#32 Love Never Fails (6/7/02)

By Robert H. Schuller

I am sharing thoughts today from what is known as probably the greatest love passage ever written by anyone in literature, I Corinthians 13. It is shocking to notice that the author is a relatively obscure Jew who had no teaching, as far as we know, in psychology or philosophy. We call him St. Paul. He was a remarkable man. When you read his words, you wonder to whom was he writing because he was motivated to write about love? Then you realize human beings were no different two thousand years ago than they are today.

The greatest thing in the world is love. Unbelievable! And St. Paul closes this chapter with the last verse reading:
"Now abides faith, hope and love. The greatest of these is LOVE." (I Corinthians 13:13)

You've heard me tell how I attended the 1966 World Psychiatric Convention in Madrid, Spain where there were over four thousand psychiatrists from all over the world. They came from behind the iron curtain, from Moscow and atheist Russia. It was a remarkable convention, and at the last plenary session these four thousand people listened to three world-renowned psychiatrists speak.

The first psychiatrist spoke for 30 minutes on the human value called faith, the importance and value of it. What a contrast that was with the scientific materialists who dismissed faith as an irresponsible, non-relational mental activity. Now this esteemed psychiatrist was saying, "you need faith!"

The second lecture was on hope, as the second most powerful human value in psychotherapy. It was not until 1959 that a psychiatrist dared to lecture on that word hopeat the American Psychiatric Convention. His name is Karl Menninger, and he sent me an autographed copy of that address which I have in my treasured papers. This was the first time a psychiatrist lectured on hope. Why? Because hope enters the spiritual dimension, so scientific psychiatry stayed away from it.

Hope! You need it. Where does it come from? We don't know. What does it do? It works miracles. This was the essence of that second lecture to this scientific convention of four thousands of the world's psychiatrists.

The first lecture on faith ... the second lecture on hope... then the third lecturer spoke on love.

"The most healing, powerful force in the world is love," he said. I went out of that convention ten feel tall, because back in America theologians were confused ... "Do we have a theology that really works?" And, "Is there a place for real religion in the future?" The World Psychiatric Convention said, "Yes, there is!" ... Faith ... Hope ... Love!

St. Paul wrote that two thousand years ago! Where did he get the insight? I don't know, but I truly believe that the writer of this book was inspired by a Higher Power. St. Paul got it from Jesus Christ. Wow!

Today, I point out the verse, "Love never fails." (I Corinthians 13:8) It is possible to live beyond the possibility of personal failure. I didn't say "financial" ... I didn't say "fame and fortune" ... but I'm talking about personhood. Love never fails!

You can love and lose, but you can never love and fail as a person. If you understand what real love is, as it has been taught in the Bible long before any psychiatrists, psychologists, humanists or philosophers ever thought it up. It is in the word agape! In original Greek it is translated as the heart of the Christian faith. Agape love is different.

I suggest there are three kinds of love:

(1) "I love you because I want you."

That kind of love is legitimate. It is understandable. I have that kind of love for my wife. That is natural love. It can even be lust.

The second kind of love is:

(2) "I love you because I need you."

Needing is different than wanting. And that's okay. I love my wife because I need her. I couldn't do this ministry without her. This ministry is as much my wife's ministry as it is mine. "I love you because I need you."

Then there is a third kind of love ... this is a total transcendent break-through of a conscience of love. It is distinctively Christ oriented.

(3) "I love you because you need ME."

Wow. That is not found in the secular world without a spiritual conscience. It is not found in the sensual world or the sexual world without transcendence. "I love you because you need me."

Now living life on that level of love is a guarantee, absolute promise, that love never fails. You can love and lose, but you can never love and fail as a person. It changes you because you become a giving person. And that emancipates you from all potential human sins ... like greediness and selfishness. It is the kind of love that a mother has for a child. "I love you because you need me." It is the love that a teacher has for a student. It is the love that a pastor has for his people. It is the love that Jesus Christ has for me. "I love you because you need ME."

Dr. Raymond Beckering was a minister who ordained me when I graduated from seminary. He was a mentor and a dear friend. He served many years in this church. He is in heaven today. Dr. Beckering also, along with Ruth and Norman Peale, nominated me with approval of our Denomination to come to California to start this new church.

Dr. Beckering told how when he served as the pastor of his church in Chicago, he had in his congregation some very prestigious people ... judges, lawyers, doctors and corporate chiefs. One of his parishioners was a very, very famous doctor, whose name was almost a household word in Chicago.

One day this doctor had an almost fatal heart attack. When his pastor, Dr. Beckering, went to see him in the hospital, he didn't know what the mood of the doctor would be because the doctor was never sick. He was a doctor, never a patient. When Dr. Beckering stepped into the doctor's room, the doctor greeted him warmly, "Come in, Dr. Beckering, I've got something to tell you."

Dr. Beckering said, "What is it?"

He said, "Oh, I have learned something by being a patient for the first time in my life. As a patient I've learned that ... 'It's not what you do that really counts, it's what you are. It's not what you do, it's what kind of a person you are? That's the lesson that came to me in this bed. I guess I suddenly realized I can't do my work. I don't know if they'll let me go back to work. But it's not what you do, it's who you are. And, Dr. Beckering, I know I'm a good person and your church helped make me good. Thank you."

Love never fails. You can love and lose, but you cannot love and fail ... because love turns you into a beautiful human being. Yes. Having said all of that, how do you make love practical? Love must be very practical. It has to work in your house when the shades are drawn and the curtains are closed. What difference does love make there? My wife and I have been married 52 years. We have five children who are all happily married to Christian spouses. They're all in Christian ministry one way or another. That is the greatest compliment to my wife and I because they have seen us at our worst. They have heard us at our worst. They know what life was like in the Schuller house behind closed curtains. Of course, we made mistakes and when we did, we would say, "Oh, forgive us ... forgive us. We should not have said that. We should not have done that. Forgive us." They learned honesty and humility, openness and transparency in the presence of Jesus Christ in that house. That doesn't mean that they have always been positive ... or that there were no conflicts.

I'll never forget the time when Sheila was about eleven and Bob was maybe seven or eight. We had a rule in our house that after dinner, Mrs. Schuller and I could take a cup of coffee and sit and relax to drink our coffee in the living room while Sheila and Bob had to clear the table and wash the dishes. This time we were sitting drinking our coffee when we heard Sheila say, "It's not fair."
Bob said, "What's not fair?"

"Well, you and I have to do all the dirty work while mom and dad can just sit there and drink coffee."

Then we heard Bob say, "Yeah, Dad doesn't do any work. He just talks about thirty minutes every Sunday morning. That's it."

Sheila said, "You're right. Even his secretary writes his letters for him. I heard him say that once." It went from bad to worse.

"And Mom's no better." Bob said. "Oh, she just gets in the car and goes to the store and goes shopping. That's a lot of fun. We get stuck with the dirty work. All these dirty dishes."
Arvella said, "Time for us to get up and talk to those kids." So we got up and we had to try to communicate to them that I work more than thirty minutes a week ... and that Mrs. Schuller, who had no housecleaner, no maid, no servant, is kept pretty busy, working about sixty hours a week for this ministry, at no charge, and then keeping the house clean and doing all the cooking. By the time they got the whole story they said, "Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad."

Our home has been a home of love. A love that says, "I want you ... I need you." But most importantly, "You need me." That is love at its deepest level, and that will inspire you to be sensitive to each other's feelings. Parents, listen to what your children probably say in silence. Hear their heart talking. "I love you because you need me." And if your child is caught in some problem, drugs, sex or whatever, show the love at that third level. "I love you, not because of what you're doing, but because you need me. And I'm here. I'm here to help!"

Read these words again from I Corinthians 13. Paul is not just philosophical. He's very practical. Take these words with you. Use them in your home today ... and to your work. Take these words with you when you drive the car in heavy traffic:

"Love is very patient and kind.
Love is never jealous or envious.
Love is never boastful or proud,
never haughty or selfish or rude."

I remember the nurse who said, "I passed the test for my RN, but almost didn't make it because I missed one question ... the last one. That question was; what is the name of the cleaning lady on the floor where you work. I didn't know that. I didn't answer it. Then the professor took off so much of my grade for that and I said, "Professor, that's not fair."

He said, "That is very fair."

I said, "That question has nothing to do with being a nurse."

The doctor said, "It is there because it has everything to do about being a nurse. You're interested in all people if you are a nurse. They come from the low and high levels of life. That immigrant who cannot speak English, who carries the mop through the hallway on your floor, find out her name."

"Love is never haughty or selfish or rude.
Love does not demand it's own way, does not hold grudges and will hardly
even notice when others do wrong."

Yesterday I had a wonderful experience. My granddaughter has been studying dance for a few years and she said, "Grandpa, we have our annual recital this Saturday, I hope you can come." So Mrs. Schuller and I made arrangements to go. She explained, "I'm on points now." You know in ballet being on points is when you stand up on the very tip of your toes and her toes were bleeding a little after the recital. Most of them have the same experience, it is painful, but it was gorgeous. I never saw her so beautiful as she was in her costume in a fabulous performance.

And then it was most touching to watch the youngest group of dancers, probably three or four years old little girls - there were about seven or eight in their little costumes. They all stood so straight in line on stage. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight was the littlest. The music began and they did their little dance, moving their heads, hands and feet with little twists all trying to stay in rhythm with the music. But the littlest girl on the end didn't move. She didn't move her head. She didn't move an arm or a leg. She stood frozen and everybody began to notice that. Then she began to cry. While everybody else did their little performances, she just stood there crying. The dance teacher came out and put her arm around her and whispered to her, but she didn't move. The dance teacher then knelt behind her and raised the hands of the little dancer at the appropriate time as the others. But when the teacher let go, the little arms dropped to her side. The dance teacher made her move forward, pulled her back ... but the little dancer kept crying through the entire dance. while the others performed. Everybody in the crowd was focused on that poor little dancer. The dance teacher came out again, put her arms around her, lifted her up and the little dancer put her arms around the teacher's neck, sobbing as she was taken from the stage. It was so sad. But I saw a love the dance teacher had for that little girl. It was a love that said, "I love you because you need me."

One of the last dances in the recital brought those eight little dancers back on stage again. This time in different costumes and performing to different music ... and guess what? The little girl was back on stage again in her new costume. The music started and all the dancers did their twists ... but she didn't move! Again everybody was focused on her. Nobody noticed the other performers. And they we saw the dance teacher come out again and lift one arm and then the other arm, and then turn her little body gently to match the other turning bodies, pushing her slowly forward to take the step and back and whisper something in her ear. (I wondered what she was saying.)

Then something happened. The teacher slipped away and the little dancer began to move with the others and everybody applauded. Then she turned her little head with the others and everybody applauded. She moved forward ... she was bringing the house down. She was the star of the day. It was fantastic. She completed the remainder of the dance perfectly. When it was over, all of the dancers turned and walked off the stage to the applause of the crowd. But she didn't follow. Instead she turned to her dance teacher standing there with her arms open. The little dancer put out her arms to the teacher and the teacher reached down, pulled her up and the little dancer put her face in the neck of the teacher and left laughing.

"I love you because you need me." The way that teacher helped, encouraged, motivated, and supported that little child, is what Jesus Christ has done for me many times! Jesus Christ is doing that for me today! He comes to me and He doesn't say, "I love you because I need you." He doesn't say, "I love you because I want you." Jesus Christ says, "I love you because you need ME." Step into this kind of a faith and then I don't know what you'll do, but I'll know what you will become. And what you ARE is more important than what you do. So real love never fails to make you into a beautiful person.

Thank you God, I've learned something from the Holy Book today. I believe it is the truth. Thank you, Jesus Christ, You are the love that lifts me. You come and when You find me faltering You lift me and I embrace You, like a child embraces the teacher. Amen.

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