How does love respond to failure?

PESH GradFor most students, this time of year is filled with final examinations and graduation celebrations. With the tests, come the opportunities to succeed as well as the risks of failure. Test are given to not only to demonstrate what has been learned, but also to expose what is still unknown and what’s left to be discovered. In order for there to be a graduation celebration in the end, there had to be some tests, including some failures, along the way.

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ― Denis Waitley

Everyone fails. Students, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors. Everyone. And as Sy Robertson would say, “That’s a fact, Jack.” The important thing is how we respond to failure. Not just in school – but in life. How do we respond to our own failures? How do respond to the failures of others?

Most of us can’t change what happens to us. All we can change is the way we respond to it. We can’t be in charge of the situations of life or what people say, or how they say it, or even to whom they say it. We can’t change other people when they fail us or abandon us when we have let them down. But we can be in charge of how we respond. How does love respond to failure?

The timeless Word of God says, “Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6) That is the mandatory principle of love: Love responds to failure with truth and grace. Love without truth becomes mushy sentimentalism—the feel-good kind of love you get in a romance novel. But a good feeling doesn’t help somebody with an addiction problem or destructive behaviors, or pain that’s caused by someone that’s harmed you. Ignoring the actions of others or stuffing how we feel is not love because love has to be filled with truth. But love also requires grace that picks someone up who has fallen. Love confronts evil – but only because it has to. And the aim is to restore. Grace without truth is emotional, but truth without grace is unfairly critical. Love responds to failure with both truth and grace. This is the power of the Gospel (John 1:14). Our Heavenly Father recognized the truthful reality of our sin, and yet by His grace He sent His Son to bear all the weight of our failures. That’s what we all need – truth and grace. And as we respond to the failures of others, they need to see the power of the Gospel at work.

After giving us the overarching principle that love demands truth and rejoices in it, and that it refuses to rejoice in evil, Paul gives us four specific ways to put love into practice by the way we respond to failures: to protect, to trust, to hope and to persevere. Paul’s words written for the church are not just good theology, they are written for us to practice in reality.

1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” The most overwhelming thought to me is not the collection of four very strong verbs in this verse, but the repetition of the phrase “ALL things.” It is an all-encompassing message God has for us from His Word that will transform our relationships if we surrender our methods of love for His.

First, “love bears all things.” The word picture used here describes a roof that doesn’t leak during the fury of a storm and provides protection from the intense heat of the sun. It completely protects that person from exposure, ridicule, or harm. Paul says that love provides a shelter from the storms of life and protection from exposure to sin for the one it loves. Sheltering love feels the pain of those it loves and carries their burdens.

storm-protectionWe all need someone to love us enough to see through the façade of our faults and protect us through our problems. And we’ll never make ourselves vulnerable enough for that kind of transparency unless we feel safe from humiliation and blame. We need people around us who will help us deal with our failures and grow from them, but without exposing and exploiting us in the process. Do you have anyone who loves you like that?

There are a lot of people (mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters) who need to stop hearing about their faults and failures. They are tired of being wounded by sarcastic comments, criticisms, jokes, innuendo, whispers, gossip and blame. Love says, “I’m with you, let’s deal with it.” When we’re living out this kind of love, we address the truth, but only to address it in a healthy, productive way, not to lay blame, rehash the past, or leverage guilt as motivation. We deal with it lovingly, then move on. It just doesn’t come up anymore. That’s how love responds to people’s failures.

Who are the people in your world who need this kind of love? Are some of them in your family, your church, your school, your office, and your neighborhood?

Second, “love believes all things.” The word for believe or trust is used 239 in the NT. It’s a common word, but in this context it means to have confidence in another person. Love trusts, but it isn’t naïve trust. When someone has lied to us a hundred times, we don’t “believe all things.” That’s just being gullible. This kind of trust is discerning and insightful. Real love consciously chooses to believe the best about someone. Love avoids suspicion and judgment and doesn’t assume the worst. Love makes a deliberate decision to consider the best explanation for a situation, the one that puts the person in the most positive light. When your husband does the same annoying thing for the 500th time, love refuses to assume that things will never change. Love applies enough grace to expect something better next time. It always thinks the best and tries to bring out the best in others.

hawthorne_house_of_seven_gablesNathaniel Hawthorne was just a clerk working in the New York City customs department. He was fired one day for inefficiency, came home, and sat down in his chair broken, discouraged, and defeated. His wife came up behind him, placed before him a pen and a piece of paper, and putting her arm around him she said, “Now, Nathaniel, you can do what you always wanted to do. You can write.” The first thing that came from his pen was The House of Seven Gables, then The Scarlet Letter. Everybody needs somebody who believes in them.

Failure doesn’t define a person. If it does, then Scripture isn’t true and our redemption isn’t very effective. If God looked at us and defined our identity by what we’ve done wrong, we would have no hope. But God doesn’t do that. He knows us by who we are becoming. He sees what He is shaping us into. He sees our future, not our failure, and is using every situation, including failure, to conform us to the likeness of His Son. God’s love compels us to respond to others’ failures with the firm belief that failure doesn’t define a person. Love says, “I’m with you and I believe in you.”

Who in your life needs to hear that? A son or a daughter? A mother or father? A friend or co-worker? A student or even a teacher?

Third, “love hopes all things.” Biblical hope is far different from how we use the word today. We use it for wishful thinking. The Bible speaks of hope as an absolute confidence in the reality of what God has promised. Biblical hope is not based on people, rather, it’s rooted in God’s character, God’s promises, and God’s sovereignty. He is in absolute control. He will do what He has said. He can redeem and completely transform any person, any relationship, any family, any church, any situation, no matter how hopeless that person, group, or situation may appear. When love runs out of faith, it just holds on to hope.

Mourners embrace while taking part in a vigil for bomb victims a day after two explosions hit the Boston Marathon in BostonSome parents know what that’s all about. They have prayed for a son or daughter who has wandered away from God. Some spouses know what hope is all about. They have prayed for a destructive behavior or attitude to change for years. Every evidence says nothing is happening, that it’s not going to change. But you keep hoping. Hope never allows failure to be final.

There’s a hope that goes beyond our own resources, a biblical hope that says, “I’ve done all I can do, and I’m going to trust that the all-knowing, all-powerful, sovereign, loving God knows about this situation and is going to work in it.” We make a conscious decision to believe that hopeless people and hopeless situations are never hopeless to God. True love is rooted in that kind of hope. It’s the power of the Gospel that enables fallen people to move from a place of absolute failure to great fruitfulness, even when it looks like all hope is lost. Love isn’t based on how things look at the moment. Love chooses to hope.

Fourth, “love endures all things.” Love perseveres. The word for persevere or endure is enlightening. Hypomeno comes from hypo –to be under—and meno—pressure, stress, misfortune, pain, or difficulty. It has the sense of bravely and calmly bearing problems and ill treatment, of persevering under misfortune and trial. It also means, “to remain.” In other words, Love stays. It sticks around, even with it has to put up with a lot. Love doesn’t walk out on a relationship. Love endures all things. That’s the patience of love.

Love bears what is otherwise unbearable. It believes what otherwise is unbelievable. It hopes in what is otherwise hopeless, and it endures when anything less than love would give up. After love bears, it believes. And after it believes it hopes. And after it hopes it endures. And after it endures… There is no “after” after endurance, for endurance is the unending climax of love.

The real power of love is that it will outlast everything else. “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:5). The Phillips translation of this verse is like this: “Love can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.” I’ve seen that happen with some dear friends I have known. The flower is off the relationship in terms of any satisfaction. The loved child is sick and can’t take care of himself, and I’ve watched a mother just love that person. A mother has advanced Alzheimer’s and yet, I’ve seen a son care for her selflessly. What an encouragement! Human love doesn’t do that. Only Christ’s love can empower you to do that.

love never failsLove never fails because God is love and He never fails. Love has its origin in heaven, but its incarnation, or its living out in the flesh through Jesus Christ (John 3:16). He will never leave us or forsake us – even when we fail. Even when others fail us. If we are to understand the expression, “Love never fails,” we must look at the only person who ever walked on this earth who lived love in grace and truth absolutely to perfection.

God knows we all fail. When we have failed and when others fail us we can fall into the everlasting arms of the Eternal One who never fails. And in the end when we graduate to heaven, we’ll finally understand that His love never ends. Now that’s a cause for celebration!

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