If you call yourself a Christian — well, even if you’ve ever been to church before — for that matter, even if you’ve ever been to a home decor shop, I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase “love is the greatest of these” or seen it stitched on a pillow somewhere.
In this article we refer to concepts that may not make sense unless you’ve read our “Obedience Is Faith” article.
“Love is the greatest of these.” What do we mean by that? We mean that the primary thing is loving one another. We mean that the highest priority is to love each other. And of course, that’s in scripture, right? Or is it?
To answer the question, yes, you will find those WORDS in Bible translations today. But if you say, “love is the greatest of these,” that is actually a misquote of the meaning of that verse.
1 Corinthians 13:13 (NKJV) And now abide [remain] faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
If you read this whole chapter, Paul is trying to make a point that when Jesus comes back there will be a lot of things that will pass away. There will no longer be any prophecy, words of knowledge, or any gifts of the Spirit because every believer will be manifesting the fullness of Christ and there will be no need for partial manifestations anymore (which is what the gifts of the Spirit are). But, the last two things that Paul says will pass away is, “faith and hope.”
Paul says faith will pass away, because when Jesus comes back and all creation is fully enveloped in the glory of God, faith will no longer be necessary. Faith is believing something WITHOUT seeing. And on that day, Gods’ glory will be fully seen in creation. So, there will be no need to believe something WITHOUT seeing. We will be believing the things that ARE SEEN. It will no longer be called “faith.” It will just be knowledge of things that are seen.
Paul also says that hope will pass away, because hope is an expectation for the future. Right now, as we grow in our knowledge, we expect the glory of God to continue to manifest through us unto the full! But after Jesus comes back, everything will be fully manifested to every Christian’s body and to all of creation as well. There will be no more manifestation to expect — nothing more to hope for — because everything we were hoping to manifest, will have already manifested. So, hope will also pass away.
BUT, love will not pass away in the new earth. Love will never pass away. We will all love one another forever. And this is Paul’s point here. Notice what he says:
1 Corinthians 13:13 (NKJV) And now ABIDE [REMAIN] faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
When Paul says that love is the “greatest,” he is referring to how long it will remain. Love will remain the LONGEST. Right now, all three of these things still ABIDE, but soon faith and hope will pass away. And the longest remaining of these three is love.
This is not disputable. That is the context of this verse and who are we to change the intention of God’s word? Gods’ intention here, writing through Paul, was to say that love is the greatest in its abiding, not in its priority, and not in its importance. Love is the greatest (longest) and its abiding.
The word “greatest” here is not the Greek word for ‘the best,’ or ‘the top priority’ the way that we use it. The word ‘greatest’ here, in the Greek, can apply to many different contexts, but especially age. For instance, if the context was the height of three boys, the word greatest would refer to the tallest. If the context was the age of the three boys, you could use this word to refer to the oldest. The word just means ‘larger’, and it most specifically refers to ‘age,’ as it is used in this verse
But you don’t need to know Greek to see the context here. Paul says, ‘now ABIDE these three things.’ The context is how long each of these three things will remain. So, when he says that ‘love is the greatest of these’ he is referring to its abiding — how long it will remain.
Love is not the greatest, the way we use that word. Love is not the top priority of these three things. Love is NOT the most important out of these three things. In fact, Jesus taught the exact opposite. There is a commandment that is much greater than loving one another. In fact, loving one another is never called the great commandment.
The Thing That’s Greater Than Love
Here’s the part where you’ll need our ‘Obedience Is Faith’ article.
Matthew 22:37-39 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the FIRST and GREAT commandment. And the SECOND is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
1 John 3:23 (NKJV) And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
Jesus speaks of two Commandments here. The first commandment He says is the “great“ one (this is a different word for “great“ and in this context it is referring to top priority). And what is this great commandment? “To believe in God’s son, Jesus. “That is what Jesus meant by “love the Lord with your heart. “(See Obedience Is Faith article). And John confirms that by interpreting what Jesus said.
So the first and GREAT commandment is “faith. “And the SECOND commandment is to “love one another.”
Love may be the longest abiding of these, but faith is the greater priority. Faith takes precedence over loving our neighbor. Jesus gave them that order. And why? Because love for your neighbor only comes AFTER believing and learning about Jesus.
Galatians 5:6 (KJV) …but faith which worketh by love.
Faith is what works out love for your neighbor. Faith is what produces love for your neighbor. So, faith is a higher priority than love for your neighbor. You, by yourself, can never love your neighbor. Loving your neighbor is a commandment under the Old Testament law and we certainly know that none of us were ever able to keep that law. So, if you prioritize loving your neighbor as the greatest, you are failing at your priority.
The only way to love your neighbor in a true, “unfeigned” way is to prioritize learning Jesus ahead of it. As you learn and believe what Jesus has done for you, that will automatically produce a love for your neighbor. That is why loving your neighbor will always take second place. It is called “the second commandment,” never “the first“ and never “the great commandment.“
1 Timothy 1:5 (NKJV) Now the purpose of the commandment [faith] is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith…
1 Peter 1:22 (KJV) Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth [faith] through the Spirit unto [resulting in] unfeigned love of the brethren…
Colossians 1:4, 8 (KJV)
4 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints… 8 Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.
Ephesians 1:15 (NKJV) …I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints…
1 Thessalonians 3:6 (NKJV) …brought us good news of your faith and love…
1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NKJV) …putting on the breastplate of faith and love…
2 Timothy 1:13 (NKJV) …in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
Seeing a pattern?
Jesus never said that love was the greatest in priority. Love is simply the longest abiding of the three. But faith in Jesus — learning what He has done — is in fact the FIRST priority and the GREAT commandment. In importance and in priority, love is not the greatest. Love is the longest abiding, but faith in Jesus is the greatest of these.