Love never ends (vs. 8-13).
I love a good game of dodgeball. I also hate it.
I love the fact that I can actually succeed in a sport…mainly because I hang around in the back and avoid all balls like the plague. I never, never, ever, ever throw the ball because I know I have the aim of an armless narwhal. Someone would catch the ball or throw one at me while I was distracted—and I would be out. And that’s no fun. So instead I just hang in the back, pulling ninja moves to avoid every ball thrown at me. This seems to work…for a while.
But inevitably, people on my team get out. The best throwers get targeted and exterminated. Until…I’m the only one left. The only one who refuses to pick up a ball and throw it. So I stand there until my exterminated team begs me to at least try to throw a ball. Maybe the Lord will grant me miraculous powers, and I’ll be able to hit all the other team and win…singlehandedly. But that never happens…eventually, I get pegged, usually after I’ve thrown the ball and watched it fall immediately to the floor. The other team has mercy on my suffering and kills me off before I can embarrass myself further.
Let me ask you—who was the greatest on my dodgeball team? Who’s the best? Well, you could argue for the one who got the most people out, the one who had the best throw. But none of those criteria really work. The greatest person on a dodgeball team…is the one who doesn’t get hit. The one who is the longest-lasting. In other words, me.
And that’s how Paul uses the term “great” as he finishes out his study on agape love. The greatest is the one that lasts the longest. And, as his last attribute, Paul says “love never ends” or “never fails.” Literally, this word means “love never FALLS.” Love never gets pegged in dodgeball and knocked to the floor. I like that illustration. Love stays on its feet…and lasts the longest. And Paul goes on to prove it.
Throughout the book, he’s been talking about the proper use of gifts (see the previous chapter). And so he brings up some examples. He says that things like tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will all fade away. They all will fall. When? That’s the question that’s a hot topic in our Christian circles today. Paul says that when “the perfect” is come, the stuff that’s only “part” or “partial” will vanish away like smoke. Some people think the “perfect” is the completed cannon of the Bible, or the end of the apostolic age, and use this verse as proof that tongues have ceased today. I’m not gonna get into all that, but let’s acknowledge the context. Paul is clearly talking about a future when “childish ways” are put away, when “we see face-to-face,” when we will “know fully, even as I have been fully known.” This can only be one place—only one perfect place in all the world. No, it’s not Disneyworld or South Carolina or even “almost-Heaven” West Virginia (thank goodness!).
It’s heaven. Where God, the only perfect One, abides. Where He sits on His throne and “fully knows” each and every one of us. When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will—er, I mean, when we get to glory, all these “sign gifts” will finally cease. Tongues, prophecy, even having to know things will all be “sweet-bye-bye.” You won’t have to study to learn anything because there are no exams in heaven—hallelujah! But one thing will remain…
Paul ends this amazing chapter by detailing the trifecta of Christian virtues: faith, hope, and love. I’ve always enjoyed studying faith (one of my favorite words), and recently have put a lot of thought into the wonders of hope. But as great as those things are…they’re not the greatest. Wait, faith is what enables us to be saved! How can that not be the greatest!? Hope is what is supposed to rule our Christian lives and inspire us to joy—how can we not call that the best in the West? Because…
No, not a heretical book that denies hell. Love wins because love lasts. Love lasts the longest because love endures to heaven. There’s no need for faith in heaven because faith will become clear “sight.” There’s no need for hope, because we will “see” God (Paul said in Romans 8 that hope that can be seen is not hope. Sorry, hope). But love will remain. Love is the greatest because we will never exhaust our need of it.
Because, for all eternity, we will fix our agape love on the One Who loved us through all our unloveliness. Who loved us to the cross and back. Who will love us forever. We will spend every moment of Heaven loving Him and expressing it in undying praise. Love will win because God is love. And we will spend forever with Him.
Your love won’t be perfect here on earth—believe me! You won’t be able to perfectly express this agape love to your church. The Corinthians didn’t. Even Paul didn’t—the wretched man he was at times. Your pastor won’t, nor his wife, nor any man in those pews or chairs. And especially not the person in your chair (in case you didn’t catch that, I mean YOU).
That’s why love must endure. Love must last on through the struggles and sin. Because nobody’s perfect. No one has agape firmly in their grasp.
Except One. His name is God. Jesus Christ. Jesus has fully loved you with all these traits—with full and pure agape. Don’t believe me? Read the Gospels—what a fitting way to end this series. Over and over I’ve been trying to direct your attention to Him. Now, you should do so yourself. See His love. On the Cross, dying for you. Loving you to that cross and back. Back alive from the dead, offering you unconditional love and grace and mercy if you just accept it.
So accept His love. It never fails, falls, or ends. And choose to see people differently. Not as annoyances, not as rivals, but as people whom God loves. Particularly your church family—people God has died to redeem. Works in progress—not perfect, but being changed by God to have more agape love. Just like He is doing to you. Remember…these same people, sitting in those pews, will one day join you around the throne of God, and collectively you all will proclaim your love to the “worthy Lamb.” As I said before, if you’re going to be spending all eternity with them, you probably should start getting along down here.