The Real Meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:13 (the greatest of these is love…)

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

This verse ends one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. And it’s a well-known and often quoted verse. But we often miss the significance of the meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:13 and regularly fail to apply it to our lives. 

I think this verse is a mirror that can illuminate areas of our life and faith that need to grow. If you spend a few minutes learning about and dwelling on this passage I think your life and faith will grow. 

But before we can dive into the 1 Corinthians 13:13 meaning, we need to first understand the context in which it was written. 

The Context Of 1 Corinthians 13:13 

1 Corinthians was written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. Throughout this letter Paul addresses some issues they are facing and offers instructions on what to do. 

One of the issues that this church was facing was the use of spiritual gifts. The church had elevated some spiritual gifts over others. And Paul is arguing that each gift has its place, and each plays a pivotal role in the church. 

The main point of this argument is that we should each use our gifts in love. Without love our gifts are meaningless and often destructive. Love must be the motivation to ALL we do. 

This leads us to what is commonly called the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. Paul here uses 14 verbs to describe what love does. And further he’s arguing that love should be the foundation of our spiritual gifts. 

You can read more about that here: What You NEED TO Know About The 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Meaning (love is patient)

This is what leads us to 1 Corinthians 13:13. This final verse of this chapter is a summarization of what he’s been talking about for the last two chapters. So, let’s dive into the 1 Corinthians 13:13 meaning. 

The Meaning Of 1 Corinthians 13:13 

As we look through this verse remember that Paul has been arguing about the supremacy of love. Everything else will pass away, but love will endure. 

To help you better understand the meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:13 I’m going to break this verse down into three sections. This will help us dissect and fully understand what Paul is saying. 

And Now These Three Remain 

Paul just finished talking about spiritual gifts and using them in the proper way. He concluded that while the gifts are essential for the church, they will one day fade.

As 1 Corinthians 13:13 starts Paul is reminding his readers of this. At the end of the day, it’s not about what specific gifts you’ve been given. The church in Corinth had put so much emphasis on their gifts for personal achievement they had missed what was most important. 

So, what remains? 

Faith, Hope And Love

Faith, hope, and love are often tied together throughout the Bible as the greatest virtues we can strive for.

Faith is key to Christianity as it is what saves us. Hope is what we place in God that he will keep his promises. Love is not just what God does, it’s who he is. And his love will remain forever.  

These three virtues are the foundation for the Christian faith. Without them our faith will fall apart. These are more important than the spiritual gifts God gives us, in fact these should shape how we use our gifts. 

Even though faith, hope, and love are all important, they are not equal. 

But The Greatest Of These Is Love

As important as faith and hope are, love is superior to both. Paul is arguing that love is of the utmost importance. 

This means that we should value love above all in our lives. We should cultivate and practice love more than any other gift. The gifts, as important as they are, are meaningless without love at the center. 

Not only is love greater, but it will last forever. All the other gifts will fade and go away, but love will endure. God’s agape love will never end; it will continue to be poured out for all of eternity. Therefore we should place love at the center of all we do. 

How To Apply 1 Corinthians 13:13 To Your Life 

Now that we better understand the meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:13 I want to end by looking at what this means for our everyday life. 

I think there’s a lot of parallels between the church in Corinth and the western church today. Just as they overvalued certain things, we do the same. And we certainly neglect love in the pursuit of other things. 

1 Corinthians 13:13 should be a mirror for us to reflect on. Is love still the foundation for our faith? Do we really understand what Christ did for us out of his love? 

Does God’s love pour out of us to those around us? What we do, what we say, and how we treat others (especially those we disagree with) should flow from love. 

If we get everything else right but fail to love then we have done nothing of value. 

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t focus on anything other than love. Paul never says that faith, hope, and the other gifts aren’t important. They are, but the foundation is love. Everything we do must be soaked in love otherwise it will be meaningless or even destructive. 

So, look in the mirror. Examine your life. Is love the foundation for your faith? Is everything you do driven by love?

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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