1 Corinthians 13:4-7
This week will be moving along in our study through 1 Corinthians 13 to the second part of the chapter. As I stated a few weeks ago, 1 Corinthians can be broken up into three sections: 1. The Necessity of Love (vss. 1-3), 2. The Nature of Love (vss. 4-7), and 3. The Permanence of Love (vss. 8-13). We just finished going through the first part of the chapter. I find the first three verses to be so very important because it rocks our world in regard to how we gauge true spirituality.
Paul says that you can have the greatest of all the gifts, can have the best theology, can be the most sacrificial giver to the poor, and you can even be the most self-sacrificial servant of God, but if you don’t have love, you are nothing. You can serve all you want, suffer all you want, give all you want, and you can even have the greatest gifts known to man, but if you don’t have love you are a zero in the sight of God. Love is the telltale sign that you are a true Spirit-filled Christian. Its not your gifting or your level of self-sacrificial devotion, but love. Love is the fruit of the Spirit. It is the highest pursuit in the Christian life, because the pursuit of love is the pursuit of Christlikeness. Love is the entire essence of the law of God.
Now we turn our attention to vss. 4-7 where Paul talks about the nature/character of love.
Let me lay forth a few things before we dive into the particulars.
1. These characteristics are present where there is love.
In other words, if you truly love as Christ has loved you, these characteristics will be manifest in your life. If these characteristics are not manifest in your life to at least one degree or another, it is evidence that you do not really love as Christ has loved you.
2. Paul here uses 15 verbs to speak of the character of love.
All of the words that Paul uses in vss. 4-7 (patient, kind, envy, boast, etc.) are all verbs. We would think that these are all adjectives, as if Paul were merely speaking about what love is like. However, Paul is here using verbs, speaking about what love does. What may this teach us about love? That you cannot talk about love without talking about actions. I have been arguing for quite some time for a particular definition of love. I have argued that you love biblically when you desire the good of another so much so that you act on their behalf. I have criticized the popular culture for saying that love is a mere feeling. It is ultra clear from Paul’s description of the character of love that you cannot talk about love as a mere feeling or emotion. Affections which do not result in actions are not loving in the biblical sense. John argues this very point in 1 John 3:16-18.
16 By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
So the church is right to correct the world when the world says that love is a mere emotion. No! You may have affections for another person, but if your affections are not strong enough to actually get you off your duff to act on their behalf, it is not biblical love. But we must not forget what we learned from 1 Corinthians 13:3; you can give away all that you have to feed the poor and still not love. So affections are essential to love. Let me state it in two sentences like this:
1) Actions which are not driven along by affections are not loving.
2) Affections which are not strong enough to drive you to action are not love.
You cannot talk about love without talking about both affections and actions. So Paul lays forth 15 verbs as he describes the character/nature of love.
2. Where do these characteristics come from?
Think about it. How did God decide what was to be vice and what to be a virtue? How did He decide what was to be righteous and what was to be unrighteous? Did He determine it arbitrarily? Not at all. It is not like He sat in the heavens saying, “Hmmm… stealing… I will make that… uhhh… let me flip a coin. Heads its right, tails its wrong. Hmmm… patience…. Heads its right, tails its wrong.” No! All law flows from the character of God. Unrighteousness is anything that runs contrary to His perfectly holy character. Righteousness is anything that reflects His perfectly holy character. God is the law. His character is the standard of all righteousness.
Why is this important to know where these virtues come from? Two Reasons.
First, So we can know where to look for clarity and instruction.
Where do you look if you want to know what it means to be patient? Look to God. He is the standard. We look at the record of how He has related with human beings in the Scriptures. And since Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, we ultimately look to Him because in Him we find the highest and clearest expression of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3). We learn of Christ that the fullness of God dwells in Him bodily (Colossians 2:9). He so clearly and perfectly reveals who God is that He tells Philipp, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). So what does it look like to be patient, kind, etc.? Look to God. He is our blueprint. So to understand what God is expecting of us we will first explore what it means that Jesus is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, etc. From that we will get a clear picture of what it means to be patient, kind, etc.
The second reason why it is important to know where these characteristics of love come from is…
….because it tells us what our primary goal is. Our primary goal is not to be conformed to some abstract set of moralistic principles. If you gaze is on a mere set of principles or rules, you will have wasted your effort and time. Our goal is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10).
The goal is to be like Him in every way.
So the we do not merely want to be patient. We want to be patient just like He was patient. The problem comes in when Christians speak of these character traits as if they were a mere list of abstract principles. They end up seeking to be conformed not to the image of Jesus Christ, but to a set of ideals. This is an unbiblical, unchristian way to go about living the Christian life. Everything in the Christian life has to do with being like Jesus. Being conformed to His image (Romans 8:29)—being “renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:11). The point is this, you will never be able to love like this if you do not keep your gaze solely on Him. The goal is to be like Jesus. This is exactly what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
How are we “transformed into the same image”—the image of Christ, that is?
By beholding the glory of the Lord. By keeping our gaze on Christ! Jesus is, after all, the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). Thus John was able to say, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). So the only way we can be transformed into His image is by keep our gaze on Him. We want to be conformed to the living person of Christ, not merely to a lifeless set of principles. This is what is different between Christianity and mere moralism.
Love is Patient
So lets dive in. He says that love is patient. We must begin at the beginning, with God. We are going to spend the majority of our time this morning looking at the patience of God. This is so very important. This may seem backwards to you. You may wonder, “Jimmy, we are talking about our responsibility to be patient to others, why are you focusing all your attention on God’s patience toward us?” For two reasons.
First, because God is our standard—we learn what it means to be patient by looking to Him. The goal of the Christian life is to do everything like Jesus. We want to love others as God has loved us in Christ. This means that we want to be patient with others as Christ as has been patient with us. So we focus on Him because He is our standard.
Second, because the standard of patience will be a begrudging duty if you are reveling in and captivated by His patience toward you. The standard is too difficult for you to keep in your own strength. If you are driven by pure obligation, you will be miserable in your attempts at patience. The only way you will find patience to be a light burden is if it flows out of a heart which is rejoicing in God’s patience toward you. If you see the depth of God’s patience toward you, you will say, “How dare I not be patient to others when He has been so patient with me in my sin?!” You will say, “I want to be patient because I want to be more like Jesus.”
So, let’s direct our attention to the patience of God. I have just a few points.
1. God is patient.
First, let me establish that God is indeed patient. Turn with me to Exodus 34:6.
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”
Here we see that God is “slow to anger.” That is exactly what the word patience communicates. It communicates the fact that God is not a hot head. God does not fly off the handle and flip out. God is not a reactor. He has a long fuse. When He acts, He acts decisively, make no mistake about it. Nonetheless, He is “slow to anger.” So this is not the sort of patience that has to do with timing. I know some who hate fishing because they aren’t patient. If you are in that boat (no pun intended), don’t worry, that isn’t the type of patience Paul is talking about here. He isn’t talking about timing patience, but relational patience. The NKJV translates patience as “suffering long.” That is the idea. God puts up with your junk without flying off the handle. Many think that a patient person is never angered or upset. Not true. God is patient. This does not mean that He is never angry. Rather it means that He is slow to anger.
Now before we move along let me say, for the sake of those who do not know Christ, that you should not lean on God’s patience as a reason to put off getting right with Him. Many will think that since God is patient they can live in their sin and God will simply put up with them forever. But you have to realize that the words eternal and patience are not friends. Inherent in the word patience is the idea of temporality. If someone is eternally patient, they are not truly patient they are just inactive. If you are eternally patient with your kids, that means that you never discipline.
All patience must have a terminating point or it is not true patience.
So if you are here this morning and you haven’t repented of your sins and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, do so now. There is an element of urgency to this. This is why Isaiah could exhort the Israelites to “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6). The window for seeking God is narrow. He is patient. He is slow to anger. He has a long fuse. However, there is a bomb at the end of that fuse. We call that bomb the day of judgment. This is why Paul warns the Romans in Romans 2:4:
Do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
To use God’s patience or kindness as a justification for not getting right with God right now is to presume upon His patience and kindness. He offers you a window of opportunity so that you might be all the more urgent in your response to Him, not so that you will drag your feet. Yes God is slow to anger. But think of what this means. Does this mean that God is never angry? No! It just means that He is slow to anger.
2. Patience is not to be confused with indifference.
In other words, when God does not act with immediate judgment and wrath upon disobedience this does not mean that He doesn’t care about sin. This in fact is what makes His patience so amazing. God hates sin. God is not neutral to sin. Nonetheless, He puts up with sin and rebellion temporarily. Haven’t you ever asked yourself, “God, how is it that you can sit back without intervening? How is that you let Jerry Sandusky get away with molesting children for decades? How is it that you let Lance Armstrong get away with lying and doping for years, using his platform for a good cause? How can God look on without intervening? Doesn’t He care” Have you ever wondered that? Yes. He does care.
And this is what makes God’s patience so very amazing.
It is not that He sits on the sidelines disinterested. Not at all. In fact, it must be asserted that all sin is ultimately against God—He is the most offended party. Think of David’s sin against both Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah the Hittite. David sinned against Uriah by sleeping with his wife while he was off to war fighting for David. Bathsheba became pregnant by David. In order to cover his sin up, he sinned against Bathsheba by having Uriah the Hittite killed. Yet when David prays for God’s mercy in Psalm 51 he does not say, “Against Uriah and Bathsheba have I sinned” Rather, speaking to God, he says;
“Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (vs. 4).
David is not here minimizing the damage that he caused to Bathsheba and Uriah. However, he is acknowledging who the most offended party is. It was not Uriah’s law that David broke. It was God’s law. God is always the most offended party. Sin is always ultimately (first and foremost) against God. It is incorrect to misinterpret God’s patience. God is patient, but He is not disinterested or uncaring. This would be a good place to say that patience is not the absence of anger. God is angry with sin. It is to say that God is not controlled by His anger. He doesn’t fly off the handle. Isn’t this amazing? Doesn’t this expose the hypocrisy of those who say, “I had a right to give that person a piece of my mind. After all, he/she sinned against me.” Well, how have you offended Christ? The glory of
God’s patience is that it is extended to those who have sinned against Him. He is our standard. Let’s think on this some more.
What was your life situation when God saved you?
When you think of God’s patience toward you, do you not rejoice? Of course you do! After all, you know that if God had intervened and had dealt out immediate justice to you while you were in your sin, you would be in hell as we speak. Isn’t this amazing? When we think of God’s patience toward us in our sin we rejoice and are filled with thanksgiving. When we think of God’s patience toward others we are filled with frustration at God for letting their sin continue. When we think of God’s patience toward us we thank Him for giving us room and time for repentance. When we think of God’s patience toward Sandusky or Madoff or Armstrong we are filled suspicion about God—why doesn’t He impose Himself… Doesn’t He care? Why is this? Is it because we think we are more deserving of His patience?
This is so very important because many think they are patient just because they put up a façade of patience. Some people appear patient because they are indifferent to sin. Some people appear to be patient with others and then whine and complain about their “labor of love.” Some people are patient with others and then gossip about those with whom they were patient.
3. God is patient with His enemies.
Imagine if God would have stepped in and dealt out immediate justice to Paul. In 1 Timothy 1:16 Paul states that his salvation is in large part owing to God’s patience. Take a look at 1 Timothy 1:13, 16 with me.
13 formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent… 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
Paul identifies himself as a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” He was a hater and killer of Christians. He was an enemy of God. He was an enemy of the church, of Christ! He authorized the death of Stephen. He beat, whipped, imprisoned, and killed many Christians. After God saved Paul, Christians everywhere were terrified of him. Do you think Stephen had a best friend? Do you think he had a family? How do you think Stephen’s family responded to Paul’s conversion? We read it as ancient history. But Paul’s atrocities were real. He really killed Stephen. He really did kill someone’s best friend, some poor woman’s husband, some little kid’s father.
Imagine if persecution were to break out in New Hampshire and someone in Boscawen was to kill your best friend here at SGF simply because of his Christianity. How would you pray? Would pray that God would have mercy on this man? Would you pray that God be patient? And yet we learn why God saved Paul. Why didn’t God step in as soon as Paul killed his first Christian to bring justice upon Paul’s head. Paul tells us in vs. 16. God had mercy on Paul to “demonstrate His perfect patience.” And this patience stands as an example to anyone who may doubt God’s ability to save even the worst of sinners. God had patience on Paul. If God didn’t have patience on Paul, he would be condemned to hell without one plea. And so would you. But the good news is that if God was patient with a Christian killer, He can be patient with anyone.
God has patience upon His enemies.
He had patience on the crowds who mocked Jesus, crying out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Have you ever watched the Passion of the Christ? Were you not sitting there saying, “Why didn’t God stop it all and bring immediate justice upon those men?” Did God not care? Of course He cared. The reason He didn’t stop them was because this was the only way to for God to deal with sin so that He might forgive sinners without compromising His justice. However, what is most noteworthy is that many of those who cried out Crucify Him! Crucify Him! were saved just 50 days later when Peter preached that amazing sermon. They committed the greatest crime that could ever be committed, the crucifixion of God in the flesh. God was patient. God is patient even to His greatest enemies.
Let me give one last example.
Have you ever wondered why God has delayed His second coming for so long? It has been 2000 years since Jesus told His disciples that He was coming soon (Revelation 22:12). Peter tells us the answer in 2 Peter 3:8-10.
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 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. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Why has He postponed the day of His return?
Because of His patience with fallen humanity. Because He is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” There are many who think that Jesus is for certain coming back really really soon. Maybe He will come back within the next year or 5 or 10. I don’t know. However, He may not come back for another 1000, 5000, or 10,000 years. You may say, “No way, why would you think His return could be so far out?” Well, look at what has motivated Him to postpone His return thus far. He has been motivated by patience, by His desire that none should perish. I believe God is that patient even toward His enemies.
4. God’s patience is unrelenting.
What about God’s patience toward the Israelites? They were faithless to Him and His law for 1500 years. It was only after 1500 years that He finally put an end to His covenantal relationship with them (as a nation). What about God’s patience toward you? How many times have you disobeyed when you knew you shouldn’t have? How often have you chosen t.v. over fellowship with Him in the word? How many times have you went days on end without prayer or scripture meditation? How many times have you turned a deaf ear to His word? Yet you are still here. Yet He is presently feeding you through the preaching of His word. Time and time again He has reaffirmed and reaffirmed and reaffirmed His love for you. Time and time again you have blown it. Time and time again you have come to the communion table knowing your unworthiness and sin. Time and time again He said to you, “Come and let Me reaffirm My love for you again and again.” This is a daily reality for every Christian.
Has He not been patient with you?
1. It is possible to look patient with out being patient, just as it is possible to do things which look loving without being loving. Patience with a bad attitude is no patience at all. Gossiping about one with whom you are “patient” is not patience. You are not being patient with a person by avoiding that person.
2. You may say, “Jimmy, I can’t be patient… that’s not my personality. I am naturally a hot head.” I have just one word for you. Repent of your personality. Some say the same thing about being suspicious of authority. It just simply does not work to be a Christian without joyfully submitting to King Jesus. A Christian who does not submit happily is a rebellious Christian, regardless of his personality. An impatient Christian is a Christian who needs to repent regardless of personality.
3. It is one thing to be angry, it is another thing to be controlled by your anger. Jesus was never controlled by His anger. If you are controlled by your anger you cannot be controlled by the Holy Spirit.
4. You never have a right to say, “This person sinned against me, I am justified in my anger.” This is the very point of putting our focus on God’s patience toward us. The fact is that God’s patience is highlighted by the fact that all sin is ultimately against Him.
5. You have to keep your eyes on Christ. If you know the glory of His patience toward you, you will want to bend that patience out to others. If you are not overwhelmed by how patient He has been with you, you will not be patient with others with joy.
Consider: Romans 2:3-4; 1 Timothy 1:12-16; Exodus 34:6-7; 2 Peter 3:8-10; Luke 6:35; Matthew 5:43-47; Proverbs 14:29, 15:18; Psalm 145:13, 17; Titus 3:4
Jimmy serves as pastor for “Preaching and Vision” at Sovereign Grace Fellowship
in Boscawen, New Hampshire. Previoulsy he fulfilled leadership roles in both Kansas City, Missouri and Las Vegas, Nevada. Jimmy received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Biblical Studies from Hannibal-LaGrange College and a Master of Divinity degree from Liberty University.
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