3. Love is Patient toward Sinners (1 Cor. 13:4)Related Media
In the big picture, to be loving 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). Love in this chapter has to be seen as a product of redemption because of the good fruits here that come from formerly corrupt trees. The love of the triune God is being reflected in the lives of redeemed sinners. It is reflected or manifested in specific ways. The first specific cited by Paul is patience (13:4).
On one hand, 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). So being patient is a way of loving God.
On the other hand, patience is a love fruit that has a human to human dimension involving patience toward sinners in the church and outside the church (toward sinners and sinner-saints).
Thus there is both a vertical direction and a horizontal direction to the patience of love. Today I will discuss two things about the horizontal direction: a) patience in ministry of the word, and b) patience in life in the world.
1A. Patience in ministry of the word
As we take up our duties in relation to others, the vertical direction must always be present in the back of our minds. In relation to God, patience means to wait for the Lord to keep His promises. It means to wait calmly in obedience without complaining. We thus wait upon Him as Sovereign Lord for His way, time, and place of covenant keeping. Therefore, there is a time between; there is a now and a not yet to the coming of the kingdom.
The time between the comings of the Lord Jesus is a time of promise and waiting for the fulfillment of promise. In the middle, we are given reiteration and confirmation of His promise by means of the preaching of the word.
Here patience applies to the flock in a distinctive way and it applies to the minister in a distinctive way. It relates to how I give and how you receive correction, rebuke, and encouragement in the preaching of the word (2 Tim. 4:2). The same thing applies in different ways according to our stations in life (with nuances peculiar to each).
1) Let's begin with loving patience on the part of the flock. Again, patience is oriented to how you receive correction, rebuke, and encouragement in the preaching of the word both publicly and privately (2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 20). So what is distinctive, at least, what is cited and stressed in this connection for our instruction? Distinctive in a patient receiving of the ministry of the word is to receive it without complaining and whining (expressing dissatisfaction in a grumpy manner). It is a Christian grace and the mark of a godly church.
A key text is Numbers 21:4-5. Impatience showed itself both against the Lord and against His servant Moses who led God's flock by the word and prayer. Expressions of discontentment, dissatisfaction, and resentment cause distraction and lead to divisions. Thus patience is having a contentment of heart looking to the Lord of the covenant who has ordained the foolishness of preaching to confound the wise.
You need to be patient with me and I think you are. This is one of the joys that I have in serving you. I have never heard a discouraging or complaining word from any of you over the course of my labors on your behalf. This is remarkable to me because I know that I am a sinner and that I fail you in many ways. It is remarkable because you put up with me even though there are things about which we no doubt disagree. There are things I do that you would not do, that you do not like, or that you would do differently if you were in my shoes.
There has been constructive criticism. This is truly appreciated both in its fact and its manner. What I sense is that you are willing to wait. You are willing to give me time to do my work and you give time for the profit to come. You are looking for the benefit that God will give through the means He has appointed. You are waiting for the seed that is being sown to grow into a full harvest. You wait for it to grow by the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
You are waiting for the coming of the Lord with patience like a farmer who values the means as well as the ends (Jam. 5:7). Valuing the means God has ordained is a key to patient reception of the word preached.
It may be the case that at times the preaching of the word goes beyond preachin' to meddlin.' It may be painful to receive correction but you do not complain. I sense that you are taking up the word preached with a determination to understand it and to live by it. Patient receiving of the word seeks for obedience in all learning. It includes a willingness to change.
By your patient spirit, I feel loved and I am encouraged in doing my work. Biblically there is a full circle here because in the end it is to your advantage when you promote my joy as I watch over your souls (Heb. 13:17). Instead of complaining against me in your speech I sense that you are helping me by your prayers. For this I give thanks to the Lord Jesus. You are to be commended. This is pleasing to the Lord. Just consider how He judged Israel for their impatience sending fiery serpents so that many died (Num. 21:6f) and what He tells us of His anger at Israel's complaining (Num. 11:1, His anger was kindled and the fire of the Lord burned among them).
2) On the other side of the equation, what do you think would be most appropriate in the patience of the minister of the word (2 Tim. 4:2)? What is peculiar or distinctive here? What sin might commonly surface in this connection? Specifically, what element of patience is particularly called for?
One answer to this question or one way to answer it is to think through the grow seeds grow line in the children's story of Frog and Toad. Toad got very impatient with the seeds he planted because they did not immediately spring up. Applied to preaching this may come out in the minister’s disappointment with the fact that things he preaches may seem to fall on deaf ears. It is difficult to see spiritual growth; it is like the pot that takes forever to boil.
I deeply desire the blessing of the Spirit and the fruits of righteousness in your lives. But I have to ask myself, What if you don't see my point or don't agree if you do see it? What if I am right and feel deeply convinced of your need on this, that or the other thing, but you do not see it? (cf. Sabbath keeping for example). What then does patience contribute to correction, rebuke, and encouragement with careful instruction? It seems to me that of the associated graces and virtues, the ones most needed and perhaps tested here are gentleness and steadfastness. When lovingly patient, the servant of the Lord will not be harsh, unreasonable, quarrelsome, and demanding (2 Tim. 2:24f). He will not give up easily but will press on toward the high mark of due diligence, carefulness, and faithfulness waiting for God to give repentance.
I think that this is most difficult for a minister if he does not fix his focus on the sovereign dealing of our covenant Lord with His church. Again, that is the true resource and strength. Over the years some of the deepest afflictions that I have experienced have been in the context of serving the Lord's people (with my expectations, naiveté, and failings mixed in of course). I suppose it goes with having something that you deeply care about so the disappointments can be profound. Still, God is faithful and we have a worthwhile cause seeking His honor and glory above all else and amidst all the confusion.
Waiting for God (while trusting in His sovereignty, righteousness, and wisdom) is a foundation for patience in the context of ministry of the word for both pastor and flock.
Patience is fundamental in our mutual relationships in the body of Christ as we help one another by warning, comforting, and upholding the unruly, the fainthearted, and the weak (1 Thess. 5:14). Any of us may be any of these things at one time or another, so we need a one anothering that demonstrates great patience. This is filled out in Ephesians 4:2-3, Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Patience is needed in order to bear with one another. Interestingly, we have to admit to a tendency to irritate and injure one another. In this context of the people of God, we are to exercise patience toward sinner-saints.
We have given some thought to patience in the ministry of the word and in the life of the church. Let's now turn to patience in life in the world.
2A. Patience in life in the world
Now we need to think about how love is patient toward unbelieving sinners (with implications here for patience toward sinner-saints as well). The hard truth is that love applies in our experience with those who sin against us. Attention is placed on how we are to love those who hurt and injure us.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul puts patience in the context of hardships, sufferings, beatings, and afflictions (1-6). A trick here is to learn how to be patient with complaining, grumbling, and impatient people (Jude 1:16, the ungodly are harsh grumblers, malcontents who follow their own sinful desires; note the three elements of impatience that imply three elements of patience). And Paul relates his experience to all that seek to live godly lives (2 Tim. 3:10-11). Evil people may injure us as they either oppose the gospel or simply pursue their sinful ways. There are many ways that people may hurt us deeply as you can well imagine (just think of something that probably just happened in your life). However, a contrast applies to Christians: But as for you (2 Tim. 3:14). Christians follow Paul's teaching/living and thus his patience in relation to evil people (2 Tim. 3:10f.).
Love in this context is patient. Patience is the way we show love to sinful people at the very point where they cross our path and cause us grief and pain. This can be stated negatively and positively.
Negatively speaking, the patience of love means that we bear injuries without retaliating in thought, word, or deed. Perhaps, the best passage on this point is the teaching of Jesus on nonresistance (Matt. 5:38-39). We have to interpret this passage within the flow of thought of the Sermon accenting the inner man of the heart, the use of figurative language, the contrast with Pharisaic mis-interpretation, and common sense. Jesus is not being literal. He is not saying that if someone literally knocked the teeth out of one side of your mouth you are blessed if you turn the other cheek and let him knock the teeth out of the other side as well. This goes against the principle of self-defense and the promotion of life in the sixth commandment.
The problem is that the Pharisees took the eye for an eye principle of civil justice and applied it to personal vendettas. Thus, Jesus is not denying the eye for an eye principle of civil justice but He is denying the practice of personal retaliation. And the figurative language makes the powerful point that we are to be so far removed from personal retaliation that it is as if we were to literally turn the other cheek to our physical harm. In other words, turning the other cheek is going to an extreme physically, a point farthest removed from hitting back to harm your opponent. This serves to illustrate and drive home the point of how far we are to be removed from retaliation in the spiritual man of the heart. We are not only to be removed from returning physical harm for physical harm but we are to be so far removed from retaliation that we do not return evil for evil in any way in thought, word, or deed. That is what patient love is not; it is without retaliation of any kind.
On the positive side, patient love is calm, gentle, and forgiving.
a) It means that the one who owes us is not made to pay. We are willing to give time with mercy. We are willing to forgive, which is the driving point of the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21f.).
b) Furthermore, if you do not retaliate in thought then your inner spirit is not filled with ill will wishing for revenge with malice boiling in your heart. One thing that will not be present in your soul if you are gripped by malice and ill will is calmness. You will not be at rest or have peace within. Patience means that you will endure afflictions at the hands of sinners with a calm spirit.
c) Finally, it means that your responses to people will be gentle. Gentleness is an outward expression of an inward calm. If you do not lash out in retaliation, what do you do? You respond with deliberation and great care even when you must confront and reprove. Our Lord guides us to this way of love when He speaks of logs in our own eyes and specks of sawdust in the eyes of others. You must be gentle in the process of removing something small from someone's eye.
In summary then we can say that stated negatively patient love responds to injury without retaliating in thought, word, or deed. Stated positively, patient love responds to injury with calmness, gentleness, and forgiveness.
Conclusion: Final Perspectives and an Objection
A. The how question and some perspectives
How can we have a calm spirit when injured and hurt by others? This could be frightening when we reflect on man's cruelty. And no one likes pain though sometimes by our own folly we may appear to be gluttons for punishment. So how can we endure injury that causes us very personal pain? How can we bear it without retaliating in deed or thought? How can we bear it with a calm, gentle, and forgiving spirit? These questions raise some very important perspectives.
1) First, we need know that the Lord is with us.
This will enable us to be calm. It is by remembering what our Lord has said that grounds what we can say in the middle of it all. He has promised, I will never leave you nor forsake you so that we may confidently say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me? (Heb. 13:5-6). Ponder, meditate on, and cling to this fact, the Lord is with me in this.
2) Second, we need to know that the Lord is in control.
When others hurt you, remember that ultimately this has come from your Father's hand. That is a remarkable point that does not excuse people for their wrongdoing. When others afflict us as they pursue their sinful ways, they are accountable for their actions. Nevertheless, God is working out His purposes governing all things without fail. He is working all things in accordance with His will and for your good (Eph. 1:11; Rom. 8:28).
This means in the end that how we react to the wrongs that strike us personally and painfully is first and foremost a reaction to Lord. It is not simply a reaction He sees (that is before Him). It is a reaction to Him. It is absolutely imperative in this present evil age that we fix our thoughts on this fact. No one can do anything to afflict us unless the Lord so designs it (In the words of the hymn writer God says, I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.).
3) Third, we need to know that the Lord will right all wrongs.
Thus, the Lord is not pleased with the sins of men against us. These are sometimes difficult thoughts to keep together. Here is a rich complex of thoughts: that injury at the hands of men is from the hand of God and that it displeases the Lord who will take vengeance in His appointed time. He says that He will repay (Heb. 10:30). We are not to try to make this payment. It is His job and not ours. He will right all the wrongs!
4) Fourth, we need to know that the Lord gives us warning.
The harshness of the unforgiving servant is severely punished. The Lord tells us that we will be judged according to how we judge others; the way we measure the sins against us is how our sins will be measured (Matt. 7:2). Will it be with exactness, precision, and harshness without mercy? Then that is how God will measure our sins. If you forgive, the Father in heaven will forgive you. However, if you do not forgive sins and injuries against you, then you will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:14-15).
5) Finally, we need to know that the Lord Himself is our great example. Just think of what the Lord Jesus endured, how He endured, and for whom He endured injury at the hands of sinners. His own received Him not. He was faulted by all, opposed on every hand, challenged by the religious leaders, and hated without just cause. The Lord of glory was simply in their way. He was a rejected stone cast aside by the builders of God's house in Israel. More than once the people tried to kill Him. Finally they succeeded by a mockery of civil justice. Even His friends forsook Him: Friends through fear His cause disowning, foes insulting His distress. Many hands were raised to wound Him. None would interpose to save. Nonetheless, with a calm soul and a determined heart, our Lord went as a lamb to the slaughter. On the cross He prayed that those who afflict Him may be forgiven. His patience was perfect. This excellence of His love in this regard is our example (1 Tim. 1:16) and God's patience is our salvation (2 Pet. 3:15, count the patience of our Lord as salvation).
B. A common objection
We may reason in our hearts that the call to this excellence of loving patience is unrealistic. Some may say that we are talking here about evil acts of evil people on one hand and evil acts against me personally and painfully on the other hand. This is a double-barreled hurt that I cannot tolerate. J. Edwards asks some powerful questions to stop such rationalizing. I will paraphrase them somewhat (Charity, 92-95; the full text is well worth your reading).
Are these so-called intolerable injuries against you more than what you have offered to God by sinning against His matchless perfection? Do you not hope for patience from God for your intolerable acts against Him? When God is patient toward you, do you greatly approve of such mercy? Should you not imitate God in being patient toward others? Should God use all your objections to this grace against you? Did Christ give you a worthy example to follow? Is it a more provoking thing for men to tread on and injure you, than for you to tread on and injure Christ by disobeying Him by not pursuing the excellence of loving patience?
Thus, in the church and in the world, loving patience is an excellent way, so walk ye in it.
May the patience of our Heavenly Father, the example of our risen Lord, and the peace of the Holy Spirit be with you all, amen!