Summary: This is the second in a series from I Corinthians 13 on the nature of love; it deals with PATIENCE.
“How Much Longer?”
November 24, 2002
Love of Another Kind – I Corinthians 13
We began last week looking at the subject of love of another kind: God’s kind of love. God’s love is agape love, the kind of love that extends grace toward others, that treats them better than they deserve. This is a love that forgives the unforgivable, that sacrifices for the well-being of others. It is the “more excellent way” that Paul speaks of in I Corinthians 12; it is necessary, the first tangible fruit that the indwelling Spirit of God produces in the life of the disciple of Jesus Christ. Last week we looked at the fact that, without this love, it really doesn’t matter what else we have; everything else we might claim as having value adds up to absolute zero. We listed five categories of well-doing that Paul alludes to in the first 3 verses of chapter 13:
A. Conspicuous spirituality
B. Limitless knowledge
C. Extreme faith
D. Unbounded generosity
E. The ultimate sacrifice
And we said that all of these added together minus love is worthless. Today we begin in Paul’s description of what this essential love looks like. Stand with me as we read I Corinthians 13:1-4!
Theologians speak of “original sin”, the doctrine which holds, among other things, that we are born sinners, infected with the curse of a sin nature by virtue of Adam and Eve’s transgressions in the Garden. I’m on board with that; any real student of human nature cannot deny that the propensity to sin comes naturally to all. We don’t have to teach children how to lie, how to be selfish, how to throw temper tantrums; these things come naturally; they are programmed into us.
There’s another thing that’s just “programmed in” to children. To my knowledge, there is never any instruction given to children regarding this; never have I heard of a conference wherein kids get together for the purpose of communicating on the subject of “How to Annoy Your Parents on Trips”. It’s just there, and if you’ve ever taken a trip with a child, you know what I’m talking about, the twin questions that are the bane of every parent. Question 1 (repeat it with me): “are we there yet?” Question 2: “how much longer?” Call us mean; I really don’t care. We forbid the asking of those questions in our car. Not that they don’t get asked anyway, of course, but we attempt, at the start of a long trip, to estimate our ETA. We inform the children of this, using visuals, if necessary (“it’ll be dark when we get there”, is one such visual aid). We’ll tell them that, if we anticipate arriving at 9:30, not to bother asking if the first digit isn’t a “9”; if they insist on asking, I will quietly point to the clock. Has our plan worked? Well, with moderate success, I suppose. But the fact is that all parents come to dread those words, I think—“are we there yet? How much longer?” They are words of impatience—and we are impatient with hearing them!
The word “patient” here is the Greek makrothumeo, which means forbearance, a slowness to repay another for offenses, a slowness to build resentment. When we see this word in the New Testament, it almost always refers to patience with people, not so much with events or circumstances. Patience, then, in this context involves the ability to allow oneself to be used and inconvenienced by a person time and again without allowing bitterness and anger to take over. Church father Chrysostom said of this word, “It is a word which is used of a man who is wronged and who has it easily in his power to avenge himself but will never do it.” And another said that it is “a calm endurance based upon the certain knowledge that God is in control.”
Patience is not indifference, by the way. Indifference toward another person is not a sign of love, but patience is. When another person wrongs me in some way, I show patience—a loving concern which withholds vengeance—rather than indifference, which basically has a “who cares” attitude about another brother or sister.
When Christians have been willing to confess their shortcomings to me, it’s interesting how quickly they are to own up to this sin. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard dozens of times the confession, “oh, I’m not a very patient person.” It’s one of those sins that we don’t really think is all that bad; we are quick to confess it, as opposed to other sins that I rarely, if ever, hear a Christian confess. Patience is a virtue, indeed, but one which is in short supply today! Why is it so tough to be patient?