First Corinthians 12 talks about spiritual gifts, which are distributed by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4). Thus one Christian may receive one type of gift while another receives a different gift. Chapter 13 goes one step further and mentions the three gifts that are common for all Christians: faith, hope, and love. Verse 13 says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
In stating that faith, hope, and love remain, Paul does something interesting and unexpected: he uses a singular verb for a compound (and therefore plural) subject. His statement in 1 Corinthians 13:13 could be literally rendered “faith, hope, and love remains.” Paul’s point is that, essentially, faith, hope, and love are united; what happens to one happens to all. And what happens is that they “remain.”
The fact that faith, hope, and love remain must be understood in light of the broader context. Paul had just listed another set of three gifts that would not remain: “Where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8). So, the passage contains a contrast: three gifts of the Spirit that will cease, and three gifts that will never end. Faith, hope, and love will always remain.
The Corinthian church members were priding themselves on the fact that they could speak in tongues and demonstrate other attention-getting gifts. Paul reminds them of “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31)—the way of love. The gifts that the Corinthians so desired were but temporary; faith, hope, and love, the foundational gifts, are permanent and therefore more to be desired.
Faith, hope, and love are gifts in the present age, and they will still be gifts in the age to come. The NLT translates the promise this way: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love.” It’s easy to see how love will last forever, since love is an essential part of God’s nature (1 John 4:16). But what about faith and hope? Those two gifts will likewise last forever. Faith in the Son of God will not cease in the eternal state; we will not stop trusting Jesus just because our faith has become sight. If anything, our trust in Him will grow greater. Similarly, our hope will not cease just because our blessed hope has come. Our lives will continue in the eternal state, as will our expectation of other things in an infinite sequence of adventure. As commentator Alexander MacLaren explained, “That Future presents itself to us as the continual communication of an inexhaustible God to our progressively capacious and capable spirits. In that continual communication there is continual progress. Wherever there is progress there must be hope. And thus the fair form . . . will move before us through all the long avenues of an endless progress, and will ever and anon come back to tell us of the unseen glories that lie beyond the next turn, and to woo us further into the depths of heaven and the fulness of God” (MacLaren Expositions of Holy Scripture, 1 Corinthians).
Faith, hope, and love are the three gifts that will be ours throughout all eternity. And agape love is the ultimate gift. God in His goodness gives us the privilege of possessing these gifts today, and we look forward to having them remain with us forever.