I am happy to be back with you in 1 Corinthians 13 this morning. I’m glad to be here and to be in this passage for many reasons, but one reason is that this passage lays for us a groundwork for several things. It lays for us a groundwork for loving God. If we have been overwhelmed by His love for us, which we should be, if we have marveled in His loving ways, if we have read Romans 5:8 recently which says, “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” if we have read that and said, “Really, for me? He who knew no sin became sin and died for me? He has taken what I deserve, severe punishment, and bore that on His back for me?” If we have focused our lives on the gospel, what God, what Christ has done for us and what is ours, and what will be ours, then we are primed and ready to say, “Wow! How can I respond to this in a significant way?”
It’s like if someone comes along, a friend, and gives you a mansion, with twelve new cars, full-time wait staff, oh and its on the beach by the dock with your yacht, complete with a captain, and that is next to your airstrip with your private jet. All of that someone just gives it to you, how do you respond? “Oh, well thanks!?” That is it? No, we would want to do more, wouldn’t we? We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. The riches of God, Christ Himself is ours and will be ours, manifested even more fully in the future, it’s all ours; how do we respond to that? How do we respond? We go to the Word and we worship Him, and we find ways to serve Him as He says we should serve Him. We respond to His love with our love back to Him! We love Him because He first loved us!
I am speaking about motives here. It kills me to hear people try to motivate Christians to do things from the Bible by manipulation or fear. Like, “You better do this or God will strike you down, or God will not bless you if you don’t obey Him, or if you don’t give you will lose all that you have, or God is going to punish you or turn His back on you. You better obey or God will get you real good.” If those things are what motivates us then we are failing to understand what should really motivate us. We love Him because He has loved us. As we are overwhelmed with His love we will seek ways, look for ways, search the Bible for ways to love Him in return.
Are you focused on the gospel of Christ and how it has impacted your life? Are your eyes fixed on Christ, are you living in the shadow of the cross, saying, “Wow, this is really for me?” Are we “running with endurance the race that is set before us, ‘looking to Jesus’, the founder and perfecter of our faith”? Are seeing everything through the lens of the gospel of Christ?
Another reason why I love this passage is that it shows us clearly how to live productively as Christians. Paul is concerned here about fruitfulness in the Christian’s life. He gets past all of the things that we can parade around doing that are outward forms, and He goes right to our hearts here. He tells us that how we do things will sometimes be more important than what we do. That what motivates us is of utmost importance. Do you want to be productive, fruitful in the kingdom of God? The answers for how to do that will follow.
So this morning we move from the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13, which showed the importance of love in that it must be present for us to be fruitful, we move from that to, “Exactly what is love?” Now, hopefully now, we are convinced it is important so we can move on to, “What does it really look like in our daily living?”
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)
For today: “Love is patient”
Do we want to live fruitful lives as Christians here with each other as an expression of love for Christ? Here is one essential way: be patient. This is part of the more excellent way to live that Paul mentions at the end of chapter 12. Are you a loving person? We could ask, “Are we patient?” Love has many facets, like a diamond, and this is one of them. Here is an aspect of love that will make you a powerful influence for Christ, that will help you to shine like the bright light that Jesus talks about. It is patience.
The Greek word is made from two words, the first means long and the second means to suffer. Put them together patience means “long suffering” or “to suffer long.” This word is used to describe a calm and gentle response to suffering, pressures and injuries that are caused by people around us. He is not talking about patience with circumstances, but patience with people. So it is a suffering long without losing our temper, becoming sinfully angry, blowing up, or trying to retaliate with hurtful words or actions. Here is how Jonathan Edwards describes this word: “This word means that we should be willing to suffer injuries without doing anything to get revenge either with injurious deeds or bitter words. It means that we will bear injuries from others without losing the quietness and repose of our own hearts and minds–that when we are injured we will be willing to suffer much for the sake of peace, rather than do what we have the opportunity and perhaps the right to do in defending ourselves.” This does not mean that we are willing to absorb only small injuries, but also big ones, sometimes terrible and even ongoing injuries from others.
If we must defend ourselves, even in that we must do it so as to not unnecessarily injure the other person involved. This is a meekness of heart and mind. Paul advised the Corinthians on this in 1 Corinthians 6:7 when he wrote, “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer long? Why not rather be defrauded?”
Wayne Mack helps us to better understand this by giving several applicable examples of what this might look like in everyday life. This list has been helpful to me. He says “We will be meek and gentle and will literally suffer long…”
- When others are unfair or dishonest in their dealings with us
- When others make promises they don’t keep
- When others injure us by reproaching us, slandering us, gossiping about us, spreading evil reports, or saying things about us that are not true
- When others misrepresent us or exaggerate our faults and mistakes
- When others injure us in their minds and entertain belittling thoughts about us
- When others express those evil, demeaning thoughts in words to us or by the expressions on their faces
- When others over whom we have God-given authority deny us the respect and honor and cooperation that our position rightly warrants
- When others who have God-given authority over us misuse that authority by behaving in a proud, selfish, arrogant, and uncaring way
- When others seem to be concerned about only their own interests in any given situation
- When others are stubborn and determined to have their own way and will not listen to the ideas of others even if their way is unreasonable and others will be hurt by it
- When others seem pleased when we are cast down because they wickedly think that our fall will elevate or benefit them
- When others keep up a grudge toward us and carry about with them a spirit of revenge or malice
- When other blame us for something we didn’t say or do
- When others don’t cooperate with us
- When others take longer to do something than we think it ought to take
- When others don’t close doors, turn off lights, hang up clothes, or put away tools or when they borrow books and don’t put them back where they belong
- When others don’t listen well and we have to repeat ourselves
- When others constantly repeat themselves
- When others are late for appointments
These are examples of times when long-suffering or patient love is needed. This does not mean we don’t work to resolve real problems or issues with others. If we are concerned about the spiritual good of other people we must address issues, however we are to do it how? With patience – in our voice, our tone, with our words, our gestures in the way we use our eyes, our hands, all of our body language.
Paul did not only write and speak about patience, he practiced it. And he practiced it under some of the most harsh circumstances. Paul was in many ways a lighting rod for the gospel and many people just wanted to get to him, in a bad and hurtful way. If they could break him the gospel could be discounted, they must have reasoned. And so Paul had become a target. In 2 Corinthians 6 we can read of how he was severely mistreated and how he suffered. In 1 Corinthians 4 we read of much of the same. When we get to 1 Corinthians 4:11-13 it says, “To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure, when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” So what does it mean to be patient, to suffer long with other people? We respond to mistreatment like Paul did.
It is interesting to me the way the world, outside of biblical Christianity, talks about love. In the 60s it was popular to have marches or protests in the streets and the theme would be something to do with love and peace. Statements like, “Let’s just love one another” would be common. “Let’s just all get along, we are all in this together. Let’s just be kind, freely love.” An idealistic atmosphere would be promoted and love would be at the center of it all. Today we see some of the same things. People promoting love for all in the streets, in books, in the news. Love and peace, right? I am for love and peace. The Bible talks about true love and where we can get true peace through Christ. But these rallies of the past and some even today, many times something really interesting happens: somebody gets mad. And a fistfight breaks out at the love rally and the peace rally. And all of the sudden the ones promoting love and peace are spewing the most hateful, demeaning, hurtful, name calling that one could imagine. There is a breakdown. Everyone was for love until someone crossed them. Until someone attacked them, until someone disagreed with them. And then what? Instead of thinking and responding like Paul…”When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure, when slandered, we entreat.” That is the way of love, that is patience under pressure, long suffering under stress from others. Instead of responding in true love like that, we respond in a vengeful way, we curse when reviled, we refuse to endure when persecuted, and never entreat when slandered, no we put down instead.
What is love? It is first of all patient. Why would God include patience or long-suffering as a part of the definition of love? Why is it important that we live this way as His children? Simply because it is a part of who He is. We see in Scripture that God is long suffering.
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6)
Or 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? (Romans 2:4)
The long suffering patience of God is clearly seen in the way He chooses to bear with the innumerable acts of continuous sinfulness in my life, in your life, in the lives of all of us in the world. Think about non-Christians. They ignore Him, to the point of never acknowledging His daily provision for them, they despise Him, they curse Him, many will forever deny Him, and yet many continue to live, can continue to receive goodness from Him. And what about us, Christians? Do we not also offer great challenge to His patience? Think of the last time you sinned, was that the first time you sinned in that manner? Or was it maybe the 100th or the 1000th time? God is so patient. Think about Christ. There are numerous examples in the gospels of the patience of our Lord. But perhaps we see it most vividly leading up to His death. His patience shouts to us, as if to say, “Don’t miss this, don’t overlook this,” this demonstration of love in the patience of Christ speaks and it speaks loudly. We can see it, the patience of Christ with those who came to arrest Him, with those who lied about Him, with those who judged Him, with those who mocked Him, with those who spat on Him.
21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, (just think about that, just the fact that Christ suffered, that He suffered at all was a blinding revelation of patience…what would we have done had we had the power to stop it all and animate the wicked ones who dished out such pain? What have we done to those who have hurt us? We don’t have to guess really we can think about how we have actually treated those who have wronged us…right?) leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 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. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:21-24)
Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” That, instead of a quick zap of incinerating power to destroy them, from the one who held all power in His hand. Jesus also suffered long even with his followers, His disciples. They were slow to learn, slow to act, sinners and rebels. And yet He persevered with them, loving them, suffering long with them.
This passage on love and patience was written for us. How do we show love to God, to Christ? By being patient with others. With our children, our spouse, our bosses, our neighbors, with those we might rather not be around, with those we admire and with those we don’t understand, with the smart and with those who may be challenged, with the very young and the very old, with those who are like us and with those who are not like us, with the arrogant and with the humble, with the strong and with the weak. We are to love others, and that means we must suffer long, love patiently, meekly bearing the afflictions that others bring to us without retaliation and without revenge, without harboring bitterness, and without expressing that in our voices or in our behaviors.
You may say, “If I love in this way, wouldn’t some people take advantage of that?” I would say yes, probably so, could be. Maybe you have been so hurt in the past that you are afraid to love patiently with someone. I understand that. But here is the thing: our aim, our goal, is not to manipulate other people’s responses toward us. Our aim and our goal must be to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and spirit, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And one way we can do that is simply to respond patiently to others. This is love, this is biblical Christian love. How others choose to respond to that is not to be our concern. If God is for us who can be against us? He is mighty to protect and keep us. Obedience, loving obedience is often radical. This is no exception.
Love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4)