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Loving-kindness (1 Cor. 13:4)

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Introduction

The text (1 Cor. 13:4) combines the patience of love with its kindness: love is patient and kind (as in Gal. 5:22). These are two aspects or elements of love that are presented in explanation of what love is (cf. the subject love is repeated here, love is patient, love is kind; except for a variant after the word envy, the term love is not used again until v. 8). Then comes a list of eight things that love is not (4b-6a). Of course, from what love is not we learn what it is by implication to its opposite. And from what love is, we can infer nuances of what it is not. The negative is like a dark background that helps you see what's in the foreground more clearly. Paul shows us this interplay between the negative and the positive in verse 6 where he begins with the negative and then moves to the positive (showing the implication of the positive that is contained in the negative statement).

The list and the way it is set up show the fullness of the subject under discussion. Paul is concatenating. He is squeezing volumes into a few paragraphs (four to be exact). Such fullness justifies the effort to understand a specific virtue in light of the entire Bible, and by thinking carefully and logically.

Thus, two important things need to be kept in mind as we work our way through this famous love chapter. a) Each dimension of love presented needs to be appreciated in its uniqueness. Each element of love is a distinct reflection of the love diamond. b) Also, the virtues of love are interdependent. They overlap with one another and they imply one another. One reflection of the diamond implies the reality of other reflections and it implies the diamond as a whole.

Therefore, we have two overall goals. We want to find a good definition of each love fruit. Such defining should reveal as much as possible the distinctiveness of each grace. And at the same time, we want to see how the graces overlap and imply one another. Otherwise, we will fail to see the richness and fullness of each grace.

These goals are important because this richness and fullness for learning and living is what true disciples seek. Remember, if you understand all mysteries and all knowledge but have not love then you are nothing (v. 2). Without love, communication is ultimately meaningless (a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, v. 1); your sacrifices, however great, gain nothing (v. 3). Therefore, learners show themselves to be Christ’s disciples by their love, which means they learn with the immediate goal of obedience and with the ever present ultimate goal of glorifying Christ.

To that end, let's consider the love fruit of kindness this morning. If we put these words together literally we can come up with a title for the message: loving-kindness. I have two main points: an explanation of loving-kindness and an exhortation to loving-kindness.

1A. An Explanation of loving-kindness

So what is kindness? As a love fruit, what is the nature of loving-kindness? Three words will cue our answer: comparison, definition, and pattern.

1B. A comparison of kindness with patience as love fruits

When we unpack patience toward sinners and note that it means we do not retaliate in thought, word, or deed, we discover that instead of being harsh it involves being gentle and kind. So we ask, what is the difference between kindness and patience? The answer is that patience has the context of being injured particularly in mind, it is a reaction to the sins of others against us. And in this context, patience shows itself in kind thoughts (good will), kind words, and kind deeds despite the fact that someone has hurt us deeply. Kindness here is being viewed from the perspective of patience in the face of injury.

When the kindness quality of love is the subject of attention, let's say viewed in itself, it is concerned with contexts larger than that of being injured. Here kindness is the whole pie and one slice of the pie is kindness in relation to those who afflict us. To say it is the whole pie is to say that it is the subject now being considered. To switch analogies, this means that we are looking at love as a diamond again and we are now looking at the kindness reflection. If we look deep into the diamond from this angle we will see that it includes a response to the sins of others around us and against us. If you look into the diamond, into the patience reflection you see kindness in there. If you look into the kindness reflection you see patience in there. But they are different reflections or sides of the diamond each with its own hues and accents.

Hence, there is much more to kindness than a response to sins against us; it has many applications where our response to injury is not the point (it may, for example, be a response to someone else's suffering).

2B. Definition

Kindness can be described by explaining its core, its independence, its universality, its comprehensiveness and its spirituality. At its core, kindness is doing good to others. It is doing good to others from the heart (from a heart of good will); it means to do good to others in thought, word, and deed. This is the core or center of loving-kindness.

Kindness has an interesting independent quality about it. It means to do good to others in a way not dependent on their character, conduct, or responses to you. Its universality simply means that no one is excluded in principle. We are to extend loving-kindness to all that come across our path in need. That is the neighbor as defined by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The comprehensiveness of kindness refers to the fact that love seeks to do physical, temporal, emotional, and eternal good to others. By this fruit, we do what we can to promote their physical and emotional well being, their wealth, and the safety of their entire selves before God in the final judgment.

But let's not leave out the spiritual depth that applies here. We should not have a specialist mentality about a person's total health and well being. That is, we should not think that the physical needs of the body are the exclusive responsibilities of the medical doctor and the emotional needs of man are the exclusive responsibilities of the head doctor. That is a sacred/secular way of thinking. It is not a Christian way of thinking. My point is that spiritual laws, principles, and graces apply to our physical, temporal, emotional, and eternal needs. It is not as if the physical/temporal/emotional is over here and the eternal is over there. It is not that the former means that a person is non-spiritual or secular and the latter means that he is spiritual or sacred.

All of the areas of human need have a spiritual dimension. For example, we pray for daily bread in conjunction with praying for the hallowing of God's name (cf. the Lord's Prayer).

If we are kind, we will promote the good of others in any way that we can, whether inward or outward, temporal or eternal as the Holy Spirit enables us through His words in Scripture (i.e., the spiritual applies across the board). For example, it is not the job of the church to have wealth and prosperity seminars. But Christians should be alert to opportunities to help others with work by recommending to a job. It is a marvelous opportunity if one has a business and can put others to work. This issue of a weekly paycheck is a spiritual matter as an outflow of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. the implications of the 8th commandment, work to eat, and the workman is worthy of his wages, etc).

In this light a great quote from Edwards is made even greater. He stated that to be instruments of spiritual good is to do to others greater good than if we had given them the riches of the universe (Charity, 97). Of course, this does not exclude giving of our material possessions; it simply puts it into perspective as a sacred duty.

3B. Pattern

If I asked you the following question, how would you reply? Loving-kindness has what pattern? If it follows a pattern, then what might that pattern be? Reach as high as you can to answer this question. Once you do, I think we will have the same answer. God's kindness is the pattern. If you the six and one pattern of creation came to mind, you went in thought to a superlative example of God's loving-kindness in making a habitable place for man to live (in the work of the six days) and promising rest with Him at the end of our work on earth (the rest of the 7th day that is enjoyed week by week in fellowship with God is a foretaste of the eternal Sabbath rest).

God's kindness is our pattern for kindness even in this fallen world. Speaking to unbelievers Paul says that God gives rain and crops in their seasons to give man the enjoyable things of life (Acts 14:17; cf. Rom. 2:4, His witness extends a overture of grace inviting sinners to Himself; cf. His outstretched hands, Rom. 10:21). This is part and parcel of His call to sinners to seek Him and live. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us of the Father's love that sends the rain and sunshine on the just and unjust alike (Matt. 5:43-48). There is loving-kindness that is common to all (cf. common grace and common goodness). His kindness is our pattern and it has independence in that it does not rest on the character, conduct, or responses of others as is clear in the therefore you of verse 48.

However, it should be noted that God's kindness has limits that reveal His severity. Paul tells us to consider His kindness and His severity, kindness to you and severity to others (Rom. 11:22). Therefore we have to balance the fact of His common goodness with His special goodness to His covenant people.

The OT has many occurrences of God's abundant kindness to His covenant people (cf. the same Greek word for kindness in the LXX). In Psalm 25:7, the Psalmist pleads to be remembered according to God's love that he grounds in the fact that God is good (for you are kind). God is great in kindness that is public and protective (Ps. 31:19-20). His bounty is abundant (Ps. 65) and includes atonement (v. 3), awesome deeds of righteousness, giving of joy, and the blessing of the water cycle (vs. 5, 9, 12). But we must not miss two things. 1) His kindness is parallel with holiness, which reminds us of God's severity. 2) His kindness is shown in election (v. 4; cf. the good figs versus the bad figs, Jer. 24:1f).

In Ephesians 2:7, Paul refers to the riches of God's grace in kindness toward us in Christ. His loving-kindness appeared in the Savior and when it did, He saved us (Titus 3:4). Thus, it is not based on our character, conduct, or response to God. We love Him because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). His goodness to us generated our response and cannot be based on it in any way.

We follow the pattern He sets when we do good to all men, especially to those of the household of faith and when we seek their good despite their character, conduct, and responses to us.

2A. An exhortation to loving-kindness

Let me exhort you to show kindness to all men everywhere seeking their physical, emotional, temporal, and eternal good. In a word, my exhortation is, Go about doing good as Jesus did and thus follow in His steps. Do so with a spiritual depth that opposes a sacred/secular worldview. Do so after God according to the pattern He has laid out in front of us.

1) Go about doing good because of God's fatherly goodness to you. Note the exhortation in Titus 3 to every good work in speech, demeanor, and common courtesy that is based on the fact that we ourselves were once foolish. But when Christ appeared He saved us by doing good to us that we do not deserve (work of the Spirit, justification, entitlement, and hope, Titus 3:1-7). Because He has been good to you, go and do good to others.

2) Go about doing good because you are the sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. Bring some of His heaven to this earth. Thus imitate God, as dearly loved children live a life of love as Christ loved (Eph. 4:32-5:1)! What a packed statement!

3) Go about doing good because in this way you show that you are children of God. Show you are children by doing good to others whatever posture they may take toward you.

Do good to those who persecute you. Pray for them who despitefully use you. Do good to the thankful, the unthankful, the good, the evil (whether directed toward you or not), the friend, and the enemy. All of these things are in Luke 6:27-36: do good to those who hate you (v. 27), bless, pray, turn the other cheek, go extra mile, practice the golden rule (v. 31). What credit do you have if you do good to those who are good to you? That is, what can be credited to your account as a child of God that shows you are God's child? Doing good to the enemy leads to great reward and then, Jesus says, you are sons. Namely, you demonstrate sonship and daughtership to God because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Loving-kindness is a good work and its takes work (cf. the delicacy of trying to tell a mature adult that they have lice in their hair!). There are many pitfalls and responses to us will vary.

One translation renders 1 Thessalonians 5:15 in this way, try to be kind. This exhortation is preceded by many references to Paul's example (2:1ff.). It is an example worth following. It is for ministers and for all believers. A case in point within this context is 2:9-12. Consider Paul's kind-heartedness (his heart attitude) and loving kindness (in outward actions). These things lead up to the final instructions of his letter (5:12-15) and the crisp exhortation, don't pay back but try to be kind to one another and to every one (5:15). Thus seek to be kind, make that a determined goal of your life. Make this a conscious goal in life: try to be kind!

I close by noting that ultimately loving-kindness begins with the love of Christ for us. On that basis, live a life of love and go about seeking to do good to everyone but especially to the household of faith.

Related Topics: Love