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Paul says in 1 Cor. 13:8, “Love never fails.” Really?? Literature is full of stories about the tragedies of unrequited love. We are given the impression that love is powerless to do anything, other than to try to persuade an equal response from others. The failure of love is a favorite theme, and many have experienced its failure throughout history.
So what did Paul mean?
First, he was talking about agape, not phileo or eros. Only agape never fails. All others are limited in power and will certainly fail at times. Hence, we may immediately eliminate from our discussion the failures of all lower forms of love.
Paul’s statement tells us that love has power, and that its power is supreme. It is backed by the sovereign power of God Himself. The love of God is not just an emotion based on wishful thinking or desire. Anyone can desire something that is beyond one’s reach. But such desire often fails. It fails because desire by itself lacks sovereignty. Desire stands helplessly on the sidelines, hoping that the will of the other party will change or take heed. Hence, it often fails.
But agape never fails. For this reason, we know that agape has the power that desire lacks, even though agape is full of desire and emotion. Agape is full of the passion of God, but it has passionate power. Agape has the power to overrule the will of all opposition.
Herein lies a great paradox. Love does not force compliance against a person’s will; yet love is powerful enough to be irresistible over all opposition.
If God were to overpower the will of man by raw power, He could have done so immediately at the beginning of time. But because His power is tempered by love, He had to go a different route in order to be true to His character. That route takes time. So time was invented to accomplish His will through love. Time is an invention of love. Time also allows all lesser forms of love to fail, because only agape is immortal. All that is partial is mortal and is subject to decay and death.
For this reason, immortality is a gift of love. The goal of immortal life is not to allow us to forever do what our carnal minds presently want to do, nor is it to allow us to enjoy endless pleasure that our carnal minds presently desire to do. When we are filled with the agape-love of God, we will be filled with the same passion that is in the fire of God, and so we will indeed be able to fulfill our every desire and find endless pleasure in doing so. Why? Because the desire of agape is the same desire found in God Himself. The desire of God never fails to achieve its goal.
No doubt the apostle’s definition of failure followed the Hebrew view, though he was using the Greek language to express it. The Hebrew word khawtaw means “sin, failure, falling short.” This is clearly seen in the example in Judges 20:16,
16 Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss [khawtaw].
Literally, these men from the tribe of Benjamin could sling stones and not SIN—that is, they never fell short of their target. They never failed to hit their target (goal). So also is the love of God. God is love, and love never fails. Whatever goal God set out to do when He created the universe, He will accomplish. If His intent and desire is to save just a few, then He will achieve that goal. If His intent and desire is to save all, then He will save all. He cannot fail to achieve His goal.
The point is that He cannot fail without becoming a sinner. Therefore, any time it appears that God has failed to achieve His goal, His desire, or His will, we know that we do not yet see the whole picture. Time will reveal all things. Time will continue until love has succeeded fully.
This God of love brings judgment for sin in order to achieve His goal. Judgment that ends with permanent loss would not merely be a failure of man, but also a failure of God’s love. Though most people believe that God’s love will have only a 2% success rate (more or less), Paul tells us that, given enough time, love will succeed 100%.
In other words, all judgment is designed to correct, not to destroy. God will never lose a single thing that He has created, but instead will rule over all things. That was the purpose and goal of Jesus’ death on the cross. Paul says in 1 Tim. 2:3-4 (KJV),
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
The NASB renders it, “who desires all men to be saved,” no doubt intending to turn this into a matter of wishful thinking or unrealistic hope on God’s part. But the Greek word Paul uses is thelema, “to will.” It is the will itself that desires all things, so the real question is whether or not God’s will is strong enough to overcome man’s resistant will. Paul says that it is the will, desire, and intent of God for all men to be saved. Paul also believed that God would indeed save all mankind, for he says again in 1 Tim. 4:9, 10,
9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance, 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope [confident expectation] on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.
There is a special salvation for believers, but He is “the Savior of all men.” Believers are given immortal life before unbelievers, and overcomers get it even before other believers. The overcomers will be raised to life in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6), while the rest of the dead remain dead. Then a thousand years later, at the Great White Throne judgment, the rest of the believers, along with all the unbelievers, will be raised from the dead and brought to trial. In John 5:28, 29 Jesus said that in that hour the believers will receive life, and the unbelievers will receive judgment.
But even that is not the end of the story, for there will be a Jubilee declared in the end, wherein all further debt will be cancelled, and every man will return to his original inheritance. All that man has lost will be recovered, and all that God has lost will be recovered as well. So we read in Heb. 2:8, 9,
8 “Thou hast put all things in subjection under His feet.” For in subjecting all things to Him, He left nothing that is not subject to Him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to Him. 9 But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
This is confirmed in 1 John 2:2, where that apostle writes,
2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
In the end, Paul says that all things (ta panta, “The All”) will be put into subjection under the feet of Jesus Christ. When he says “all,” he means just that. But because some may object to our use of the term “all,” let us allow Paul himself to define the term. Col. 1:16-20 says,
16 For by Him all things [ta panta, “The All”] were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things [ta panta] have been created by Him and for Him…. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things [ta panta] to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
Paul’s definition of The All includes all that He created. This is the full scope of that which He has reconciled to Himself through the blood of His cross. Love never fails.
Paul will speak more about God’s ultimate victory in 1 Cor. 15:25-28, but we will defer our discussion of that passage until later.