Have you ever rode a unicycle? How about a pogo stick? Or perhaps you have tried hopping around on one leg. All are doable but not the most stable things in the world. It takes great effort and concentration to maintain balance when there is only one point of contact. Faith works like that too. Focusing only on faith is like trying to ride a unicycle. The hard truth is that faith never stands alone. It is one leg of a comfortable and inviting chair.
In a chapter that is often reserved for weddings, Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13. In those poetic words there is also a warning about faith. “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2, NASB95) If I walk in faith so deeply and completely that prophecy, understanding, and power come easily but don’t walk in love than I’ve wasted everything. James wrote that faith without works is dead. I wonder if we couldn’t also say that faith without love is also dead.
To the Galatians Paul concluded, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6, NASB95) Faith cannot stand alone. Paul concludes his discourse on love this way, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB95) Faith is motivated by love, envisioned by hope, and empowered by the Spirit. Purity, obedience, sacrifice, forgiveness, justice, growth, giving, living, walking, and worshipping all rest and thrive on those four legs. Remove any of the four and everything that follows becomes warped or ineffective.
We want our prayers answered and the mountain moved. Perhaps the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough faith but we don’t have enough love, hope, or reliance on the Holy Spirit. How often are our prayers self-centered but dressed up with religious sounding words? Sure we want our wayward spouse to find Jesus so they stop doing stupid and destructive things. But do we ask because of our pain or because of our love for them? Pain gets our attention but love must motivate our faith.
Some may wonder why I added a fourth leg to Paul’s three-legged statement of faith, hope, and love. The passages that both precede and follow 1 Corinthians 13 are all about the empowering work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. If we flow in the winds of the Spirit but don’t have love, faith, and hope we’ve missed it. That’s clear in 1 Corinthians 13. But the inverse is also true. Faith, love, and hope are weak if not empowered by the Holy Spirit. An atheist can exercise faith, hope, and love – faith in science, hope in a brighter tomorrow, and love for mankind. But there is no power other than self. So we too must have faith, hope, love and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, as followers of Jesus, let’s hold tightly to faith, anchor ourselves with hope, motivate our actions through love, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us. Don’t know how to start? Just invite the Holy Spirit with this simple prayer – Come, Holy Spirit. “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB95)