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In light of Valentine’s Day, Why is Love the Greatest of These?

In the annals of the Persian kings, there’s a story about the wife of one of Cyrus’s generals. When she was charged with treason and condemned to die, her husband went before Cyrus falling on his face, pleading, “Oh King, take my life instead of hers. Let me die in her place.” Cyrus said, “love like that must not be spoiled by death,” and he extended a full pardon. As the couple walked away, the husband said to his wife, “did you notice how kindly the king looked upon us when he gave you the pardon?” The wife replied, “I had no eyes for the King. I saw only the man who was willing to die in my place.”

Stories such as those benefit believers in more ways than one. Especially in the topsy-turvy times in which we live. We need to be reminded of what self-sacrificial love looks like, especially within a society that elevates the individual self above all else. Such accounts of love being selfless rather than self-seeking can help solidify our faith, increase our hope, and press us a little deeper into the profound nature of The Savior’s love for us.

Anytime I see faith, hope, and love all lumped together (like above), I can’t help but recall the 99% of weddings where 1st Corinthians 13:13 is quoted: “But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Even a movie like Wedding Crashers couldn’t resist poking fun at its predictability. But have you ever stopped to wonder exactly why love stands tallest among the three? To answer that question, we’ll first go over some definitions, then describe certain limitations, and finally, conclude by coming full circle.

DEFINITIONS

  • Faith is defined as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
  • Hope means trusting and waiting expectantly for a future event not yet realized.
  • Love, on the other hand, finds no better definition than John 15:13: “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

LIMITATIONS

Faith and hope, as we know them, are limited in scope. Don’t get me wrong, they are the vital lifeblood needed for spiritual survival while we’re here on earth. But when a Christian dies, faith and hope become unnecessary immediately; they get left behind within the blink of an eye. Since context is crucial, if we go to the verse preceding 1st Cor. 13:13, we learn “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.” Paul compares and contrasts how we see Jesus now, while on earth, and how we will see Him in heaven, “face to face.” If faith is defined as “what we do not see,” and hope “a future event not yet realized,” why would we need either while standing directly in the unfiltered presence of our King?

If faith and hope are removed, what can be said for love? Because love knows no bounds, it is timeless and endures forever; it is by far the greatest of the three. As Psalm 100:5 states, “His steadfast love endures forever!” If love outlives everything, wouldn’t it only make sense to study, practice, and apply it here on earth in preparation for all eternity? It’s a question worth considering.  

FULL CIRCLE

This Valentine’s day, the love of others gets the majority of our focus and affection; I understand entirely and celebrate it just as much myself. But by rewording that assertion made by the general’s wife, I’d challenge you to ultimately “Have eyes only for the King, the Son of Man who died in your place.” In fact, and this is the most important thing I can say in this blog, if you don’t first receive the sacrificial love of God’s Son, you’ll never come close to extending it to, or receiving it from, another. “We love because He first loved us,” John tells us, or as Jesus commanded, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jn. 13:34

And one last exercise to leave you with, built off of a quote I recently read:

We are never more like God than when we love those who mistreat us. We are never more like God than when we show grace to those who do not deserve it. – Chip Ingram

Why not reach out to one such individual around Valentine’s Day, showing love and extending grace to an “undeserving” recipient. Sounds pretty familiar, you know? What better way to prepare for heaven than practicing unconditional love that way. Which truly is, the greatest of them all. 

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