The Greatest of These is (Eschatological) Love
In his magisterial work, The Resurrection of the Son of God, N.T. Wright comments on the famous “love chapter” in the apostle Paul’s work 1 Corinthians with the following remarks:
Love is what will hold the church together when various pressures threaten to pull the Messiah’s body apart- when those with different gifts, or enthusiasm for a particular teacher, or a sense of their own rights and a disregard for other people’s conscience, or a failure to recognize those of different social standing as equal at the lord’s table, seem to want to go their own way. This chapter [1 Corinthians 13] has a claim, alongside chapter 15, to be considered the real heart of the letter. If the church can only grasp this, it will solve at least half the problems Paul has been grappling with. And yet even this exquisite chapter looks forward, particularly in the section just quoted [verses 8-13] to the final discussion, which will concern the resurrection, the new world that God will make, and the continuity between the resurrection life and the life here and now. The point of 13:8-13 is that the church must be working in the present on the things that will last into God’s future. Faith, hope, and love will do this; prophecy, tongues and knowledge, so highly prized in Corinth, will not. They are merely signposts to the future; when you arrive, you no longer need signposts. Love, however, is not just a signpost. It is a foretaste of the ultimate reality. Love is not merely the Christian duty; it is the Christian destiny. To hold the Corinthian church together, Paul needs to them love; but to teach them love he needs to teach them eschatology.