Message # 46 | 1 Corinthians 13:4 | May 21, 2017

Introduction

This morning we have the opportunity to take a closer look at two of the characteristics of love – patience and kindness. I want you to know up front that I don’t intend to follow Henry Ward Beecher’s exhortation, “There is no such thing as preaching patience into people, unless the sermon is so long that they have to practice it while they hear.”[1]

Over the course of the next few weeks we are going to stand back and gaze upon the portrait of love. We will find it both enchanting in its beauty and overwhelming in our inability to attain it. In essence we will be gazing upon a portrait of Christ. It is in the observing of Christ that we find that “love is a willful choice, not based in one’s emotions, the treatment of the one being loved, or the circumstances in which one finds themselves, to sacrifice one’s self for the betterment or well-being of another.”

Overview of context. The first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13 point out the necessity of love. Love is the essential ingredient that is to accompany any spiritual gift, any spiritual ministry. If any service or ministry or gift is administered without love, we are nothing and we gain nothing. Verses 4-7 outline fourteen characteristics of love, and verses 8-13 establishes the permanence of love.

Our focus today is going to be on the characteristics of love in verses 4-7 and even more specifically on the characteristics of patience and kindness in verse four. Before we consider these two characteristics let’s consider a few observations concerning this list of characteristics in general.

First, this specific context of love is not addressing marital love even though it is likely the most oft read passage at weddings. It is as well not primarily focused on familial love. It instead is focused on love within the church. This entire book is about the church. As well, the broad context of chapters 12-14 deal with how the spiritual gifts are to be worked out within the church. This most poetic and beautiful of chapters is to be worked out first and foremost in the life of a church family.

Secondly, as we further develop our understanding and appreciation of love, we are deepening our appreciation for that which is the fulfillment of the whole law. Christ tells us in Matthew that love is the fulfillment of the whole law.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matth 22:37–40 ESV).

As you consider the law of Moses (the ten commandments), the first half of the commands deal with our relationship with God and the second half deal with man. If we truly love God we would never place another god before Him. We would never craft an image to replace his rightful place. We would honor his name and his Sabbath day. If we truly love others we would honor our parents, not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not lie, and not covet. Therefore, in loving God and loving others, we would never break the commandments.

Thirdly, love is to mark us as believers, but sadly, it too often is not what is exhibited by the church. This seems to be the case of the Corinthian church. Paul is indirectly (if not directly) admonishing the Corinthians. If you were to remove the “not” before each of these characteristics, you would likely describe the Corinthians. The Corinthians were impatient, unkind, envious, arrogant, rude, insisted on their own way, rejoiced in wrongdoing and didn’t rejoice with the truth, didn’t bear with others, didn’t believe the best in others, didn’t hope and didn’t endure.

Finally, these characteristics are verbs not nouns or adjectives. Most of the translations make the characteristics in these few verses appear to be adjectives. In so doing, we can miss that they are all actually verbs and require action.  Remember, love is an action. It is a willful decision to sacrifice one’s self. These few verses are not abstract but instead incredibly practical. So then, we come to the first of these characteristics.

Love is Patient.

Definition. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible offers a helpful definition. Patience is the “ability to take a great deal of punishment from evil people or circumstances without losing one’s temper, without becoming irritated and angry, or without taking vengeance.”[2]

The Greek root. Makrothumos is derived from two different Greek words, makro meaning long, distant, or far away and thumos meaning “a strong passion of soul or mind wrath, rage.” Putting them together we come up with a rough translation of “long-anger.” The King James offers a helpful translation, “charity suffers long.” You’ve likely heard or used the expression “short-tempered” or “quick-tempered.” In contrast, patience is long-tempered.

Patience is active. As has already been noted, all of these characteristics are verbs. They are active not just descriptive. Patience is not indifference to circumstances or people. Someone who is indifferent to circumstances and other people may appear to be patient because nothing seems to bother them, but it may simply be that they don’t care about anything or anyone. On the other hand loving patience is active. It is aware of the challenging circumstance or challenging person and still chooses to overlook or believe or trust. Patience is active.

Patience towards others. There are a couple of words in the Greek that are translated as patience. (1) There is an aspect of patience (hupomone) that deals with the ability to endure through great circumstances without becoming irritated or angry. This patience amidst circumstances may be seen through things such as waiting patiently for traffic to move along, for dinner to be ready, for school to end and summer to come. This patience may require you to persevere through hardship and trials knowing that God will use them for your good and growth. This patience may require us to wait in certain circumstances and trust that God’s timing is best. This patience is not directed at people but instead circumstances in which you find yourself. (2) The second aspect of patience (makrothumos) which is emphasized in this verse deals with the patience we are required to have while dealing with other people. With this patience, people can do a great deal before you become angry. You are able to endure a long time before becoming impassioned and annoyed.

BARCLAY. It is the quality of mind and heart which enables us to cope with people in such a way that their unpleasantness and malice and cruelty will never drive us to bitterness, that their unwillingness to learn will never drive us to despair, that their folly will never drive us to irritation, and that their unloveliness will never alter our love. Makrothumia is the spirit which never loses patience with, belief in and hope for others.[3]

What areas reveal your impatience? There are a host of situations that could reveal this type of impatience in our lives. How do you react when people are driving slowly in front of you? How long does it take for you to become upset when people at work don’t meet up to expectations or job descriptions? Do you sit boiling when someone is late to a meeting or event? When people have an irritating personality or obnoxious habits, are you impatient? How long does it take for people to pick at you and provoke you? In your relationships, do you become upset quickly when people let you down?

Impatience is the absence of love. Your reactions in these moments (and of course a host of other scenarios) reveal whether or not you are selfishly loving yourself or loving God and others. The presence of impatience is evidence of a lack of love. Remember, love is the choice to sacrifice yourself for the betterment or well-being of another. Impatience is focused on how the particular moment is affecting you. It is not looking at how to seize the moment to love the other person. When someone at work is not meeting up to expectations, love is going to consider how to best help that person whereas impatience is going to be annoyed that their incompetence is affecting you. When someone is late, love is going to believe that there is a reasonable explanation. Even if there isn’t love is going to not sit their infuriated. Impatience is going to result in stress and anger and likely passive aggressive comments when the person walks in – if not straight up unkind speech. When someone around you continues in their annoying behavior, love is going to endure, see them as someone created in the image of God, and look for ways to serve them. Impatience will lead to angry words, condescension, or avoidance.

Patience and love may likely include confrontation. Patience and love must include loving confrontation. If you truly love someone you are not going to avoid addressing issues. The employee at work may need to be lovingly and patiently confronted about their lack of meeting up to expectations. You may need to have a loving and patient conversation with a friend who is consistently late. You may need to lovingly and patiently discuss a frustrating or sinful habit with a friend. Love patiently acknowledges and deals with the issue. It doesn’t run away from it. Impatience often tends to explode and run away or withdraw and avoid. Neither of those are love.

Christ is the perfect model. Christ is the only one who has perfectly mastered and exemplified patience. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).

And he calls us to pursue this patience as well. In the same way that “the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth” (James 5:7 ESV), we are directed by James to be patient until the coming of the Lord. Take note of the group of people Paul directs the believer to be patient with, “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess 5:14 ESV). Those individuals are often the group that people can tend to be impatient with. People who are lazy, those who seem to give up too easily out of fear and anxiety, those who are physically weak or even mentally and spiritually weak – this group can tend to require a great deal of patience. Yet Paul says, “we urge you brothers . . . be patient with them all.”[4] Pastors are as well directed to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2 ESV).

So then, we aspire to this kind of love, this kind of patience, but must live with the reality that we will never perfect this until glory. We must live with a biblical and realistic expectation.

Love is Kind.

Transition to kindness. “Love is patient and kind.” These two characteristics are not placed together coincidentally. They work hand in hand. This passage is not the only time we see them coupled together. The fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness” (Gal 5:22). As well Paul writes in Romans, “do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4 ESV). “On the one hand, God’s loving forbearance is demonstrated by his holding back his wrath toward human rebellion; on the other hand, his kindness is found in the thousandfold expressions of his mercy.”[5] Loving patience is our decision to not react in anger towards others when their actions negatively affect us, irritate us, or offend us. Patience is the purposeful withholding of anger towards another. On the other hand, kindness is the active good done towards another. Not only does love not retaliate because it is patient, it actually extends kindness in the place of justice or retribution.

Definition. The concept of kindness carries with it the idea of usefulness, benevolence, and service.[6] Displaying kindness towards someone else means that we did something for them that was useful and helpful – to them. The idea of patience has already established that the context of this kindness is in the midst of someone doing something wrong or minimally frustrating to you. Even when you are mistreated and sinned against, even when you are hurt or harmed by someone else, patience is going to withhold a demand for justice or retribution, and kindness is going to extend the useful hand of assistance and good will.

MacArthur. Paul does not picture loving in ideal surroundings. . . . He doesn’t picture love in the realm of very close and intimate and long-term friendships. He doesn’t picture love in the realm of affection, but in the hard surroundings of a sinful, selfish, colliding group of sinners in a church who have all come out of a bad world and have all had bad influences on their already depraved souls, who are by nature selfish. And even though they have a new nature and long for holy things, the old is still resident. This is the atmosphere that we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about your best friend, we’re talking about all the people, all the sinners who collide in the life of the church. We are to demonstrate to one another kindness.[7]

Easy as a nuance for kindness. Another word that reveals a nuance of the meaning of kindness is easy. When you extend kindness to someone, you are making their life or their circumstances or your relationship easier. Consider Christ’s words in Matthew 11. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:28–29 ESV). Does your presence in someone’s life produce rest? Do you take people’s burdens upon yourself and make their struggle easier?

Christ our model. Once again we see that Christ is our model for kindness. It is his kindness that is the basis for his command to us to “love your enemies and do good” because “he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). So then, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32 ESV). Your kindness towards others is not dependent upon their treatment of you. Your kindness towards others ought not be about what you get out of it. Instead, our kindness towards others is to be rooted in our having experienced Christ’s kindness towards us when we were unlovely and hostile towards him.

Application

I’m convinced. I want to be patient and kind. How do I produce these characteristics of love in my life?

Firsts, on your own, you can’t produce any of these characteristics of love. That may seem a bit discouraging, but we are not alone in this pursuit of love. These two characteristics, patience and kindness, are part of the fruit of the Spirit and flow from the lives of those who are filled with the Spirit. If you are a Christian, the fruit of the Spirit will be produced in you.  Your role in this, as Paul writes in Galatians 5, is to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16 ESV). The domain in which we walk and live is be with the Spirit. We are to make His Word and His people our home. We are to seek to be influenced by the Spirit at every turn of our lives. A similar metaphor is found in John 15, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). If you desire to have love exhibited in your life, and with that patience and kindness, the only effective way to participate in this pursuit is for you to cling to Christ and walk in the Spirit.

Secondly, meditate on the patience and kindness that God has displayed to you. God didn’t “hit the jackpot” with any of us when he chose to love us. We are inherently sinful, unpleasant, unkind, and simply annoying, yet Christ displayed patience and kindness to us. If you can accurately understand his patience with you, you will have a much easier task in displaying kindness and patience to others who may seem undeserving of it.

Thirdly, look to Christ as your example. He perfectly modeled love, patience, and kindness. If you are not sure what they should look like, read the Gospels and see how he interacted with other people. He showed compassion and ministered to those who only used him for his miracles. He served those who rejected him. He forgave those who crucified him. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23 ESV).

Finally, like Christ, value other people. Everyone has inherent value by the simple fact that they are created in the image of God. Patience and kindness ought to be extended to others by this simple truth alone. Additional value is placed on others as we learn that God not only created everyone but as well, loved everyone. God has always been long-suffering to people. He has always shown them his general kindness and patience. Taking this an additional step, we possess a special appreciation for believers because we are co-heirs with Christ. We are brother’s and sister’s in Christ; we are the recipients of his special saving grace. All of us know what it is like to have our sins forgiven and be the recipients of his special love and kindness. Therefore, we ought to desire and pursue extending that same love, patience, and kindness to others.

 

[1] Henry Ward Beecher, Life Thoughts, (Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Company, 1858), 61.

[2] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Patience,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1619.

[3] William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 127–28.

[4] Cross Reference. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, (Colossians 3:12 ESV).

[5] Gordon D Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1987), 636–37.

[6] Spicq and Ernest, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (3 Vols.), 511.

[7] John MacArthur, “The Perfections of Love, Part 1,” Grace To You, August 29, 2010, https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/90-403/The-Perfections-of-Love-Part-1.

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