My youngest son likes to eat the pepperoni off of a slice of pizza, first. Sometimes, I think that the remaining slice of pepperoni-less cheese pizza doesn’t ever get finished. On the other hand, I know people who can’t eat dairy products, so their pepperoni pizza doesn’t have cheese. If they were to share a cheese-less pizza with my son, he’d be left with a slab of bread after picking off the meat. I’m not sure that qualifies as pizza, anymore, at least to the American style of pizza.
Sometimes, though, we must peel away the outside layers to find out the nature of a thing that lies beneath. Anyone who has watched an expert restorer remove layers of dust and grime from a piece of furniture, has seen this happen. Volunteers can take an overgrown parcel of urban land, and – after removing rubble, picking up trash, pulling weeds, and cutting the grass – reveal a park where children can play.
While the outside of a physical thing is typically what we can see, what is inside is often more important. In the same way, we are taught (correctly) that we shouldn’t judge people based on appearances (see 1 Samuel 16:7), but what is in their hearts matters more (see Luke 6:25, Mark 7:20-23, Matthew 15:18-19).
At the end of the well-known chapter of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul (writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) describes what is “left” – what will last after other things perish. I think of this as what we find after we clear away the unimportant things of life, after we get past the surface and find what is most valuable in this universe.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV
When we set aside the day-to-day grind, and the noise of the news and traffic, what is really important in life? I feel that most people inherently know these things in their heart: that the most important “things” aren’t things at all, but rather the greater attributes that transcend the more transient things around us.
So, let us look inside ourselves a little bit. We will not transform ourselves, nor make ourselves into something we are not – only God can do that. However, among all other people in this world, we have a unique perspective on what is happening inside of us. God sees into our hearts, but no one else can do so like we can.
If only three things remain, what elements of those three things exist in our lives? Within the deepest parts of us, what does our foundation of these three critical attributes look like?
- In what do we place our faith? Everybody believes in something (really!). Is the object of our faith (whether God or government, money or men) something that has proven itself to be consistent and trustworthy, or is it fickle and unreliable?
- What do we hope for? Do we have the assurance of an eternal home with Jesus? Or, are we striving for the next promotion, smartphone, or social media milestone? What gets us through our week (or just a day…or maybe just through the next meeting or traffic light)?
- How do we love? The rest of 1 Corinthians 13 gives us some great direction on what love looks like. Read the chapters before and after this one to understand even more about it – how genuine love and service for others builds up the Body of Christ.
Jesus – the Way, the Truth, and the Life – offers us an unshakable foundation upon which to place our faith, an eternal life to look forward to, and both an example and teachings of what it means to truly love (while loving us perfectly, at the same time). He is what will remain when all else fades away, and He is what we can build a real life upon – not just a temporary time on earth.
And, if there are things that remain, there must – by inference – be things that do not remain.
Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NASB
So, what will get burned up, and what will remain? That’s a study that could take us throughout the Bible, with both examples of those whose work remained, and those whose work did not. This journey of walking with Jesus is about learning and practicing the things that will remain.
I encourage you to take some time to perform an inventory of you own faith, hope, and love today. Since these will be what remains (even while we are still in this uncertain world), let us make sure that our foundation is solid.
Said another way: At the end of this world, “Only what’s right will be left.”