Arguably, the greatest country song of all time is He Stopped Loving Her Today. The singer tells the story of a friend who never gave up on his love. He keeps old letters and his girl’s picture hoping that one day she will come back to him. The song goes on to say that the man finally stopped loving the woman on the day that he died. The song obviously resonates with many people, for it has been listed in several surveys as the greatest country song ever. George Jones, who made the song famous, claimed that this three-minute song saved his forty-year career. I have often wondered, however, about the song’s accuracy.
In I Corinthians 13, the Bible’s great treatise on love, Paul argues that “love never fails.” Paul goes on to say that prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, and knowledge shall vanish away. Obviously, throughout the history of the church, much time and effort has been spent to argue about the meaning of the phrase “tongues shall cease.” Some argue that the coming of the perfect thing is the completion of Scripture and that tongues ceased when the canon of Scripture was closed. Others have argued that the coming of the perfect is Christ or the maturation of the body of Christ, and that consequently tongues will not cease until the return of Jesus when the body of Christ is brought to complete maturation.
I tend to believe that knowledge and prophesy will be done away at the second coming (I Corinthians 13:9-10). But tongues will have already stopped themselves by fulfilling their completed purpose. Notice that the coming of the perfect does away with that which is “in part.” And only prophecy and knowledge are said to be “in part.” Tongues have already dropped from the discussion and will not need to be stopped by the coming of the perfect, because evidently they have already stopped themselves by fulfilling their completed purpose.
The big point of the passage, however, is not that tongues will stop. This is parenthetical. The big point is that love doesn’t stop. Even the coming of the perfect doesn’t stop love. It may stop the gift of knowledge. I won’t need your gift of knowledge in heaven; I will know as I am known. I won’t need your gift of prophesy; I will have no need of further instruction. But in heaven, I will still need your love.
I Corinthians 13:13 seems to argue this same point with reference to faith and hope. There is no need for faith or hope in heaven. In Heaven, there is no longer anything to hope for. Faith will be swallowed up in sight. Yet in heaven, there is still apparently a need for love.
Some theologians have argued this provides some rationale for the Trinity. If God is love and God is eternal, then there must have been an eternal object of love. This was accomplished in the Trinity as Christ served as the Father’s “beloved Son.”
When Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers to encourage them concerning the dead in Christ, he told them that at the rapture we will be caught together with these departed loved ones to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). This reunion is intended to provide us with deep comfort (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
My associate pastor in Philadelphia was Al Johnson. Al had been a widower for many years before we had the privilege of working together. And Al never quite got over his deceased wife. Many widow ladies set their affections on Al, but he was having none of it. He never got over Mary. If you were to walk into his home, you would find Mary’s soaps and perfumes still out. It was almost as if Al was waiting for her return.
Several weeks ago, my dear friend Al Johnson went home to be with the Lord at the age of 99. I have no doubt that he was thrilled to be in the presence of the Lord who he loved so dearly. But I am equally confident that Al was excited to see his deceased wife that he loved dearly. It must have been a great reunion day!
I understand that in the resurrection we are neither married nor given in marriage (Matthew 22:30), but by the same token, God comforts our hearts by letting us know that we will be reunited with our departed, saved loved ones. So when Al breathed his last breath, he did not stop loving her. To contrary, he will be able to love on Mary again.
Heaven is a place where the love never dies. Is this in part why God calls love the distinguishing hallmark of Christianity (John 13:35)? Love apparently is the lone remaining thing that we will “need” in heaven. There will no need of insight, preaching, faith, or hope. But there will be a need for love. We could say that love is the eternal hallmark of Christianity. With apologies to George Jones, there never will be a day when we stop loving, for in heaven love will still be “needed.” So practice for heaven by loving on someone today!