When trying to describe what the Christian life is all about, sometimes we can get stuck in some of the more obvious experiences. We can talk about church services, community outreach, building upkeep, and so on. But when you boil everything down to its most essential parts, I believe we can summarize what it means to be a Christian in three simple words. The first word I would suggest as being a pillar of Christianity is love.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
This passage does a great job displaying the best motivation behind the Christian life. It is not the act of sacrifice or service that is most important then, but the motivation of love which is paramount. That is one reason why John 3:16 is so well known: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The motivating factor of God sending His Son to earth to die, was love.
Love is that which identifies the follower of Christ as well. John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” If we do not have this defining characteristic, we cannot truly call ourselves faithful Christians. As we continue this discussion about upon what Christianity is built, we must firmly establish how important love is.
Last week we discussed briefly that love was an absolutely essential part of what it means to be a Christian. This week I would like to uncover a second element: Hope. Hope is one of those intangible things that we can all identify mentally, but is hard to pin down in conversation. According to Webster hope is defined as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen” in the noun, and in the verb “…want something to happen or be the case”. This is not the best way to define what is meant in the religious sense because it almost appears to be like a wish that we would like to come true.
If we are to define what true Christian hope is, we must first understand that our hope does not rely upon our wishes but upon Christ Himself. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1). “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Our hope is identified as a living hope because of this. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 3:3).
Also hope is an identifier of what we have as Christians. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). Also 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
Most importantly hope is clearly identified as being one of the most significant attributes to Christianity in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Next week we will be discussing the last great pillar of Christianity: faith.
Based off of 1 Corinthians 13:13, we have discussed so far two essential elements of Christianity. We have noticed that love is not only a motive of our actions, but also a motivation for us to do good. Also we have seen that hope is a fundamental part of our belief; not a blind hope, but a hope in the promises of Jesus Christ. Now let us conclude our thoughts on this subject with the mention of the essential “faith” we are to have.
In our religious world today we see the word faith used in a variety of ways. Sometimes faith is used in reference to just belief. If I believe something to be the case, no matter how much or how little evidence there is to justify that belief, we call it faith. This is not the best working definition in my opinion. The Bible does a good job defining it’s own terms. Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Substance in this passage is more literal than most places. Sub = underStance = support. So literally faith is the “under-girding” of our hope. In other words, the reason why we can have hope of invisible things is faith. But not only that, faith is further defined in this passage as that which pushes us towards actions of faith. It is not enough to simply have faith something exists, but we must be full of actions that reflect that level of confidence. For example, look at Hebrews 11:4-31 and notice all the people who accomplished something through faith.
“By faith Abel offered, By faith Enoch was taken away, By faith Noah…prepared, By faith Abraham obeyed, By faith Sarah…bore a child, By faith Abraham…offered, By faith Isaac blessed, By faith Jacob…blessed…and worshipped, By faith Joseph…made mention…and gave instructions, By faith Moses…was hidden, By faith Moses…refused, By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish.” And there are others which are mentioned in this text as well.
What can we conclude then? James 2:17, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” So as we consider what are the pillars upon which Christianity stands: love, hope, and faith are key.