Patience & Kindness
Series: Love Is
Having established the necessity of love, Paul moves to a description of it. While love is not an action, love is active in patience and kindness.
Loving the Way Jesus Loves, Phil Ryken
I confess that I am an Amazon Prime subscriber. How can anyone resist the free 2-day shipping? But I have another confession too. Though I once was enamored with free 2-day shipping, it feels a bit slow to me anymore, especially now under COVID where sometimes you have to wait 3, even 4 days for a package that had the Prime designation! When I’m in a situation that’s not ideal, I don’t want to wait 3 or 4 days to fix it. I want to fix it now. Have you noticed how normal that feeling is in our world today? The message we hear in various ways is that if there is anything about your life that you don’t like, you shouldn’t have to bear it another day. So buy this product with free 2-day shipping, watch this TV show to distract yourself, vote for this candidate who will make it all go away, etc. Today, however, we’re going to look at a different picture. It’s the picture of love painted in 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter of the Bible we’ve just begun looking at on Sundays. Last week we saw that we all need love, not so much that we need to receive it, though that’s true in some ways, but that we need to ourselves be loving people, even if we have great gifts, even if we make great sacrifices. Today we’re going to dig into the picture of what love is, and especially how love responds to a non-ideal situation. Love is patient and kind.
Love is patient
We begin with the idea of patience. As we get into the characteristics of love on which we will focus over the next few weeks, I want to point out at the outset that in the original language, love is personified in these verses, and the virtues flowing from it, such as patience and kindness, are verbs. A more wooden translation of this section of verse 4 then would read something like, “Love shows patience. Love does kindness.” Love is not merely an action, but it is active, and the first way Paul says it is active is it is patient.
Patience means bearing a non-ideal situation, such that one’s joy and peace are preserved, and such that one does not seek to remedy the situation except by God’s appointed means. When all is good, patience is unnecessary; you have what you want. But when something about your life or your relationships is not what you expected or hoped for, love shows patience. You may be in a non-ideal situation apparently through no human’s fault: There are natural disasters, diseases, and much more, or you may be in a non-ideal situation because of the action of another human: In all kinds of ways, people may not treat you the way you want to be treated. Most of us have little trouble sensing and identifying when a situation or relationship isn’t what we expected or hoped it would be.
Patience means bearing such a situation, or in other words, accepting it on some level, though I’ll talk in a bit about ways to also try to change the situation. You can only change a situation however if you first acknowledge its existence. Ekemini Uwan, a Christian author from here in Philadelphia, in a piece she wrote for The Atlantic, talks about how in dialectical behavior therapy, what’s called “radical acceptance” is often used to help someone come to terms with circumstances they cannot change. She writes, “It requires us to give up the elusive idea that we are in control and instead accept reality as it is.” So bearing a non-ideal situation begins here: Giving up the idea that we are in control and accepting the non-ideal situation as it is.
However, biblical patience also goes further, because biblical patience springs from love, especially love for God. Love means God is dear to us, and if God is dear to us, it disposes us to receive every situation in which we find ourselves, even non-ideal situations, as coming to us from His hands, and to trusting Him that the situations into which He brings us, while not ideal, are ultimately part of His good purposes. Biblical patience means not only acknowledging that we are not in control; it means acknowledging that God is, and that He is good. So Joseph, a character in the Bible whose brothers sold him into slavery, could look at those same brothers and forgive them, saying, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” So Romans 8:28, a verse familiar to many Christians, specifically connects love for God and this confidence that all things work together for our good: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” Peace is therefore preserved when we are patient.
Joy also is preserved, because if we love God, it tends to weaken our attachment to the things of this world. I’m amazed at how easily my joy is shaken when something just doesn’t go the way I planned it. A couple weeks ago was Labor Day Weekend, and I was really looking forward to a 3-day weekend. But then on Monday, my wife asked me to help her with a task that ended up taking up more of my day than I planned, and man was I grumbling inside and even a bit out loud. Why? Because my desire to rest that day had grown into an inordinate love, a must have, a god of sorts really, and when it was taken away, so was my joy. But listen on the other hand to this description of the Hebrew Christians in the Bible, who faced a far less ideal situation than my own when their property was plundered (Heb 10:34): “…you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” When the love of God is in our hearts, we can joyfully accept non-ideal situations, because we still have something better and something that cannot be taken away from us. We have Him.
So, should we never seek to remedy a non-ideal situation? No. That would be a kind of counterfeit patience, the kind that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously critiqued in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. He was responding to white Christians who kept telling him to “wait” for justice, to be patient in other words, and in response he said this: “For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” King was pointing out that it is the job of the state actually, by God’s appointment, to administer justice, and the delaying of that justice on their part was actually a refusal to administer said justice. With that he felt he could no longer wait, and yet even in how he handled it he was a good example of biblical patience. Biblical patience doesn’t mean you never remedy a non-ideal situation; it means you only do so according to the means God has appointed. So in Rev. King’s case, he called on the government to administer justice, which was the means God has appointed, and he refused to use violence in order to do so, which was a means God had not appointed. Lamentably, there were radical elements in his day and various Antifa groups today which want to oppose many of the non-ideal situations Rev. King opposed, but are not undergirded by Dr. King’s Christian conscience, and therefore seek to remedy those situations using violent means that God has not appointed. That is not love, because love is patient.
I assume most of you don’t do that, but we lack patience in other ways. When in a non-ideal situation, instead of bearing it with joy and peace, we complain about it or sink into despair. Or we pretend it is no big deal, which is another kind of counterfeit patience: We aren’t really bearing the trial in this case; we’re simply pretending it doesn’t exist. Similarly, we may avoid bearing the non-ideal situation by simply trying to escape it. Drugs, alcohol, sex, video games, Netflix, smart phones and a host of other things are available to help.
Escape is a favorite tactic of impatience in relationships, when the non-ideal situation was caused by another. When we sense a friend, potential mate, workplace, or even church is not meeting our expectations, we are so quick to distance ourselves from them emotionally, to leave and find another, or even pull out of such relationships all together. I have met people who “checked out a church” for a time and left because they didn’t feel like they were forming deep relationships, but if you keep leaving before the deep relationships form, that’s a recipe for never having them. And a lot of times it’s not even because people were sinning against them; it’s simply that the relationships didn’t meet the person’s highly idealized expectations. We can do this in our relationship with God. We get impatient with our sanctification; why is this sin I’ve always struggled with still an issue in my life? Why hasn’t consistent Bible reading, prayer, and gathering for worship perfected my life? Because the work of sanctification is a life-long process which requires patience. You have to keep going before you see the results, or you will never see the results.
Love is patient, gloriously patient. When you’re in a non-ideal situation, radically accept it as coming to you from the hands of the God you love. Then you will have the peace and joy to wisely ask, “Now what can I do to remedy this?” and if the answer uses means God has appointed, go for it. And if it doesn’t, keep on bearing it while also doing kindness to others. Kindness is appropriate in every situation in fact, because love is kind. Let’s talk about that next.
Love is kind
Remember, kind is a verb here, so that we could say, “Love does kindness.” Kindness is basically the doing of good to another, and love does good to another simply because God is dear to him or her, and their neighbor is an image of God, and is therefore dear to them as well. It is perhaps the most obvious, self-evident feature of love that when one loves another, one does good to them, when one has the ability to do so. Kindness asks, “What would really help this person in life?” It prays for God to grant them such things, and then asks also how one might be used by God in bringing such things to them. There are spiritual kindnesses we may do to another, as when we proclaim the gospel with someone who doesn’t yet believe, encourage one another toward obedience and perseverance, and warn one another when we stray. There are bodily kindnesses we might say, as when we give to someone something they need, which we have, or when we do something for people that we can do and they can’t, or when we suffer with people, figuring out ways to alleviate their suffering by taking some of it on ourselves.
I think of the way where typically as a church if a family has a baby, people from the church will come together and develop a plan to bring them meals a few days a week while they’re managing the craziness of life with a newborn. Love looks at the challenge of parenting newborns and says, “I have time to cook dinner. Let me do that for you.” That’s kindness. A big part of the reason we have Citygroups is to give you a space to develop those kinds of relationships. I think of a Citygroup in which a couple’s bikes were stolen, and the Citygroup members donated enough money to buy them both new bikes. Love will have a special concern for the poor and marginalized, because there is often the most opportunity to do kindness in their case. I think of how many of you gave your time when COVID hit to delivering meals to our food insecure neighbors every Saturday. To what fellow church members or neighbors do you have opportunity show kindness?
Kindness is mentioned in this verse right next to patience, and that actually happens in a number of other places in the Bible too, because the two tend to go hand-in-hand. If you are in a non-ideal situation, but you are patient, you won’t be spending all your time just trying to fix your own situation. You’ll be able to look out at others. Furthermore, if a person caused your non-ideal situation, if you were sinned against, you won’t be out for revenge. Instead, love shows kindness even to those who have wronged us. It’s easy in a sense to be kind to those who you expect to be kind to you in return. Everyone wants to do kindness to the wealthy, popular, and powerful. But biblical kindness does good to the poor who cannot pay you back, to the socially awkward, and even, yes, to those who are not kind to you, to those who have wronged you. Jesus put it this way (Matthew 5:43-48): “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How might it change your relationships if when someone wronged you or let you down, you committed yourself to pray for them, not just for God to change them, but for God to improve their lives? What if you considered some kindness you could do them in response? That’s how love responds to enemies.
And, in fact, it’s how God treated us when we were His enemies. I mentioned earlier that in these verses of 1 Corinthians, love is personified, and then actions are ascribed to it, but love was never better personified than when the God who is love became man in Jesus Christ. Though He was Lord at His birth, He waited patiently to begin His ministry until the time appointed by His Father. He was patient with the multiple failings and ignorance of His disciples, always correcting them in the context of love. He bore the insults, scorn, and false accusations of the world around Him, all the while doing kindness to the poor and suffering, those who could give Him nothing in return. On the cross He bore the ultimate sin against Him from man, which nonetheless took place exactly according to His Father’s plan. He prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him and Peter tells us that He “continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). While we were His enemies, Christ did us the ultimate kindness of dying for our sins, and when He rose from the dead, He sent His Spirit back to the very people who crucified Him to offer them forgiveness.
Do you see how patient He’s been with you? If you aren’t yet a Christian, He’s held off His judgment of you and brought you here today to hear this good news. Believe and receive His kindness. Christians, though we too have been sinning against Him from the day we were born, instead of taking His just revenge on us or even escaping from relationship with us, He saved us. And since the day He saved us, He’s patiently borne the sin that remains in us, continuing the good work He’s begin in us without cutting us off. How can we receive such patience, such kindness from Him, and then withhold it from others because they don’t make us feel the way we want to feel? How can we withhold forgiveness and kindness from those who have wronged us when we’ve been forgiven so much? Has anyone really wronged you the way you’ve wronged God? Is sin more offensive to you than it is to Him?
The day is coming when He will judge sin finally and fully, and that is ultimately why we can be patient and kind in the meantime. Patience implies not only waiting, but waiting for something. When there are no God-appointed means to remedy a non-ideal situation, it must be because God does not intend to remedy it now, but to use it for His good purposes. In the end however, we can be patient because He will remedy it. Every sin will be judged, every wrong righted, and every tear wiped away. Don’t waste your life trying to perfect your life. Patiently bear what situations God sends into your life, even if through the sins of others, and do kindness even to those who have wronged you, for that is how God has loved you.