a counselling context, many evangelicals have divorced their feelings from their spiritual walk, and often has to first teach them that it is ok to feel.
It’s worthy to note that much of Scripture has deep elements of lamenting throughout. Here the emotions are clearly displayed, praise, lament, fear, faith, sorrow, joy, doubt, faith, joy, s

[11] Campbell-Reed, Eileen R. 2010. “The healing power of love in the “tragic gap” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).” Word & World 30, no. 1: 91. These platitudes can include “It will be all right, just believe and you will receive, don’t speak or give a negative report, or God will come through”

[12] Kärkkäinen, V. (2006). “March Forward to Hope”, 253.

[13] God’s love in Christ is constant for us. For us as Christians, we are in a state of being constantly loved and accepted by Christ. Within a pastoral situation, there are times when we are confronted with those who have no awareness, or feeling of being loved by God. In those situations, I find the following prayer of reception helpful..” Father God, I receive your love so that I might love you, myself and others…help me to be aware of your love for me, so that I can once again be aware of your love for me and others.

[14] By lovelessness, I mean the individual / community has a lack of loving support networks, has little or no love for self, and feels that God has abandoned them. Within my own crisis experience, I found myself backing away from Christians, and no longer trusted them with my illness. I wasn’t allowed to express my despair and grief: because of the fear of giving a negative report, and was told I had no faith and just had to believe. It was only when the Lord led me to a wise pastor, who allowed me to explore my grief, doubts and fears and name my pain. He and his church provided a loving and accepting network for me, which instilled in me a sense of hope, and increased my faith once again.

[15] In any discussion about love, it’s important to note that we can only love because God first loved us. 1 John 4:19. Christian love is saturated in Christ’s love for us through the journey of the foretold birth, to the cross through to the final resurrection. All our hope and faith, flows out of this love.

[16] Craig Bennett, The Power of Love, Trinitarian Dance Blog. https://craigbenno1.wordpress.com/?s=faith+hope+and+love [Accessed 7th September 2012] I first explored this concept on the 15th May, 2010.

About Craig Benno

I'm an average aussie guy who has lived perhaps a not so average life.
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