Monday, August 22, 2011

The Properties of Love : #1 Patience and Kindness

TEXT : 1 Corinthians 13:4-7   

TITLE:     The Properties of Love  #1   Patience and Kindness

DATE :    21  /08 /2011

The priority of Love ( 1 – 3)
The properties of  Love ( 4 – 7)
The permanence of Love  (8 – 13)      

Last time  we  considered  the  first three verses in which we find   the apostle Paul  laying down a foundational principle  for the  effective  working of the spiritual gifts in the church  .
He teaches   the church that  our  speaking gifts (tongues/ prophecy-  13:1)  , our  gifts of understanding  and knowledge  and faith ( 13:2) and our  gifts of generosity and sacrifice (13:3) – i.e. our speaking , knowing and doing ,  are  utterly  useless if  these  are  not done  in the spirit of biblical ,  agape love .  The practice of spiritual gifts without  biblical love   is  like a skeleton  without  flesh -  like  a tree without fruit -  like noisy gongs  or clanging cymbals  ;  much noise  but no music !   One  may be a very gifted individual  in the  church  , but if what you do is not bathed in the spirit of biblical love ,  the  Word of God says  that  “you  are empty …  you  are  nothing “ .   This  is a very  strong  and challenging  assertion. It must cause every church member to re-examine  what we   say, know or do in the Name of Christ in the Church .  

Paul asserts  that biblical love  must  be  at the heart of  all that  we  do in the church . But what exactly is  the nature of this love ? 
Thankfully , Paul does not keep us guessing  , but before  we  get there allow me to remind you once again  concerning the context  of  this 13th Chapter .

1. The general context  is  a letter written  to  a very divided  church in Corinth  . They were divided because they had slipped into that old, deadly error of focusing more on men than on God (  1:10-13; 3:1-23)  . We need to remind ourselves  that there  is enough stuff  to sink us  into despair and criticism when we focus on each others many faults !   Paul encourages us to focus  on Christ  ( 1:10) and on the word of the cross ( 1:18) .

2. The immediate context   is  chapters 12  and  14 . Here Paul  addresses the matter of  spiritual gifts.  Spiritual gifts had become a source of contention , because church members were focusing  on the glory  they would get for themselves when they  were exercising  the spiritual gifts , which  were sovereignly given to them by God,   in Christ ,  through the Holy Spirit ( 12:11) .  We need  to know that   we sinners saved by grace  are capable  of turning every good gift from God into something self serving  , self exalting if  we   do not keep  the Giver in view  .  But by God’s grace  and through obedience to His Word  we may also be able  to  use  the spiritual  gifts  in  self giving  and  selfless  service   to  the  glory of God  and  in  effective and powerful  service  to  the church .  
The attitude  and atmosphere  required for   a proper  expression of the spiritual gifts is  biblical  or agape  love.

1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 7 : preliminary considerations :

 Firstly,  as we try to understand the nature ( properties)  of biblical love ,it is important to note that Paul uses verbs (action words) in describing such love.  To be precise , there are 15 such verbs mentioned here. These verbs are all in the present continuous tense, (i.e. denoting a  present continual and therefore ongoing action) They  are  therefore  actions and attitudes of love  which are habitual and which  through  constant repetition  become ingrained  in our thoughts and actions . We often speak about ‘ bad habits’ !  However , there are also  good habits   that ought to be cultivated  . We speak  about  the  thoughts and actions that ought to  undergird  our  spiritual gifts or ministries , in love !  Paul thinks that the cultivation of love is most important .  
1 Cor 6:9 –11 describes people whose lives have been characterized by adultery , immorality , homosexuality, thievery , greed , drunkenness and slander. Paul says to these Corinthians  “v.11… And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”   Those sinful lives had characterized their minds as unbelievers, but they had changed. Through consistent practice, unbiblical habits can be unlearned , and biblical habits can be learned and strengthened.
We can learn to love ; we can learn to be patient, to be kind ; we can learn not to be envious ; we can learn not to boast ; we can learn not to be proud and rude and self seeking. We can learn to control our anger ; we can teach ourselves to keep no record of wrongs. We can teach ourselves with God’s help  not to delight in evil , but to rejoice in the truth etc.  All these things can become living truths in our lives.
2. Secondly,  by way of  preliminary consideration , we note that these  four verses perfectly describe the character of Jesus . We could substitute “Jesus” for “Love” in this passage. By way of application we should also  boldly insert our names  before each one of these verbs   since , in the Bible,  we are clearly called to “be imitators of God” (Eph 5:1) and followers of Christ ( 1 Jn 2:6)

The first two properties of Christian love : Love is patient (ESV ) or  longsuffering  (KJV) ; Love is kind .
a. “ Love is patient /longsuffering” .  Although the word “patience” is not wrong, it really does little to help us to understand  the richness of the word used here in the 
original Greek : “makrothumos”. This is a word made up out of two words:  “makro”- meaning “long” and “thumos”- meaning “temper” i.e.  long-tempered, and hence  “longsuffering”  or “patient”. It is clearly the opposite of being “ short – tempered “.
b. “Love is kind”  ( chresteuomai-verb ; chrestos- adjective ) – can also be translated as good or  gracious. The word is very similar to “Christos” – Christ. Christ is kind !
Both these words are mentioned among  the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22

The question now  arises,  Why are  these two verbs or action words  important aspects of  Christian love ?  Why is it important  that Christians should be long- tempered/ longsuffering and kind  ?

The primary  response is this  : God is love ! And  part of God’s love towards us is expressed  in the fact that He is patient and kind  towards  us !    He who is utterly holy and perfect , is  so very patient and kind to  believers and unbelievers alike . Although the unbeliever  does not acknowledge the fact that God is his Maker ; although he is unthankful and although he  blasphemes  God  and tramples God’s law underfoot , God is  patient and kind  to unbelievers . The apostle Peter explains this mysterious love of God in  2 Peter 3:9  “…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.”  
But God is  especially   patient and kind to believers .  Dear believer , remember  that you have been graciously delivered from  your evil hostility  towards  God , even when you were still a sinner  ( Rom 5 : 8) . It is very important that we remind ourselves very frequently of the patience (and mercy)  and kindness of God , so that we keep our consciences tender with regard to others . The reason why we are impatient and unkind  to others , is  because  we  forget the patience and kindness of God towards us !
If  only we always remembered how  patiently and kindly God had dealt with us  , we would not  be  so ‘high-minded’ or judgmental or critical  about others .  In this regard it  important to   keep in mind the   parable of the unmerciful servant  in  Matthew  18:21-35 . The servant begs for patience and kindness  from his master (18:26)  to whom  he is highly indebted . He receives  kindness from the master   , but then  he   in turn  refuses to grant  it  to those who are indebted to him (18:30 ) . Is it possible for you to  have  received the patient kindness  of your God , but you in turn have failed to  exercise it to others ? Let the  parable of the unforgiving servant speak to you  . It has  some chilling applications.
By our love (Jn 13:35)  or lack thereof  we shall be known .

This Christian love is an extra ordinary love , because it is rooted  in an extra ordinary God . The Bible says  that He  has  “poured his love  into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  (Rom 5:5) .  Christians are recipients  and dispensers of an extraordinary love . It is a powerful love  which is  radically opposed to the standards by which fallen people in this world treat each other.   Our  world is characterized by  impatience and  lack of kindness ( except where demonstrations of  patience / kindness suit  our  own goals) . It is sad  when we as Christians  allow the  spirit  of this world   to rob us of  this   extra ordinary  love .

Let us think   us frequently examine ourselves on this  subject  and ask ourselves  where  our lack  of  patience  and  kindness might fail others and so rob Christ of His love  glory of which we   ought to be  imitators and exporters .
Let us also remember  to watch our hearts . Our impatience  and unkindness  actually begins in our hearts  ( Matt 15:18,19) . Let us repent quickly of  our sins in this area  and  plead  for  renewed  resolve to live  as children of the light . Remember  that   we have been called to be salt and light , by  living counter culturally . This biblical love goes  against all that the world  says  and does . 
Remember then that you  are not at the mercy of the world’s  powerlessness to  love others . Scripture says : “ His divine power  has granted  to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence.” ( 1 Peter  1:3)  . You  have received power  to  restrain  your  impatience or unkind  thoughts and actions .
This does not mean that we are not allowed to correct or rebuke  those who sin against us. But it is the way  in which you  do that.  John Stott  gives a practical example  : “If my house is burgled one night and I catch the thief, it may well be my duty to sit him down and tie him up and give him something to eat  and drink, while at the same time telephoning the police.” 
Even though justice must be done, we love our enemies .Their welfare must be our concern. It  is wrong to kill the thief in a fit of anger.  
We must never   allow  those  who  hate us to rob us of our godliness. If  we  allow that , we may  loose our patience and kindness . Again , I remind  you of the patience and  kindness of God towards us .
By being patient and kind we will not be caught off balance, and our temper will be kept on an even keel. There is nothing glorious about revenge. Revenge is not sweet, as the saying goes. In fact it often leaves a taste of bitterness in our soul.
In 1 Cor 6:7  (Context: Lawsuits against one’s brother)  the apostle  Paul takes this patient and kind approach  . He concludes   : “Why not rather be wronged?” It is not that we must defend or tolerate the wrongdoing of others uncritically. But in many, and  probably in most cases,  we ought to suffer long first.
That may mean that we may have  to sometimes  endure substantial pain, but we must always remember that in so doing we become imitators of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Remember  the example of our Lord Jesus, who patiently bore the insults and physical abuses of His persecutors, even praying for them, that their sins might not be held against them. The same is true for Stephen who was stoned in Acts. They were patient and kind  to their enemies  even whilst they were being murdered.

The spiritual formula is this: Love is greater than any injury we may receive!  

Two major  principles emerge from this:
(i) nothing can ever really hurt those who love  God, because God’s love shed abroad in our hearts  is greater than man’s greatest offence against us .
(ii) the more we love God, the more we  find   our happiness in Him and we remember  that people can only do damage to us with respect to worldly goods,  and perhaps even our bodies. But they cannot touch the soul which loves God supremely.

I trust that this meditation will help you as we now pray ,  that  in the week ahead  we would sense the power of God  in our lives as we obey  Him in being  long-suffering and kind to  all .  And the God of Grace will  be with you as you resolve to do His will . Amen!

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