Love Never Fails — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Love Never Fails

Paul: Week 2

Love Never Fails
Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Paul says some pretty extraordinary things in 1 Corinthians 13. Let’s look at some of his points carefully.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

This hits close to home for me. Paul points out that I might give a wonderful sermon, but if I don’t do it out of God’s love for the people right in front of me, it won’t be as powerful as when I’m participating in divine love. God will still use even lesser loves, but Paul recognizes that human feelings and preferences are quite unreliable. Our affections are fickle and will finally change and fall short when our conditions or requirements are not met.

If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge;

Among others, Paul is talking to the intellectuals and the academics, the Greeks of his day—and likely to most of us. This is the common temptation to substitute knowledge for actual love or service.

and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

Here he’s challenging religious people who make a task of religion itself, who try to be moral and “believe” through will power. This often passes for religion, but it is faith without love so it is not true faith. Paul might also be criticizing the common mistake of those we call conservatives or “true believers.”

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Apparently, you can even be a progressive and generous social activist; but if you’re just doing it to be holier than thou, or out of oppositional energy, you are still outside of the Big Mystery. Self-proclaiming heroics on the Left can be just as unloving as self-proclaiming religion on the Right.

Then Paul tries to describe the mystery of love, and he finally has to resort to listing almost fifteen descriptions. He talks about love not as simply an isolated virtue, but as the basis for all virtue. It is the underlying, generous energy that gives itself away through those living inside of love.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous;

If I’m jealous, then I’m not in love. When you are inside this mystery of love, you operate differently, and it’s not in a guarded, protective way.

love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly [it is never rude]; it does not seek its own [advantage], is not provoked [it does not take offense or store up grievances],

So every time you and I take offense (how many times a day is that?), we’re not “in love.”

[Love] does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness [in the mistakes of others], but rejoices with the truth;

The Germans have a word for delighting in someone else’s misfortune—schadenfreude. Maybe we do not have an English word for it because we take it as normal. I hope not.

[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

And then Paul ends with this: Love never fails. [1]

Paul is touching upon something that’s infinite; it can therefore include all and has an endless ability to pour itself out. When you’re in love, you’re operating from this foundational sense of abundance, not from scarcity or fear. There is an inherent generosity of spirit, of smile, of gesture, of readiness, of initial acceptance that you immediately sense from any person who is standing inside this Flow. Honestly, you can tell the difference between someone “in love” and someone “not in love” in the first five seconds of almost any encounter. The all-important point, however, is that if your primary motivation is to love, there is no such thing as failure—except in your failure to draw love from an ever deeper level.

Gateway to Silence:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. —1 Corinthians 13:7

[1] 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, NASB (The Lockman Foundation).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Today Is a Time for Mercy,” December 10, 2015,;

and “Introduction to the 2016 Daily Meditations,”

Image Credit: Three Little Girls, Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC archives.
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