FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE
T. PIERCE BROWN
In the first three verses of First Thessalonians, chapter one, there are six of the greatest themes of the Bible: grace, peace, thanksgiving, faith, love and hope. Each of them is worthy of a series of articles. Usually when we speak of faith, hope and love, we start with 1 Corinthians 13:13. My purpose in this article is not so much to deal directly with those subjects, but to suggest another line of thinking related to them that needs our attention.
It is sad that we have allowed denominations, and false teachers in the church to monopolize these grand themes in a positive way so that most of our preaching is negative, telling why their false doctrines are not so. I do not know how to overcome this problem completely, for false doctrine must be condemned. However, our only sermons on grace should not be to emphasize that we are not saved by grace alone. Our only sermons on faith should not be to emphasize that salvation is not by faith only. It is possible to center our attention too much on what is wrong instead of emphasizing what is right. Yet, we should never get so concerned with “positive” preaching that we can not point out error. At the same time, we need to be aware that we cannot get to heaven on the errors of our religious friends or brethren.
This tendency to make a goal only on a rebound from the missed shot of another may result in our becoming overly suspicious and even unbalanced in our teaching. For example, if I should say, “Salvation is only by grace,” I have no doubt that many would immediately be suspicious that I was teaching false doctrine and meant that salvation is by grace alone. There is a great deal of difference in the two concepts. The concept that salvation is only by grace means that without God’s grace, we could not have salvation. Surely no thoughtful gospel preacher would deny that. Salvation by grace alone means that man cannot do one thing that has any effect on his salvation. That is false doctrine, although those who were faithful gospel preachers in the past have taught it.
The same thing would be true if I said, “Salvation is only by faith.” That means that without faith it is impossible to please God or that only by faith can we be saved or please Him (Hebrews 11:6). That has been perverted into the false doctrine that salvation is by faith only, or that faith is the only element in our salvation. It should be clear to anyone who can think that if faith is the only element in our salvation, then grace cannot be an element, nor can love, repentance, or any other thing.
We could properly say, “Salvation is only granted through the blood of Christ,” or “Salvation comes only to those who have an obedient, loving faith.” In this article I am trying to point out a few other very important things. First, we should be careful that we do not allow false teachers to lead us into merely preaching negative sermons. Second, we should be very careful to distinguish between things that differ. Salvation only through faith is not the same as salvation by faith only. Third, we should try to put emphasis where the Holy Spirit put it in every case, so our preaching and teaching will always be properly balanced. Fourth, we should try to probe more deeply into the implications of words and phrases, and expound upon them to those who listen or read.
For example, when we read of “work of faith, labor of love and patience of hope” we might emphasize the importance of such things as faith energizing, love motivating and hope stabilizing. We might dwell on faith receiving, love responding and hope patiently waiting. We might stress the value of faith holding fast to what it has received, love sharing what has been received, and hope holding on in spite of what it has not yet received. We might help others to see faith making the heart firm, love making the heart soft and hope making the heart full. We might urge a faith overcoming, love ministering and hope renouncing. We might show that faith is to be demonstrated in childlike receptivity, love demonstrated in godlike activity and hope demonstrated in saintly stability.
In all of this, we need to be aware that sometimes when we contrast the truth of the Bible with the error that is being taught, the truth shines more clearly. Nevertheless, if the burden of our lessons is always to emphasize the error, we may give the impression that our whole concern is to be negative and tear down. That should not be.