By Jason Hiles
Dean, College of Theology
In three prior posts I have touched on some principles that I have described as “Kingdom Treasures” because they amount to unique resources that the Christian worldview offers for a life of faith, hope, and love. These treasures are of great value in times of difficulty and suffering. In this fourth and final post in the series, I will briefly outline the ancient theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.
People commonly refer to values when discussing the goals and aspirations of particular societies and institutions. For example, one may refer to American values or Christian values or the values of a company like Apple or Microsoft. Values have to do with the things that a particular group or organization considers to be important, worthwhile, and valuable. Within the Christian worldview, humans are believed to be creatures who were created uniquely in the image and likeness of God. As a result, one major Christian value relates to the sanctity or sacredness of human life. The principle of cura personalis, which was described in a previous video, is rooted in this value since the principle has to do with caring for the whole person as creature with immense value in God’s sight. Thus, the value placed on human life by the Christian worldview entails the goal of esteeming human life highly by protecting and honoring human dignity.
Virtue, by contrast, may be understood as a characteristic or trait that belongs to a person. Virtuous people are capable of honoring and upholding values because a virtuous person possesses the sort of character that enables him or her to live consistently in ways that align with noble values. Growing in virtue, then, is the means by which individuals and groups make progress toward the ideals and aspirations that they believe to be valuable and worthy. In short we might say that in order to do the right things we must be the right kind of people. This is where the theological virtues come in.
In a famous passage from the book of 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul sets forth the virtues of faith, hope, and love as the primary areas of focus for a young church filled with immature Christians. The church in Corinth was rife with infighting, dissension, immaturity, and arrogance. In the midst of sorting out this mess, Paul simply reminds them that all of the gifts and abilities they valued highly were empty and annoying without love. He then makes the case for love as fundamental to the Christian life:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV).
As his first readers worked through these lines it is not hard to imagine that they felt a sense of guilt and perhaps shame that they had fallen short with respect to the virtuous life Paul was describing. Perhaps many of us reading this passage today feel that there is a big gap between the values of the Christian faith and our own character. It is easy to be impatient and unkind. It is difficult to bear all things, endure all things, and love consistently.
But Paul does not leave the reader without hope. In fact, he connects the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love in a plea for those in Corinth to grow up into all that Christ has called them to be. The lessons that God had for the people living in Paul’s day led them to grow in their faith. They learned to trust God and to do what he asked of them for the sake of others. They learned to hope in things that they could not yet see in the midst of a fallen and broken world. And they learned to grow in their love for God and for one another. But in the moment when Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians he simply began by reminding them that “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of them is love.”
All else will eventually pass away so it is in our best interest to focus on the twin commands to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. If you are anything like me, you still have some room for growth. Thankfully, God continues to teach his people and to form them into the perfect image of his son. In his mysterious ways he continues to place us in positions that require us to learn what it means to truly trust him, to place our hope in him above all things, and to love just as Christ Jesus loves us.
Grace and peace,
Dean, GCU College of Theology & Seminary