“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Dividing the Bible into chapters didn’t take place until around 1227; verses weren’t introduced until 1551. There are no such divisions in the original Hebrew and Greek scrolls.
Those divisions are a reading aid, but they sometimes obscure connections, too.
So at the end of what we call Chapter 12 of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth is a line that reads: “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” Paul then launches into his famous section on love.
Although it can’t be proven, I think Paul is using the word “way” in a double sense. Recall that Acts 9:2 says: “[Saul] asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Love is the way. Or, perhaps, we should say, Love is The Way. As John says: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
Our faith, then, is in a God of Love—love that became enfleshed in Jesus Christ. And while it is true that if we truly believe this we will try to live in a certain manner, that perspective is quite different from treating the Bible as a set of rules to be followed so that God will accept us.
Jesus consistently challenged the faith of the religious leaders of his day who treated scripture as a set of rules. On the contrary, he said, it’s about responding to God’s divine invitation to have an intimate relationship with God.
It is that faith that gives us hope. Christian hope is not merely that the world will be a better place—though our faith requires us to redistribute wealth so that everyone can share equally in the riches God has provided for us on this planet and also to take care of the Earth.
Important though those are, our hope—our expectation—is that the Spirit is continually working in us and the world to accomplish the divine will.
And the divine will is that Love will triumph. This runs contrary to the world’s wisdom, which is either that nothing matters or that, if anything matters, we must follow a set of rules.
What is interesting and curious about love is that it depends on seeing how the beloved (the object of love) completes what is missing in the lover. Couples instinctively figure this out, finding a mate who completes them.
But God, by definition, needs nothing. So the divine love is most truly selfless love. God loves us, not because of need, but simply because She wants to.
So this is my—our—closing wish for you, dear reader. That this Christmas and every year after that you continue to draw breath, you will feel the love of God that surrounds you, and that you, in turn, will spread that love to everyone you encounter.
On behalf of everyone on the Presbyterian Record team: “God bless us, every one!”