Given all that Paul has said about the power of true love to bear and endure all things (1 Cor. 13:7), it follows that “love never ends,” as Paul explains in today’s passage (v. 8). Other aspects of the Christian life will end, as we will see, but love is forever.
When Paul says that “love never ends,” he apparently has two things in view. First is the notion that love cannot be defeated. It endures precisely because it cannot be forced to retreat or fail to persevere. Second, because love cannot be defeated, love is eternal. True love endures for all time. This, incidentally, is one of the reasons that we must affirm the perseverance of the saints. Since true love lasts forever, all those who have been truly converted to Christ, all those who have been granted love for God and love for fellow believers (see 1 John 5:1), must persevere in faith and never lose their salvation. The never-ending character of true love demands this.
Recall that Paul stresses the importance of love in order to answer the problem of the Corinthians’ exalting themselves and certain spiritual gifts over others (see 1 Cor. 12; 14). Thus, in conjunction with the point that love never ends, the Apostle notes that prophecy, tongues, knowledge, and the other things that they prize will pass away. The gifts of the Spirit are vital for ministry in the current era, but one day they will cease to be. We should not prize them more highly than love because that fails to recognize their temporary character in light of eternity (13:8–9).
Paul indicates that the spiritual gifts will pass away “when the perfect comes” (v. 10). Although some have argued that this refers to the completion of the Apostolic revelation that is the New Testament, Paul almost certainly has in view the return of Christ to bring the new heaven and earth. However, this does not mean that all the spiritual gifts must continue until Jesus returns, as Pentecostal theologians have argued. Supernatural sign gifts such as tongues and prophecy are given in the new covenant to authenticate the new revelation brought by the Apostles and new covenant prophets. The two gifts are closely linked in 1 Corinthians 14, and tongues appear in the book of Acts as a testimony to the coming of the Spirit and the revelation that the kingdom of God includes people from all nations. Once the Apostles pass away, the sign gifts—tongues, prophecy, the gift of miracles, and so forth—end because there no longer remains a need to demonstrate the Apostles’ authority.