1 Corinthians 13:4

Sermon preached on January 10, 2016 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

When I was a youngster I heard a joke about the wild west of the late 1800’s that involved a mail order bride. Apparently a farmer couldn’t find a wife by any other means so he ordered one from a catalog. She arrived by train and he met her at the train station with his horse and buggy. As they were riding back in the buggy to his farm the horse that was pulling the buggy went off the path and almost overturned the buggy. The farmer got the buggy back on the road and when he did, he said to the horse, “That’s once.” A little while later the horse kicked up a stone that almost hit the farmer. The farmer stopped and said to the horse, “That’s twice.” A little while later the horse stumbled. The farmer got off the buggy, said to the horse, “That’s three times.” He then took his rifle out and shot and killed the horse. His new bride was not at all impressed with all this and she berated him for shooting the horse. When she finished, the farmer said to her, “That’s once.”

That guy didn’t have much patience. And that’s what were going to be looking at this morning—patience. In 1 Corinthians 13:4 the apostle Paul begins to describe love and he wrote,

“Love is patient…”

What does this mean? Perhaps ‘patience’ isn’t the best translation because we usually think of being patient as just waiting patiently for something. That’s part of it but that’s not the whole of it. Gordon D. Fee writes, (1 Corinthians, NICNT; p. 636)

“it is difficult to improve on the KJV’s ‘suffereth long’ ”

Love is long-suffering. One of the meanings of the Greek word used here, that is translated ‘patience’ by the NIV is, (BDAG, 612)

“to bear up under provocation without complaint, be patient, forbearing”.

Indeed, this kind of patience is one of the characteristics of God that is highlighted in the Bible. After Moses asked God to show him His glory, God came down in the cloud and proclaimed His name. We read, (Exodus 34:6)

"The Lord, the Lord,
the compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger,
abounding in love and faithfulness,"

God is slow to anger. Even when people sinned God was slow to anger. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, in the third century B.C., the translators used the same root of the word used in our text to translated the Hebrew, 'slow to anger'.

We see this same usage another place in the New Testament in 2 Peter 3:9. It reads,

"The Lord is not slow
in keeping his promise,
as some understand slowness.
He is patient with you,
not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance."

People's sins cry out for punishment, but God is longsuffering. He bears with them. He is slow to anger.

In expounding love, the first way that Paul describes it is that it is long-suffering. This is very practical. Indeed, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, David E. Garland tells us that these words are, (BECNT)

"an integral part of Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians, and the list of things that love does and does not do is 'aimed at the special faults of the Corinthians' (Robertson and Plummer 1914: 292). Hurd (1965: 112) suggests that omitting the negatives in each clause leaves us with a good description of the Corinthians' behavior. They are impatient and unkind, filled with jealousy, vainglorious, and puffed up. They insist on their own way, are cantankerous and resentful, and rejoice in wrong rather than right."

We see an example of the sinful behavior of the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 6:7–8. They weren't long-suffering with each other. Paul wrote,

"The very fact that you have l
awsuits among you means you
have been completely defeated already.
Why not rather be wronged?
Why not rather be cheated?
Instead, you yourselves cheat
and do wrong,
and you do this to your brothers."

So when Paul gets to love, the very first way he describes it is that it is long-suffering. R.C.H. Lenski writes,

"This first stroke of the brush shows that we are to be given a portrait of Christian love as it finds itself amid the sins, evils, and trials of a fallen world… In the Scriptures 'longsuffering' has to do with injurious persons and does not let their ignorant, mean, or malicious actions arouse the resentment and the anger which they deserve."

Jonathan Edwards says that this command to be long-suffering, (Charity and Its Fruits, p. 71)

"implies that injuries offered should be borne without doing anything to revenge them."

There are three things to note about this patience.

First, long-suffering one of the ways in which we overcome evil.

Long suffering is a characteristic of God and is part of His goodness. In describing this word in relation to God, Herman Bavinck writes, (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2, p. 213)

"The goodness of God, which spares those who are deserving of punishment, is called forbearance or patience."

God is long-suffering—we saw that already from Exodus 34:6 and 2 Peter 3:9. Ephesians 5:1 tells us to,

"Be imitators of God,
therefore, as dearly loved children."

We are to show people what God's love is like. God is slow to anger. We are to be the same. We must show the world God's long-suffering, His being slow to anger—by putting it to practice in our lives. Simon J. Kistemaker, (1 Corinthians (Baker p. 458.)

"As God is forbearing with us, so we must tolerate our fellow man…"

We must not let our sinful nature guide us in this. You all know the old saying,

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me."

But we're not to think like that. When others injure us, cheat us, hurt us, abuse us—we must not quickly give up on them. We must endure abuse in order to show them, and show others what God's love is like. God's love is long-suffering. We are to be like him. This is, in part, how we apply the great command of Romans 12:21,

"Do not be overcome by evil,
but overcome evil with good."

The second thing we see about this patience is that

it shows itself.

It makes itself known. It manifests itself. By that I don't mean that it boasts, or that it inappropriately draws attention to itself. I mean that it inevitably acts, it shows itself. It's not a feeling or merely a disposition that remains hidden.

We would think that Paul would use adjectives to describe love in verses 4 through 7—but he doesn't. Paul uses verbs. This is significant. David E. Garland writes, (1 Corinthians, BECNT, p. 616)

"Love is dynamic and active, not something static. He is not talking about some inner feeling or emotion. Love is not conveyed by words; it has to be shown. It can be defined only by what it does and does not do. Spicq (TLNT 1:12) notes, 'Unlike other loves, which can remain hidden in the heart, it is essential to charity to manifest itself, to demonstrate itself, to provide proofs, to put itself on display, so much so that in the NT it would be necessary to translate agapeœ as 'demonstration of love.' Each thing that love does is something in which the ego does not dominate; each thing that love does not do is something in which the ego does dominate."

John Calvin adds, (1 Corinthians, p. 276)

"these descriptions [of love] do not simply aim at making it attractive, but a making the Corinthians understand the way it expresses itself in action, and its nature. But the main object is to show how necessary it is for preserving the unity of the Church."

"by patiently enduring many things it strengthens the peace and harmony of the Church."

Calvin, in his letters gives us an example of how he put this into practice. In a letter to Heinrich Bullinger on Nov. 25th 1544, Calvin wrote,

" 'I hear that Luther has at length broken forth in fierce invective, not so much against you as against the whole of us.'

He continues urging Bullinger not to keep silence but to clear himself; but cautions him to do it with love. He continues,

"But of this I earnestly desire to put you in mind, in the first place, that you would consider how eminent a man Luther is, and the excellent endowments wherewith he is gifted, with what strength of mind and resolute constancy, with how great skill, with what efficiency and power of doctrinal statement, he hath hitherto devoted his whole energy to overthrow the reign of antichrist, and at the same time to diffuse far and near the doctrine of salvation. Often have I been wont to declare, that even although he were to call me a devil, I should still not the less hold him in such honor that I must acknowledge him to be an illustrious servant of God. But while he is endued with rare and excellent virtues, he labors at the same time under serious faults. Would that he had rather studied to curb this restless, uneasy temperament which is so apt to boil over in every direction. I wish, moreover, that he had always bestowed the fruits of that vehemence of natural temperament upon the enemies of the truth, and that he had not flashed his lightning sometimes also upon the servants of the Lord. Would that he had been more observant and careful in the acknowledgement of his own vices. Flatterers have done him much mischief, since he is naturally too prone to be over-indulgent to himself. It is our part, however, so to reprove whatsoever evil qualities may beset him, as that we may make some allowance for him at the same time on the score of these remarkable endowments with which he has been gifted. This, therefore, I would beseech you to consider first of all, along with your colleagues, that you have to do with a most distinguished servant of Christ, to whom we are all of us largely indebted.' "

You see the point? We must be long-suffering, especially in the church, with other Christians. We need to preserve the peace and unity of the church.

The third thing about long-suffering is that

it suffers long.

This is obvious but it needs to be said. Unfortunately many of us Christians are not long-suffering. When someone harms us, insults us, hurts us—we either immediately strike back or put that person out of our lives.

In 1982 Tom Peters wrote a book called
In Search of Excellence. It was written to help business people become more successful. I later saw an interview with him and I don't know if this advice came from the book or not but I remember him saying, and I think it was in the context of being successful or happy,

"Get the poison people out of your life."

Just get rid of people. He didn't mean to kill them or anything like that. He meant that you are to limit your contact with them. Push them completely away from you. His advice is almost the opposite of being long-suffering. But too often Christians take his advice rather than showing the love that the Bible talks about. We are to be long-suffering.

Over the years I've had a lot of experience talking to church members who have stopped attending church. In the vast majority of cases they have good reasons why they stopped going to church. Either someone has said something that insulted them or they were treated badly—some injustice had occurred.

For example, one of my very first duties when I first worked as an assistant pastor was to go and visit a man who had stopped attending church. I was just working at the church for the summer and the elders hadn't been successful in getting him to attend church so they asked me if I would go and talk to him. He was an older, retired man, a wonderful gentleman. I found out that he had been greatly wronged. It was a very sad story about his good reputation being smeared. Even though none of the bad things that were said about him were true—he reacted by stopping going to church. He had been wronged but he wasn't long-suffering. He reacted in an inappropriate, sinful way.

That's typical. When Christians are wronged we are very often not longsuffering when we should be. We give up on others. We don't let ourselves be wronged. We don't let ourselves be cheated. We follow Tom Peter's advice instead of our Lord's.

Another example has to do with the first cat that Marg and I had as a pet. Shortly after we got married Marg got a cat. I didn't really want to have a cat but since Marg wanted one we got one. But the cat that she got was not a good cat. It kept doing bad things. I really can't remember what they were now, but I'm sure it was things like not using the litter box and messing on our carpet and scratching our furniture. I remember how Marg used to get exasperated with the cat when the cat would do things like that. The first time Marg got really upset with the cat I remember thinking,

"The cat has gone too far. Marg is going to get rid of the cat."

But she didn't. I was surprised because I thought the cat deserved to go. The next time the cat did something really bad, I thought the same thing. I thought,

"Now the cat has gone too far—for sure. Marg's going to get rid of the cat."

But she didn't. She gave the cat another chance. That happened three or four times until it suddenly dawned on me that I was totally wrong. I was waiting for the cat to go to far but then I realized that that cat could never go too far. No matter what the cat did, Marg was going to put up with it. She was never going to get to the point where she would get rid of it.

Now whenever I think of being long-suffering I try to think of that story. That shows, somewhat, of what we should be like with other people. We should be long-suffering with them. Time after time after time—we should put up with them. We should not give up on them. I'm not saying that we should never give up on them—but we should realize that long-suffering is an important element in love and it is a quality that you need to practice. Don't give up on other people easily. When they hurt you, abuse you, insult you—be long-suffering.

Fourthly, this love of long-suffering is based on

trusting God.

We see this in Jesus' example to us in 1 Peter 2:23. Peter wrote,

"When they hurled their insults at him,
he did not retaliate;
when he suffered,
he made no threats.
Instead, he entrusted himself
to him who judges justly."

Jesus was able to be patient because He trusted in God. He entrusted Himself to the Father's care. He knew the Father would take care of Him.

Why aren't we long-suffering with others? It's because we think we have to protect ourselves from their bad behavior. We think that we'll be harmed too much if we are long-suffering with people who hurt us.

Instead we must remember that Jesus, our Good Shepherd, the One who loves us so much, rules at the Father's right hand. We can be long-suffering and entrust ourselves to His loving care. He is arranging it so that all things work together for our good. (Romans 8:28)

Jonathan Edwards wrote that when men suffer they should, (Charity and Its Fruits, p. 79)

"have regard to the hand of God in the injuries they suffer, and not only to the hand of man, and meekly submit to his will therein."

Edwards continues, (p. 80)

"the fact, that the hand of God is a great deal more concerned in all that happens to us than the treatment of men is, should lead us, in a great measure, not to think of things as from men, but to have respect to them chiefly from God—as ordered by his love and wisdom, even when their immediate source may be the malice or heedlessness of a fellow-man. And if we indeed consider and feel that they are from the hand of God, then we shall be disposed meekly to receive and quietly submit to them, and to own that the greatest injuries received from men are justly and even kindly ordered by God, and so be far from any ruffle or tumult of mind on account of them."

When you suffer injury from others—trust God. Jesus is in complete control. He rules all things at the right hand of the Father.

For those of you who are not Christians,

you need to realize that God has been long-suffering with you and you need to go to Jesus now.

God is slow to anger. He is long-suffering. But you need to be aware of what God's patience does not last forever. You need to repent and turn to Jesus. Hebrews 12:25 warns us. It says,

"See to it that you do not
refuse him who speaks.
If they did not escape
when they refused him
who warned them on earth,
how much less will we,
if we turn away from him
who warns us from heaven?"

You need to repent and go to Jesus now.