Last time we looked at the theme of love as an excellent way. In the big picture, love is the way to live a life that communicates meaning that has music, significance, dignity, and value. Without it you are nothing and your life has no value (1 Cor. 13:1-3). And in context, love is an excellent way to seek, obtain, and use spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:31). But it is something much larger than the gifts. Love in this chapter has to be seen as a product of redemption (cf. the good that comes from formerly corrupt trees). Thus it is the love of the triune God being reflected in the lives of redeemed sinners that is the subject of this famous chapter. That reflection includes love for God with the whole heart and love for our neighbors, as we love our selves. Love for God is a wholehearted affection for God as my king and therefore it includes loving God in the neighbor since our King requires this of us. Thus love in 1 Corinthians 13, in the big picture, refers to God's love that produces love in us for Him and others.
Today we turn from the big picture to specifics. We will now concentrate on the manifestation of love in and through us. Interestingly, the first specific Paul mentions is patience (13:4). As we will see, it is fitting to begin here in describing Christian love, the love displayed by redeemed sinners being made in the likeness of Christ. I have two points: 1) a definition of patience, and 2) an illustration of patience.
What first comes to mind when you hear the word patient? What does it mean to be patient? Very often emphasis is placed on the context of suffering. A patient in a hospital is one who suffers some ailment. Thus being patient is a way of dealing with suffering. In this connection we often speak of the patience of Job (Jam. 5:11, but the word James uses is a noun related to the verb, endures in 1 Cor. 13:7, not our word patience in 13:4).
When I first think of patience, I think of time. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, we hear him make this plea, Have patience with me and I will pay you everything (Matt. 19:26). It is almost equivalent to saying, just give me some time (twenty years worth). To be patient is to be willing to wait for something. When you have patience, time is viewed as an ally not an enemy. There is some delay and some passing of time that must occur before a goal is reached or something is obtained. So it involves waiting. But the passing of time and waiting while time passes is not all there is to patience because patience is a way of waiting. Intuitively, we know there is such a thing as impatient waiting or waiting impatiently. It has to do with how we wait for something and being willing to wait is an aspect of patience.
How is patience shown in the parable? Time is given with mercy. The person is not made to pay. His huge debt is forgiven. He is given much more than an extension of time to pay the debt. He is given all of his time to use, as he will, without obligation.
But as a recipient of patience, what does he then do? He goes to a fellow servant that owes him a small debt. This person begs him to be patient (pleading for time, perhaps a few days). The unforgiving servant is harsh and unmerciful. He receives patience beyond measure and he gives impatience without mercy.
The point of the parable is to show us how patiently God deals with us and therefore how patient we ought to be with others. God's loving patience super abounds toward us despite our sins against Him. Hence the fact that we are recipients of such loving patience should restrain us from being harsh and it should constrain us to be lovingly patient with those who sin against us.
So there is a person to person (human to human) dimension to patience that is rooted in our relationship to God. Or should we say, rooted in God's relationship to us showing patience toward us (divine to human). But this is not the whole story. Patience is also something exercised toward God. There is a human to divine dimension.
Obviously, there is something distinct here. Patience in the relationship of man to God must be different from the patience that God shows us, and that one man shows to another. We do not give God time to pay a debt. There is no element of forgiveness or mercy in how we relate to God. Nonetheless, the Scriptures speak of patience in relation to God. That is why the title for the message today is Love is patient toward God (and next week, Love is patient toward men).
Patience is a virtue intimately connected to God's dealings with man by covenant. It is a way of waiting that is associated with faith since we are called to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised (Heb. 6:12). The promises of God are being fulfilled across the pages of human history. This is God's way: He makes covenant and then He fulfills His covenant in stages over time. The very 6-1 pattern of creation indicates that the Creator is a covenant making and covenant keeping God; it shows that history has the principle of God's covenant making and keeping woven into its very fabric.
What then does it mean to be patient toward God? It means to wait for God to keep His promises in the way, time, and place that He as Sovereign Lord chooses. That is, it means to wait calmly in obedience without complaining. Thus to be patient is to wait for God, to wait for God to keep covenant, to wait calmly in obedience without complaining about what He sees fit to do. This becomes clear when we compare the book of Hebrews with Genesis regarding the patience of Abraham.
Do you remember how long Abraham waited for the son of promise? It was twenty-five years (cf. Gen. 12:4-7 with 21:5). Abraham was promised a child and ultimately redemption in Christ (He saw Christ's day and rejoiced, Jn. 18:56). But there was a long delay in which he and Sarah went childless. He was promised a son and the redeemer to come through his wife Sarah. They got old waiting for the promise, so old that it seemed ridiculous, even a laughing matter, to Sarah who lied to the Lord about laughing at His promise (Gen. 18:10-15). When a son was born to her and Abraham in their old age, they named him Isaac, which is he laughs for he was their joy and laughter (Gen. 21:1-7).
The writer of the book of Hebrews says, after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised (6:15). He did not simply wait; he waited patiently.
So our question becomes, what is this patience related to waiting, what way of waiting is being described? No doubt some of what is involved is suggested by the gap between promise and fulfillment. What's going on? Why is there a gap? Why doesn't God give what He promises immediately? The time between is school time. It is a time for learning obedience through testing by trials and by suffering.
We always look to the Genesis account to see Abraham's faith most clearly. But what shall we say about his patience? A good exercise that I recommend is that you read the Abraham narrative (Gen. 12:1-25:11); it is roughly thirteen chapters. A good approach is to read these chapters with the patience of Abraham in mind. Some observations can be made to summarize the narrative.
1) The Genesis account nowhere mentions the term patience in describing Abraham's walk with God.
2) Actually, it may surprise you to find that very little is recorded regarding the responses of Abraham. We do see him in action as in the mini war to save Lot (Gen. 14). But we have little regarding his responses to God; we have little given that he lived for nearly two hundred years as the friend of God (Isa. 41:8). So, we are dependent on the commentary given in the book of Hebrews by the Holy Spirit to fill out things we need to know.
3) We do have one place where Abraham's thinking is exposed to us in Genesis. The one place that I found (there may be others), was immediately after the giving of the covenant of circumcision. God restated the covenant and gave the command of circumcision (Gen. 17:1-16). Then Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?' (17:17). Abraham believes but his faith needs strengthening. He focuses on the practical and seemingly impossible problem of age. So he thinks that his son Ishmael is the solution (Gen. 17:18). God reiterates the promise and accents the place of Sarah: Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call his name Isaac (Gen. 17:19).
In the end, what is Abraham's response? We have no words or thoughts cited. What is recorded is that On that very day (Gen. 17:23) Abraham obeyed the command regarding circumcision.
4) What was Abraham's response when God gave His promise again and Sarah laughed then lied about laughing (Gen. 18:1-15)? No response is recorded. But immediately afterward, Abraham dialogues with the Lord concerning the destruction of Sodom where he says (by way of his questions) that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right (Gen. 18:25). This showed his faith in God and in His promise.
5) Finally, with the birth of Isaac (Gen. 21), the way is paved for Abraham's greatest trial. When Isaac was a young teen, (some time later, Gen. 22:1), he was to be surrendered to God in sacrifice, literally on the altar. What the surrender called for is highlighted in how Isaac is described: Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and sacrifice him (Gen. 22:2). In other words, take your joy and laughter and put it to death with a sharp knife. Take Isaac and kill him on the altar of sacrifice. This is a severe test, a deep and fiery trial of his faith (if cut off from its context, this has to be a most horrifying scene that is contrary to all that is biblical, right and good in family love of parent to child and child to parent).
He has now waited some forty years for the promise of many descendents (for a son through Sarah and many children through him). Isaac was special and caused his father to laugh. Suddenly, out of the blue, as a young teen, he is to be killed by the father that loves him dearly! And you no doubt remember what happened. Abraham marched to Mount Moriah and there would have killed his dear son had the angel of the Lord not stopped him. He was so firm in the act that he in fact offered him to God there on the altar and then took the knife to complete the offering (Heb. 11:17).
What responses are recorded to the command of God regarding the sacrifice of Isaac? Let's follow the narrative. a) He obeys without delay. Thus, early the next morning he took Isaac and wood for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about (Gen. 22:3). b) He speaks to his servants telling them, We will worship and then we will come back to you (22:5). c) He speaks to his son saying, Yes my son? and God himself will provide the lamb for the burn offering my son (22:7-8). Besides saying, Here I am a couple of times (22:1, 11), nothing more is told us concerning his responses of thought, word, or deed.
What are the ingredients of patience that we can learn from these accounts? I see at least three things.
a) Nowhere in this account or in the entire history of Abraham is there any mention of complaining. In other words, he was not impatient, which is identified as a sin of speech in the book of Numbers (21:4-5). If you think about Israel in the wilderness, one thing that probably comes immediately to mind is their continual grumbling, murmuring, and complaining (against Moses and against the Lord). Israel here is a classic embodiment of impatience that teaches us about patience. They are not like their father Abraham who displayed great patience in the trial of his faith over many years. Actually, the trial/testing/proving/developing of his faith spanned his entire life. If we read the story of Abraham noting the trial of his faith and especially the fiery trial of Genesis 22, we never hear him complain or lash out at the Lord. In the remarkable account of the sacrifice of Isaac, we see Abraham on the outside very composed and obedient. We hear no complaining.
b) Moreover, the writer of Hebrews tells us what was going on internally: he reasoned that God would keep his covenant because He was able to raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:18-19). He was not filled with fear, panic, agitation of soul, and mental turmoil though the trial was profound in its fiery depths. Instead, he reasoned (to engage the mind settles the soul). He reasoned that God. He concentrated on God's promise, trusted His matchless power to keep His word, and he straightforwardly submitted himself to the will of God in this context without complaint and with a calmness of soul.
In the way of faith and patience, Abraham received the promise of the covenant. With patient calmness of soul, he received his only begotten son and with him the promise of Christ, the only begotten son and final sacrifice for sinners.
c) In the context of the covenant, to be patient means to do what God requires of us without complaining against God for what He decides. It means to do our work of loving service (Heb. 6:10) It is to avoid being sluggish but looking to the promises (Heb. 6:12). It means to obey and do what God requires without agitation of spirit but with a calm and content heart waiting for Him to bring His covenant to realization in His time and in His way.
1) Patience is a duty
We need to make this point clear because in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul is basically descriptive versus being imperative. Take a look, he says, here is what love is, this is what it looks like. The idea of duty stems from the fact that Paul's whole point in this chapter is to show us an excellent pathway for our footsteps. This is the narrow way that Christ spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount. The excellence of love is the way to obtaining the gifts and using them.
Description serves to map out the duties of love. Here is what love looks like; now that is what you are to look like in your conduct. There is the pathway; now walk in that way. Description is for subscription. Knowledge is for action; all Christian learning is for obedient learning and should be pursued to that end. We should always be looking for how to improve our conduct based on what we learn from Scripture.
Thus 12:31 governs every description like an overlay. If you think of each fruit of love as a separate page, the overlay of 12:31 can be placed on each page where it adds the dimension of duty to the picture. Excellence, excellent graces, Christian virtues are placed before our eyes in all their perfection to aid us and inspire us in the way of duty.
The extreme height of this duty is not a discouragement. It is helpful to have clear goals and to know that this goal and that goal are required of me by the Lord. That He requires it is all the assurance I need to know that He will be my helper and my rock of strength.
Very specifically then, it is your duty to cultivate the Christian virtue of patience toward God. We need to have a sense of duty and diligence. It is like pondering a road map very carefully so we can travel in the right direction.
2) Patience is rooted in Christ
This answers the question, How could Abraham show such patience toward God?
It was the fact that he fixed his gaze on the Lord Jesus. Somehow, Abraham saw the day of Christ and rejoiced (Jn. 18:56). This is interesting language when we remember that Isaac means laughter and joy. Abraham saw the greater Isaac in his son Isaac. He embraced the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ. He believed that He would be the promised offspring of Eve who would bring restoration from all the effects of the fall.
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, cultivates patience. To be patient we must fix our gaze on Him not on the stormy waters surrounding us.
3) Patience focuses on the covenant keeping God
Abraham focused on God's righteousness, His promise, and His ability as the Sovereign Judge of the entire earth. By imitating his example, we are enabled to wait for God's time, place, and way of fulfillment without complaining and with a calm spirit within.
Did Abraham ever see his descendents like the sand of the sea? Did he ever possess the land? Did he ever see the blessing of the nations through his son and his greater son? No. But he did come to see God and to know Him better and better. He and all the patriarchs died not having obtained the promises (Heb. 11:13). Abraham was content to have nothing of this world for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10).
This is the outlook toward the future that we should likewise cultivate. No doubt we all have things that we desire deeply and that we thought the Lord would have given to us by now in our lives (life time goals, the salvation of the unsaved, etc.). So we pray, work, long, wait, and wait still longer. He is righteous and He is able. He will keep His promises. To this end the Lord assures us by adding oath to promise (Heb. 6:16-20).
4) Patience is first and foremost a matter of love
This specific fruit of love, loving patience, is rooted in our love to Christ. It is how we love Him. We long for Him. O Lord Jesus how long, how long, shall we shout the glad song, Christ is returning, Christ is returning, hallelujah, amen. Love means that we will look to our God as the covenant keeping God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So we wait patiently. The key is waiting for Him to act; looking for Him to act. In other words, patience is a way of waiting with love for God because we wait for Him.