In 1 Corinthians 13:13, we are told that three things are better than any spiritual gift: these are faith, hope and love. This is part of the speech where Paul addresses the Corinthian people after they receive a number of spiritual gifts including wisdom, prophecy, healing, and the knowledge of different tongues.
Between them, they disagree on which of the gifts are the most desirable to have, but Paul tells them that all of them will be taken away at some point in the future. Then, only the three graces are left, which supersede everything else.
We have all heard that famous line – it is often quoted in sermons and hymns, as well as being printed on various religious merchandise products.
Sometimes a phrase can be so ubiquitous that you start to lose track of what it actually means, so it is good to take some time to reflect on the verse and look deeper into it than what you see on the surface. Here, we explore the concept of hope and its relevance in a biblical context.
Standard Definition Of Hope
If we open up a dictionary, we can see that ‘hope’ is expressed as both a verb and a noun; the Merriam-Webster dictionary gives the essential definition of hope thus:
‘to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true’.
Therefore, it is not simply a matter of willing something to occur, but there is also an element of expectation – in other words, you believe that it could actually come to pass and not just be an unrealistic fantasy.
The noun hope is derived from this meaning, i.e. ‘desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment’. It can also refer to the object or person that is the focus of the hopes, as in the phrase ‘this is our only hope of success’.
There are a number of reasons why people might hope for something; this can be as simple as hoping for good weather when you’ve planned a day trip, or it can be something more significant, such as hoping you pass a difficult exam.
There are certain things you can do in some cases to help the outcome – in the second example, you can prepare well by studying hard to give you the best chance of winning. Other things are purely down to chance, such as the weather, so you have to rely more on hope in these cases.
Hope has been vital to some of the greatest achievements in areas as varied as technology and entertainment. A lot of the time, success doesn’t come straight away, so people need to have hope to encourage them to keep going along their path.
For every scientific breakthrough, there have been many failed attempts to get to that stage – you can see this in the rigorous testing that any vaccine has to go through before it is made available to the public.
Likewise, you will hear dozens of accounts from world-renowned authors who applied to hundreds of publishers before one finally picked up their story, or actors who attended hundreds of auditions before landing their dream role.
These people must all have had hope that they could make it eventually, as long as they kept persevering and didn’t give up.
Hope in the Bible
The biblical meaning of hope centres specifically on your hope of a good future with your faith in God. It means allowing Him to lead you and trusting that everything will be okay under His guidance.
Of course, different versions will translate things differently, so what is rendered as hope in one version might not have the same nuance in another.
However, biblical hope has less uncertainty attached to it than general hope, because the expectation is founded in God rather than just your desire for it to happen.
Hope is mentioned many times in the Bible, because it is seen as an intrinsic part of faith. Since you can’t see God or interact with Him in a tangible way, you need to be able to place your trust in him – the only way to do this is to have strong hope that doesn’t waver.
Your hope is strengthened when you listen to what God has to tell you through scripture and through prayer.
Working on your faith means building hope throughout your life, and feeling comforted in the knowledge that God is giving you direction. God promises salvation to those who follow Him and trust in his teachings.
While it is difficult for sinners to have hope in God – and we are all sinners – we can train ourselves to keep it in our hearts by preaching it emphatically. We must not let discouragement get the better of us, so we have to actively let hope in.
This may take a while to take hold, but if we stick at it, using the Bible’s teachings as guidance, we will find it easier to trust in God and hope in His promises.
Although Hope in God may seem like a simple phrase, we need to work hard to actually embody its principles in our daily lives.
You will find a multitude of parables, verses and scripture about hope if you delve into the Bible properly. There is an example of hope to suit almost any situation.
Two blind men at the roadside hoped for Jesus’ to heal them as he walked past. People tried to get them to be quiet so Jesus wouldn’t do anything, but He touched their eyes and they could see. They hoped in God (through Jesus) and their hopes were answered.
Paul states to King Agrippa that his hope is what led him to be judged by the Jews. He wanted the kind to examine his evidence and grant him pardon. He believed in the promise of God, and he explained that that was why he followed Jesus.
Abraham believed that God would make him a father of many nations as promised, even though it was ‘against all hope’. He still had hope despite it seeming impossible or unreasonable to do so, because he knew that God is more powerful than anything.
These examples all show different types of hope – hoping for healing, salvation or a better time to come. The men and women involved did not give up when they felt hopeless; instead, they continued to place their hope in God and were rewarded.
This shows that, no matter how hard it gets, we should always have hope, as God is capable of anything.
Connection to Faith and Love
Together, they make up two of the three superior graces that you can have, along with love. However, faith and hope are more closely linked than you might realize.
Hope is essentially faith that you direct ahead of time, so we can say that belief in the present moment is faith, while belief in the future is hope. Of course, this is a slight oversimplification, as the belief has different roots in each.
Faith is based on your confidence in an entity, whereas hope is a mindset based on what you desire to happen.
It is not possible to have faith without hope and vice versa when it comes to true belief, since the two are intrinsically linked. However, it is not easy to define the causal relationship between them – do people have hope because they need faith, or have faith because they need hope?
As potential justifications, these both seem to be selfish arguments that create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Do people have faith simply because they have hope, or could it be the other way round?
This is fairly complex to ponder and raises more questions about the nature of belief than it answers.
Compared to faith and hope, love is the only virtue that is completely unselfish in motivation, which is why it is considered the greatest of all.
True love is felt regardless of what the giver stands to receive in return; this is even more pertinent in the case of loving God, because God loves everybody unconditionally, whether or not they choose to follow Him. Both faith and hope rest on foundations of love.
How to Build Hope in God
Building hope in God is a lengthy process that takes time, and you should constantly seek ways of doing this as you explore your faith. It is not always easy to maintain hope, as there are times you may get overwhelmed by your circumstances and feel that there is no hope left.
You might be under an immense amount of pressure, in agonizing pain or experiencing bitter disappointment. Here are some of the things many Christians do to strengthen their hope, even in their toughest periods.
Perhaps the strongest weapon in a believer’s armory is prayer. You are encouraged to pray for any purpose: to give thanks, to ask for help, to repent of your sins, and there is no situation in which prayer would be an unsuitable course of action.
God hears all of your prayers and responds however He feels is best for your needs. The more you pray, the more different ways you will find answers, and the more you will have hope that your life is following the correct path.
Read Your Bible
As mentioned above, you will find many examples of people using hope in the Bible. Read through some of these and try to pick out one or two that really resonate with you, whether the situation is similar to yours or you can relate to the characters for a different reason.
Remind yourself that people have been in the same boat for millennia, where they have come through adversity with the help of hope.
The book of Job is an especially relevant one to read. We all know how many trials Job went through, yet he still references hope many times throughout his book.
Although on occasion he felt discouraged, as if all hope was lost, he persevered anyway. This shows the strength of his faith, and teaches us to learn from his example.
If life seems to be throwing everything it can at you, it is important to remember that everything is temporary. Although it can be excruciating trying to weather the storm in the moment, there will soon be calm.
There will be better days ahead. Even if your circumstances don’t improve much during your time on earth, Christians have hope of salvation in the next life, which keeps them going.
Hope is a central theme in the Bible, as it is particularly necessary when you can’t see or touch God to know that he is there and on your side. Many biblical figures used hope to great effect, even in times when people thought they were wrong to have hope, or they felt helpless due to their situation.
Hope strengthens faith – and indeed the two concepts are interlinked, although opinions differ on the causation between them.
Hope has a more specific meaning in a religious context than it does in general settings, as it expresses a certainty of good happening in the future. There is a moral connection, whereby we can have confidence that God will answer our prayers.
This morality has to be strong, since it is not based on concrete laws of logic or mathematical certainty – it applies only to acts of will. We trust that God’s will is to fulfill His promises and to show His grace.
There are various ways to build hope in your journey with Christ, and reading relevant Bible passages is highly recommended so you can identify with the situations there.
Praying also helps bring you comfort and clarity, as you can rest in the knowledge that God hears everything you have to say. You should always have hope, because God has a plan for you and you will find eternal salvation if you believe.