The Limits of Love

If you have been to a wedding, you have probably heard the verses read in the Bible describing love, “Love is patient, love is kind…” from 1 Corinthians 13.  The last description in these verses states, “Love never fails.”

Besides the reality that the word “love” in these passages is not referring to romantic love, but rather Christ-like love, there is often another misunderstanding of these passages specifically with the phrase, “Love never fails.”  At first glance, it seems this inspirational phrase should lead us to the conclusion that love always achieves the desired result. In other words, love always works. So, if you just love enough, all your relationships should work out, your parenting will be a guaranteed success, and you won’t have any blemishes from your efforts in life, all because “love never fails.”  In fact, I often hear this phrase quoted within the context where there is a tension in a person’s relationship with another, and the advise given is “Remember, love never fails.”

I am sure the intentions behind this encouragement are good-hearted, but the counsel itself could be a bit misleading. Love, does not in fact always get the desired result, it doesn’t always achieve the goals it sets out to accomplish.

The Bible clearly states that God’s desire is to see all people go to heaven through a restored relationship with Him. To that end, John 3:16 declares that God acted in love by sending His son Jesus to make it possible for all people to be saved through faith in Him. In short, God Has given the fullest, deepest, and most powerful and perfect expression and act of love to accomplish His desire to see all people (and things) restored and reconciled back to Him.  Yet, we know clearly that many people have and will reject Jesus and by their own choice, not spend eternity with God. How can this be if “Love never fails?”

Obviously, there is a misunderstanding. The word “fails” comes from the Greek “ekpipto” (ek-pip’-to) which means  “to drop away; especially, be driven out of one’s course”  In other words, true love never dies; it never ends.  Regardless of whether it is received or rejected, true love lives on, continuing to love and seek what’s best.

The integrity of love is not dependent on what it does or doesn’t accomplish, rather in that true love never fails to be given. Love is limited in what it can do, but not in whether it can be given and live on. Love is always the right thing and the best thing to do, but it does not always achieve the right outcome or the best outcome.

Even those who reject God, God continues to love. Now, depending on the behavior of that person and their relationship with God, that love may be expressed in different ways. For example, discipline is an act of love. It’s not pleasant to give nor to receive, but it is still nonetheless, love. In fact, sometimes anything less than giving love expressed through discipline is to be completely unloving.

Love is to be unconditional in its giving, but how it is expressed (or given) is and should be conditional.  Love fits every situation, but not every kind of expression of love is fitting for every situation.

In fact, the moments of God’s stern judgement, discipline, silence, and distancing from people we find within scripture are still expressions of His love. God is always loving in what He does. However, to our culture today, these expressions of love are not always seen that way.  Rather, discipline is often seen as an unloving act of intolerance. Redefining a relationship is often seen as an unloving, mean-spirited act. Distancing oneself from a person and setting boundaries is often seen as an unloving act that is without compassion.  Love is unconditional in its giving, but it is not always open-minded, open-ended, and open-hearted in how it is given.

People fail, relationships fail, children rebel, people walk away, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have failed. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean that God has failed, nor love has failed.

“Love never fails” is not so much a description of what it accomplishes, but rather of its essence… it’s never depleted and it’s never defeated.  There is never a moment where love can’t be expressed, yet there is never a singular expression of love that is fitting for every moment.

What’s the take away? Always love, but always love wisely. The more you love wisely, the more love you will have to be wise with.

Give it without limit, but limit how you give it.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.   -1 John 4:7-8

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.   -Proverbs 4:23

 

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