Love Never Fails

1 Corinthians

Love Never Fails

December 11th, 1955 @ 10:50 AM

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
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W. A. Criswell

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

12-11-55    10:50 a.m.


Last Sunday night we left off at the third verse of the thirteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter.  And in your Bible, if you will turn to it, we begin at the fourth verse of the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians and go through the eighth verse.  Now that we might have its context, I will read starting at the first verse, I Corinthians 13:1:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.

Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Love never faileth; whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

But there abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

[1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13]

In the second chapter of The Revelation, John wrote an epistle to the church at Ephesus.  And he wrote it as the amaneunses of our Savior.  And the Lord said to John, writing to the church at Ephesus, “For thou hast left thy first love” [Revelation 2:4].  The church at Ephesus had lost that glow of tenderness, of care and concern.  Religion had become to them a matter of creed, or theology, or barren and sterile duty.  But its warmth, its response, its sympathy, its glow, its concern, its care, its full-orbed meaning had been lost.

Paul writes to the church at Corinth, and the church at Corinth was wonderfully gifted.  They had the gifts of miracles.  They had the gifts of tongues.  They had the gifts of ecstatic praise and adoration.  They had the gifts of interpretation.  They had the gifts of prophecy.  They were rich and endowed with all the multitudinous gifts of the Holy Spirit, but they were also filled with divisiveness, and strife, and variances, and difficulties of every kind.

So Paul in writing the letter to the church at Corinth, after he commends them and thanks God for them [1 Corinthians 1:4], and their seeking after the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the endowments of heaven [1 Corinthians 1:5-7]; then in turning to their spirit of variance and of difficulty and of divisiveness [1 Corinthians 1:1-13], he pours out his heart to them, for this greater gift, what he calls the more excellent way [1 Corinthians 12:31], the spirit of love and of charity, the spirit of kindness and forbearance [1 Corinthians 13:1-13].  And that is the reason you find this thirteenth chapter in the heart of the letter [1 Corinthians 13:1-13].  However eloquent we may be, however gifted, however wonderfully blessed of God with nine and ten talents, if our spirit is crude and rude and rough, if our heart is not filled with the milk of human kindness, if we are not actuated and motivated by a wonderful care and concern for God’s fellow creatures, our eloquence is like sounding brass and clanging cymbal [1 Corinthians 13:1], our gifts of the Spirit are nothing, and our very philanthropies fall to the ground.

So I say that’s the reason for the appeal of the apostle to the church in pouring out this effusive appeal in behalf of the love that ought to move one’s heart by doing what one does.  Now, that is a very beautiful and eloquent word that he says.  I suppose there is nothing like it in all the language of all the literature of all the world.

Where there is an abundance of love, housekeeping goes easily, whether it is in a little cottage, or whether it is in a great palace, or whether it is in a vast, comprehensive church like this with its multitudinous of characters and opinions and forces.  Where there is not love, you have to get along by compromise, by a policy of give and take, by concession.  And always you sit down together knowing that on the other side of the table is one seeking an opportunity for advantage to spring up on the prey.  But where there is genuine love and affection, however we may differ and however diversified our opinion or our outlook or our persuasion may be, and however God shall make us in different ways and after different patterns, if this is in us and the Spirit of love and charity is upon us, the thing is easily done and beautifully done and gloriously done.

This morning, I have chosen four of the things that he has written here in this text to speak of, and the first one concerns love and personal ambition.  In the fourth and the fifth verses, “Love vaunteth not itself.  Love seeketh not her own” [1 Corinthians 13:4-5].

There has not been any curse known to the human family like the curse that goes with personal aggrandizement, the furtherance of self, that thing of ambition misdirected has brought on, oh, how many of the great national calamities that has thrown this world into a bath of blood.  From the days of Genghis Kahn through Tamerlane through the Caesars, the Sargons, the Sennacheribs, through Napoleon, Bismarck, through Hitler, these men of great personal ambition, and the whole world is as nothing before their feet, as they, on mountains of bodies and skulls and dead bones, seek to rise up and up and up to be like God Himself.  Personal ambition, the thing has been a curse, not only nationally, in national calamity and tragedy, but the thing has been an unending tragedy as the drama of human life itself has unfolded.

I don’t suppose that in English history, there was a man more wonderfully gifted, a man of greater and tremendous talents than Cardinal Wolsey; lived with King Henry VIII, but a man of inordinate ambition, lust for power, pride of place, greed for domination and for rule.  And in Shakespeare’s great play of Henry VIII, he places in his mouth these significant words as the great prelate, so high and so ambitious for so much, as he sees the inevitable end.  He says, as Shakespeare places the words in his mouth, “Fling away ambition, fling it away.  By that sin fell the angels.  How can man in the image of his Maker hope to achieve thereby, love thyself, last?”  And then again those final words of despair in the Shakespearian play, “Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my king, I would not in mine age have been left naked and alone.”

In the forty-fifth chapter of Jeremiah, Jeremiah says to Baruch the son of Neriah, his amanuensis; he says to him, remember it, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not” [Jeremiah 45:5]. Jesus, when the two brothers James and John said, “In the kingdom that is to be, let one of us sit on the right hand and the other on the left hand” [Mark 10:35-36]—and when the ten heard it, they were filled with all kinds of confusion and talk and agitation, and the Lord called them around Him and said, “That is the way the Gentiles, that is the way the heathen do.  They aspire for rule and for domination, and they exercise lordship over one another.”  That is the heathen, that is the Gentile, that is the world [Mark 10:41-42].  “But it shall not be so among you: but he that is greatest among you, let him be your servant.  And he that is to be the master let him be the least of all” [Mark 10:43-44].

That is the spirit of Christ and it is the spirit of the Christian follower of the Lord Jesus.  “Love vaunteth not itself” [1 Corinthians 13:4], not looking for any preeminence.  If there is any honor, let him have it.  Let him have it.  If there is any place of elected pride, let it go to him, somebody other.  “Vaunteth not itself, seeketh not her own” [1 Corinthians 13:4-5];   I will be the doorkeeper, I will be the slave, I will be the servant, I will wash feet.  That is the spirit of our Master [John 13:3-5], and of us who are His true disciples, if God shall help us so to be.

What is he saying?  “Love thinketh no evil” [1 Corinthians 13:5].  I stumbled at that, thinketh no evil.   But when you read it in the Greek language, it just looks so different.  What it says actually is this, “It does not brood over evil.”  Oh, suppose you have a fault.  Suppose you have fallen into a misfortune. How does love do?  Does it gloat over your misfortune? And does it roll under its tongue as a sweet morsel, this evil that had overtaken you?  Does love do that?   Love thinketh no evil, that is, love doesn’t call it to mind, love doesn‘t brood upon it.

How many times are we like this, we put two and two together by the shadows that you leave behind, and out of those shadows we try to construct a house of hate by which to imprison you, your faults and your misfortunes, but love doesn’t remember it.

Or, you say, “Yes, but I had forgotten about it.” “Oh, you remind me.”  “Yes, but I have put it behind.”  “Well, seems like I do remember that back there he fell into thus and so, but I have covered it over.”

Not brooding over one’s faults.  Not triumphing personally over somebody else’s fall or misfortune.  “Thinketh no evil” [1 Corinthians 13:5], doesn’t call it to mind, cannot even remember it.  Wouldn’t that be something, if you were able to walk among your fellow men and however they had fallen or whatever they were, loving God and them so much you never thought about it?   Didn’t call it to mind; it was buried and covered out of sight.

I read one time in a book about an artist who had been called to paint the portrait of Alexander the Great.  Alexander the Great was almost like the Lord Jesus in his ableness to get men to love him and follow him unto death.  At an age in his twenties, he had conquered the whole world, and men followed him to death and gladly fought by his side.  And this artist was asked to paint the picture of the great Alexander.

Now, in one of those battles, Alexander had received a terrible sword wound across his forehead.  And it had left a deep and livid scar across his forehead.  And the artist, wanting to do the great and magnificent thing by their greatest Greek chieftain, thought and pondered, “But how shall I draw my commander and make it like him?”  And yet, that terrible scar across his forehead, but he did it, and this is the way he drew  Alexander the Great—leaning upon his elbow and his hand casually on his forehead, and just as if by sheerest accident, one of his fingers covered the deep scar on his forehead; it just happened to be that way.

I just happened to forget.  I just, I just somehow didn’t remember it, covered out of sight, thinketh no evil [1 Corinthians 13:5].  Not looking for it; not interested in it.  Some tell . . . “thinketh no evil.”  That’s love.  That’s love.

Then this next one was the strangest thing that I’ve ever tried to find and found a gold mine.   I found a diamond; this “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” [1 Corinthians 13:7].  Well, I could easily see beareth all things, endureth all things.  But love hopeth all things, love hopeth all things.  When love dies, hope dies, for love believes, and love trusts, and love is buoyant, and love hopes.  And the way it came to my heart was this, “Love hopeth all things” [1 Corinthians 13:7].

When we are overwhelmed by a terrible tragedy, a colossal misfortune has overwhelmed our souls.  In the words of the forty-second Psalm, “All Thy waves and all of Thy billows have swept over me” [Psalm 42:7], and in a sea of trouble and misfortune, we have found ourselves.  Then we say, “I don’t love God anymore.   And I don’t love Christ anymore.  And I don’t love this Book, God’s Book anymore.  In this world of misfortune and in the sea of trial and sorrow, I don’t love God.  And I don’t love Christ.  And I don’t love the Book.  And I don’t love my church.  And speak to me not of it, I have lost my love.”

Then, you have lost your hope, for love hopeth all things [1 Corinthians 13:7].  It is love that believes.  It is love that clings.  It is love that stays.  It is love that bears and endures.  And if we have lost our love, we have lost our hope.

Blind, blind, blind, blind.  How many times have I heard that, especially in the Orient?   Blind, blind, blind, blind.  But in blindness, if we love Christ and love God, someday we believe we will see again.  “Love hopeth all things.”  Cripple, cripple, dragging with us a withered and a tortured limb, but love God and love Christ, and someday we believe we will be strong and well again.  Oh, hurt, in suffering and in pain, but in the love of God, in the promise of Jesus, someday we will be well again.  In death and in sorrow and in bereavement, separated, but loving God and loving Christ and trusting an unfathomable, unknowable, infinite wisdom and choice of God, someday  see one another again.  “Love hopeth all things.”

In age and senility and an impending and soon and certain death, love hopeth all things, clinging to God in a land of a promise where we will never grow old and be young forever and live in His sight.  Love hopeth all things, but if we lose it, hope dies when love dies.  I do not think there is a more meaningful little poem than the one by the poet when he likened that to the thousand eyes of the stars and the one eye of the soul;  when he wrote:

The night has a thousand eyes,

And the day, but one;

Yet the light of a whole world dies

With the setting sun.

The mind has a thousand eyes.

The heart but one;

Yet the light of a whole life dies

When love is done.

[“The Night has a Thousand Eves,” Francis William Bourdillon, 1873]

I would not think there was anyone who ever lived, who lived under such certain and impending death as the Lord Jesus Christ; yet, no man ever lived who hoped like that Man.  He never doubted of the glory that was yet to be.  As He lived His life, He knew that somewhere a tree was growing upon which He would hang in agony [1 Peter 2:24].  He knew that somewhere molten iron was being poured that would be beat into nails and a spear that would tear His flesh and His life [John 19:34].

But He hoped in God, and He trusted in the Lord, and His life was upward and buoyant and filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, and it shone in His own marvelous and incomparable face, the hope in Christ, and that hope is engendered in us.

Any man who believes in Jesus, any man who will love Christ and give himself to the hopefulness of our Lord, whatever the billows and the waves and whatever the tragedy and the sorrow, there is in it an inexplicable and an unfathomable and an infinite holy divine help and courage.  There is a refuge; there is a promise in the love of the Lord Jesus.  I think of that at this season of the year, especially in this poem:

That night, that night when o’er the newborn Babe,

The tender Mary rose to lean,

A lonesome leper smiled in sleep—

And dreamed that he was clean.

That night when to the mother’s breast

The little King was held secure,

A harlot slept a happy sleep—

And dreamed that she was pure!

That night when in the manger lay

The Sanctified who came to save,

A man moved in the sleep of death—

And dreamed there was no grave!

That night when in Judean skies

The mystic star dispensed its light,

A blind man moved in his sleep—

And dreamed that he had sight.

That night when shepherds heard the song

Of hosts angelic choiring near,

A deaf man stirred in slumber’s spell—

And dreamed that he could hear.

That night when in the cattle stall

Slept Child and mother cheek by jowl,

A cripple turned his twisted limbs

And dreamed that he was whole.

[“That Night,” author unknown]

Love hopeth all things [1 Corinthians 13:7].  If we lose it, we have lost our hope.  But in sickness and in illness, and in agony and in suffering, and in age and in death, if we can cling in love, we abound in hope.

And the last, “And love never faileth; prophecies fail, tongues cease, knowledge vanishes away, but love, love never faileth” [1 Corinthians 13:8].   Its method never fails.  It always wins, and it always works.

I don’t think there is a more unusual turn to a story that you could ever read than in the sixth chapter of 2 Kings, which tells the story of Elisha and the king of Syria, Ben‑hadad, who is warring against Israel.  And Elisha, the man of God, sends word to the king of Israel saying, “Don’t you go by such and such place, there is an ambush there set by the king of Syria to destroy you and your army.   And that did not happen not once nor twice, but again and again.”

And so the king of Syria called in his servants and said, “Which one of you is for the king of Israel?  Tell me.”

And one of them replied and said, “Your Honor, Your Majesty, there is not any one of us for the king of Israel.  But over there is a prophet of God.  And he can tell the king of Israel what you say in your bedchamber” [2 Kings 6:8-12].

And so the king of Syria got his chariots and his horses and his armies, and he surrounded Elisha on every side.  And he was in a little town named Dothan on the top of a little bitty hill.  And when the servant of Elisha rose the next morning, why, the hosts of the king of Syria were on every side.  And the servant of the man of God came and said, “My Lord, my Lord, how shall we do?   We are surrounded on every hand, horses and chariots are everywhere.”

And Elisha said, “Why, that is not to be of thought, that is not to be of matter.  Why, they that are with us are more than they that be with them.”

And Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of the young man.”  And God opened the eyes of the young man, and the mountain was filled with horses and chariots and fire, round about Elisha [2 Kings 6:13-17].

So Elisha said, “Lord, blind all of this army.” And the Lord blinded every one of the Syrian soldiers, blind, every one of them [2 Kings 6:18].  And Elisha came out of the gates of the little city, and he said to the Syrian army, he said, “This is not where you want to be.  And this is not the man that you are seeking for.  Follow me, and I will take you where you want to go and to the man you want to see.  And he led the Syrian army into the city of Samaria, into the capital of Israel [2 Kings 6:19].  And when the army was safely inside and the gates were barred, why, the king of Israel said to Elisha the man of God, he said, “Now, we have got them.  Every man bear his sword, and we will slay the entire army of Syria.”  What a day of victory and triumph!

And Elisha the man of God, said, “Not so. Not so. Not so.”

And Elisha prayed, “Lord, open their eyes.”  And the eyes of the army of Syria were opened, their eyes were opened, and they were in the gates of Samaria with those soldiers with drawn swords all around to slay them.

And Elisha said, “Set meat and drink and provisions before them.”  And they fed them in abundance.  And they treated them kindly.  And Elisha opened the gates of the city and sent the army with provisions back home to Damascus in the love and grace and friendship of the men of God [2 Kings 6:20-22].

And the story closes with a little sentence, “And the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel” [2 Kings 6:23].

Isn’t that a war?  Isn’t that a war?  You know, when you go over there to Germany and you see some of those dear women over there who are widows, and their sons have all been slain, I have just often thought if the United States of America could live back over again these last twenty years, I wonder if they would be so eager to kill those German boys, especially now that we are being fed into the maw of a Soviet Socialistic Republic.  I don’t know, but God’s Book says the method works.  The method wins.

I must close, but skipping over so much, may I say just one other thing?   This is the kingdom of Christ, and it will live forever.  When you look back over those history books, there is the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar.  Where is the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar?  You have to dig it up out of old musty books, or you would never know there was such a golden kingdom.  This is the kingdom of Sargon and Sennacherib and Tiglath-pileser.  There was a day when their name shook terror to the world.  This is the kingdom of Alexander the Great. And this is the kingdom of the Caesars.  And this is of Tamerlane.  And this is of Napoleon.  And this is Bismarck.  You would never know it had it not been that somebody wrote it down in an old musty book of history.

But the kingdom of the Lord Jesus, look around you, look around you; there in the very heart of Africa you will find that kingdom growing and building.  Over there in the very heart of communist China today, there are little colonies of that heavenly kingdom, that celestial hope.  Just look around you, the kingdom of love, the kingdom of faith and hope of the Lord Jesus, and it is built by a committal of our lives to Him and to each other.  And so I wrote down that most meaningful little poem that all of us know and love, “Abou Ben Adhem”:

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)

I woke one night from a dream of peace,

And saw within the moonlight of his room,

Making it rich, and like a Lillian bloom.

An angel, writing in a book of gold:

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,

And to the presence in the room he said,

“What writest thou?”  The angel raised his head,

And with a look made all of sweet accord,

Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?”  said Abou.  “Nay, not so,”

Replied the angel.  Abou spoke more low,

But tearily still; and said, “I pray thee then

Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night

He came again, with a great awakening light,

And showed the names whom love of God had blessed.

And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

[“Abou Ben Adhem,” James Henry Leigh Hunt]

 It’s the way of the kingdom of Jesus; our hearts belong to God, and our souls filled with the love of men, that they might be saved, that they might know Jesus,  that they might walk with us in this heavenly pilgrimage from this life to the sweet and glorious life that is yet to come.

“And the angle said, Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy… for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” [Luke 2:9-11].   And suddenly all heaven was opened and angels, ascending and descending, singing the song they had rehearsed since the dawn of creation, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” [Luke 2:13-14]; the everlasting kingdom of Christ the Son of God.

And as we sing our song, somebody you this day to give his heart to the Lord or to come into His church, somebody you, or a family you, while we make appeal and sing this song this morning, would you come, would you make it now.  “Here is my little girl, and here is my little boy,” or “here I am pastor; here we are.”  While we sing the appeal this day, this hour, this beautifully precious moment, would you come, and would you make it now?  While we stand and while we sing.