Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
Begin by reviewing the first 7 verses, then add on today's verse. Take it phrase by phrase if you need to. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Love never fails. That doesn't mean that love always succeeds or is always victorious over evil or trouble. It does not always triumph in human relationships. Jesus treated everyone He met with undying love and we killed Him for it. So love does fail in that respect. That's not what Paul's saying here.
What he is saying is that love is eternal, while gifts are just temporal. The Corinthians were enamored over gifts, especially the prominent ones, and were abusing them and each other - displaying an incredible lack of love. And here Paul reminds them (and us!) that all of those things, though important, are only temporal, but love is eternal.
MacArthur makes some interesting points about the meanings of the different Greek verbs used in this passage (if you want to read more of the details click on the link - it's quite interesting, but I'll just shorten it to the main point)....
Something will stop prophecy, something will stop this knowledge of all the mysteries, as it’s referred to early in the chapter, but tongues will cease by itself.
So we have two very distinct points to make here. Prophecy and knowledge, they’ll be stopped by something acting upon them. Tongues will cease by itself... “Prophecy will be stopped, knowledge will be ended, tongues will cease by itself.”
So, knowledge, prophecy, tongues...temporary. That’s his main point. Something is going to come which he calls the perfect thing that will end knowledge and prophecy but before that, tongues will literally self-destruct, end on their own. So the gift of tongues will cease by itself. That’s what it says...
The gift of tongues, the ability to speak in language you didn’t know as a demonstration of the fact that a supernatural word from God was coming as a sign to Israel, because they wouldn’t listen when He spoke a language they could understand, as Isaiah prophesied, He will now speak in a language they couldn’t understand. It was both a judgment sign as well as a sign affirming those who spoke the true gospel, as on the day of Pentecost. But we know it ceased and it ceased in the apostolic era.
Gifts are temporary. Love is eternal. And gifts should be used in love - without love we are resounding gongs, clanging symbols, nothing.