If you’ve ever attended a wedding, then you know of the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. Starting in verse 4, Paul describes various characteristics of love: “Love is patient, love is kind …” He concludes the list in verse 8 with one of the most frequently misused Scriptures I’ve ever heard: “Love never fails.”
This passage is popular at weddings, obviously, because no one enters matrimony with the intention of ending it (except Prince Humperdinck, but he’s a conniving fictional character). Yet, if “love never fails,” then how do we explain divorce? I don’t think many divorcees would honestly say that they never loved their ex-spouse. Somewhere along the line, though, that love failed, so does that mean Scripture is wrong?
The problem is not with Scripture. We’re trying to read a vague English word (“love”) that we assume here to mean the kind of lovey-dovey love between a husband and wife, but the Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 13:8 is actually “agape,” which refers to God’s love. That’s the kind of love that never fails! We humans fail all too often, but God’s love never, ever fails. Furthermore, if you look at that passage in context with the rest of the chapter, Paul isn’t even talking about marriage; he’s discussing spiritual gifts and how we should use our gifts in the spirit of God’s love, not for our own glory.
Please don’t interpret what I’ve just said to mean that I think marriage is trivial; it is ideal for a couple to stay in love for the rest of their lives. It’s just that if we don’t grasp the meaning of Paul’s words, then it’s very easy to make the leap from “love never fails” to “you are a failure because your love failed.” I don’t know about you, but as someone who has experienced such failure, it’s a huge relief to know that God’s love for me never diminishes, and my worth in his eyes goes light years beyond my failures.
As a sinful human being, I am adept at failing (there are multiple examples daily), but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. I’m a redeemed child of God! In case that doesn’t convince you, I encourage you to do a keyword search in the Bible using “God” and “love” – you’ll find 100+ references! No matter what your failures in life have been, God loves you always & forever.