If I had to pick a few words to describe the central qualities of a Christian lifestyle the nouns faith, hope and love would top the list. The apostle Paul spoke about these traits of Christ-followers a good bit in his many letters in the New Testament. Taken together, lives infused with faith, hope and love give us a lens to view humanity, a common purpose, and a shared identity to draw from.
Paul builds his case for faith from the Old Testament, heading all the way back to Abraham when he writes in Romans 4:13 that “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” He expands on this to consider how one lives by faith, saying in Galatians 2:20 that “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” For Paul, living by faith is an essential ingredient to experience this new life in Christ.
Hope is also central to Paul’s identity as a Christ follower. He reaches a rhetorical climax on the implications of hope in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, concluding that “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Why all the optimism, Paul? Aren’t you constantly in trouble with the law, often ending up behind bars, wasting away? He gives us a hint about the source of this optimism in Romans 8:11, reminding us that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” No wonder you’re hopeful Paul, the Spirit of Christ is in you. In all of us. And that’s pretty sweet.
When it comes to understanding the importance of love in Paul’s theology it’s hard to top 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. In modern terms it’s easy to envision the apostle walking around in a tye dye shirt, Jesus sandals, giving lots of hugs and high fives and passing the peace pipe. The love chapter first describes the importance of love, with Paul suggesting you can be the best speaker, the brightest visionary, the most giving philanthropist or even a martyr, but if you don’t have love, you are nothing. Whoa, that kind of sounds important. Paul continues, telling us love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Does that remind you of anyone? Any particular event? Reflecting on this my mind wanders to the cross.
Paul’s famously writes in 1 Corinthians 13, talking about various spiritual gifts that, in Christ, “faith hope and love abide.” Abide, what a funky word, it doesn’t pop up too much in everyday language these days. According to Merriam-Webster to abide is to endure without yielding, to withstand, and to bear patiently.
One place the word appears in pop culture is the 1998 cult classic movie The Big Lebowski. In this film Jeff Bridges plays the Dude, a Christ-like character that takes on the burdens of those around him with a certain simplicity. It’s almost as if this is what he was born to do.
Paul ends the love chapter concluding, of faith hope and love, that the greatest of these is love. Taken another way, in Big Lebowski style, we could say that Christ, the ultimate Dude, abides. And abides in Love.