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A study of God’s Love from 1 Corinthians #20- Love is Not Prideful…Arrogant


(1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV)  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

Love is not puffed up (phusioutai): prideful, arrogant, conceited; oes not think nor act as though oneself is better or above others. Love is modest and humble and recognizes and honors others.

Love is not inflated with its own importance.  Napoleon always advocated the sanctity of the home and the obligation of public worship-for others.  Of himself he said, “I am not a man like other men.  The laws of morality do not apply to me.”

The really great man never thinks of his own importance.

Carey, who began life as a cobbler, was one of the greatest missionaries and certainly one of the greatest linguists the world has ever seen.  He translated at least parts of the Bible into no fewer than thirty-four Indian languages.  When he came to India, he was regarded with dislike and contempt.  At a dinner party a snob, with the idea of humiliating him, said in a tone that everyone could hear, “I suppose, Mr.  Carey, you once worked as a shoe-maker.”  “No, your lordship,” answered Carey, “not a shoe-maker, only a cobbler.”

He did not even claim to make shoes-only to mend them.  No one likes the “important” person.  Man “dressed in a little brief authority” can be a sorry sight.

Arrogance and boasting are the reverse side of the coin. Jealousy is my sinful response to the prosperity of others. Arrogance and boasting are my sinful response to my own prosperity.

Arrogance (or pride) takes credit for my “success,” as though it were due to my own merit or superior efforts. Boasting is letting other people know about my success in a way that tempts others to be jealous of that success.

These Christians had a problem with boasting:

(1 Corinthians 1:29 NIV)  so that no one may boast before him.

(1 Corinthians 1:31 NIV)  Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 3:21 NIV)  So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours,

The Corinthian believers thought they had arrived at perfection. Paul already had warned them “not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? You are already filled,” he continues sarcastically, “you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and I would indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you” (1 Cor. 4:6-8).

Becoming still more sarcastic, he says, “We [the apostles] are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor” (v. 10). A few verses later the apostle is more direct: “Now some of you have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you” (v. 18).

(1 Corinthians 5:6 NIV)  Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?

Paul’s response was very different:

 (1 Corinthians 9:15-16 NIV)  But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. {16} Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

 (1 Corinthians 15:31 NIV)  I die every day–I mean that, brothers–just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Everything good that the Corinthians had came from the Lord, and they therefore had no reason to boast and be arrogant. Yet they were puffed up and conceited about their knowledge of doctrine, their spiritual gifts, and the famous teachers they had had.

They were so jaded in their pride that they even boasted about their carnality, worldliness, idolatry, and immorality, including incest, which was not even practiced by pagans (5:1). They were arrogant rather than repentant; they bragged rather than mourned (v. 2). Love, by contrast, is not arrogant.

The Confession of John the Baptist – John 3:22-36

“After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. {23} And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. {24} For John was not yet cast into prison.

John alone bears witness to Jesus’ early Judean ministry which lasted 8-9 months. In the Synoptics we have no hint of this period which took place between Matthew 4:11 and 12 (cf. Mk 1:13-14; Lk 4:13-14). Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Passover (Jn 2:13, about April) and stayed until four months before harvest (Jn 4:35). During this time Jesus cleansed the temple (Jn 2:13-22), performed many miracles (Jn 2:23; 3:2), and baptized disciples (Jn 3:23). But we have very meager details of his actual words and deeds.

During these days, John’s popularity was falling off as quickly as Jesus’ was growing. That is, in fact, exactly what John desired. But in their fraternal competition, John’s disciples saw this as a real setback. This is the impetus behind our text.

Jesus’ ministry had been in Galilee up to this time. Now He moves into John’s domain. The six disciples of Jesus were with Jesus here…John 4:2 tells us that Jesus did not personally baptize anyone. Have you ever wondered why?  Is it likely that Jesus knew “fan clubs” would develop later if they had been baptized by THE SON OF GOD? We need only look at the church at Corinth (cpt. 1) to see the problem manifested.

When Jesus began to preach He soon overshadowed the ministry of John the Baptist. Yet John spoke of Him as “He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27).

 “An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. {26} They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan–the one you testified about–well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” {27} To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. {28} You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.”

These are the last recorded words of John the Baptist. They show John’s dignity and Jesus’ superiority. His first statement, “A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven,” can apply either to himself or to Jesus. If he means Jesus, he would be saying, “Jesus received his ministry from God, therefore, I am pleased that he has so many disciples.” But if John is talking about himself, he may be saying, “My ministry I received from God. Therefore, I have no right to promote myself or exceed the bound of my purpose.” This makes a lot of sense, especially in the context of vv. 28-30.

John’s picture from verse 29 was a joyous and common one in his day (cf. Jer 7:34; 25:10; 33:11). The friend of the bridegroom would announce his coming, ask for the hand of the bride, and prepare the arrangements for the reception. But his joy was in promoting his friend, not himself. Likewise, John’s joy is in Jesus’ advancement, not in his own. Never were more noble words spoken from a disciple than these of John, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”(vs. 30).

His response incorporates four ideas:

  1. God is in charge, not man (vs. 27).
  2. All work is significant, but only one work is preeminent (vs. 28).
  3. Joy comes from being obedient, not from getting glory (vs. 29).
  4. Humility calls attention to Christ, not self (vs. 30).

It is interesting to note that four of the greatest men in the Bible faced this problem of comparison and competition: Moses (Numbers 11:26-30), John the Baptist, Jesus (Luke 9:46-50), and Paul (Phil.1:15-18). A leader often suffers more from his zealous disciples than from his critics!

The similar response can be seen in Moses as he deals with the competitive spirit that has surfaced in his followers regarding two young, upstart prophets.

Numbers 11:26-29: “However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. {27} A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” {28} Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” {29} But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

If the new teacher was winning more followers it was not because he was stealing them from John, because God was giving them to him. John understood that no man could receive more than God gave him.

It would ease life a great deal if more people were prepared to play the subordinate role. So many people look for great things to do; John was not like that. He knew well that God had given him a subordinate task.

It would save us a lot of resentment and heartbreak if we realized that there are certain things which are not for us, and if we accepted with all our hearts and did with all our might the work that God has given us to do.

To do a secondary task for God makes it a great task! Mrs. Browning said, “All service ranks the same with God.”

Jealousy and envy are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Envy begins with empty hands, mourning for what it doesn’t have. Jealousy is not quite the same.

It begins with full hands but is threatened by the loss of its plenty. It is the pain of losing what I have to someone else.

John and Moses certainly knew how to cope with envy and jealousy. So did the psalmist in Psalm 75:6-7: “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man.  {7} But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.”

“The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. {30} He must become greater; I must become less.”

John used a vivid picture which every Jew would recognize, for it was part of the heritage of Jewish thought. He called Jesus the bridegroom and himself the friend of the bridegroom (one of the great pictures of the Old Testament is of Israel as the bride of God and God as the bridegroom of Israel. The New Testament took this image and spoke of the church as the bride of Christ {2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22-32}).

The friend of the bridegroom, the “shoshben,” had a unique place at a Jewish wedding. He acted as the liaison between the bride and the bridegroom; he arranged the wedding; he took out the invitations; he presided at the wedding feast. He brought the bride and the bridegroom together.

And he had one special duty: it was his duty to guard the bridal chamber and to let no false lover in. He would open the door only when in the dark he heard the bridegroom’s voice and recognized it.

When he heard his voice he let him in and went away rejoicing, for now his task was completed and the lovers were together.

He did not begrudge the bridegroom the bride. He knew that his only task had been to bring bride and bridegroom together.  And when that task was done he willingly and gladly faded out of the picture.

John the Baptist had the task of bringing Christ and Israel together; to arrange the marriage between Christ the bridegroom and Israel the bride. That task completed he was happy to fade into obscurity for his work was done.

It was not with envy that he said that Jesus must increase and he must decrease—it was with joy. It may be that sometimes we would do well to remember that it is not to ourselves we must try to attach people; it is to Jesus Christ! It is not for ourselves we seek the loyalty of men; it is for him.

“The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. {32} He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. {33} The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. {34} For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.”

Once again, John’s theology of Jesus astounds us (vv. 31-36). Here we have a fully developed understanding of Jesus’ divinity and sonship, as well as obedient faith in response to him.

Like wisdom, love says, “Pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth, I hate” (Prov. 8:13).

Other proverbs remind us that “when pride comes, then comes dishonor” (11:2), that “through presumption comes nothing but strife” (13:10), and that “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (16:18; cf. 29:23).

Pride and arrogance breed contention, with which the Corinthian church was filled. In such things love has no part. Arrogance is big-headed; love is big-hearted.

Swallow your pride occasionally. It’s nonfattening.    — Tyger, Frank. Men of Integrity, Vol. 3 No. 3 p. 52.

He who takes his rank lightly raises his own dignity.   — Hebrew Proverb, quoted in Men of Integrity, Vol. 3, no. 3, p. 55

In Charles Colson’s book about his experiences during Watergate, he shares one of President Nixon’s problems — he could never admit he was wrong in anything. In fact, Colson said that even when Nixon obviously had a cold — nose running, face red, sneezing, all the symptoms of a cold — he would never admit it.

Some people’s egos are so huge that they have to be either the bride at the wedding or the corpse at the funeral.  They think other people exist only to serve them in some way or another.  Adolf Hitler was like that.  According to Robert Waite, when Hitler was searching for a chauffeur, he interviewed thirty candidates for the job.  He selected the shortest man in the group and kept him as his personal driver for the rest of his life; even though the man required special blocks under the driver’s set so that he could see over the steering wheel.  Hitler used others to make himself appear bigger and better than he really was.  A person consumed with himself never considers spending time raising others up.   — Robert G.C. Waite

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2023 in 1 Corinthians

 

A study of God’s Love from 1 Corinthians #19 – Love Does Not Boast…Does Not Brag


Boasting is a Sin Rooted in Pride: Let's Tear it Down - Thankful Homemaker(1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV)  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast…

Love does not vaunt itself (peopereuetai): is not boastful; does not brag nor seek recognition, honor, or applause from others. On the contrary, love seeks to give: to recognize, to honor, to applaud the other person.

While some believers may have a problem with envy, those with the “greater” gifts might have a problem with boasting or pride. Again, it seems that this may have been a problem in Corinth.

When spectacularly gifted believers begin to boast, they have directed their energy toward themselves. The gift becomes not a tool of service for the kingdom but a way of self-advancement. Such believers are proud. While some pride can be positive, this kind of pride takes credit for an undeserved gift.

Gifted believers who are caught up in pride and boasting over their gifts are unable to serve. Without love, they may feel that by using their gifts, they are doing someone a favor, that others should be grateful to them, and that they are far superior.

Before we look at the aspect of love that is part of our series from 1 Cor. 13, we need to read the words of Paul in Phil. 2:4-11: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. {5} Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: {6} Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, {7} but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. {8} And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! {9} Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, {10} that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, {11} and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Paul understood what was  really important in life. The understanding he had of the cross put a proper focus on  all of life’s endeavors.

Love is no braggart.  There is a self-effacing quality in love.  True love will always be far more impressed with its own unworthiness than its own merit.

Some people confer their love with the idea that they are conferring a favor.  But the real lover cannot ever get over the wonder that he is loved.  Love is kept humble by the consciousness that it can never offer its loved one a gift which is good enough.

I found myself working early hours during the fall of 1971. Terry and I had just been married two months and she was finishing her last semester of school, which involved student teaching in a local elementary school.

I went to school part-time that semester and finished two semesters later. But I gladly did what needed to be done so we could both get out of school and “get on with our lives;” I went to work at 2:30 a.m.,  got off around 1:00 p.m. and took classes at night (though I admit I did very little studying that semester …literally getting my days and nights confused).

I found myself getting the lowest jobs on the totem pole – you know, the jobs no one else was forced to do. Why?  The answer is found in two words: pecking order.

We can thank Norwegian naturalists for the term. They are the ones who studied the barnyard caste system. By counting the number of times chickens give and receive pecks, we can discern a chain of command. The alpha bird does most of the pecking, and the omega bird gets pecked. The rest of the chickens are somewhere in between.

Those days in Murfreesboro, Tennessee taught me that me something: I understood the pecking order.

You do too. You know the system. Pecking orders are a part of life. And, to an extent, they should be. We need to know who is in charge. Ranking systems can clarify our roles. The problem with pecking orders is not the order. The problem is with the pecking.

Just ask the shortest kid in class or the janitor whose name no one knows or cares to know. The minority family can tell you. So can the new fellow on the factory line and the family scapegoat. It’s not pleasant to be the plankton in the food chain.

A friend who grew up on a farm told me about a time she saw their chickens attacking a sick newborn. She ran and told her mother what was happening. Her mother explained, “That’s what chickens do. When one is really sick, the rest peck it to death.”

For that reason God says that love has no place for pecking orders. Jesus won’t tolerate such thinking. Such barnyard mentality may fly on the farm but not in his kingdom. Just listen to what he says about the alpha birds of his day:

They do good things so that other people will see them. They make the boxes of Scriptures that they wear bigger, and they make their special prayer clothes very long. Those Pharisees and teachers of the law love to have the most important seats at feasts and in the synagogues. They love people to greet them with respect in the marketplaces, and they love to have people call them “Teacher.” ( Matt. 23:5–7 )

Jesus blasts the top birds of the church, those who roost at the top of the spiritual ladder and spread their plumes of robes, titles, jewelry, and choice seats. Jesus won’t stand for it. It’s easy to see why.

How can I love others if my eyes are only on me? How can I point to God if I’m pointing at me? And, worse still, how can someone see God if I keep fanning my own tail feathers?

Jesus has no room for pecking orders. Love “does not boast, it is not proud” ( 1 Cor. 13:4 niv ).

His solution to man-made caste systems? A change of direction. In a world of upward mobility, choose downward servility. Go down, not up. “Regard one another as more important than yourselves” ( Phil. 2:3 nasb ). That’s what Jesus did.

He flip-flopped the pecking order. While others were going up, he was going down.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! ( Phil. 2:5–8 niv )

When the loving person is himself successful he does not boast of it. He does not brag.

To brag” is used nowhere else in the New Testament and means to talk conceitedly. Love does not parade its accomplishments. Bragging is the other side of jealousy. Jealousy is wanting what someone else has. Bragging is trying to make others jealous of what we have. Jealousy puts others down; bragging builds us up. It is ironic that, as much as most of us dislike bragging in others, we are so inclined to brag ourselves.

The Corinthian believers were spiritual show-offs, constantly vying for public attention. They clamored for the most prestigious offices and the most glamorous gifts. They all wanted to talk at once, especially when speaking ecstatically. Most of their tongues-speaking was counterfeit, but their bragging about it was genuine. They cared nothing for harmony, order, fellowship, edification, or anything else worthwhile. They cared only for flaunting themselves. “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation” (1 Cor. 14:26). Each did his own thing as prominently as possible, in total disregard for what others were doing.

Charles Trumbull once vowed: “God, if you will give me the strength, every time I have the opportunity to introduce the topic of conversation it will always be Jesus Christ.” He had only one subject that was truly worth talking about. If Christ is first in our thoughts, we cannot possibly brag.

  1. S. Lewis called bragging “the utmost evil.” It is the epitome of pride, which is the root sin of all sins. Bragging puts ourselves first. Everyone else, including God, must therefore be of less importance to us. It is impossible to build ourselves up without putting others down. When we brag, we can be “up” only if others are “down.”

Jesus was God incarnate, yet never exalted Himself in any way “Although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and … being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself” (Phil. 2:6-8).

Jesus, who had everything to boast of, never boasted. In total contrast, we who have nothing to boast of are prone to boast. Only the love that comes from Jesus Christ can save us from flaunting our knowledge, our abilities, our gifts, or our accomplishments, real or imagined.

Arrogance and boasting are the reverse side of the coin. Jealousy is my sinful response to the prosperity of others. Arrogance and boasting are my sinful response to my own prosperity. Arrogance (or pride) takes credit for my “success,” as though it were due to my own merit or superior efforts. Boasting is letting other people know about my success in a way that tempts others to be jealous of that success.

Arrogance and boasting are not Christian virtues; humility is a virtue. Arrogance is a character trait of Satan. In Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, political potentates are rebuked for their arrogance in a way that suggests a close kinship to Satan himself. It is not possible to take pride in that which we are given, apart from merit or works.

We cannot boast or take credit for the gift of salvation, and neither do we dare be proud of our spiritual gifts or ministries: “For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Grace pulls the rug out from under pride and boasting. Paul once took great pride in his performance as a Pharisee, but not after he was saved.

Parenting today seems to operate on just the opposite premise as that set down here by the apostle Paul. Many parents seem to think that in order to be loving parents they must tolerate bad behavior from their children rather than insist on good behavior. Children throw screaming fits, and parents helplessly shrug their shoulders, as though they were powerless to change things and as though they have forgotten what Proverbs says about disciplining a child. Wives and husbands seem to think that if their mate really loves them, they will put up with their bad behavior. Paul turns the tables. He informs us that love requires us not to behave badly.

The Corinthians are not behaving themselves very well. There are divisions and factions. There is immorality, even such that pagans are shocked (chapter 5). There are lawsuits (chapter 6), and some are actually participating in heathen idol worship celebrations (chapters 8-10). Some Corinthians are not waiting for the rest, before they begin to observe the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11). All in all, the Corinthians are behaving badly. This is not what love is all about. Love is about behaving in an appropriate manner. It is about conduct befitting the circumstance. The Book of Proverbs has a great deal to say on this subject of appropriate behavior.

I cannot go on without pointing out some ways Christians behave badly, all in the name of “spirituality.” Often “spiritual considerations” become our “lion in the road,” not only excusing bad behavior, but, in our minds, demanding it.  One way is found in evangelism. Many of us use the gospel as an excuse to be pushy or overly aggressive with others. We confront, buttonhole, badger and bully others, all in the name of soul-winning. Who can fault the faithful “soul-winner”? But Jesus never intruded, never forced Himself upon an unwilling, uninterested victim. Soul-winning is no excuse for running over people rough shod so we can put another notch on our evangelistic gun: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6).

Being “Spirit-led” is another pretext for bizarre behavior. Much of the conduct of the Corinthians in the church meeting was not Spirit-led but merely compulsive self-assertion. Let us never blame God for our bad behavior, and if we are those who truly do love God and others, let us not act badly, whether excused by pious language or not. Love does not act unbecomingly. Love is that kind of conduct which is winsome, which draws people to us, and which prompts them to ask us about our faith (see 1 Peter 3:13-15).

As a Christian, Paul saw his contribution to the work of God in a new light:

1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:1-10).

Our calling in this life is not to “enter into the glory” of our Lord, the glory yet to come; rather, we are to enter into His sufferings:

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Colossians 1:24-29).

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:12-14).

The Corinthians were arrogant179 (1 Corinthians 4:6, 18, 19; 5:2; 8:1; 2 Corinthians 12:20) and boastful (1 Corinthians 1:29, 31; 3:21; 4:7; 5:6; 9:15-16; 15:31; 2 Corinthians 7:4, 14; 8:24; 9:2-3; 10:8, 13, 15-17; 11:10, 12, 16-18, 30; 12:1, 5-6, 9). But how does pride and boasting manifest itself in the church—our church—today? Let me suggest some areas where pride might be found.

Pride and boasting are found wherever the most coveted gifts and ministries are present. People who mean well may compliment those with outstanding gifts, and their words may become flattery; the thoughts of those so praised may produce arrogance. One area of pride is the family. Those who may have prayerfully and diligently (though not infallibly) sought to raise their children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) may be broken-hearted because of the outcome, at least as judged at the moment.

And those whose children appear to have turned out “right” may, without knowing it, be inclined to take credit for these results. In truth, good parenting is never a guarantee of good children. God is sovereign in the election and salvation of our children, and He is under no obligation to save them because of any work or merit on our part. When our children walk with the Lord, it is solely due to the grace of God and not to our good parenting. We, as parents, are obligated to be faithful in the rearing of our children, just as we are to be faithful in proclaiming the gospel. But faithful parenting, like faithful proclamation, does not assure us of the results.

Many of us have discovered that we have nothing worth boasting about in ourselves. But we nevertheless find ways to boast in a second-hand manner. The Corinthians, for example, boasted in their leaders: “I am of Paul, Apollos, …” etc. We can do the same: “I go to _________’s church.” Or we can boast in our church: “I go to a New Testament church that teaches the Bible.” “Our church is serious about Bible study or Bible doctrine.” “Our church believes and teaches the full gospel.” Many of these statements may be desirable and even true, but our attitude can be one of pride, our speech boasting.

Advertising is yet another difficult area. I have yet to hear a radio commercial for a church that says anything negative about that church. Can you imagine hearing a local Christian station advertisement: “We are nothing really special. We are not all that successful. In fact, our membership has declined over the past ten years, our budget has slipped, we are giving less to missions, and we’re becoming liberal in our theology.”

Our Christian radio station advertisements offer invitations to attend the church where “things are happening,” where “the Lord is at work,” where “the Spirit of God is blessing as never before … .” If we were to believe our own publicity, we would be proud, and if we actually advertise in this way, we are boasting.

Jesus never found it necessary to send a promotional team ahead of Him, to have radio spots, full-page advertisements, or other propaganda devices. In fact, Jesus often commanded those for whom He did miracles to keep quiet about them and not to advertise Him. Would that the power of God were so evident in the church today that no advertising would be needed.

Would you do what Jesus did? He swapped a spotless castle for a grimy stable. He exchanged the worship of angels for the company of killers. He could hold the universe in his palm but gave it up to float in the womb of a maiden.

If you were God, would you sleep on straw, nurse from a breast, and be clothed in a diaper? I wouldn’t, but Christ did.

If you knew that only a few would care that you came, would you still come? If you knew that those you loved would laugh in your face, would you still care? If you knew that the tongues you made would mock you, the mouths you made would spit at you, the hands you made would crucify you, would you still make them? Christ did. Would you regard the immobile and invalid more important than yourself? Jesus did.

He humbled himself. He went from commanding angels to sleeping in the straw. From holding stars to clutching Mary’s finger. The palm that held the universe took the nail of a soldier.

Why? Because that’s what love does. It puts the beloved before itself. Your soul was more important than his blood. Your eternal life was more important than his earthly life. Your place in heaven was more important to him than his place in heaven, so he gave up his so you could have yours.

He loves you that much, and because he loves you, you are of prime importance to him.

Christ stands in contrast to the barnyard. He points to the sparrow, the most inexpensive bird of his day, and says, “Five sparrows are sold for only two pennies, and God does not forget any of them.… You are worth much more than many sparrows” ( Luke 12:6–7 ).

God remembers the small birds of the world. We remember the eagles. We make bronze statues of the hawk. We name our athletic teams after the falcons. But God notices the sparrows. He makes time for the children and takes note of the lepers. He offers the woman in adultery a second chance and the thief on the cross a personal invitation. Christ is partial to the beat up and done in and urges us to follow suit. “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” ( Luke 14:13 ).

Want to love others as God has loved you? Come thirsty. Drink deeply of God’s love for you, and ask him to fill your heart with a love worth giving. A love that will enable you to:

Put others before yourself. Esther Kim knows what this means. For thirteen years she had one dream. The Summer Olympics. She wanted to represent the United States on the Olympic tae kwon do squad.

From the age of eight, she spent every available hour in training. In fact, it was in training that she met and made her best friend, Kay Poe. The two worked so hard for so long that no one was surprised when they both qualified for the 2000 Olympic trials in Colorado Springs.

Everyone, however, was surprised when they were placed in the same division. They’d never competed against each other, but when the number of divisions was reduced, they found their names on the same bracket. It would be just a matter of events before they found themselves on the same mat. One would win and one would lose. Only one could go to Australia.

As if the moment needed more drama, two facts put Esther Kim in a heartrending position. First, her friend Kay injured her leg in the match prior to theirs. Kay could scarcely walk, much less compete. Because of the injury Esther could defeat her friend with hardly any effort.

But then there was a second truth. Esther knew that Kay was the better fighter. If she took advantage of her crippled friend, the better athlete would stay home.

So what did she do? Esther stepped onto the floor and bowed to her friend and opponent. Both knew the meaning of the gesture. Esther forfeited her place. She considered the cause more important than the credit. [1]1

This is a good time for a few poignant questions. What’s more important to you—that the work be done or that you be seen? When a brother or sister is honored, are you joyful or jealous? Do you have the attitude of Jesus? Do you consider others more important than yourself?

And then:  Accept your part in his plan.

True humility is not thinking lowly of yourself but thinking accurately of yourself. The humble heart does not say, “I can’t do anything.” But rather, “I can’t do everything. I know my part and am happy to do it.”

When Paul writes “ consider others better than yourselves” ( Phil. 2:3 niv, emphasis mine), he uses a verb that means “to calculate,” “to reckon.” The word implies a conscious judgment resting on carefully weighed facts. [2]2 To consider others better than yourself, then, is not to say you have no place; it is to say that you know your place. “Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you” ( Rom. 12:3 phillips ).

And finally: Be quick to applaud the success of others. To the Romans, Paul gives this counsel: “Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves” ( Rom. 12:10 ).

William Barclay tells of a respected educator of a century past. He was known not just for his success but the way he handled it. On one occasion as he stepped to a seat on a platform, the public noticed who he was and began to applaud. Shocked, he turned and asked the man behind him to go ahead. He then began to applaud the man, assuming the applause was for him, and he was quite willing to share in it. [3]3

The humble heart honors others. Again, is Jesus not our example? Content to be known as a carpenter. Happy to be mistaken for the gardener. He served his followers by washing their feet. He serves us by doing the same. Each morning he gifts us with beauty. Each Sunday he calls us to his table. Each moment he dwells in our hearts. And does he not speak of the day when he as “the master will dress himself to serve and tell the servants to sit at the table, and he will serve them” ( Luke 12:37 )?

If Jesus is so willing to honor us, can we not do the same for others? Make people a priority. Accept your part in his plan. Be quick to share the applause. And, most of all, regard others as more important than yourself. Love does. For love “does not boast, it is not proud” ( 1 Cor. 13:4 niv ).

Someone is piecing this all together. His thoughts are something like this: If I think you are more important than I am … and you think I am more important than you are … and he thinks she is more important than he is … and she thinks he is more important than she is … then in the end everyone feels important but no one acts important.  H’m. You think that’s what God had in mind?  [4]

[1]1 Dan McCarney, “Courage to Quit,” San Antonio Express News, 13 July 2000, sec. 4C.

[2]2 Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, vol. 43 of Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, Tex.: Word Publishing, 1983), 70.

[3]3 William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 164.

[4]Lucado, M. 2002. A love worth giving : Living in the overflow of God’s love. W Pub. Group: Nashville, Tenn.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2023 in 1 Corinthians

 

A Jealous God #18


Jealousy is an ugly word. “It’s the green-eyed monster,” said Shakespeare in Othello. 

It has overtones of selfishness, suspicion, and distrust, and implies a hideous resentment or hostility toward other people because they enjoy some advantage.

It stifles freedom and individuality, it degrades and demeans, it breeds tension and discord, it destroys friendships and marriages. We view jealousy as a horrible trait and we hate it.

We do not read very far in the Bible before we hear God saying, Exodus 20:4-5 (ESV) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.”

A jealous God! How can a God who is holy, just, loving, gracious, merciful, and long-suffering possibly be jealous? We need to explore a side of jealousy that may have escaped us.

Yes, God is a jealous God. Why? Because He will not share His praise with another: “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 42:8).

God carefully maintains and protects what is rightly His. This is divine jealousy, and it is worlds apart from the type of sinful jealousy that causes people to envy, suspect, and resent others.

The Meaning of God’s Jealousy

The root idea in the Old Testament word jealous is to become intensely red. It seems to refer to the changing color of the face or the rising heat of the emotions which are associated with intense zeal or fervor over something dear to us.

In both the Old and New Testament words for jealousy are also translated “zeal.” Being jealous and being zealous are essentially the same thing in the Bible. God is zealous—eager about protecting what is precious to Him.

One thing He views as especially important to Him in the Old Testament is the nation Israel. She belongs to Him as His special possession, His unique treasure.

For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His own possession (Psalm 135:4).

In fact, He views her as His wife. Through the Prophet Hosea He said to the nation, “And I will betroth you to Me forever” (Hosea 2:19).

In Exodus 20:5, it is not that God is jealous or envious because someone has something He wants or needs. “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…”

Notice that God is jealous when someone gives to another something that rightly belongs to Him.

In these verses, God is speaking of people making idols and bowing down and worshiping those idols instead of giving God the worship that belongs to Him alone.

God is possessive of the worship and service that belong to Him. It is a sin (as God points out in this commandment) to worship or serve anything other than God. It is a sin when we desire, or we are envious, or we are jealous of someone because he has something that we do not have.

It is a different use of the word “jealous” when God says He is jealous. What He is jealous of belongs to Him; worship and service belong to Him alone, and are to be given to Him alone.

The marital relationship may be the best way to help us understand the difference between sinful jealousy and righteous jealousy. I can be jealous over my relationship with my wife in a wrong way or in a right way.

For example, if I feel resentment or anger merely because I see her talking to another man, that would be self-centered possessiveness and unreasonable domination—in other words, sinful jealousy. It would stem from my own selfishness or insecurity rather than from my commitment to her and to what is right.

But, on the other hand, if I see some man actually trying to alienate my wife’s affections and seduce her, then I have reason to be righteously jealous.

God gave her to me to be my wife. Her body is mine just as my body is hers. I have the exclusive right to enjoy her fully, and for someone else to assume that right would be a violation of God’s holy standards.

Being jealous for something that God declares to belong to you is good and appropriate. Jealousy is a sin when it is a desire for something that does not belong to you.

Worship, praise, honor, and adoration belong to God alone, for only He is truly worthy of it. Therefore, God is rightly jealous when worship, praise, honor, or adoration is given to idols.

This is precisely the jealousy the apostle Paul described in 2 Corinthians 11:2, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy…”

He Is Jealous for His Holy Name. 

It wasn’t long after God first spoke of His jealousy that He had occasion to demonstrate it. Moses had come down from the mount with the two tablets of the law in his hands only to find the people of Israel carousing in idolatrous worship before the golden image of a calf. He dashed the tablets to the earth, burned the calf and ground it to powder, then commanded the Levites to discipline the people. It was a vivid expression of God’s jealousy operating through His servant Moses.

When the crisis was past, God invited Moses back to the mount for a fresh encounter with Himself. That was when He revealed His glory to Moses as no one had ever seen it before.

Moses saw Him as a compassionate, gracious, long-suffering God who abounds in mercy and truth (Exodus 34:6).

The culmination of that revelation came a few moments later when God said, “Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, lest it become a snare in your midst. But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim—for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:12-14).

God’s name is the epitome of who and what He is, and He says His name is Jealous. Jealousy is not merely a passing mood with God. It is the essence of His person. He cannot be other than jealous.

Since He is the highest and greatest being there is, infinitely holy and glorious, He must be passionately committed to preserving His honor and supremacy. He must zealously desire exclusive devotion and worship. To do less would make Him less than God. He said about Himself:

God is sovereign and supreme over all. Were He to share His glory with other so-called gods, He would be elevating them to a position that would not be consistent with their true nature, and it likewise would be making Him untrue to His own nature—less than the preeminent God He is.

He must be faithful to Himself and maintain His high and holy position, and He wants His creatures to attribute to Him that degree of honor. Basically, that is what He means when He says, “I shall be jealous for My holy name” (Ezekiel 39:25).

”You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7) (relate to careless words we use: exclamation of excitement surprise, crisis (OMG). We are not talking to God…not talking about God…we ARE taking His name in vain!

His jealousy does not grow out of insecurity, anxiety, frustration, covetousness, pride, or spite, as ours usually does. It is the natural and necessary by-product of His absolute sovereignty and infinite holiness.

We live in a pagan society where money is god and material possessions are the chief object of man’s worship. We need people who will be very jealous for the Lord God of hosts, people who will stand alone if need be against this insidious and contagious brand of idolatry and show the world that the Lord is God, people who will adopt a simpler lifestyle and use their resources for His glory rather than for their own comforts and pleasures.

We should be reminded, however, that it is possible to be jealous for God in the wrong way. Paul accused the Jews of his day of having a misdirected jealousy: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal [jealousy] for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:2). 

The Jews thought they were exalting the Lord above all gods, but in their system of salvation by performing religious rituals and deeds they actually exalted themselves above God. It was a jealousy for God all right, but not consistent with the knowledge God has revealed about Himself in His Word.

He Is Jealous for Our Best Interests. Not only is God jealous for Himself, but He is also jealous for us. He has a passionate, consuming zeal for our best interests, and He wants us to share that zeal by being jealous for one another.

  • If we shared God’s jealousy for other believers, we would be busily engaged in intercessory prayer, faithfully bringing their needs to God’s attention.
  • Our prayer lives would not be wholly occupied with our own problems, but we would beseech God on behalf of the specific needs of others in the body of Christ.
  • We would want what is best for them, and we know that patterning their lives according to His Word will always result in their greatest possible good. If we cared enough we would share the very best—the eternal truths of God’s Word.

So our God is a jealous God! The truth of His jealousy challenges us to give God His due and to put Him before all else.

But it likewise guarantees that He is looking out for our best interests. Getting to know Him as a jealous God will increase our level of devotion to Him, deepen our trust in Him, and strengthen our dedication to pray for others and faithfully share His truth with them.

————–

Forty great soldiers from Cappadocia in Rome’s vaunted 12th legion sha red Paul’s jealousy for God some 250 years after his death.

Licinius was reigning over the eastern portion of the empire but was sensing an increasing military threat from the west. He became more and more repressive in his policies, particularly toward Christians. To solidify his strength, he called on his armies to demonstrate their support by offering a sacrifice to the pagan gods.

Most of the legion stationed at Sebaste, a city south of the Black Sea, dutifully complied, but the 40 Cappadocians, all Christians, respectfully declined.

For more than a week they were placed under guard, where they sang and prayed together continually. Their captain pleaded with them: “Of all the soldiers who serve the emperor, none are more loved by us and more needed right now.

Do not turn our love into hatred. It lies in you whether to be loved or hated.” “If it rests with us,” they replied, “we have made our choice. We shall devote our love to our God.”

It was sundown when they were stripped and escorted shivering to the middle of a frozen lake with guards stationed along the shore. A heated Roman bathhouse stood ready at the shore for any of them who were prepared to renounce their faith in Christ and offer a pagan sacrifice. Their jailer stood by with arms folded, watching, as a bitter winter wind whipped across the ice.

But through the whistling wind the soldiers could be heard singing: 40 good soldiers for Christ! We shall not depart from You as long as You give us life. We shall call upon Your Name whom all creation praises: Fire and hail, snow and wind and storm. On You we have hoped and we were not ashamed!

As midnight approached, their song grew more feeble. Then a strange thing happened. One of the forty staggered toward shore, fell to his knees and began crawling toward the bathhouse.

“39 good soldiers for Christ!” came the weakening, trembling song from the distance. The jailer watched the man enter the bathhouse and emerge quickly, apparently overcome by the heat, then collapse on the ground and expire.

The other guards could not believe what they saw next. The jailer wrenched off his armor and coat, dashed to the edge of the lake, lifted his right hand and cried, “40 good soldiers for Christ!” then disappeared over the ice into the darkness.

All 40 were dead by the next day, but it was the jailer who caught the captain’s notice as their bodies were being carted away. “What is he doing there?” he demanded.

One of the guards replied, “We cannot understand it, Captain. Ever since those Christians came under his care, we noticed something different about him.”

The martyrs of Sebaste were jealous for the name of their God, and it had a profound impact on that jailer who looked on.

Our jealousy for God will have a similar effect on the people around us. ( Related in Decision, December 1963, page 8.)

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2023 in 1 Corinthians

 

A study of God’s Love from 1 Corinthians #17 Love is not Jealous (does not envy)


JEALOUS: Synonyms and Related Words. What is Another Word for JEALOUS? - GrammarTOP.com

A Jealous God

Love does not envy (zeloi): is not jealous; does not have feelings against others because of what they have, such as gifts, position, friends, recognition, possessions, popularity, abilities. Love does not begrudge or attack or downplay the abilities and success of others. Love shares and joys and rejoices in the experience and good of others.

Jealousy is self-centered, miserable, and mean-spirited. A jealous individual cannot enjoy his food if someone else has tastier food. He cannot enjoy his possessions if another person has more. He cannot enjoy success if a companion is more successful. Jealousy affects a person’s life, his relationships with others, and his relationship with God. Because of jealousy, Cain killed his brother (Genesis 4:1–8). Because of jealousy, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:11). Because of envy, the Jewish leaders handed Jesus over to Pilate (see Matthew 27:18). The KJV refers to envy as “rottenness of the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). One paraphrase says, “A relaxed attitude lengthens a man’s life; jealousy rots it away” (LB).

Here is the first of eight negative descriptions of love. Love is not jealous. Love and jealousy are mutually exclusive. Where one is, the other cannot be. Shakespeare called jealousy the “green sickness.” It also has been called “the enemy of honor” and “the sorrow of fools.” Jesus referred to it as “an evil eye” (Matt. 20:15, kjv).

Jealousy, or envy, has two forms. One form says, “I want what someone else has.” If they have a better car than we do, we want it. If they are praised for something they do, we want the same or more for ourselves. That sort of jealousy is bad enough. A worse kind says, “I wish they didn’t have what they have” (see Matt. 20:1-16).

The second sort of jealousy is more than selfish; it is desiring evil for someone else. It is jealousy on the deepest, most corrupt, and destructive level. That is the jealousy Solomon uncovered in the woman who pretended to be a child’s mother. When her own infant son died, she secretly exchanged him for the baby of a friend who was staying with her.

The true mother discovered what had happened and, when their dispute was taken before the king, he ordered the baby to be cut in half, a half to be given to each woman. The true mother pleaded for the baby to be spared, even if it meant losing possession of him. The false mother, however, would rather have had the baby killed than for the true mother to have him (1 Kings 3:16-27).

One of the hardest battles a Christian must fight is against jealousy. There is always someone who is a little better or who is potentially a little better than you are. We all face the temptation to jealousy when someone else does something better than we do. The first reaction of the flesh is to wish that person ill.

The root meaning of zēloō (“to be jealous“) is “to have a strong desire,” and is the term from which we get zeal. It is used both favorably and unfavorably in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 13:4 the meaning is clearly unfavorable, which is why 12:31, part of the immediate context, should be taken as a statement of fact (“you are now earnestly desiring the greater, or showier, gifts”) and not a command to seek “the greater gifts.” The Greek word there translated “earnestly desire” is the same as that translated here is… jealous. One of the basic principles of hermeneutics is that identical terms appearing in the same context should be translated identically.

When love sees someone who is popular, successful, beautiful, or talented, it is glad for them and never jealous or envious. While Paul was imprisoned, probably in Rome, some of the younger preachers who then served where he had ministered were trying to outdo the apostle out of envy. They were so jealous of Paul’s reputation and accomplishments that, with their criticism, they intended to cause him additional “distress” while he suffered in prison. But Paul did not resent their freedom, their success, or even their jealousy. Though he did not condone their sin, he would not return envy for envy, but was simply glad that the gospel was being preached, whatever the motives (Phil. 1:15-17). He knew the message was more powerful than the messenger, and that it could transcend weak and jealous preachers in order to accomplish God’s purpose.

Jealousy is not a moderate or harmless sin. It was Eve’s jealousy of God, sparked by her pride, to which Satan successfully appealed. She wanted to be like God, to have what He has and to know what He knows. Jealousy was an integral part of that first great sin, from which all other sin has descended. The next sin mentioned in Genesis is murder, caused by Cain’s jealousy of Abel. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because of jealousy Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den because of the jealousy of his fellow officials in Babylon. Jealousy caused the elder brother to resent the father’s attention to the prodigal son. And there are many more biblical illustrations of the same kind.

“Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Prov. 27:4). In its extreme, jealousy has a viciousness shared by no other sin. “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart,” says James, “do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:14-16). Selfish ambition, which is fueled by jealousy, is often clever and successful. But its “wisdom” is demonic and its success is destructive.

In stark contrast to the many accounts of jealousy in Scripture is the story of Jonathan’s love for David. David not only was a greater and more popular warrior than Jonathan but was a threat to the throne that Jonathan normally would have inherited. Yet we are told of nothing but Jonathan’s great respect and love for his friend David, for whom he would willingly have sacrificed not only the throne but his life. “He loved him (David] as he loved his own life” (1 Sam. 20:17). Jonathan’s father, Saul, lost his throne and his blessing because of his jealousy, primarily of David. Jonathan willingly forsook the throne and received a greater blessing, because he would have nothing of jealousy.

Eliezer of Damascus was the heir to Abram’s estate, because Abram had no son (Gen. 15:2). When Isaac was born, however, and Eliezer lost the privileged inheritance, his love for Abram and Isaac never wavered (see Gen. 24). A loving person is never jealous. He is glad for the success of others, even if their success works against his own.

“Envy” refers to strong jealousy of another person. The envious person desires what another person has. This seems to have been a particular problem in Corinth—those with “lesser” gifts envied those with “greater” gifts. The seed of envy can lead to seething anger and hatred. Those who are too busy envying each other’s gifts are unlikely to be using their own gifts in loving service to God and others. Envy stagnates the church, causing the envious believers to remain self-centered and self-focused, feeling sorry for themselves, and not fulfilling their God-given role. When there is love, believers will gladly use whatever gifts they have been given to work together for the advance of God’s kingdom. They will be glad that others have different gifts so that the entire job can get done.

Before we rush to trivialize these words about love by assuming they can easily fit us, let’s stop to consider that they actually describe God’s character. These are not sugary claims. They are hard-edged descriptions of God’s perfection-in-relationship. The Holy Spirit inspired the apostle to write a breathtakingly beautiful description of the nature of God. Only God can put His character in us. Neil Wilson

It has been said that there are really only two classes of people in this world-“those who are millionaires and those who would like to be.”  There are two kinds of envy.  The one covets the possessions of other people; and such envy is very difficult to avoid because it is a very human thing.  The other is worse-it grudges the very fact that others should have what it has not; it does not so much want things for itself as wish that others had not got them.  Meanness of soul can sink no further than that.

Love is not jealous. Jealousy or envy is resenting another person because of what they have or how they have succeeded. Envy possessively wants what somebody else has. Love, in contrast, is glad for somebody who is popular or successful or beautiful or talented or married or have children….the list could go on and on.

Jealousy is a feeling of displeasure caused by the prosperity of another, coupled with a desire to wrest the advantage from the person who is the object of one’s envy. The loving person will rejoice at the success of others. Jealousy has destroyed many a home and church.

We have a variety of people from an equally varied set of circumstances here today. Often we’re disappointed with the direction our life is taking, especially if you are a single Christian who would like to be married but have not yet found that Christian mate.

In despair and frustration, we often allow similar circumstances to cause a “flicker” to occur in our attitude. And this can become a problem: for what is a flicker today can turn into a fire tomorrow.

Suppose you spotted a flame in your house. Not a blaze and certainly not a fire, but tiny tongues of heat dancing on the hem of a curtain, on the fringe of the carpet, to the side of the stove. What would you do? How would you react? Would you shrug your shoulders and walk away, saying, “A little fire never hurt any house.”

Of course not. You’d put it out. Douse it, stamp it, cover it—anything but allow it. You would not tolerate a maverick flame in your house. Why? Because you know the growth pattern of fire. What is born in innocence is deadly in adolescence. Left untended, fire consumes all that is consumable. You know, for the sake of your house, you don’t play with fire.

For the sake of your heart, the same is true. A warning should be offered about the fire in the heart, which, left unchecked, can burst into a hungry flame and consume all that is consumable. The name of the fire? Solomon tagged it. “Jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire” ( Song of Sol. 8:6 rsv ).

Paul was equally aggressive in his declaration. “Love does not envy” ( 1 Cor. 13:4 nkjv ). No doubt he’d read about and seen the results of unmanaged jealousy.

Here is the first of eight negative descriptions of love. Love is not jealous.  Love and jealousy are mutually exclusive. Where one is, the other cannot be.  Shakespeare called jealousy the “green sickness.” It also has been called “the  enemy of honor” and “the sorrow of fools.” Jesus referred to it as “an evil eye”  (Matt. 20:15, KJV).

Jealousy, or envy, has two forms. One form says, “I want what someone else  has.” If they have a better car than we do, we want it. If they are praised for  something they do, we want the same or more for ourselves. That sort of jealousy  is bad enough.

A worse kind says, “I wish they didn’t have what they have” (see  Matt. 20:1-16). The second sort of jealousy is more than selfish; it is desiring evil  for someone else. It is jealousy on the deepest, most corrupt, and destructive  level.

Look at Joseph’s brothers. They started out taunting and teasing Joseph. Harmless sibling rivalry. But then the flicker became a flame. “His brothers were jealous of him” ( Gen. 37:11 niv ). Soon it was easier to dump Joseph into a pit than see him at the dinner table. Before long, Joseph was in Egypt, the brothers were in cahoots, and Jacob, the father, was in the dark. He thought his boy was dead. All because of envy.

And what about the Pharisees? Were they evil men? Criminals? Thugs? No, they were the pastors and teachers of their day. Little League coaches and carpool partners. But what did they do with Jesus? “They had handed Him over because of envy” ( Matt. 27:18 nkjv ).

Solomon uncovered in the woman who pretended to be  a child’s mother. When her own infant son died, she secretly exchanged him for  the baby of a friend who was staying with her. The true mother discovered what  had happened and, when their dispute was taken before the king, he ordered the  baby to be cut in half, a half to be given to each woman. The true mother pleaded  for the baby to be spared, even if it meant losing possession of him. The false  mother, however, would rather have had the baby killed than for the true mother  to have him (1 Kings 3:16-27).

One of the hardest battles a Christian must fight is against jealousy. There is  always someone who is a little better or who is potentially a little better than you  are. We all face the temptation to jealousy when someone else does something  better than we do. The first reaction of the flesh is to wish that person ill.

The root meaning “to be jealous” is “to have a strong desire,”  and is the term from which we get zeal. It is used both favorably and unfavorably  in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 13:4 the meaning is clearly unfavorable, which is  why 12:31, part of the immediate context, should be taken as a statement of fact  (“you are now earnestly desiring the greater, or showier, gifts”) and not a  command to seek “the greater gifts.”

Jealousy is a term which conveys “earnest desire.” It can be a good desire or a bad desire. In our text, the desire is bad. We might define jealousy here as “a sadness or sorrow on my part, due to the success of another.” Jealousy causes me pain when someone else feels pleasure. It is the kind of feeling a person feels when his or her competitor wins.

Asaph confesses his jealousy of his fellow Israelites in Psalm 73, and David warns of being jealous of the wicked in Psalm 37:1. Cain is jealous of Abel’s acceptance (Genesis 4:1-8), and Haman is jealous of Mordecai’s success (Esther 6). Saul is jealous of David and his success (1 Samuel 18:7), so much so that he seeks to kill him. The scribes and Pharisees are jealous of Jesus’ popularity and power over the people (Matthew 27:18). Peter is concerned about John’s fate in comparison with his own (John 21).

Jealousy is incompatible with love for a very good reason. Love seeks the benefit and well-being (edification) of another, so much so that it is willing to make a personal sacrifice to facilitate it. When others prosper at our expense, this is precisely what love intends. Jealousy is not consistent with love. Jealousy would rather prosper at the expense of the other, and so when another prospers, jealousy results where love is absent.

The gospel is the supreme example of love, in contrast to jealousy. God made the ultimate sacrifice in the death of His Son, to bring about our salvation. The Lord Jesus sacrificed Himself for our salvation, paying the ultimate price His own blood. If this kind of sacrifice was required to bring about our salvation, how can we regret God’s blessing on others? Ironically, because Christians are a part of the body of Christ, the prosperity of one member is not at the expense of the rest of the body, but for the benefit of the whole body (see 1 Corinthians 12:26).

Someone might protest, “But isn’t God jealous? Why can’t Christians be jealous if God is a jealous God?” There is a great difference between our jealousy and God’s. God is jealous over that which belongs to Him. We are jealous over that which belongs to someone else and not to us. God is jealous over what He has; we are jealous over what we do not have that someone else does have. There are times when we can exemplify godly jealousy (see 2 Corinthians 11:2), but this is not what Paul has in mind in our text.

Jealousy is quite prevalent in the church at Corinth. The Corinthians are jealous of the gifts and ministries of their fellow-believers. Some despise their own gifts and calling and wish to have the gifts and ministries of others. They seem to be jealous of those visible and verbal ministries. They even seem to be jealous of Paul’s time which he spends in ministry to others. In both 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul has to speak to the issue of his absence which some seemed to resent: “If Paul really cared about us, he would spend more time with us.”

Sadly, Christians today manifest the same kinds of jealousy. We are jealous of the (apparent) success of others in business and in the church. Some can be jealous of those who are given a leadership position in the church. We can be jealous of those who appear to be (or at least claim to be) more spiritual than we are. I see a great deal of jealousy in the ministry. We may be jealous of the success of others in ministry or the opportunity to speak in the meeting/seminar circuit. We may be jealous of the salary, the prestige, or the size of church others might have. All of this betrays a lack of love and the sacrificing, servant spirit which love engenders.

Jealousy may be among us in other ways. First, we may be guilty of provoking people to jealousy by distorting the gospel which we preach and share with others. Consider these words of the apostle Paul:

3 If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment (1 Timothy 6:3-6).

Paul specifically identifies envy as one of the evils in this text (verse 4). I believe Paul establishes a connection between envy and greed and a distorted gospel. People may come into (or at least along side) the faith because they are given false expectations of what their conversion will produce. Some approach the Christian faith as a means of “getting ahead” in life, seeing the gospel as a “means of great gain.”

This is certainly possible when one listens to the “health-and-wealth gospeleers” who abound today, trying to lure people into the faith (or into their congregations or list of supporters) by promising them prosperity if they join their ranks.

When Jesus invited men to follow Him, He did not make sweeping promises of prosperity. Instead, He sought to dispel any misconceptions about His ministry by stressing discipleship and its cost, and by talking in terms of “taking up one’s cross.” Some in churches today who envy the success of others may have been tempted to do so by those who promised them prosperity rather than the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ. Let us preach the gospel as Jesus did and never seek to lure people into the faith with unbiblical bait (see 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2).

Second, we should view the “how to” books on Christian bookstore shelves in the light of jealousy. Why do those who are apparently successful write books so the rest of us can be successful too? Why are the “how to be successful” books so popular, outselling books of real substance and value? I fear that the answer is “jealousy.” As we buy or read these books, why do we wish to be “successful” like the author? Perhaps it is because we are hopeful of the same success.

Buying or reading “how to be successful like me” books can be wrong for several reasons. We must carefully consider whether we are doing so out of jealousy (of that person’s success) rather than out of a sincere desire to be faithful to our Lord and good stewards of our gifts and calling. It is also wrong if we are trying to be just like someone else, to duplicate their ministry rather than to fulfill the unique role God has given us. It may be wrong because we assume that another’s success is the result of their “method,” rather than the sovereign blessing of God upon His work. Let us beware of trying to imitate others to be as successful as they appear to be.

When love sees someone who is popular, successful, beautiful, or talented, it  is glad for them and never jealous or envious. While Paul was imprisoned,  probably in Rome, some of the younger preachers who then served where he had  ministered were trying to outdo the apostle out of envy. They were so jealous of  Paul’s reputation and accomplishments that, with their criticism, they intended to  cause him additional “distress” while he suffered in prison.

But Paul did not  resent their freedom, their success, or even their jealousy. Though he did not  condone their sin, he would not return envy for envy, but was simply glad that  the gospel was being preached, whatever the motives (Phil. 1:15-17). He knew  the message was more powerful than the messenger, and that it could transcend  weak and jealous preachers in order to accomplish God’s purpose.

Jealousy is not a moderate or harmless sin. It was Eve’s jealousy of God,  sparked by her pride, to which Satan successfully appealed. She wanted to be like  God, to have what He has and to know what He knows. Jealousy was an integral  part of that first great sin, from which all other sin has descended. The next sin  mentioned in Genesis is murder, caused by Cain’s jealousy of Abel.

Joseph’s  brothers sold him into slavery because of jealousy Daniel was thrown into the  lion’s den because of the jealousy of his fellow officials in Babylon. Jealousy  caused the elder brother to resent the father’s attention to the prodigal son. And  there are many more biblical illustrations of the same kind.

“Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?”  (Prov. 27:4). In its extreme, jealousy has a viciousness shared by no other sin. “If  you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart,” says James, “do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:14-16). Selfish ambition, which is fueled by jealousy, is often clever and successful. But its “wisdom” is demonic and its success is destructive.

In stark contrast to the many accounts of jealousy in Scripture is the story of  Jonathan’s love for David. David not only was a greater and more popular warrior than Jonathan but was a threat to the throne that Jonathan normally would have inherited. Yet we are told of nothing but Jonathan’s great respect and love for his friend David, for whom he would willingly have sacrificed not only the throne but his life. “He loved him (David] as he loved his own life” (1 Sam. 20:17). Jonathan’s father, Saul, lost his throne and his blessing because of his jealousy, primarily of David. Jonathan willingly forsook the throne and received a greater blessing, because he would have nothing of jealousy.

Eliezer of Damascus was the heir to Abram’s estate, because Abram had no son (Gen. 15:2). When Isaac was born, however, and Eliezer lost the privileged inheritance, his love for Abram and Isaac never wavered (see Gen. 24). A loving person is never jealous. He is glad for the success of others, even if their success works against his own.

We find that problem even in ministry, when we hear of “the church across town” doing well and don’t respond with  praise for what God is doing in the lives of others in the kingdom.

It’s sickening. The Lord didn’t leave us to indulge in such territorialism for long. In a profound moment of conviction, he lets us know that the church is his church.

Our job is not to question him but to trust him. “Don’t be jealous.… Trust the Lord and do good” ( Ps.  7:1 , 3 ).

The cure for jealousy? Trust. The cause of jealousy? Distrust.

The sons of Jacob didn’t trust God to meet their needs. The Pharisees didn’t trust God to solve their problems. What are the consequences of envy?

Loneliness tops the list. Solomon says, “Anger is cruel and destroys like a flood, but no one can put up with jealousy!” ( Prov. 27:4 ). Who wants to hang out with a jealous fool? In a cemetery in England stands a grave marker with the inscription: SHE DIED FOR WANT OF THINGS. Alongside that marker is another, which reads: HE DIED TRYING TO GIVE THEM TO HER. [1]1

Sickness is another consequence. The wise man also wrote, “Peace of mind means a healthy body, but jealousy will rot your bones” ( Prov. 14:30 ).

Violence is the ugliest fruit. “You want something you don’t have, and you will do anything to get it. You will even kill!” ( James 4:2 cev ). “Jealousy,” informs Proverbs 6:34 , “enrages a man” ( nasb ).

The Jews used one word for jealousy, qua-nah. It meant “to be intensely red.” Let me ask you, have you seen such envy? Have you seen red-faced jealousy? Are you acquainted with the crimson forehead and the bulging veins? And—be honest now—have they appeared on your face?

God withholds what we desire in order to give us what we need. You desire a spouse; he gives you himself. You seek a larger church; he prefers a stronger church. You want to be healed so you can serve. He wants you confined so you can pray. Such is the testimony of Joni Eareckson Tada. Three decades after a diving accident rendered her a quadriplegic, she and her husband, Ken, visited Jerusalem. Sitting in her wheelchair, she remembered the story of the paralytic Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda. Thirty years earlier she’d read the account and asked Jesus to do the same for her.

That day in Jerusalem she thanked God that he had answered a higher prayer. Joni now sees her chair as her prayer bench and her affliction as her blessing. Had he healed her legs, thousands of prayers would have been sacrificed to her busy life. She sees that now. She accepts that now. Jealousy was eclipsed by gratitude as she surrendered her will to his. [2]3

Facebook Envy

If we’re facebook friends, chances are I’ve been jealous of you. You, with your great vacation shots and funny one-liners about your husband and kids. If we’re facebook friends, you may have even been jealous of me. Me, with my life in a foreign country complete with exciting places to travel to and exotic foods to eat. “Facebook envy.” They’re starting to do studies on this hyperreality that is created by seeing exciting snippets of each other’s lives. Which parties have we missed? What else could life have held for us? Who posts more verses and is therefore godlier than us? What’s a Christian on facebook to do?

Charles L. Allen in The Miracle of Love writes of a fisherman friend who told him that one never needs a top for his crab basket. If one of the crabs starts to climb up the sides of the basket, the other crabs will reach up and pull it back down. Some people are a lot like crabs.

NOTES FOR PREACHERS AND TEACHERS: Some writers make a distinction between “envy” and “jealousy.” In this study, we treated them as synonyms. Others point out that the words translated “jealous” and “zealous” come from the same root. These points could be addressed, but most people understand what human jealousy is. Other passages on envy and jealousy include Numbers 16:1–40 (see Psalm 106:16–18); Acts 5:17; 13:45; 17:5; Romans 1:29; 13:8–14; 1 Corinthians 3:3 (see 1:12); 2 Corinthians 12:20; 1 Timothy 6:4; Titus 3:3; James 3:14, 16; 4:2.


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Others May, You Cannot

If God has called you to be really like Jesus, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility, and put upon you such demands of obedience, that you will not be able to follow other people, or measure yourself by other Christians, and in many ways He will seem to let other good people do things which He will not let you do.

Other Christians and ministers who seem very religious and useful, may push themselves, pull wires, and work schemes to carry out their plans, but you cannot do it; and if you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.

Others may boast of themselves, of their work, of their success, of their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing, and if you begin it, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.

Others may be allowed to succeed in making money, or may have a legacy left to them, but it is likely God will keep you poor, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, namely, a helpless dependence on Him, that He may have the privilege of supplying your needs day by day out of an unseen treasury.

The Lord may let others be honored and put forward, and keep you hidden in obscurity, because He wants you to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade. He may let others be great, but keep you small. He may let others do a work for Him and get the credit for it, but He will make you work and toil on without knowing how much you are doing; and then to make your work still more precious, He may let others get the credit for the work which you have done, and thus make your reward ten times greater then Jesus comes.

The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch over you, with a jealous love, and will rebuke you for little words and feelings, or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over. So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign, and has a right to do as He pleases with His own. He may not explain to you a thousand things which puzzle your reason in His dealings with you, but if you absolutely sell yourself to be His love slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love, and bestow upon you many blessings which come only to those who are in the inner circle.

Settle it forever, then, that you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, and that He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue, or chaining your hand, or closing your eyes, in ways that He does not seem to use with others. Now when you are so possessed with the loving God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of Heaven.

  1. D. Watson, in Living Words

 What is envy?

As something opposite of a loving spirit, what is it? What is the sin of envy?

1B. Explanation

At the very center of this evil is excessive desire. It is an attitude of the heart. It is a motive deep in the inner man. Additionally, it is excessive desire for something that you do not have. It may or may not be focused on material possessions. What is desired in this way may be some kind of notice and the inflation of the ego.

But this is still incomplete because envy does not function in a vacuum. If we liken envy to some warm coals, what is it that fans the coals into a flame? We all have the tendency to be envious as part of our sin nature. It is there, perhaps latent or dormant, just like the calm smoldering of warm coals. We should acknowledge this fact of its presence. But to my point, what fans it into turbulent flames? Envy is stirred up by comparing what we want but do not have with what others have. There is an “each other” dimension to envy (Gal. 5:26). It is personal: Scripture tells us to avoid envying one another. It is a person to person issue.

The hallmark of envy, its distinguishing feature, is oriented to this personal comparative aspect. I am envious when I dislike someone because he or she has what I want but lack in some comparative way. How this dislike manifests itself depends on many factors whether others are in some regard above us, equal to us or below us (in rank, annual salary, age, standing, and opportunities, etc.). Thus envy may manifest itself in a host of ways.

It is an internal attitude that underlies many external evil acts. This sin that is contrary to love is denounced in lists of evil practices that are very onerous and odious. In Galatians 5:26 envying is associated with provoking. Envying and provoking are acts of the sinful nature (5:19) along with things like enmity, strife, jealously, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions (5:20). Envy lies behind enmity or malice and it drives strife, quarreling, angry fits, and dissension. And Paul gives a very pointed warning to the effect that “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21). In this light, Edwards says that envy is “ranked among the abominable works of the flesh” and it is thus a “hateful sin” that Christians practiced before they were redeemed; it is a sin that they should now confess and forsake (Charity 117). We don’t want to go down this road. Give envy an inch and it will take a mile (sow to the wind and you will reap a whirlwind). From the Corinthian letters we can put it like this: If you associate with envy you will rub shoulders with strife, quarreling, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder (cf. 1 Cor. 3:3; 2 Cor. 12:20).

The account of Joseph and his brothers in the OT (Gen. 37ff) gives a very revealing picture of the nature and manifestations of envy. In a word, this example shows that envy is a major obstacle to loving-kindness. Note how the comparative element leaps from the text: “his brothers saw that their father loved him [Joseph] more than all his brothers” (v. 4). Their hearts were filled with envy (jealousy, v. 11) that manifested itself in hatred and non-peaceful speech (v. 4). Remarkably, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. What an ugly sin to lack peace in your speech toward someone. Their speech stirred up quarreling, strife, and dissension. What they wanted was something good in itself, the love of their father. Having that desire was not wrong. It was not wrong to have that desire in a deep and consuming way. Sin enters the picture when what they want but lack is given to their brother and they dislike him for it. The wants in question may be okay in themselves. But when we step off the path of righteousness in jealous pursuit of our wants we sin. When our wants are enflamed, unsettled, and stirred up by the knowledge that others have what we want, then we tend toward envy in attitude and action. Then our attitude is such that we cannot rejoice in their joy in some good that we want but lack in a comparative way.

2B. Analogies, illustrations, and examples

1) If we think of an envy tree, what holds the tree in place, what roots it to the earth? It is held in place by pride. The comparative aspect helps us see how envy is rooted into our conduct. Pride is “the great root and source of envy. It is because of men’s hearts that they have such a burning desire to be distinguished, and to be superior to all others in honor and prosperity, and which makes them uneasy and dissatisfied in seeing others above them” (Charity 121).

How does it branch out? It involves attitudes like malice and bitterness and various actions that overflow in tearing others down. This leads to various branches on the tree of envy such as hating them, wishing for their demise, and being glad when they fall. In our actions, we may tare them down with the hidden agenda of raising self up.

2) An example can be taken from my tennis playing. I want to win at singles. But here I go each week for “my weekly beating” as if I am a glutton for punishment. But another player wins in singles all the time (or 99% of the time). An envious spirit shows up when I have feelings of dislike for this person because he does what I want to do but cannot do. An envious spirit would include thoughts like being happy to hear that he has tennis elbow or upon hearing that he dropped some weights on his foot, I say to myself, “I hope he broke it good.”

3) Comparison with covetousness will help us see what envy is clearly. Envy overlaps with coveting, excessively wanting what others have. But as we have seen the hallmark of envy is comparison by which we become acutely aware of the relationship between what others have and what we want but do not have. Like coveting, envying involves being discontent with what we have. We are discontent in a way that takes us down a path of sin in thought and deed.

When we covet we have excessive desire for something that belongs to another. We may covet their spouse and their possessions. Coveting leads to adultery and theft. But the excessive desire of envy is not so much that we want something that belongs to another (to move it from their home to ours). It is an excessive desire that is inflamed by a competitive or comparative spirit. We want a higher salary, more success, more friends, and more praise than someone with whom we are comparing ourselves. We want to race ahead of them. We want to excel above others within our circle of influence. And we dislike it if we are unable to do so while someone else is able to do so. At the point of such comparison and dislike of their success we have an envious spirit.

4) Consider the scenario of a college graduate. Imagine that you have a child that finishes college and gets a better paying job than you have, that took you twenty-five years to get. Will you be envious? You will probably not be envious of someone so close to you because this case involves either your love or your pride. But the temptation to envy commonly occurs when someone inferior to you in education, experience, or prestige has a child that graduates from college and gets a salary far above what you get from the same company where you work. The desire to excel can be so aggravated that you find yourself disliking the young graduate. You may wish for his down fall. You may speak ill of him telling others about his faults. You may even do things that help him fall. If he does fall, you will experience a cruel sense of joy (cf. Charity, 123-125).

5) Finally, envy may exist in matters spiritual like preaching the gospel out of envy (Phil 1). This is a subtle and perverse aspect of the sin of envy because spiritual growth involves advancement in righteousness. If we seek to grow in righteousness and at the same time we dislike it when others appear to grow in righteousness at a faster pace than we do then an area in which we most need growth is the area of envy. Its scope is such that any area of need and want could become an occasion for envy.

2A. How do we deal with our tendency to be envious rather than loving?

1) We should humbly acknowledge this tendency.

The coals are there warm and ready to be fanned into a flame. And we should call it sin without making excuses or covering it up.

2) Focus the duty in its true spirit and intent.

This command is given in many places in the NT and it has quite a bite given the evils with which it is associated. It is also commanded here in the context of the love chapter (cf. 12:31), that shows that Paul is commanding by description. The love that He describes is the excellent way in which we are to walk. Weighing this fact will help us find the proper stance to take in this field of battle.

It is a command to believers to put off a style of life, of the inward life (of attitude and desire). And a command to believers comes with a promise of grace to help in time of need. So consider the fact that part of the true spirit of this command is that it comes with promise. In this way we can take our stance with confidence and hope that God will be our strength and shield.

Labor to absorb it into your heart and soul as a foundation for diligent application. Again, here is the duty: we are to throw up a red flag whenever we feel malice in our hearts toward those who prosper in ways we seek for ourselves but cannot prosper for the time being. The duty we have is to check responses that arise from seeing this disparity. Turn your thoughts away from comparing your progress with that of others, and set your mind on things above. Guard speaking out of such comparison (bite your tongue).

3) Consider the example of Christ

He made Himself poor (humbling Himself) that you may be made rich. Note that your state in life as to outward affairs is temporary. You are a pilgrim on this earth, just passing through. Your citizenship is in heaven. Ponder the fact that you have riches untold in the storehouse of things new and old. In this light, be assured that Christ will see to it that you receive this inheritance in glory when the very creation is delivered up into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. You really do not need to bother yourself with comparative attainments in possessions or honor on this earth. These are as God gives them. And the attainments and glory that matter most are promised with certainty. Consider His example and follow in His steps trusting in His promises.

4) You should attack the tree at the root level, which is pride.

One of the most important related virtues is that of humility. Put in the form of a prayer this simply means that you say, “Lord, I submit myself to you. I accept the limits you place on my life in relation to others. I know that you know best. So if I want to excel in some area but cannot do so, I leave that in your hands. If you choose to give what I want to others and not to me, then so be it. Your will is most important. Not my will but your will be done. I resign myself to your plan as it unfolds perfectly in every detail. I commit myself to the doing of your will of precept and commandment” (cf. the song, “My Jesus as thou wilt”).

Focus the fact that how you deal with what you attain in relation to what others attain is a double submission to the authority of your sovereign Lord. On one hand, it is a matter of submission to His command to avoid envy. On the other hand, it is a matter of submission to His Fatherly love accepting what He gives and withholds. Disobedience in the sin of envy is both rebellion and ingratitude rolled into one. We honor Him by submission to His providence and precepts, and we arrogantly dishonor Him when we do not submit to His providence and precepts.

5) Think of envy as a caterpillar and as a cancer.

This is a reminder of consequences. Edwards compares the envious person to a caterpillar that delights in devouring the most flourishing plants and trees (Charity 126). A consequence of envy is that it retards prosperity by wasting energy in quarrels and dissension.

Furthermore, envy is not only hateful in itself but it brings great discomfort to the envious person. Edwards cites the Proverb that says, “envy is the rottenness of the bones” (14:30). It is like a powerful cancer eating away on our vital organs. It is thus offensive and full of corruption. Therefore, it is nothing other than foolish self-injury “for the envious make themselves trouble most needlessly, being uncomfortable only because of others’ prosperity, when that prosperity does not injure themselves, or diminish their enjoyments and blessings. But they are not willing to enjoy what they have, because others are enjoying also” (127). Its foolishness should cause us to abhor it and shun its excuses as we seek the spirit of Christian love that will lead us to rejoice in the welfare of others (127).

3A. What positive aspect of love is implied (in the denial of envy)?

We get perspective here when we remember that desires are good. Strong desires are good as well, even consuming desires. This is the dynamic of the positive that is implied here. We are to have a consuming passion for holiness and righteousness in our daily living born of a deep longing and earnest desire to please the Lord Jesus and glorify His name.

This is the hungering and thirsting for righteousness that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. This has to mean that we cultivate a good diet on His word taking it into our hearts by memory, study, and understanding for application. It involves crying out for wisdom in prayer to the Lord and seeking to have all that we have in dedication and devotion to our risen Lord.

We thus sell all that we have for the kingdom and its righteousness (Matt. 13:44). But, lo and behold, we still possess things. “Sell all” means that we give it all away in exchange to receive it back with every earthly thing tied and connected to the kingdom. Thus in all earthly things (food, clothing, job, money, skills, accomplishments, and possessions) we seek His kingdom and His righteousness first (Matt. 5:19-21, 33). This is the passionate priority of our living across the board of all that we have and desire to have. What you want you want for His glory. Your wants are subject to His will and honor.

Conclusion

To not be satisfied with what we have so far attained in our Christian walk is not a sinful desire but the good kind of strong desire, and zeal. It is a consuming passion for the things of Christ. Like our Savior, accepting and doing the will of God becomes our food and drink.

How do we cultivate this kind of wanting and desiring? One way is to look deep into the value of the kingdom. When you see it you will seize it. When you see it as a treasure, you will seize it as a prize.

Be like a squirrel that climbs down a one-sixteenth of an inch wire to get some sunflower hearts, doing what it takes to get what he wants. Focus your desires and wants on Christ and His kingdom righteousness. Seek first and foremost to do His will of precept, surrender to His will of sovereign decree aiming at His glory in promoting the good of others. That is love.

With this heavy-duty obstacle to loving-kindness removed, with envy countered, we can then deeply desire the good of others and go about promoting their good in every way we possibly can. And by this obedience, the good that we passionately desire above all other things is the glory and honor of Jesus Christ our risen Lord.

[1]1 Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations (Rockville, Md.: Assurance Publishers, 1979), 274.

[2]3 Hank Hanegraaff, The Prayer of Jesus (Nashville, Tenn.: W Publishing Group, 2001), 13–14.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2023 in 1 Corinthians

 

A study of God’s Love from 1 Corinthians #16 Love is Kind


Love is kind (chresteuetai): courteous, good, helpful, useful, giving, showing and showering favors. Love does not resent evil; it does not revel in the hurt and neglect. Love reaches out in kindness: in helpfulness, in giving, and in showering favors upon the person who neglects or hurts oneself.

Paul speaks of “the kindness and love of God our Savior” ( Titus 3:4 niv ). He is exuberant as he announces: “Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it” ( Eph. 2:7–8 msg).

A wise man declared: “That which makes a man to be desired is his kindness” (Prov. 19:22). Kindness includes attributes like friendliness, compassion, generosity, and tenderness. To be kind is to be God-like (Luke 6:35).

Origen had it that this means that love is “sweet to all.”  Jerome spoke of what he called “the benignity” of love.  So much Christianity is good but unkind.

There was no more religious a man than Philip the Second of Spain, and yet he founded the Spanish Inquisition and thought he was serving God by massacring those who thought differently from him.

Cardinal Pole declared that murder and adultery could not compare in heinousness with heresy.  Apart altogether from that persecuting spirit, there is in so many good people an attitude of criticism.

In a world that is saturated with harshness, a kind disposition is a refreshing breeze. There is many a woman who would trade a handsome husband for a kind one. Kindness would stifle the plague of child abuse. More kindness among brothers in the Lord would alleviate so much church trouble. The Scriptures demand that we be kind to each another (Eph. 4:32).

David is one of the most striking examples of kindness. He loves Jonathan, one of his closest friends. After Jonathan dies, David wishes to demonstrate his love toward his deceased friend. Since Jonathan is dead, the only way to show kindness to Jonathan is through his offspring. David is delighted when he is informed that Jonathan has a living heir. His surviving son, Mephibosheth, is crippled in both feet. In one sense, this is even better for David’s purposes, because this man’s handicap presents a need David can meet. By David’s decree, Mephibosheth would now eat regularly at the king’s table (2 Samuel 9). David’s love manifests itself in kindness, a predisposition to do good to others.

Kindness is characteristic of God and should thus characterize the Christian as well:

35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men (Luke 6:35).

4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

7 In order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7).

32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).

4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).

24 And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged (2 Timothy 2:24).

8 To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit (1 Peter 3:8).

The Christian is commanded to be kind (Ephesians 4:32), and thus, failing to show kindness is disobedience. Kindness is also a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Paul reminds the Corinthians of the kindness which he manifested toward them even though they were unkind to him (see 1 Corinthians 4:6-21; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13). Kindness was surely lacking in the Corinthian church.

  • Kindness is not the spirit which produces strife and divisions in the church (chapters 1-3).
  • It was not the response of many Corinthians toward Paul or the other true apostles (chapter 4).
  • It surely was not kindness that caused the church to embrace a man living in sin (chapter 5).
  • Neither is it kindness which compels two believers to square off with each other in a secular law court (chapter 6).
  • Kindness does not cause one spouse to withhold sex from the other (chapter 7).
  • Kindness did not prompt one believer to assert his or her alleged rights to the detriment of another (chapter 8).
  • It was not kindness that motivated some Corinthians to indulge themselves before their brethren arrive (chapter 11).
  • Nor did kindness make one believer look down upon the gifts of another (chapter 12) or cause certain individuals to assert themselves in the church meeting for their own personal gain (chapter 14).

When the Corinthian saints are described, kindness is not the first word which pops into one’s mind!

According to Paul, love is demonstrated by two general characteristics: (1) longsuffering in the face of adverse treatment by others and (2) kindness toward those who abuse us. Longsuffering endures ill treatment without responding in a retaliatory fashion, and kindness seeks to do good to those who delight to cause us harm. That is what love is like. Now, in the second half of verse 4 through verse 6, Paul lets us know what love is not like. If these characteristics exist in Corinth—or in our church—we need to confess our lack of love.

Just as patience will take anything from others, kindness will give anything to  others, even to its enemies. Being kind is the counterpart of being patient. To be kind () means to be useful, serving, and gracious. It is active goodwill. It not only feels generous, it is generous. It not only desires others’ welfare, but works for it.

When Jesus commanded His disciples, including us, to  love their enemies, He did not simply mean to feel kindly about them but to be kind to them. “If anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matt. 5:40-41). The hard environment of an evil world gives love almost unlimited opportunity to exercise that sort of kindness.

Again God is the supreme model. “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4), Paul reminds us.

To Titus he wrote, “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6).

Jesus’ invitation offers the sweetest proof of the kindness of heaven:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. ( Matt. 11:28–30 nkjv )

Farmers in ancient Israel used to train an inexperienced ox by yoking it to an experienced one with a wooden harness. The straps around the older animal were tightly drawn. He carried the load. But the yoke around the younger animal was loose. He walked alongside the more mature ox, but his burden was light. In this verse Jesus is saying, “I walk alongside you. We are yoked together. But I pull the weight and carry the burden.”

I wonder, how many burdens is Jesus carrying for us that we know nothing about? We’re aware of some. He carries our sin. He carries our shame. He carries our eternal debt. But are there others?

Has he lifted fears before we felt them? Has he carried our confusion so we wouldn’t have to? Those times when we have been surprised by our own sense of peace? Could it be that Jesus has lifted our anxiety onto his shoulders and placed a yoke of kindness on ours?

And how often do we thank him for his kindness? Not often enough. But does our ingratitude restrict his kindness? No. “Because he is kind even to people who are ungrateful and full of sin” ( Luke 6:35 ).

In the original language, the word for kindness carries an added idea the English word does not. Chiefly it refers to an act of grace. But it also refers to a deed or person who is “useful, serviceable, adapted to its purpose.” [1]2

Kindness was even employed to describe food that was tasty as well as healthy. Sounds odd to our ears. “Hey, honey, what a great meal. The salad is especially kind tonight.”

But the usage makes sense. Isn’t kindness good and good for you? Pleasant and practical? Kindness not only says good morning, kindness makes the coffee. Again, doesn’t Jesus fit this description? He not only attended the wedding, he rescued it. He not only healed the woman, he honored her. He did more than call Zacchaeus by name; he entered his house.

Hasn’t he acted similarly with you? Hasn’t he helped you out of a few jams? Hasn’t he come into your house? And has there ever been a time when he was too busy to listen to your story? The Bible says, “Whoever is wise will observe these things, and they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord ” ( Ps. 107:43 nkjv ). Hasn’t God been kind—pleasantly useful—to you? And since God has been so kind to you (you know what I am about to say), can’t you be kind to others?

Paul’s question is for all of us: “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” ( Rom. 2:4 nasb ).

Repentance from what? Certainly from ungodliness, rebellion, and sin. But can’t we equally state that God’s kindness leads to repentance from unkindness?

Some may think that all this talk of kindness sounds, well … it sounds a bit wimpy. Men in particular tend to value more dramatic virtues—courage, devotion, and visionary leadership. We attend seminars on strategizing and team building. But I can’t say I’ve ever attended or even heard of one lecture on kindness. Jesus, however, would take issue with our priorities. “Go and learn what this means,” he commands. “‘I want kindness more than I want animal sacrifices’” ( Matt. 9:13 ). Paul places kindness toward the top of the pyramid when he writes, “Love is kind” ( 1 Cor. 13:4 niv ).

A friend of mine witnessed a humorous act of kindness at an auction. The purpose of the gathering was to raise money for a school. Someone had donated a purebred puppy that melted the heart and opened the checkbooks of many guests. Two in particular.

They sat on opposite sides of the banquet room, a man and a woman. As the bidding continued, these two surfaced as the most determined. Others dropped off, but not this duo. Back and forth they went until they’d one-upped the bid to several thousand dollars. This was no longer about a puppy. This was about victory. This was the Wimbledon finals, and neither player was backing off the net. (Don’t you know the school president was drooling?)

Finally the fellow gave in and didn’t return the bid. “Going once, going twice, going three times. Sold!” The place erupted, and the lady was presented with her tail-wagging trophy. Her face softened, then reddened. Maybe she’d forgotten where she was. Never intended to go twelve rounds at a formal dinner. Certainly never intended for the world to see her pit-bull side.

So you know what she did? As the applause subsided, she walked across the room and presented the puppy to the competition.

Suppose you did that with your competition. With your enemy. With the boss who fired you or the wife who left you. Suppose you surprised them with kindness? Not easy? No, it’s not. But mercy is the deepest gesture of kindness. Paul equates the two. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” ( Eph. 4:32 nkjv).

Jesus said: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.… If you love only the people who love you, what praise should you get? … [L]ove your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without hoping to get anything back. Then you will have a great reward, and you will be children of the Most High God, because he is kind even to people who are ungrateful and full of sin. Show mercy, just as your Father shows mercy. ( Luke 6:27–28 , 32 , 35–36 )

Kindness at home. Kindness in public. Kindness at church and kindness with your enemies. Pretty well covers the gamut, don’t you think? Almost. Someone else needs your kindness. Who could that be? You.

Don’t we tend to be tough on ourselves? And rightly so. Like the young couple at the wedding, we don’t always plan ahead. Like Zacchaeus, we’ve cheated our share of friends. We’ve been self-serving. And like the woman with the illness, our world sometimes seems out of control.

But did Jesus scold the couple? No. Did he punish Zacchaeus? No. Was he hard on the woman? No. He is kind to the forgetful. He is kind to the greedy. He is kind to the sick.

And he is kind to us. And since he is so kind to us, can’t we be a little kinder to ourselves? Oh, but you don’t know me, Gary. You don’t know my faults and my thoughts. You don’t know the gripes I grumble and the complaints I mumble. No, I don’t, but he does. He knows everything about you, yet he doesn’t hold back his kindness toward you. Has he, knowing all your secrets, retracted one promise or reclaimed one gift?

No, he is kind to you. Why don’t you be kind to yourself? He forgives your faults. Why don’t you do the same? He thinks tomorrow is worth living. Why don’t you agree? He believes in you enough to call you his ambassador, his follower, even his child. Why not take his cue and believe in yourself?

Peter tells us that we should “long for the pure milk of the word” and thereby “grow in respect to salvation,” because we “have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Pet. 2:2-3).

The first test of Christian kindness, and the test of every aspect of love, is the home. The Christian husband who acts like a Christian is kind to his wife and children. Christian brothers and sisters are kind to each other and to their parents.

They have more than kind feelings toward each other; they do kind, helpful things for each other—to the point of loving self-sacrifice, when necessary. For the Corinthians, kindness meant giving up their selfish, jealous, spiteful,  and proud attitudes and adopting the spirit of loving-kindness.

Among other things, it would allow their spiritual gifts to be truly and effectively ministered in the Spirit, rather than sup+erficially and unproductively counterfeited in the flesh.

Dear Ann Landers:  I have a message for that 16-year-old boy who has a “21-year-old problem” — his brother.  My brother drowned three weeks ago.  One minute he was alive and full of fun.  The next minute he was gone, forever.

I never felt especially close to my brother.  We fought and didn’t agree on many things.  But now I realize how much a part of my life he was.  Sure, he got on my nerves, and I’d tell him to bug off.  But now I remember all the favors he did that only a brother could.

I’m just trying to urge people to think about what their brothers and sisters mean to them and to express their appreciation.  I hope they do it today because tomorrow may be too late.  — Miss Him a Lot

Dear Friend: I’m sure your letter will make millions of brothers and sisters think.  Thanks for expressing those beautiful sentiments. —Ann Landers, 8-24-92

Eighty percent of the problem patients that have come to me, come because good manners were never taught them as children.  As adults, they made mistakes and were rejected.  They couldn’t play the game of life because they didn’t know the rules.   — Dr. Smiley Blanton

Compassion lies at the heart of our prayer for our fellow human beings. When I pray for the world, I become the world; when I pray for the endless needs of the millions, my soul expands and wants to embrace them all and bring them into the presence of God. But in the midst of that experience I realize that compassion is not mine but God’s gift to me. I cannot embrace the world, but God can. I cannot pray, but God can pray in me. When God became as we are, that is, when God allowed all of us to enter into the intimacy of the divine life, it became possible for us to share in God’s infinite compassion.

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.   — George Washington Carver

A little girl one day went to her mother to show some fruit that had been given her. “Your friend,” said the mother, “has been very kind.”

“Yes,” said the child. “She gave me more than these; but I have given some away.”

The mother inquired to whom she had given them.

She answered, “I gave them to a girl who pushes me off the path, and makes faces at me.”

When asked why she gave them to her, she replied, “Because I thought it would make her know that I wish to be kind to her, and she will not, perhaps, be so rude and unkind to me again.”

 

KINDNESS

Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses. Chinese Proverb

Hatred and anger are powerless when met with kindness.

Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on; ’Twas not given for thee alone, Pass it on;

Let it travel down the years, Let it wipe another’s tears, ’Till in heaven the deed appears—Pass it on.  Henry Burton (1840–1930)

He was so benevolent, so merciful a man that he would have held an umbrella over a duck in a shower of rain. Douglas William Jerrold (1803–1857)

I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness that I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again. Stephen Grellet (1773–1855

It is easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar. English Proverb

Keep what is worth keeping— And with a breath of kindness Blow the rest away. Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (1826–1887)

Kind words are the music of the world. They have a power that seems to be beyond natural causes, as if they were some angel’s song that had lost its way and come on earth. It seems as if they could almost do what in reality God alone can do—soften the hard and angry hearts of men. No one was ever corrected by a sarcasm—crushed, perhaps, if the sarcasm was clever enough, but drawn nearer to God, never. Frederick William Faber (1814–1863

Kind words don’t wear out the tongue. Danish Proverb

Kind words toward those you daily meet, Kind words and actions right, Will make this life of ours most sweet, Turn darkness into light. Isaac Watts (1674–1748)

Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning. Frederick William Faber (1814–1863)

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love. Lao–tse (c. 604–c. 531 b.c.

Kindness is a language the dumb can speak, the deaf can hear, and the blind can see. Kindness is like a rose, which though easily crushed and fragile, yet speaks a language of silent power. Frances J. Roberts

Kindness is love in work clothes.

Kindness is loving people more than they deserve. Joseph Joubert (1754–1824

Kindness is the sunshine in which virtue grows.

Kindness will always attract kindness. Sophocles (c. 496–406 b.c.)

Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness and small obligations win and preserve the heart. Humphrey Davy (1778–1829)

Life is mostly froth and bubble, Two things stand like stone— Kindness in another’s trouble

Courage in your own. Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833–1870)

Life is short and we have not too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark way with us. Oh, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind! Henri Frédéric Amiel (1821–1881)

Little drops of water, little grains of sand, Make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land.

Little deeds of kindness, little words of love, Help to make earth happy like the heaven above. Julia A. Fletcher Carney (1823–1908)

 

Make a rule and pray to God to help you to keep it, never, if possible, to lie down at night without being able to say: “I have made one human being at least a little wiser, or a little happier, or at least a little better this day.” Charles Kingsley (1819–1875

One kind act will teach more love of God than a thousand sermons

One kind word can warm three winter months. Japanese Prover

Speak your kind words soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late

The best portions of a good man’s life—His little, nameless, unremembered act

Of kindness and love. William Wordsworth (1770–1850)

The greatest thing a man can do for his heavenly Father is to be kind to some of his other children. Henry Drummond (1851–1897)

The heart benevolent and kind The most resembles God. Robert Burns (1759–1796

The kindest are those who forgive and forget.The sun makes ice melt; kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate. Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965)

There is a grace of kind listening, as well as a grace of kind speaking. Frederick William Faber (1814–1863)

This world is but the vestibule of eternity. Every good thought or deed touches a chord that vibrates in heaven.

What time is it? Time to do well, Time to live better, Give up that grudge, Answer that letter,

Speak the kind word To sweeten a sorrow, Do that kind deed You would leave ’till tomorrow.

Wise sayings often fall on barren ground; but a kind word is never thrown away. Arthur Helps (1813–1875)

You are best to yourself when you are good to others. You may be sorry that you spoke, sorry you stayed or went, Sorry you won or lost, Perhaps, sorry so much was spent. But as you go through life, you’ll find you’re never sorry you were kind.

Abraham Lincoln

Despite his busy schedule during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln often visited the hospitals to cheer the wounded. On one occasion he saw a young fellow who was near death. “Is there anything I can do for you?” asked the compassionate President. “Please write a letter to my mother,” came the reply. Unrecognized by the soldier, the Chief Executive sat down and wrote as the youth told him what to say.

The letter read, “My Dearest Mother, I was badly hurt while doing my duty, and I won’t recover. Don’t sorrow too much for me. May God bless you and Father. Kiss Mary and John for me.” The young man was too weak to go on, so Lincoln signed the letter for him and then added this postscript: “Written for your son by Abraham Lincoln.”

Asking to see the note, the soldier was astonished to discover who had shown him such kindness. “Are you really our President?” he asked. “Yes,” was the quiet answer. “Now, is there anything else I can do?” The lad feebly replied, “Will you please hold my hand? I think it would help to see me through to the end.” The tall, gaunt man granted his request, offering warm words of encouragement until death stole in with the dawn.

Source unknown

Mamie Adams always went to a branch post office in her town because the postal employees there were friendly. She went there to buy stamps just before Christmas one year and the lines were particularly long. Someone pointed out that there was no need to wait on line because there was a stamp machine in the lobby. “I know,” said Mamie, ‘but the machine won’t ask me about my arthritis.”

Bits and Pieces, December, 1989, p. 2

Somerset Maughan’s mother was an extraordinarily beautiful woman married to an extraordinarily ugly man. When a family friend once asked how such a beautiful woman could have married such an ugly man, she replied, “He has never once hurt my feelings.”

Source unknown

Kindness makes a person attractive. If you would win the world, melt it, do not hammer it.
– Alexander Maclaren

But in all things commending ourselves…by kindness,…by love unfeigned. 2 Corinthians 6:4, 6

When William McKinley was President of the United States, he had to make a decision about the appointment of an ambassador to a foreign country. Two candidates were equally qualified, so McKinley was still a Congressman, he had observed an inconsiderate action by one of the men. He recalled boarding a streetcar at the rush hour and getting the last vacant seat. Soon an elderly woman got on, carrying a heavy clothesbasket. No one got up to offer her a seat, so she walked the length of the car and stood in the aisle, hardly able to keep her balance as the vehicle swayed from side to side. One of the men McKinley was later to consider for ambassador was sitting next to where the woman was standing. Instead of getting up and helping her, he deliberately shifted his newspaper so it would look like he hadn’t seen her. When McKinley noticed this, he walked down the aisle, graciously took her basket, and offered her his seat. The man was unaware that anyone was watching, but that one little act of selfishness would later deprive him of perhaps the crowning honor of his lifetime. – H.G.B.

  • Our Daily Bread, Monday, November 8

 

CULTIVATING KINDNESS

What is the kindest thing someone has done for you lately? Have you tried to do something kind for someone? What is it? What do usually think about when we think about kindness? Opening the door for others. Being nice to the cashier at the store. Leaving a generous tip for the waiter. Sending a card of thanks. What do you think of when you think of kindness?

All of these are good things. Typically, kindness is equated with being polite or nice. Some years ago a movement started that called people to practice random acts of kindness. In other words, be nice and be polite. I am not sure if the goal was to make people feel better about themselves or to make the world a better place. Either way, both are good things. Now think of the fruit of the spirit, among which is kindness, and ask yourself, is kindness just being nice and polite, or is there even more to it?

Kindness in scripture is more often equated with love. The word for kindness in Hebrew and Greek is interchangeable with mercy, goodness, loyalty, faithfulness, but most of all steadfast love. Kindness is the visible action of love directed toward others. God is praised for being kind – for showing his steadfast love in so many ways. There is an example in the Bible of a mortal like you and me putting the kindness of God into practice. Read from 2 Samuel 9.

There’s more in this story than politeness. Here is kindness with long lasting implications that spanned generations. What does this tell us about the character of God and the kindness of God? It shows that kindness is the fruit of the spirit that holds us together. It is love directed toward others for their sake and not just our own. Talk about life on the vine – kindness is like a ground covering vine or ivy that binds the earth so that it doesn’t erode away. It is the raw material of the social fiber.

Knowing what the kindness of God is, we can understand why it is hard to cultivate kindness in our culture. Our culture is hostile to kindness because …

  1. Our culture tolerates rude, angry, unkind, and violent behavior. No one really likes this, but they have become so commonplace that we have just accepted it. Talk shows and sports thrive on a culture of conflict in which it is more important to be tough and take no “guff” from anybody. We mentioned random acts of kindness – recall that this is a take +off on the phrase random acts of violence. Maybe we crave something as refreshing as nice and polite because we have suffered enough from the RAV.

 

Even in church it is possible to accept and tolerate crude and unkind behavior. One of the reasons we find it difficult to debate and discuss serious and controversial matters is because there has been too many occasions of attacking the person rather than the argument. One of my delights in Restoration History was being in class with a man who had lived ministry in the 20th century. When the class began discussing one well known “debating minister,” this man chuckled and told us how he had seen that minister debate many times. He described how he would turn red, sweat, call his opponents names and ridicule them. “Nobody bought the man’s argument,” said our wise classmate, “but it was a sight to see him get mad.” We all appreciated our classmate’s humor but his wisdom also reminded us that many people and many churches are hurt by such behavior.

 

But this sort of behavior is a symptom of the deeper problem. The rude behavior we see is the product of radical independence and self-sufficiency. Why is there road rage? Because people act and drive as if they are the only ones who matter. Why do people get rude at restaurants? Because they hold their satisfaction in higher esteem than the person who waits on them. Our culture promotes radical independence and self-sufficiency.

Technology has enabled us to be radically independent. Remember when phones operated on a party line? Now you and every member of your family can have your own mobile phone. Against the experience of the public concert or radio broadcast is the iPod or MP3 player which allows you to have your own personal concert with every song you can ever imagine. [Have you seen the MP3 commercial of people going about their lives stoically while their reflections enjoy their own private party?]

  1. But technology is not the cause; it is just the enabler. For many generations now we have praised the self-made man and the pioneer spirit. We have acclaimed the rugged individual who pulls himself up by his own bootstraps. We learned from Shakespeare that we should “neither a borrower or a lender be, but to thine ownself be true.” Many people in our culture assume that the old maxim “God helps those who help themselves” is really in the Bible.
  • I love to watch when two fiercely strong-willed and independent individuals fight over who will pick up the check at a restaurant. They will even trick one another out of paying and bribe waiters and waitresses. A few even threaten the friendship if the other pays the bill. Why? Why would someone risk a friendship over an act of kindness? Well even those of us who aren’t quite in that league still understand the awkward feeling of obligation and dependence. We would rather be the giver than the recipient because receiving erodes our feeling of self-sufficiency.

Knowing the disease is the first step to taking the cure. Isn’t it wonderful when medical science affirms that something very simple might be a solution to some of the worst problems we know? Recently studies showed that blueberries have a greater effect at reducing the development of cancer than any other fruit. You can prevent cancer by eating blueberries! It is that simple.

Likewise, cultivating kindness will overcome so many of the problems we suffer from as a culture. It is that simple. If David could demonstrate the kindness of God then I believe we can too with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The Kind Ones: It is said that in the ancient world the early Christians were sometimes called the Kind Ones rather than Christians. This is due in part to the fact that there is just one letter of difference in the word for Christ (christos) and the word for kindness (chrēstos). People were confused about the name.

I would think that it is also due to the fact that the early church demonstrated the kind of life that would make them live up to both names. My hope is that the people of our age will also be confused as to whether we are Christians or the Kind Ones. Let us strive to live up to both names.

 

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.

[1]2 Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), 9:483.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2023 in 1 Corinthians

 

Patience (Longsuffering) In the Home #15- 1 Corinthians 13:4


The goal of this lesson: patience will help produce permanence in the home.

We ought to be interested in a message about permanence, since there is so much impermanence in homes—even among Christians. Many homes are breaking up around us, even when one or both of the marriage partners are Christians!

Our aim is not to rebuke those who have been divorced. Rather, our objective is to try to help those who are married or who will someday get married to have a marriage that lasts. All of us, whether or not our own marriages have lasted, ought to be interested in promoting permanent marriages.

How can the quality of patience help to produce permanence in the home? By making it possible for us to continue to live with fallible human beings who make mistakes. Who is that? Everyone!

In the church, as Charles Hodges said, “We need to stick with those we’re stuck with.” Well, that is certainly true in the church!

What causes a home to break up? The couple involved usually have quick replies. “He lied!”; “She stole!”; “He was irresponsible!”; “We could never agree on anything!”; “She was foolish and stubborn!”; “He treated me badly!”

Did such failings really cause the breakup? Does every married couple facing such problems get divorced? The answer is no. Whatever the sin, error, mistake, or fault, someone has learned to live with it and stay married.

“Living with it,” or “tolerating it,” is what patience, or longsuffering, involves. That is what we are talking about in this lesson.

However, before we elaborate on that point, we need to put our discussion into a larger context: the context of conflict resolution. What are we to do about resolving conflicts in the home? How can we solve problems when one person disappoints or hurts another, or when marriage partners disagree?

THE BIBLE PROVIDES GUIDELINES FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION

The Scriptures give us God’s method for re solving conflicts between people. The only way to improve on that is to stop conflicts before they begin!

Preventing Conflicts

Prevention is the best cure. What are some steps that can be taken to prevent problems in the home? Prevention involves, first of all, making sure to marry the right person—someone with whom frequent disagreements will not be likely. How can a person be sure of choosing the right mate? Four suggestions can help.

  1. 1. Marry a Christian—a faithful Christian.
  2. 2. Marry a  good  person—someone  who  is thoughtful, kind, and loving, and is known to be a caring, responsible, honest person.
  3. 3. Marry someone from a similar background;the more two people have in common, the more likely the marriage is to succeed.
  4. 4. Above all, do not marry solely on the basis of “falling in love” with a beautiful girl or a handsome young man. The prospect that a marriage based only on looks or sex appeal will endure is not hopeful.

Also, the prevention of conflict involves doing our best to treat one another right. That includes being loving, courteous, and kind. If each partner in the marriage tries to satisfy the other and seeks to serve the other, conflicts are less likely to arise. Further, what is true for the husband and wife is also true of others in the home. Parents need to treat their children right (see Ephesians 6:4). Children need to treat one another right. The best way to cure conflicts is to prevent them by the liberal application of Christian principles!

In spite of our best efforts, conflicts will still arise. We will still hurt one another on occasion. What do we do then?

Following Biblical Guidelines In Dealing with Conflict

Once wrongdoing has occurred, we must do what the Bible teaches in order to resolve the problem.  Basically,  the  Bible  requires  the  offender to go to the one who has been offended. If a family member has sinned against someone else in the home, it is his responsibility to go to the offended party as soon as he realizes that there is a problem  (Matthew  5:23,  24).

What  should  the offender do when he goes to the one against whom he has sinned? He is to confess his sin (James 5:16a)! He should make this confession without excuse (“I’m sorry, but I had a good reason for doing that”) and without any counterattack (“I’m sorry, but you were wrong too”).

He should acknowledge that he was in the wrong and that he should not have done it. Further, he should sincerely express that he is sorry and that he will try never to do it again. Then the offended person—the one who has been sinned against—should say, “I forgive you,” and say it sincerely.

This pattern should always be followed, regardless of who sinned. Children should confess their faults to one another; children should confess their sins to their parents; parents should confess their wrongdoing to their children. For instance, when a parent does wrong, he or she should say to the child, “I was wrong when I did [or said] that to you, and I am very sorry.”

After the confession of wrongdoing, the offender and the offended party should pray together. The two can ask God to forgive the one who has sinned, believing that God will grant forgiveness.

If someone believes that another person in the home has sinned against him, the biblical formula for conflict resolution begins in the same way: with going to that family member (Matthew 18:15). The offended party may go to the offending family member in private and try to solve the problem. He will need to be careful about how he goes; there are good, better, and best ways of approaching someone else about a perceived fault. It is important to go in the right way, to seek the best time, to have a plan about what to say, and to have the right attitude in going—but the main thing is to go! Further, this needs to be done quickly. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” A good rule for married couples is “Do not go to bed angry.”

WHAT IF THE BIBLICAL PLAN FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION DOES NOT WORK? Sometimes the biblical plan for conflict resolution does not work. That is, a gentle confrontation may not always cause the other person to repent and change his or her behavior.

Why Will People Not Change? Why not? We tend to think that if the other person does not change when we talk to him about his faults, he is stubborn or perverse or evil. However, there may be other reasons that he does not accept a rebuke.

Failure to Agree on the Need for Change. One possibility is that he may not change because he does not agree that what he is doing is a problem. Maybe the wife is upset because her husband persists in leaving his dirty clothes lying in the floor. She tries to get him to pick up his clothes, but he seems to ignore her request. Why will he not change? Maybe he has a twenty- or thirty-year-old habit that is just difficult to break.

Maybe, as he was growing up, he and his father always left  their dirty clothes on the floor and his mother picked them up. Perhaps he does not see any reason why, since his mother picked up his dirty clothes, his wife should object to doing the same. Maybe he even thinks that to take care of his own laundry would be a sign of weakness, a failure in manliness. For whatever reason, he just does not agree that he should pick up his own dirty clothes.

Human Weakness. Another possibility, when a  marriage  partner  fails  to  change  after  being approached about the matter in a biblical way, is that he or she is weak and cannot resist temptation. Perhaps that possibility is easiest to illustrate in the case of an alcoholic husband or wife. No amount of reprimanding, reproaching, or pleading can solve the alcoholic’s problems. Even though the one who is addicted to alcohol may have the best of intentions, there is a strong possibility that he or she will fall again to the temptation of drunkenness. Many weaknesses are almost as difficult to overcome as alcohol- ism. When someone in the home fails to change a wrong behavior, he or she may be having difficulty in breaking away from the clutches of sin because of personal weakness. In such a case, the family members must understand that help is needed.

What can be done when people will not change? If both husband and wife are Christians, then the biblical approach ought to work. He will say, “If you feel that way, I will try to change?; she will say, “if you think that is wrong, I will not do it again.”

However, what can be done when the biblical approach will not work and the cause of  the  conflict remains? Various approaches have been used.

Nag? We can mark it down: 99% of the time nagging does not work! A wife may think, “If I keep reminding my husband, he will eventually change.” At the same time, the husband may be thinking, “As long as she keeps nagging me about this, I will never do what she wants!” (What the wife perceives as making a suggestion, the husband may perceive as nagging.)

Divorce? If  the  problem  cannot be solved somehow and the conflicts continue, should the couple give up on the whole marriage? Some problems do indeed seem incapable of being solved.

I knew a man who, most of the time, treated his wife completely without respect. He made fun of her and tore down her self-image. Nothing changed that man. What should she have done? Should she have divorced him?

Some women and men find themselves married to alcoholic spouses. What can they do about that—divorce the alcoholic mate?

Some men and women are almost totally irresponsible as far as money is concerned; as a result, their families are always in financial difficulty. What should be done in this type of situation? Is divorce the answer?

What about infidelity? The Bible teaches that, in the case of immorality, divorce is allowed but not required (Matthew 19:9). Is divorce the only answer or the best answer? What about mental illness? If one partner is mentally ill, should the other end the marriage?

Those questions are not easy to answer. A husband or a wife may inadvertently enable sin by deciding to tolerate the spouse’s wrongdoing. Sometimes the fact that a mate is unfaithful— especially if he or she has established a pattern of continuing infidelity—makes continuing to live with him or her virtually impossible.

A mate may be physically abusive, and God does not expect anyone to endanger his/her own life  by continuing to live with an abusive spouse. In such cases—in order to preserve his or her own physical, mental, or spiritual health—a Christian wife or husband may feel compelled to leave a spouse. Even then, the Christian husband  or  wife  must recognize that divorce is not the first or best solu tion. It may be a necessary evil, but it must never be seen as a positive good.

To say that a husband or wife may sometimes feel compelled to leave his or her spouse is not to say that he or she has the right, after the divorce, to remarry.

If neither nagging  nor  divorce provides a good solution when a marriage partner refuses to change, then what should be done? That question brings us back to the point where we began.

Patience, or longsuffering may be required. When nothing else will resolve marital conflicts, patience is necessary. What is “patience”?  It  literally means to be “long-tempered.” This term refers to that “quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish.

Longsuffering is . . . the opposite of anger and is associated with mercy, and is used of God. Patience is the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial; it is the opposite of despondency and is associated with hope ..”

In Ephesians 4:1, 2, patience is connected  with  humility  and  gentleness  and with  “tolerance  for  one  another  in  love.”  In Colossians 3:12–14, patience is connected with “compassion,” with “kindness, humility, gentleness,”  with  “bearing  with  one  another”  and “forgiving each other,” and with “love.”

When we put this information together, we learn  the  following:  The  word  suggests  self-restraint in the face of provocation, which will keep us from hastily retaliating or punishing. It is having patience with regard to antagonistic persons. It is the opposite of anger. It is connected with mercy, forbearance, forgiveness, and love.

Therefore, if we are patient and exhibit that trait in marriage, we will not become quickly upset. We will not retaliate or punish. We will be loving to our mates, even if they are antagonistic toward us.

Husbands will show mercy and grace towards their wives. Wives will be forbearing or tolerant—willing to bear with their husbands in their weaknesses or problems. Family members will also be forgiving. When conflicts arise and nothing else seems to help, then being patient or longsuffering—which also includes being loving, gracious, merciful, forbearing, and forgiving— will!

The Value of Patience. Suppose  we  are  longsuffering,  or  patient, and decide that we will simply learn to put up with our spouses’ faults. How will that affect a marriage?

There is value in being longsuffering: (1)  We become better people as we forbear and forgive. We become more like God, more like Christ.

(2)  We also become happier people, for we decide that we are responsible only for ourselves, not for our partners. When we get upset because of what our partners do, we really are accepting responsibility for them, as well as for ourselves. We need to refuse that responsibility. In this way, we acknowledge that each person is in charge only of his or her own eternal destiny.

(3)  Our  partners  may  become  better  people. There is a paradox here. If we are to be patient, we must decide that we cannot change our mates. As a result of the decision to treat a spouse lovingly, that spouse will often (though not always) change.

(4)  Our homes will be better homes. When we turn loose, allow our marriage partners some freedom,  and  quit  nagging,  conflicts  will  be fewer. As a result, life will be happier.

(5)  Most important, as we forgive, we will be forgiven by God! We all need forgiveness.

We have  said  that  being  patient,  or  longsuffering, will help to produce permanency in a marriage.  When  there  are  conflicts  in  your marriage, try to resolve them in a scriptural way. However, you should recognize that some conflicts will never be altogether resolved. Then your Christianity is really tested; then the quality of patience becomes especially important.

Why should you be patient then? We could turn our original statement around and look at it this way: A belief in the permanency of marriage will help to produce patience. If you are absolutely convinced that marriage is permanent, you will learn to be patient and forgiving with the one you have chosen to marry—because you must!

 The Application of Patience. To apply this attribute to marriage, imagine this kind of dialogue going on within the mind of the Christian spouse:

Impatient Thinking Biblical Thinking
“His aim is to irritate me!” “Judge not that you be not judged!”
“I’ve  tried everything to get along and can’t’ I’m getting a divorce Have you tried patience? Forbearance? Forgiveness?
But he doesn’t deserve it! Do we deserve God’s forgiveness and forbearance?
But I’m so unhappy with his behavior! Is your happiness the main consideration?
Are you saying I should under no circumstances divorce my spouse? Jesus said; “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder”
But he has offended me so many times! As many as 70 times 7…and then some?
I hate him Love your enemies

These statements are not intended to insist that divorce is always wrong. Rather, they are intended to help us, as Christians, to think carefully before taking the drastic step of considering divorce because of a mate’s failings or sins.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2023 in 1 Corinthians

 

A study of God’s Love from 1 Corinthians #14 – The Prominence of Love 1 Cor. 13:1-3


If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I  have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but  have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 3:1–3 (ESV)

According to 1 Corinthians 13, love provides the basis for all the spiritual gifts exercised in the church body. Love connects every act with God and makes our actions and gifts useful. Although people have different gifts, expressing God’s love should be the ultimate purpose of every gift. When you ask God for more love, realize that part of the answer comes in the form of spiritual gifts. When you ask God to show you your spiritual gifts, his answer will include a new awareness of the people around you who need his love.

It was Jonathan Swift, the satirical author of Gulliver’s Travels, who said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Spiritual gifts, no matter how exciting and wonderful, are useless and even destructive if they are not ministered in love.

In all three of the “body” passages in Paul’s letters, there is an emphasis on love. The main evidence of maturity in the Christian life is a growing love for God and for God’s people, as well as a love for lost souls. It has well been said that love is the “circulatory system” of the body of Christ.

Few chapters in the Bible have suffered more misinterpretation and misapplication than 1 Corinthians 13. Divorced from its context, it becomes “a hymn to love” or a sentimental sermon on Christian brotherhood. Many people fail to see that Paul was still dealing with the Corinthians’ problems when he wrote these words: the abuse of the gift of tongues, division in the church, envy of others’ gifts, selfishness (remember the lawsuits?), impatience with one another in the public meetings, and behavior that was disgracing the Lord.

The only way spiritual gifts can be used creatively is when Christians are motivated by love. Paul explained three characteristics of Christian love that show why it is so important in ministry.[1]

Love is enriching (vv. 1–3). Paul named five spiritual gifts: tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, and giving (sacrifice). He pointed out that, without love, the exercise of these gifts is nothing. Tongues apart from love is just a lot of noise! It is love that enriches the gift and that gives it value. Ministry without love cheapens both the minister and those who are touched by it; but ministry with love enriches the whole church. “Speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

Christians are “taught of God to love one another” (1 Thes. 4:9). God the Father taught us to love by sending His Son (1 John 4:19), and God the Son taught us to love by giving His life and by commanding us to love each other (John 13:34–35). The Holy Spirit teaches us to love one another by pouring out God’s love in our hearts (Rom. 5:5). The most important lesson in the school of faith is to love one another. Love enriches all that it touches.

13:1    If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal.

In verses 1-2 Paul uses considerable hyperbole. To make his point he exaggerates to the limits of imagination. Using various examples, he says, “If somehow I were able to do or to be … to the absolute extreme, but did not have love, I would be absolutely nothing.” In the spirit of the love about which he is talking, Paul changes to the first person. He wanted to make it clear that what he said applied as fully to himself as to anyone in Corinth.

First Paul imagines himself able to speak with the greatest possible eloquence, with the tongues of men and of angels. Although tongues can mean the physical organ of speech, it can also mean language—just as it does when we speak of a person’s “mother tongue.” Tongues, therefore is a legitimate translation, but I believe that languages is a more helpful and less confusing rendering.

In the context there is no doubt that Paul here includes the gift of speaking in languages (see 12:10, 28; 14:4-6, 13-14; etc.). That is the gift the Corinthians prized so highly and abused so greatly, and it will be discussed in detail in the exposition of chapter 14.

Paul’s basic point in 13:1, however, is to convey the idea of being able to speak all sorts of languages with great fluency and eloquence, far above the greatest linguist or orator. That the apostle is speaking in general and hypothetical terms is clear from the expression tongues … of angels. There is no biblical teaching of a unique or special angelic language or dialect. In the countless records of their speaking to men in Scripture, they always speak in the language of the person being addressed.

There is no indication that they have a heavenly language of their own that men could learn. Paul simply is saying that, were he to have the ability to speak with the skill and eloquence of the greatest men, even with angelic eloquence, he would only become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal if he did not have love. The greatest truths spoken in the greatest way fall short if they are not spoken in love. Apart from love, even one who speaks the truth with supernatural eloquence becomes so much noise.

The gift of language is especially meaningless without love. Paul chooses this as his illustration of lovelessness because it was a sought-after experience that made the people proud. One of the results of the Corinthians’ trying to use that gift in their own power and for their own selfish and proud ends was that it could not be ministered in love.

Because they did not walk in the Spirit, they did not have the fruit of the Spirit and could not properly minister the gifts of the Spirit. Because the most important fruit was missing from what they thought was the most important gift, their exercising the gift became nothing more than babble.

In New Testament times, rites honoring the pagan deities Cybele, Bacchus, and Dionysus included speaking in ecstatic noises that were accompanied by smashing gongs, clanging cymbals, and blaring trumpets. Paul’s hearers clearly got his point: unless it is done in love, ministering the gift of languages, or speaking in any other human or angelic way, amounts to no more than those pagan rituals. It is only meaningless jibberish in a Christian guise.

13:2    And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

In the beginning of the next chapter Paul speaks of prophecy as the greatest of the spiritual gifts because the prophet proclaims God’s truth to people so they can know and understand it (14:1–5). The apostle was himself a prophet (Acts 13:1) and had the highest regard both for the office of prophet and the gift of prophecy.

Continuing his hyperbole, however, Paul says that even the great gift of prophecy must be ministered in love. The most gifted man of God is not exempt from ministering in love. If anything, he is the most obligated to minister in love. “From everyone who has been given much shall much be required” (Luke 12:48). Of all persons, the prophet should speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

Balaam was a prophet of God. He knew the true God and he knew God’s truth, but he had no love for God’s people. With little hesitation he agreed to curse the Israelites in return for a generous payment by Balak, king of Moab. Because God could not convince his prophet not to do that terrible thing, He sent an angel to stop the prophet’s donkey (Num. 22:16–34). Several other times Balaam would have cursed Israel had he not been prevented by God. But what the prophet failed to do through cursing Israel he accomplished by misleading them. Because he led Israel into idolatry and immorality, Balaam was put to death (Num. 31:8, 16). The prophet knew God’s Word, spoke God’s Word, and feared God in a self-protecting way, but he had no love for God and no love for God’s people.

The power behind what we say and what we do is our motive. If our motive is self-interest, praise, promotion, or advantage of any sort, our influence for the Lord will be undercut to that extent—no matter how orthodox, persuasive, and relevant our words are or how helpful our service seems superficially to be. Without the motivation of love, in God’s sight we are only causing a lot of commotion.

Jeremiah’s ministry was in stark contrast to Balaam’s. He was the weeping prophet, not because of his own problems, which were great, but because of the wickedness of his people, because of their refusal to turn to the Lord, and because of the punishment he had to prophesy against them. He wept over them much as Jesus later wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44). Early in his ministry Jeremiah was so moved by the spiritual plight of his people that he cried out, “My sorrow is beyond healing, my heart is faint within me!… For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken; I mourn, dismay has taken hold of me.… Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer. 8:18, 21; 9:1). Jeremiah was a prophet with a broken heart, a loving heart, a spiritual heart.

Paul also often ministered with tears, frequently for fellow Jews who would not accept Jesus Christ. It was they who caused him most of his trials, but it was their turning against the gospel, not their turning against him, that caused him to minister “with tears” (Acts 20:19). In Romans he gives the touching testimony, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:1–3). Paul ministered with great power in large measure because he ministered with great love. To proclaim the truth of God without love is not simply to be less than you should be, it is to be nothing.

Prophecy, Knowledge, and Faith Without Love Are Nothing

And if I have the gift of prophecy; and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (13:2)

In the beginning of the next chapter Paul speaks of prophecy as the greatest of the spiritual gifts because the prophet proclaims God’s truth to people so they can know and understand it (14:1-5). The apostle was himself a prophet (Acts 13:1) and had the highest regard both for the office of prophet and the gift of  prophecy.

Continuing his hyperbole, however, Paul says that even the great gift of prophecy must be ministered in love. The most gifted man of God is not exempt from ministering in love. If anything, he is the most obligated to minister in love. “From everyone who has been given much shall much be required” (Luke 12:48). Of all persons, the prophet should speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

The power behind what we say and what we do is our motive. If our motive is self-interest, praise, promotion, or advantage of any sort, our influence for the Lord will be undercut to that extent—no matter how orthodox, persuasive, and relevant our words are or how helpful our service seems superficially to be. Without the motivation of love, in God’s sight we are only causing a lot of commotion.

Paul often ministered with tears, frequently for fellow Jews who would not accept Jesus Christ. It was they who caused him most of his trials, but it was their turning against the gospel, not their turning against him, that caused him to minister “with tears” (Acts 20:19). In Romans he gives the touching testimony, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:1-3).

Paul ministered with great power in large measure because he ministered with great love. To proclaim the  truth of God without love is not simply to be less than you should be, it is to be nothing.

Just as prophecy without love is nothing, so is the understanding of all mysteries and all knowledge. Paul uses that comprehensive phrase to picture ultimate human understanding. Mysteries may represent divine spiritual understanding and knowledge may represent factual human understanding. In Scripture the term mystery always signifies divine truth that God has hidden from men at some time. Most often it refers to truths hidden to Old Testament saints that have been revealed in the New Testament (cf. Eph. 3:3-5). If he could perfectly understand all unrevealed divine mysteries, along with all the mysteries that are revealed, Paul insists that he could still be nothing. That spiritual understanding would count for nothing without the supreme spiritual fruit of love. This indicates the great importance of love; without it, we can know as God knows and still be nothing.

Adding all knowledge would not help. One could fathom all the observable, knowable facts of the created universe, be virtually omniscient, and he would still be nothing without love. In other words, if somehow he could comprehend all of the Creator and all of the creation, he would be zero without love.

If all of that would amount to nothing without love, how much less do our very limited intellectual accomplishments, including biblical and theological knowledge and insights, amount to without love? They are less than nothing. That sort of knowledge without love is worse than mere ignorance. It produces spiritual snobbery, pride, and arrogance. It is Pharisaic and ugly. Spiritual knowledge is good, beautiful, and fruitful in the Lord’s work when it is held in humility and ministered in love. But it is ugly and unproductive when love is missing. Mere knowledge, even of God’s truths, “makes arrogant”; love is the absolutely essential ingredient for edification (1 Cor. 8:1).

Paul did not depreciate knowledge, especially knowledge of God’s Word. To the Philippians he wrote, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (1:9). We cannot be edified by or obey what we do not know. But we can know and not obey and not be strengthened. Only love brings “real knowledge and all discernment.” We can know and not be edified. Love is the divine edifier.

If Paul did not depreciate knowledge, even less did he depreciate faith. No one preached the necessity for faith, especially saving faith, more strongly than he. But he is not speaking here of saving faith but of the faith of confidence and expectancy in the Lord. He is addressing believers, who already have saving faith. All faith, so as to remove mountains refers to trusting God to do mighty things in behalf of His children. It especially refers to believers who have the gift of faith. Even with this wonderful gift from God—of making the impossible possible—Paul says a Christian is nothing if he does not have love.

It is not by coincidence that the apostle uses the same figure used on one occasion by Jesus. After His disciples failed to heal the demon-possessed boy, Jesus told them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move” (Matt. 17:20).

Jesus was speaking in hyperbole just as Paul is in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. The Lord’s point to His disciples was that, by trusting Him completely, nothing in their ministry would “be impossible.”

Paul’s point is that, even if a person had that great degree of prayerful trust in the Lord, but was unloving, he would be nothing.

Jonah had great faith. It was because of his great belief in the effectiveness of God’s Word that he resisted preaching to Nineveh. He was not afraid of failure but of success. He had great faith in the power of God’s Word. His problem was that he did not want the wicked Ninevites to be saved.

He had no love for them, not even after they repented. He did not want them saved and was resentful of the Lord’s saving them. As the direct result of the prophet’s preaching, everyone in the city from the king down repented. Even the animals were covered with sackcloth as a symbol of repentance.

God miraculously spared Nineveh, just as Jonah knew he would. Then we read of one of the strangest and most hardhearted prayers in all Scripture: “But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life’” (Jonah 4:1-3).

Everything Jonah acknowledged the Lord to be, the prophet himself was not and did not want to be. A more loveless man of God is hard to imagine. His faith told him that a great success would come in Nineveh, but the prophet was a great failure. The preaching wrought a great miracle, as he believed it would, but the preacher was a nothing.

knowledge without love

Just as prophecy without love is nothing, so is the understanding of all mysteries and all knowledge. Paul uses that comprehensive phrase to picture ultimate human understanding. Mysteries may represent divine spiritual understanding and knowledge may represent factual human understanding. In Scripture the term mystery always signifies divine truth that God has hidden from men at some time. Most often it refers to truths hidden to Old Testament saints that have been revealed in the New Testament (cf. Eph. 3:3–5). If he could perfectly understand all unrevealed divine mysteries, along with all the mysteries that are revealed, Paul insists that he could still be nothing. That spiritual understanding would count for nothing without the supreme spiritual fruit of love. This indicates the great importance of love; without it, we can know as God knows and still be nothing.

Adding all knowledge would not help. One could fathom all the observable, knowable facts of the created universe, be virtually omniscient, and he would still be nothing without love. In other words, if somehow he could comprehend all of the Creator and all of the creation, he would be zero without love.

If all of that would amount to nothing without love, how much less do our very limited intellectual accomplishments, including biblical and theological knowledge and insights, amount to without love? They are less than nothing. That sort of knowledge without love is worse than mere ignorance. It produces spiritual snobbery, pride, and arrogance. It is Pharisaic and ugly. Spiritual knowledge is good, beautiful, and fruitful in the Lord’s work when it is held in humility and ministered in love. But it is ugly and unproductive when love is missing. Mere knowledge, even of God’s truths, “makes arrogant”; love is the absolutely essential ingredient for edification (1 Cor. 8:1).

Paul did not depreciate knowledge, especially knowledge of God’s Word. To the Philippians he wrote, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (1:9). We cannot be edified by or obey what we do not know. But we can know and not obey and not be strengthened. Only love brings “real knowledge and all discernment.” We can know and not be edified. Love is the divine edifier

faith without love

If Paul did not depreciate knowledge, even less did he depreciate faith. No one preached the necessity for faith, especially saving faith, more strongly than he. But he is not speaking here of saving faith but of the faith of confidence and expectancy in the Lord. He is addressing believers, who already have saving faith. All faith, so as to remove mountains refers to trusting God to do mighty things in behalf of His children. It especially refers to believers who have the gift of faith. Even with this wonderful gift from God—of making the impossible possible—Paul says a Christian is nothing if he does not have love.

It is not by coincidence that the apostle uses the same figure used on one occasion by Jesus. After His disciples failed to heal the demon-possessed boy, Jesus told them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move” (Matt. 17:20). Jesus was speaking in hyperbole just as Paul is in 1 Corinthians 13:1–3. The Lord’s point to His disciples was that, by trusting Him completely, nothing in their ministry would “be impossible.” Paul’s point is that, even if a person had that great degree of prayerful trust in the Lord, but was unloving, he would be nothing.

Jonah had great faith. It was because of his great belief in the effectiveness of God’s Word that he resisted preaching to Nineveh. He was not afraid of failure but of success. He had great faith in the power of God’s Word. His problem was that he did not want the wicked Ninevites to be saved. He had no love for them, not even after they repented. He did not want them saved and was resentful of the Lord’s saving them. As the direct result of the prophet’s preaching, everyone in the city from the king down repented. Even the animals were covered with sackloth as a symbol of repentance. God miraculously spared Nineveh, just as Jonah knew he would. Then we read of one of the strangest and most hardhearted prayers in all Scripture: “But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life’ ” (Jonah 4:1–3). Everything Jonah acknowledged the Lord to be, the prophet himself was not and did not want to be. A more loveless man of God is hard to imagine. His faith told him that a great success would come in Nineveh, but the prophet was a great failure. The preaching wrought a great miracle, as he believed it would, but the preacher was a nothing.

(ii) He may have the gift of prophecy. We have already seen that prophecy corresponds most closely to preaching. There are two kinds of preachers. There is the preacher whose one aim is to save the souls of his people and who woos them with the accents of love. Of no one was that more true than of Paul himself. Myers, in his poem St. Paul, draws the picture of him looking at the Christless world,

“Then with a thrill the intolerable craving Shivers throughout me like a trumpet call—

O to save these—to perish for their saving—Die for their lives, be offered for them all.”

On the other hand there is the preacher who dangles his hearers over the flames of hell and gives the impression that he would rejoice in their damnation as much as in their salvation. It is told that Sir George Adam Smith once asked a member of the Greek Church, which has suffered much at the hands of Islam, why God had created so many Mohammedans, and received the answer, “To fill up hell.” The preaching which is all threat and no love may terrify but it will not save.

Three gifts are mentioned in this verse: prophecy, knowledge, and faith. The gift of prophecy was described in the commentary on 12:10 as a gift that not only enables the person to see events in the future but also to bring God’s message to the church under the direction of the Holy Spirit (see also 14:1–25; 1 Thessalonians 5:19–20). Paul explains in 14:3 that “The one who prophesies is helping others grow in the Lord, encouraging and comforting them” (nlt). While all believers ought to study in order to understand more and be able to teach others about what they believe, some people have been given a special measure of this gift with the ability to understand all mysteries and all knowledge (“knowledge” was another gift). Such understanding and even the ability to share it with others, however, are worth nothing without love.

The gift of faith was described in 12:9. This does not refer to saving faith, whereby people come to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior; instead, this is an unusual measure of trust in the Holy Spirit’s power to do mighty works, much like Elijah received in 1 Kings 18. If a person has faith that could remove mountains but does not have love, the faith is worth nothing.

(iii) He may have the gift of intellectual knowledge. The permanent danger of intellectual eminence is intellectual snobbery. The man who is learned runs the grave danger of developing the spirit of contempt. Only a knowledge whose cold detachment has been kindled by the fire of love can really save men.

(iv) He may have a passionate faith. There are times when faith can be cruel. There was a man who visited his doctor and was informed that his heart was tired and he must rest. He telephoned his employer, a notable Christian figure, with the news, only to receive the answer, “I have an inward strength which enables me to carry on.” These were the words of faith but a faith which knew no love and was therefore a hurting thing.

God requires mercy and love “from the heart,” not sacrifice, not the exercising of gifts. We must remember that Satan is a master at mimicking the gifts of the Spirit, but he cannot mimic the heart. He can set up a puppet teacher who is endowed with great knowledge, but he cannot give that person love for God and love for other Christians. This is solely a Christian grace and can only come by the Spirit of Christ. R. C. Sproul.

13:3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.

Agapē love is always self-sacrificing, but self-sacrifice does not necessarily come from love. Throughout the history of the church certain groups and movements have believed that self-denial, self-humiliation, and even self-affliction in themselves bring spiritual merit. Many cults and pagan religions place great emphasis on the giving up of possessions, on sacrifice of various sorts, and on religious acts of supposed self-effacement, self-deprivation, self-affliction, and monasticism. Even for Christians, however, such things are worse than worthless without love. Without love, in fact, they are anything but selfless. The real focus of such practices is not God nor others, but self—either in the form of legalistic fear of not doing those things or for the praise and imagined blessing for doing them. The motive is self, and is neither spiritual nor loving.

Benevolence and Martyrdom Without Love Are Nothing

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (13:3)

Agape love is always self-sacrificing, but self-sacrifice does not necessarily come from love. Throughout the history of the church certain groups and movements have believed that self-denial, self-humiliation, and even self-affliction in themselves bring spiritual merit.

Many cults and pagan religions place great emphasis on the giving up of possessions, on sacrifice of various sorts, and on religious acts of supposed self-effacement, self-deprivation, self-affliction, and monasticism.

Even for Christians, however, such things are worse than worthless without love. Without love, in fact, they are anything but selfless. The real focus of such practices is not God nor others, but self—either in the form of legalistic fear of not doing those things or for the praise and imagined blessing for doing them. The motive is self, and is neither spiritual nor loving.

The term for give means to dole out in small quantities, and signifies a long-term, systematic program of giving away everything one possesses. Such an ultimate act of benevolence, giving all one’s possessions to feed the poor, would not be a spiritual deed if not done out of genuine love, no matter how great the sacrifice or how many people were fed.

The rabbis taught that people did not ever need to give more than twenty percent, so Paul’s illustration suggested unheard of generosity. Even so, the people who received such generosity would be benefited by full stomachs, but the giver would be benefited by nothing. Both his bank account and his spiritual account would be left empty.

Giving from legalistic obligation, from desire for recognition and praise, or as a way to salve a guilty conscience is worthless. Only love qualifies giving to be spiritual.

Jesus’ command to give secretly (Matt. 6:3) helps protect us from being tempted by some of those false, unspiritual, and unloving motives. Benevolence with love is of great worth; benevolence without love is nothing.

Finally, Paul says, if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Some interpreters believe that the apostle was referring to becoming a slave, the mark of which was a brand made with a hot iron. But in keeping with the extremes he has been using in these verses, it is best to assume he was referring to being burned alive.

Execution by burning at the stake, a fate suffered by many Christian martyrs, was not begun in the Roman empire until some years later. Yet that seems to be the form of suffering to which Paul refers. Whether or not such execution was common at that time, it represented a horrible, agonizing death.

When persecution of the early church became intense, some believers actually sought martyrdom as a way of becoming famous or of gaining special heavenly credit. But when sacrifice is motivated by self-interest and pride it loses its spiritual value. Even accepting agonizing death for the faith profits … nothing if it is done without true divine love. No matter how much a person may suffer because of his Christian service and testimony, he has no spiritual gain if his witness and work are not ministered in love.

The loveless person produces nothing, is nothing, and gains nothing.

For many this is the most wonderful chapter in the whole New Testament and we will do well to take more than one day to study words whose full meaning not a lifetime itself would be sufficient to unveil.

Paul begins by declaring that a man may possess any spiritual gift, but if it is unaccompanied by love it is useless.

(i) He may have the gift of tongues. A characteristic of heathen worship, especially the worship of Dionysus and Cybele, was the clanging of cymbals and the braying of trumpets. Even the coveted gift of tongues was no better than the uproar of heathen worship if love was absent.

Great faith, acts of dedication or sacrifice, miracle-working power, or the ability to speak in any language in heaven or on earth will produce very little without love. This phrase is also translated “the tongues of men and of angels” (niv). The Corinthians believed that they had the angels’ language when they spoke in tongues. But their knowledge led to pride, which stripped them of love and consideration for others. Love makes believers’ actions and gifts useful. Although people have different gifts, love is available to everyone. Without love, speaking in another language, although a gift of the Spirit, becomes nothing more than meaningless noise. A cymbal was often used in ecstatic rites in pagan worship. The gift of tongues, used without love, is as valueless as pagan worship. Without love, the gifts do not build up other believers, so they are useless. Christians must not exalt gifts over character. Love is far more important.

The word for love used here is agape. The Greeks had different words that described different kinds of love. The word agape connotes a deep, abiding, self-sacrificing love—the kind that looks out for the other person first. God requires his people to have agape love for one another.

benevolence without love

The term for give means to dole out in small quantities, and signifies a long-term, systematic program of giving away everything one possesses. Such an ultimate act of benevolence, giving all one’s possessions to feed the poor, would not be a spiritual deed if not done out of genuine love, no matter how great the sacrifice or how many people were fed. The rabbis taught that people did not ever need to give more than twenty percent, so Paul’s illustration suggested unheard of generosity. Even so, the people who received such generosity would be benefited by full stomachs, but the giver would be benefited by nothing. Both his bank account and his spiritual account would be left empty. Giving from legalistic obligation, from desire for recognition and praise, or as a way to salve a guilty conscience is worthless. Only love qualifies giving to be spiritual.

Jesus’ command to give secretly (Matt. 6:3) helps protect us from being tempted by some of those false, unspiritual, and unloving motives. Benevolence with love is of great worth; benevolence without love is nothing.

martyrdom without love

Finally, Paul says, if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Some interpreters believe that the apostle was referring to becoming a slave, the mark of which was a brand made with a hot iron. But in keeping with the extremes he has been using in these verses, it is best to assume he was referring to being burned alive. Execution by burning at the stake, a fate suffered by many Christian martyrs, was not begun in the Roman empire until some years later. Yet that seems to be the form of suffering to which Paul refers. Whether or not such execution was common at that time, it represented a horrible, agonizing death.

When persecution of the early church became intense, some believers actually sought martyrdom as a way of becoming famous or of gaining special heavenly credit. But when sacrifice is motivated by self-interest and pride it loses its spiritual value. Even accepting agonizing death for the faith profits … nothing if it is done without true divine love. No matter how much a person may suffer because of his Christian service and testimony, he has no spiritual gain if his witness and work are not ministered in love.

The loveless person produces nothing, is nothing, and gains nothing.

(v) He may practise what men call charity; he may dole out his goods to the poor. There is nothing more humiliating than this so-called charity without love. To give as a grim duty, to give with a certain contempt, to stand on one’s own little eminence and throw scraps of charity as to a dog, to give and to accompany the giving with a smug moral lecture or a crushing rebuke, is not charity at all—it is pride, and pride is always cruel for it knows no love.

(vi) He may give his body to be burned. Possibly Paul’s thoughts are going back to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the burning fiery furnace (Daniel 3). Perhaps more likely, he is thinking of a famous monument in Athens called “The Indian’s Tomb.” There an Indian had burned himself in public on a funeral pyre and had caused to be engraved on the monument the boastful inscription: “Zarmano-chegas, an Indian from Bargosa, according to the traditional customs of the Indians, made himself immortal and lies here.” Just possibly, he may have been thinking of the kind of Christian who actually courted persecution. If the motive which makes a man give his life for Christ is pride and self-display, then even martyrdom becomes valueless. It is not cynical to remember that many a deed which looks sacrificial has been the product of pride and not of devotion.

Hardly any passage in scripture demands such self-examination from the good man as this.[2]

There is a significant textual variant in this verse. Attached to the words “if I give my body that” some manuscripts read kauthasomai (“I may be burned”), but other mauscripts (including the three earliest) read kauxasomai (“I may boast”). In the Greek, there is but a one-letter difference between the first reading and the second. Good arguments have been advanced by scholars in support of each reading. But those who support the second reading point to the earlier attestation in the manuscripts and to the fact that martyrdom by burning was a phenomenon yet unknown to the original readers of this epistle. Furthermore, in Clement of Rome’s letter to the church in Corinth (c. a.d. 96), Clement spoke of those who delivered themselves to bondage in order to ransom others. This could very well be what Paul was referring to—unless Paul was thinking about the fiery ordeal of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego (see Daniel 3), in which case the first reading would be the one he wrote. Whatever the reading, the verse says that love produces willingness to give sacrificially and to suffer. Acts of charity and self-sacrifice can be done for the sake of an ideal or with pride as a motivation. But they are of no value for the kingdom, wrote Paul, unless they are done from the foundation of love for others.

God has always been more concerned with the heart (internal) compared to the external (actions).

(Matthew 5:24 NIV)  “…leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

(Matthew 9:13 NIV)  “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Arguments

But when He heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (9:12-13)

When Jesus heard this accusatory question, He answered it for the disciples. His doing so doubtlessly embarrassed the Pharisees and added to their indignation. The fact that they had approached His disciples suggests that the Pharisees were afraid to confront Jesus Himself, and His overhearing and responding to their obvious indictment of His actions was more than a little disconcerting.

Although Jesus was fully aware of the Pharisees’ true intent (cf. 9:4), He took their question at face value and explained exactly why He had done what He did. In His brief reply, He gave three arguments in defense of His gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation, the gospel that was reflected in His willingness to eat with the ungodly and immoral tax-gatherers and sinners.

The Argument from Human Logic

First of all, Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” “If,” He was saying to the Pharisees, “you are really as spiritually and morally perfect as you claim to be, you do not need any help from God or other men. If you are indeed spiritually healthy, you do not need a spiritual physician. On the other hand, these tax-gatherers and sinners—who you declare, and they themselves admit, are spiritually sick—are the self-confessing sinners who need God’s way of salvation presented to them. They are the one’s who seek the spiritual physician, and that is why I am ministering to them.”

The analogy is simple. Just as a physician is expected to go among people who are sick, a forgiver should be expected to go among those who are sinful. Jesus was giving Himself to those who recognized their deepest need. What sort of doctor would spend all his time with healthy people and refuse to associate with those who are sick? “Are you doctors,” He implied to the Pharisees, “who diagnose but have no desire to cure? Will you tell a person what his disease is and then refuse to give him medicine for it?” What an indictment of their self-righteous hardheartedness! Those whom they diagnosed as sinful they were quite willing to let remain sinful.

As the Lord charged them later, the scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites who were careful to “tithe mint and dill and cummin” but had no regard for the matters of true righteousness, the “weightier provisions of the law” such as “justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). They had outward form but no inward holiness, much ritual but no righteousness. They loved to condemn but not uplift, to judge but not help. They loved themselves but not others, and proved themselves to be without the compassion and mercy that God’s law required—the law they vigorously claimed to teach, practice, and defend.

The Argument from Scripture

Jesus’ second argument was directly from Scripture. “Go and learn,” He said, “what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice.’” He pinned the Pharisees to the wall with their own Scripture. The phrase go and learn was commonly used in rabbinic writings to rebuke those who did not know what they should have known. Jesus used the Pharisees’ own most honored authorities to rebuke them for their ignorance of God’s true nature and of their failure to follow His clear commandments.

Jesus here quotes the prophet Hosea, through whom God said, “I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hos. 6:6)

The fact that the quotation was from Hosea made it all the more pointed. The story of Gomer’s unfaithfulness to her husband Hosea was a living illustration of Israel’s own unfaithfulness to God; and Hosea’s continuing love and forgiveness of Gomer was a picture of the continuing love and forgiveness God offered Israel. And just as God then desired compassion rather than sacrifice, He still did. Without compassion, all the rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices of the Pharisees were unacceptable to God. Without compassion they proved themselves to be more ungodly even than the despised tax-gatherers and sinners, who made no pretense of godliness.

God is never pleased with religious routine and activity that does not come from sincere love of Him and of other people. Ritual separated from righteousness is a sham and an affront to God. “I hate, I reject your festivals,” God declared to Israel. “‘Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” Amos 5:21-24.

 (Matthew 12:7 NIV)  “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”

Have you not read what David did …? was deep-cutting sarcasm, because the account of David to which Jesus referred was, of course, from Scripture, about which the Pharisees considered themselves the supreme experts and custodians. They must have winced in anger as Jesus said to them, in effect, “Don’t you teachers of Scripture know what it says?”

In responding to the Pharisees’ false charge, Jesus instructed them about God’s purposes for the Sabbath, particularly about three things it was not designed to do.

Like the other nine Commandments, the one to observe the Sabbath was given to promote love toward God and love toward one’s fellow man. The first three pertain to showing love of God through reverence, faithfulness, and holiness. The other seven pertain to love of other people through personal purity, unselfishness, truthfulness, and contentment and through respect for their possessions, rights, and well-being.

The scribes and Pharisees, however, knew nothing of love—for God or for men. They were legalistic functionaries, trapped in their own system of endless, futile traditions. Instead of fulfilling the law by loving their neighbors as themselves (Lev. 19:18; cf. Rom. 13:8-10), they attempted to fulfill it through loveless and lifeless traditions.

Jesus here reaffirms that the Sabbath was given for God’s glory and for man’s welfare. It was never intended to restrict the expression of love through deeds of necessity, service to God, or acts of mercy

(Hebrews 8:7-12 NIV)  For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. {8} But God found fault with the people and said : “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. {9} It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. {10} This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. {11} No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. {12} For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

The New Covenant will have a different sort of law—an internal not an external law. Everything under the old economy was primarily external. Under the Old Covenant obedience was primarily out of fear of punishment. Under the New it is to be out of adoring love and worshiping thanksgiving. Formerly God’s law was given on stone tablets and was to be written on wrists and foreheads and doorposts as reminders (Deut. 6:8-9). Even when the old law was given, of course, it was intended to be in His people’s hearts (Deut. 6:6). But the people could not write on their hearts like they could write on their doorposts. And at this time the Holy Spirit, the only changer of hearts, was not yet given to believers. Now, however, the Spirit writes God’s law in the minds and hearts of those who belong to Him. In the New Covenant true worship is internal, not external, real, not ritual (cf. Ezek. 11:19-20, 36:26-27; John 14:17).

(Ezekiel 11:19-20 NIV)  I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. {20} Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

(Ezekiel 36:26-27 NIV)  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. {27} And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Strong statements of the apostle of love

(1 John 2:9-11 NIV)  Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. {10} Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. {11} But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

(1 John 3:18 NIV)  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

(1 John 4:16 NIV)  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

(1 John 4:20-21 NIV)  If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. {21} And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

What makes life worth living? Love does. Paul contrasts love here with certain things that were highly regarded in Corinth and are still highly regarded in the world today. The first is the ability to communicate.

These Corinthians valued communication. They enjoyed eloquence; they admired oratory. They were especially entranced by the gift of tongues, the ability to speak in languages that had never been learned, which had been given among them, but which by the power of the Spirit enabled person to pray and praise God. They were making much of this gift, as many are today, so Paul begins on that note. He says,  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. {1 Cor 13:1 RSV} just a big noise maker, that is all. There is no suggestion in this that the gift of glossolalia — which is speaking in tongues — is identical to what Paul refers to as “the tongues of angels.” I know people today who claim that the gift of tongues enables you to speak with the tongues of angels, but Paul does not say that at all.

In fact, it is a pure, arbitrary assumption on the part of anybody that the gift of tongues constitutes the tongues of angels. Angels do communicate, but we do not know how. Nothing is said about it in the Bible. This is the only reference in all the Scriptures to the tongues of angels. All Paul is saying is that to be a loving person is more important than to be able to speak in all the languages of earth or heaven.

Therefore, it is essential to learn to love. Communication without love is a useless thing. Then he compares love to two other qualities that are admired both in Corinth and today in our age as well: Power to know and to do.

He says:  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. {1  Cor 13:2 RSV} absolutely nothing. Paul is thinking of theologians particularly, men and women with great ability to detect and understand the mysteries of the Scriptures, to unscrew the inscrutable, and to answer all Biblical questions, riddles and parables.

Everywhere I go I am always asked some of the same questions: “Why doesn’t God kill the devil?” “Where did Cain get his wife if he was the only person in the world?” (That seems to be a matter of concern to a lot of people.) “Why does God allow injustice, accidents and tragedies in our world?” These are questions flung at every Bible teacher. Now, Paul says, “If I could answer all those questions, if I could explain all those mysterious movements of God and still was not a loving person, if I was difficult, cantankerous, hard to get along with, even though I could move mountains by faith, if I lacked a loving spirit, it is all nothing.”

Finally, he takes up the matter of sacrificial zeal:

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. {1 Cor 13:3 RSV}

There are many reasons why people give away things. Sometimes they give because they are deeply concerned about certain cause or a need. They are willing to sacrifice their own possessions in order to meet that. But sometimes people give for very selfish reasons, although it appears to be a generous gift. I have known people who gave great sums of money to a cause they actually had no interest in at all, no more use for than a hog has for hip pockets, and still they gave their money.

Why? Well, because they had a selfish interest in it. Now you can do that. You can give away everything. You can impress people with tremendous willingness on your part to sacrifice, even as some have done, as we read frequently, by pouring gasoline all over their bodies and setting themselves on fire to call attention to certain cause. That is happening more and more often these days. That is a supreme sacrifice, and surely it bears eloquent testimony to the fact that those who do so believe in the cause they are espousing.

But to do that, Paul says, without having learned to love will gain nothing. At the judgment seat of Christ it is regarded as wasted effort. Love is the important thing. Nothing can underscore that fact more than these words. This is what life is all about. We are set here to learn to love, and to live without learning to love is to have wasted our time, no matter how impressive our achievements in other ways may be.

In the next section the apostle goes on to show us that love must be practical. Love is not an ethereal thing; it is not just an ideal you talk about. It is something that takes on shoe leather and moves right down into the normal, ordinary pursuits and aspects of life. That is where love is to be manifest. Nothing is more helpful, in reading a chapter like this, than to ask yourself the question. “Am I growing in love?

Looking back over a year, am I easier to live with now? Am I able to handle people more graciously, more courteously? Am I more compassionate, more patient?” These are the measurements of life. This is why we were given life, that we might learn how to act in love. Nothing else can be substituted for it. There is no use holding up any other quality we possess if we lack this one. It is the paramount goal of every human life, and it is well to measure yourself from time to time along that line.

Before looking at each verse separately, several observations should be made concerning verses 1-3. The structure of verses 1-3 is very clear, setting these three verses apart from the rest of the chapter. Each verse begins with an “if,” indicating Paul is speaking here of a hypothetical possibility.[3] To press the hypothetical dimension even further, it seems clear that Paul is using hyperbole here.[4]

The statements Paul makes in all three verses hypothetically take a particular gift to its ultimate expression. In verses 1-3, Paul takes spiritual gifts to the Super Bowl. He seeks to demonstrate that any gift, exercised to its highest level of performance, is of greatly diminished value if that gift is exercised without love. In my opinion, Paul did not intend for us to assume that any of these hypothetical possibilities were even remotely possible.

Since some look to verse 1 to find a redefinition of the gift of tongues, this would not be the most forceful example of hyperbole. Let us look then to verse 2, where Paul speaks of faith that is able to remove mountains and of the gift of prophecy such that Paul can know all things. These words are written by the greatest apostle of all times. Few would dare to claim greater knowledge and revelation than Paul. And yet Paul goes on to say that we “know in part, and we prophesy in part” (verse 9). “That which is perfect”—knowing fully—will not come until Christ comes, and then we shall “know fully” (verse 12).

In verses 1-3, Paul speaks in the first person: “If I … .” There is not the accusatory “you” which there most certainly could have been. The gifts Paul selects are the greatest gifts, whether by the perception of the Corinthians (tongues), or in truth (prophecy, faith). It seems safe to say that all of the gifts Paul mentions in verses 1-3 are gifts Paul actually did possess and, to a degree, which far surpassed any of the Corinthian believers (see, for example, 14:18). Paul writes in the light of his own giftedness and points to the necessity of love for his gifts to be of benefit to others or to himself.

In these first three verses of chapter 13, a different time frame seems to be in view in each verse. In verse 1, Paul says, “I have become … .”[5] In verse 2, he says, “I am … .” In verse 3, he writes, “it profits me nothing.” In verse 1, Paul seems to suggest that in living a loveless life, I become less than I was. The Corinthians are not the better for their lack of love; they are the worse. Worse yet, they are becoming something vastly inferior to what they once were. In verse 2, Paul speaks of a loveless saint in terms of his present state—“I am nothing.” In verse 3, Paul looks to future rewards for one’s sacrificial service. Seemingly great acts of sacrifice may win man’s approval, but they will not win us God’s approval. Love is essential for eternal rewards.

Paul takes what are considered to be the greatest gifts anyone could possess, starting with tongues (the “ultimate gift” for the Corinthians), and grants that each could be exercised to the fullest possible extent. Even then, these spiritual gifts would be of limited value unless exercised out of a heart of love.

Love: the great importance of love. Unequivocally, the decree is pronounced; the judgment is given; the verdict is declared:

⇒ the superior quality of life is love; it is not gifts.

⇒ the most excellent way to live and serve is to possess and share love; it is not gifts.

The contrast between love and gifts is vivid. Three verdicts are declared and the verdicts stress with resounding force the great superiority of love.

  1. Verdict one: tongues without love are meaningless.

⇒           The “tongues of men” probably means all the languages of men (cp. Acts 2:4-13).

⇒           The “tongues of men” probably means the heavenly language or the spiritual gift of an ecstatic utterance given by the Holy Spirit of God.

⇒           “Sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal” do not mean the sound of musical instruments but the tinkling together of either small cymbals or the clashing and banging together of large cymbals by untrained persons.

In verse 1, Paul first turns to the gift of tongues. Here is the gift at least some of the Corinthians prize most. Tongues is the ability to speak in unlearned earthly languages as seen in Acts 2. To the Corinthians, the ultimate in tongues was to be able to speak in a language which was not earthly. And so Paul grants the hypothetical though unreal possibility that one could speak every human language, and even in the tongue of angels.[6]

But, Paul declares, if this were done apart from love, it would not be profitable to men: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Gongs and cymbals do have something in common, for they are at their best when employed in concert with other instruments. Cymbals are not “solo instruments”; they sound good only in the context of a musical piece along with many other instruments. I must confess, however, I played the trumpet probably because it was a solo instrument. I struggled to obtain first chair in band because I wanted to play the melody line and not a harmony part. Cymbals were not for me, because I wanted to be able to play alone and not be confined to a band or orchestra.

Can you imagine listening to a cymbal or a gong hour after hour? Some instruments are not good alone. Rather than being enjoyable, they can be irritating.

A tongues speaker without love could speak long and loud, enraptured by the sound of his own voice, but apart from interpretation, there would be no value to those who hear or even to the speaker (see 14:14-17). Exercised in love, and in accordance with the restrictions set down by Paul, tongues could be edifying. But without love, tongues would be irritating. I can just see brother or sister Jones standing up in the church meeting, as they did every meeting, and the whole church knowing what is about to happen. Eyes roll, and people silently mutter to themselves, “Oh, no, not again!”

What has been said in verse 1 in terms of the gift of tongues can be said for any other gift as well. Any gift exercised primarily for the benefit of the one who is gifted is a prostitution of that gift, and the end result of that kind of “ministry” is not edification but exasperation. Love seeks to serve others to their benefit and at the sacrifice of the one who serves in love. This kind of ministry blesses others. Self-serving, self-promoting ministry is a pain to others, something to be endured at best.

A person can possess the gift and ability to speak and share Christ in all the languages of the world, but if he does not have love, he becomes only a clanging and tinkling noise. His speech is meaningless.

A person can possess the spiritual gift of tongues, that is, speak in the heavenly languages of angels; but if he does not have love, he becomes only a clanging and tinkling noise. His heavenly, angelic language is meaningless.

Note the phrase “he becomes.” This is a crucial point: the gifted person’s speech is not only meaningless, the person himself becomes meaningless. He becomes useless in his life and ministry for Christ. Love is far more superior than the gift of tongues.

  1. Verdict two: gifts without love are nothing. Three particular gifts are contrasted with love.
  2. There is the gift of prophecy. A person may have the gift of speaking under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, both predicting the future and proclaiming the truth of God’s Word. He may possess all the charisma, stature, eloquence, and descriptive language in the world; but if he does not have love, he is nothing. Not only is his gift of prophecy nothing, but he is nothing.

There is always the danger of feeling and acting superior because of one’s prophetic gifts and eloquence. It is possible to long for souls and to preach the glories of heaven and the tragedy of hell with an attitude and a tone that one is better than others.

In verse 2, Paul turns to the two vitally important gifts of prophecy and faith. “And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

In the first verse, the gift of tongues is selected by the apostle Paul. There he focuses on the benefit of the ultimate gift of tongues for others—when exercised without love. Now Paul turns to the gift of prophecy and its personal benefits to himself—if exercised apart from love. The gift of prophecy, as described here, is the ability to know mysteries and to gain knowledge. Prophecy is the divine ability to know what we would not be able to know apart from divine revelation. In the Bible, a mystery is a truth which is at least partially revealed, but which is not understood.

According to Paul, the meaning of marriage was a mystery. Now we know that the truth about Christ’s union with His church is illustrated by a Christian marriage (see Ephesians 5:22-33). Old Testament saints were saved by faith, and they worshiped God, but they did not think of themselves as one with God, through Jesus Christ. The union of Jews and Gentiles in the church was also a mystery in the Old Testament. Passages spoke of the Gentiles as recipients of divine grace, but no Jew fully understood the truth which Paul revealed in Ephesians 2. Gentiles and Jews are brought together in Christ as “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15-18).

Prophecy is the ability to receive knowledge from God by divine revelation, and it explains those matters which were formerly mysteries, even to the saints. Carried to its ultimate possibility, the gift of prophecy would enable one to know all knowledge and to understand every mystery. Even if this could be the case, such a gift of prophecy without love would contribute nothing to the one possessing the gift. The Corinthians wrongly measured their own significance by the gifts they possessed. Were this false assumption granted even for a moment, Paul shows that without love, the greatest gift, exercised to the fullest measure, really makes one a nobody.

Do we not see the truth of verse 2 in the Old Testament? Look at Jonah, the prophet. He enjoyed the kind of “success” of which the prophet Elijah could only dream. Elijah wanted to convert a nation, the nation Israel. He “failed” because this was not God’s purpose for him. So, too, Isaiah “failed” by secular standards of success. But when Jonah preached, the entire city of Nineveh repented. It was a success Jonah did not want. It was a success that made Jonah angry with God. Who could leave the Book of Jonah liking this loveless prophet? He was nothing because he lacked love. Other prophets, like Balaam, also come to mind.

  1. There is the gift of understanding “all mysteries and all knowledge”—the sum total of all that God has ever revealed and of all that man has ever learned, discovered, and developed. Just imagine! A person possessing all the knowledge in the world! Yet if he does not have love, he would be nothing! Not only would his understanding and knowledge be nothing, he would be nothing.

The danger is looking down upon others, of feeling that one is more knowledgeable or better equipped than others. A coolness or detachment or aloofness often characterizes such a person.

  1. There is the gift of faith, that is, the very special gift of faith that is given by the Holy Spirit to remove mountains and to do great and miraculous things for God. Note the word “all”. Imagine a person possessing “all faith”; yet, if he did not possess love, he would be nothing.

In addition to the gift of prophecy, Paul speaks of the gift of faith. Faith, exercised to the ultimate measure of success, would be a faith that could not only move mountains but remove them (compare Matthew 17:20; 21:21). If one had this kind of faith, yet lacked love, he would be a nobody. If I possess the greatest of gifts and exercise them to the fullest degree, yet without love, I am nobody. I am nothing. These words must have struck the Corinthians with considerable force.

The danger is spiritual superiority, an overblown sense of importance. A person with the gift of faith can easily hurt others by speaking openly of their great faith. They can easily make others feel inferior and of less importance to God.

  1. Verdict three: giving without love profits nothing. Two phenomenal illustrations are given.
  2. There is the illustration of selling and giving everything that a person has. Imagine giving everything—“bestowing all my goods to feed the poor”—yet, if I have not love, it profits me nothing.

In verse 3, Paul speaks of gifts in terms of the greatest imaginable sacrifice. “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” Quite frankly, I do not have a clue what gifts Paul refers to in verse 3, and I do not think it matters. He is surely speaking of great personal sacrifice, the appearance of which would gain one much favor and approval by his peers (compare Matthew 6:2-4). The ultimate sacrifice is made, either by giving up all of one’s possessions for the sake of the poor, or by the giving up of one’s life as a martyr. Because love is sacrificial (see Ephesians 5:25), some might be tempted to conclude that “great sacrifice” (giving up all one’s possessions or one’s life) was proof of great love.

Paul does not grant this assumption. People give away their possessions for any number of reasons, and many of those reasons can be self-serving rather than sacrificial. For example, I may leave all my wealth to a charitable organization, but I cannot take my money with me anyway. I might even do this to spite my children and deprive them of any inheritance. People have set themselves on fire, and I have yet to read of one instance in which love was clearly the motive. Ultimate sacrifices can be made apart from love, and if they are loveless, they are of no eternal benefit to the one making the sacrifice.

There are several dangers in giving. There are dangers of:

⇒           giving out of duty.

⇒           giving with contempt because one is forced to give.

⇒           giving with an air of superiority because one has and the needy do not have.

⇒           giving with a rebuke because one feels the needy are just irresponsible and ought to make their own way in life.

⇒           giving unsacrificially.

  1. There is the illustration of martyrdom, the most terrible martyrdom of all—of being burned alive at the stake. Yet, if a person does not have love, his martyrdom profits him nothing. He dies in vain. There is always the danger of counting martyrdom as a thing of glory and of pride, as something to show one’s commitment to a cause. If a believer is ever called upon to die as a martyr, he is to die only out of love for Christ and for his fellow man.

 

Why is it so difficult to cultivate God-like love in our culture?
Just as the demands of the market-driven economy force farmers to mass-produce the waxy imitations of real tomatoes, the forces of our culture are hostile to the cultivation of real love. It is no wonder that the love of God comes to us a something unfamiliar – we are not used to seeing it even in its natural habitat. Don’t misunderstand, God’s love is enduring, but the cultivation of God-like, fruit of the spirit love in our lives and even more so in our church (our life together) is hindered by certain “pests” that may allow us to produce the imitation or just a big green leafy plant, but if we don’t overcome these hostile cultural elements our garden will not grow …

  1. Our culture promotes self-interest.The economic system of our culture is an incredible power to deal with. Think about all the coverage of the hurricanes. What is one of the primary concerns – gas prices! And how is it reported? It will hurt us!
    • We are encouraged to think of ourselves as self-interested parties in the marketplace. We all have to “do” for ourselves. The customer is always right, we are consumers looking for the best service (and we even carry this over into our non-marketplace relationships such as school, church, family.) The power that shapes our relationships in these other arenas is the power of self-interest. Can we recognize how toxic this is to the cultivation of God’s love? It is a dangerous blight that corrupts the growth of the fruit of the spirit.
  2. Putting a price on everything and everyone.Value is calculated in terms of money. Isn’t it interesting that there are so many ways to measure a hurricane? Category, intensity, strength, and monetary destruction. (The most intense hurricane in the Atlantic was an unnamed Cat 5 that breezed thru the Florida Keys in 1935. But of the top ten costliest hurricanes only one was a Cat 5 at landfall and most of the costly hurricanes have occurred in the last 15 years. What does this say to us about our tendency to put a price tag on everything?) Our price-tag culture tries to convince us that everything is for sale: (food, clothing, knowledge, insights, entertainment, sex, affection, loyalty)
    • In Sept 1999 someone offered to sell his own kidney on eBay. Bidding started at 2.5 million and was up to 5.75 million before eBay ended the auction.
  3. We equate worth with money.What one is worth is valued in terms of financial power. Assets or earning potential. Career choices are made in terms of economics rather than calling. How many young people have been persuaded not to be teachers, artists, or missionaries because the work does not pay and it is hard to support a family? Churches are guilty of this as well when they equate status in the church with wealth. James warns us very sharply about showing favoritism of any sort based on finances or economics.
  4. Our culture contracts relationships.Since ancient times, relationships have been contracted. When Paul addresses households he uses an ancient form that lays out the obligations of husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves. Relationships between these pairs were contracted. Marriage wasn’t always about love, it was about business. Children were an asset to achieve power and wealth. And slavery was seen as a necessity. In our culture we have moved beyond overt slavery. But we still contract relationships. We have quid pro quo relationships that are arranged for mutual benefit. But what happens when the benefit if no longer there or no longer mutual.
  • We do this in churches. Consumerism is the greatest challenge to church life. Some churches are marketing their church to others. Does this cultivate love?
  • No wonder we try to contract our relationship with God. We have mistaken covenant for contract.

How can we cultivate God-like love?
Recognizing the cheap fruit and the hostile elements is only part of the process of good gardening. How can we cultivate the fruit of the spirit – how can we cultivate love?

  1. Pay attention to Others.– Consider how this alone would cultivate love – To genuinely give attention to others is to demonstrate that Christ-like quality of love that looks to the interest of others. To pay attention to others regardless of who they are will overcome boundaries that often hinder the cultivation of love. To pay attention to others teaches us to be steadfast rather than conditional in the way we show love. To pay attention to others may encourage us to recognize how others are hurting. It is hard to pay attention to others if we are consumed with our own interests.
  2. Giving and receiving graciously.– keeps before us just how much we have received from God. Love is a gift and it can only be freely given. But it is also important to receive graciously. The only thing better than buying good garden fresh tomatoes from the farmer’s market is to get a batch of tomatoes as a gift from the abundance of a friend’s garden. Part of the goodness of enjoying a tomato is to realize that this good food is a gift from our Creator. Giving to others reminds us that we cannot put a price tag on everyone and everything. Receiving graciously chastens us when we think we can buy anything we want. No matter how wealthy you may be or become you cannot buy everything. No matter how many resources we acquire as a church we will always be dependent on God’s graciousness to do anything.
  3. View our stuff and time as a trust we hold for God.– The laws of old Israel concerning possessions were not simply rules to take care of religious things. They were designed to remind the people of God of the source of their stuff and their time. The aim was to encourage them to share and not abuse one another. They were to leave the corners of their fields unharvested and leave the grapes that fell on the ground. That’s poor economics because it doesn’t maximize output, but it is godliness because it provides freely for the poor and reminds those who have that what they have is a gift from God.

Your stuff and your time is something God has entrusted to you. Now will you use it to cultivate real, Christ-like, fruit of the spirit quality love, or the mass-produced, ready for transport, high-yield, waxy imitation love that is so in demand and passes for love to those who aren’t paying attention?

 

I Corinthians 13 tells us…

  1. God’s Love Is Incarnational– God entered into our world and demonstrated love in a way we could visualize – understand. We must go where young people are and where they live out their lives. This in itself will demonstrate to our young people our love for them.
  2. God’s Love Is Patient– We must not make impatient demands but allow young people to grow at their own pace.
  3. God’s Love Is Kind– We must be gentle and sensitive to the needs and hurts of young people. We must allow them to be teenagers and not demand that they be something else.
  4. God’s Love Is Not Jealous– Our supreme concern must be for our young people’s growth and not that they just attend our youth program or our activities.
  5. God’s Love Does Not Brag and Is Not Arrogant– We must not spend our energies building up ourselves, but remember that servanthood is making the other person successful.
  6. God’s Love Does Not Act Unbecomingly– We are not to try to act like teenagers. Teens do not want leaders who act like them, but leaders who act like leaders.
  7. God’s Love Does Not Seek Its Own– Our desire must be to put others first. If we cannot do this then we cannot expect our young people to do it either.
  8. God’s Love Is Not Provoked– At times this becomes a great difficulty, but we must learn as the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 2. He stated that in every disappointment he learned to use that situation to reaffirm love for the person who disappoints him.
  9. God’s Love Does Not Take Into Account a Wrong Suffered– Jesus suffered much wrong and rejection and we, too, must be willing to experience that same suffering.
  10. God’s Love Rejoices With the Truth– Our young people will easily see our values by what we get most excited about.
  11. God’s Love Bears and Believes All Things– We must expect the best and see people as God sees people – for the potential they can become with Christ’s help.
  12. God’s Love Hopes All Things– We need to memorize Philippians 4:8 and recite it daily to ourselves.
  13. God’s Love Endures All Things– Many heartaches will come our way, and the desire to give up and quit will often pass through our minds. But God’s love for us endures even our shortcomings. How can we do any less’

Sonlife Strategy, MBI, 1983, p. 10

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 610.

[2] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 117–119.

[3] After what I have said previously, I feel guilty pointing out this is a third condition clause in the Greek text, which means that the outcome is not assumed and that a hypothetical statement is being made.

[4] Hyperbole is a form of literary exaggeration, used to emphasize a point, but in such a way that the reader recognizes it as such.

[5] I was pondering the expression “I have become …” when I came across this statement by Carson: ‘I have become only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal’—as if my action of speaking in tongues without love has left a permanent effect on me that has diminished my value and transformed me into something I should not be.”  Carson,  p.  59.

[6] I never really thought about this before, but it would seem necessary for angels to speak in some language.  Since earthly languages were confused at Babel (see Genesis 11:1-9), we would not expect angels to be speaking in any human language.  There must actually be an angel language by which they communicate one with the other.  This is not to say that angels are not able to speak human languages, for they often communicated with men in the Bible.  Even if it were not a human language, an angelic language would be a language, and not the mindless repetition of mere syllables.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2023 in 1 Corinthians

 

A study of God’s Love from 1 Corinthians #13 – Love is Patient 1 Corinthians 13:4


The previous passage (vv. 1-3) focuses on the emptiness produced when love is absent. In verses 4-5 we find the most comprehensive biblical description of the fullness of love. Paul declines giving a technical definition of love; instead, he provides us with a description of love, one especially pertinent to the Corinthians.

The first two statements describing love in verse 4 are general. Paul then advances to things not characteristic of love. These just happen to be some of the characteristics of the Corinthian saints.

Finally, Paul concludes in verse 7 with four characteristics of love, none of which are selective or partial. The Corinthians’ conduct in these areas was partial and incomplete. And so in these four verses, we learn what love is like, and we also learn that the Corinthians are seriously lacking in love.

Paul shines love through a prism and we see 15 of its colors and hues, the spectrum of love. Each ray gives a facet, a property, of agapē love.

Unlike most English translations, which include several adjectives, the Greek forms of all those properties are verbs. They do not focus on what love is so much as on what love does and does not do.

  • Agapē love is active, not abstract or passive.
  • It does not simply feel patient, it practices patience.
  • It does not simply have kind feelings, it does kind things.
  • It does not simply recognize the truth, it rejoices in the truth. Love is fully love only when it acts (cf. 1 John 3:18).

The purpose of Paul’s prism is not to give a technical analysis of love, but to break it down into smaller parts so that we may more easily understand and apply its full, rich meaning. As with all of God’s Word, we cannot truly begin to understand love until we begin to apply it in our lives. Paul’s primary purpose here is not simply to instruct the Corinthians but to change their living habits. He wanted them carefully and honestly to measure their lives against those characteristics of love.

To change the metaphor, Paul is painting a portrait of love, and Jesus Christ is sitting for the portrait. He lived out in perfection all of these virtues of love. This beautiful picture of love is a portrait of Him

Because love is so important among the believers, Paul went on to describe that love in more detail. How does such love look when lived out in the lives of believers? First of all, love is patient. The expression “is patient” (makrothumei) is the opposite of being short-tempered. Patience (sometimes translated “long-suffering” or “slow to anger”) is an attribute of God (see Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 3:20). In many places, God’s people are called upon to be patient (see, for example, Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). Patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

What does patient love among believers look like? Such love bears with certain annoyances or inconveniences without complaint. Such love does not lose its temper when provoked. Such love steadily perseveres. Without love, no matter how wonderful the gifts in the church, people will be impatient with one another, short-tempered, and irritable.[1]

The word is common in the New Testament and is used almost exclusively of being patient with people, rather than with circumstances or events. Love’s patience is the ability to be inconvenienced or taken advantage of by a person over and over again and yet not be upset or angry. Chrysostom, the early church Father, said, “It is a word which is used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in his power to avenge himself but will never do it.” Patience never retaliates.

Like agapē love itself, the patience spoken of in the New Testament was a virtue only among Christians. In the Greek world self-sacrificing love and nonavenging patience were considered weaknesses, unworthy of the noble man or woman. Aristotle, for example, taught that the great Greek virtue was refusal to tolerate insult or injury and to strike back in retaliation for the slightest offense. Vengeance was a virtue. The world has always tended to make heroes of those who fight back, who stand up for their welfare and rights above all else.

But love, God’s love, is the very opposite. Its primary concern is for the welfare of others, not itself, and it is much more willing to be taken advantage of than to take advantage, much less to avenge. Love does not retaliate. The Christian who acts like Christ never takes revenge for being hurt or insulted or abused. He refuses to “pay back evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17), but if he is slapped on the right cheek, he will turn the left (Matt. 5:39).

Paul said that patience was a characteristic of his own heart (2 Cor. 6:6) and should characterize every Christian (Eph. 4:2). Stephen’s last words were ones of patient forgiveness: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60). As he lay dying under the painful, crushing blows of the stones, his concern was for his murderers rather than for himself. He was long-tempered, patient to the absolute extreme.

The supreme example of patience, of course, is God Himself. It is God’s patient love that prevents the world from being destroyed. It is His patience and long-suffering that allows time for men to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9). As He was dying on the cross, rejected by those He had come to save, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Robert Ingersoll, the well-known atheist of the last century, often would stop in the middle of his lectures against God and say, “I’ll give God five minutes to strike me dead for the things I’ve said.” He then used the fact that he was not struck dead as proof that God did not exist. Theodore Parker said of Ingersoll’s claim, “And did the gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of the eternal God in five minutes?”

Since Adam and Eve first disobeyed Him, God has been continually wronged and rejected by those He made in His own image. He was rejected and scorned by His chosen people, through whom he gave the revelation of His Word, “the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). Yet through the thousands of years, the eternal God has been eternally long-suffering. If the holy Creator is so infinitely patient with His rebellious creatures, how much more should His unholy creatures be patient with each other?

One of Abraham Lincoln’s earliest political enemies was Edwin M. Stanton. He called Lincoln a “low cunning clown” and “the original gorilla.” “It was ridiculous for people to go to Africa to see a gorilla,” he would say, “when they could find one easily in Springfield, Illinois.” Lincoln never responded to the slander, but when, as president, he needed a secretary of war, he chose Stanton. When his incredulous friends asked why, Lincoln replied, “Because he is the best man.” Years later, as the slain president’s body lay in state, Stanton looked into the coffin and said through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” His animosity was finally broken by Lincoln’s long-suffering, nonretaliatory spirit. Patient love won out.[2]

Love “suffers long” (makrothumei): is patient with people. Love suffers a long, long time..

∙ no matter the evil and injury done by a person.

∙ no matter the neglect or ignoring by a loved one.

Love suffers a long, long time without resentment, anger, or seeking revenge. Love controls itself in order to win the person and to help him to live, work, and serve as he should.

The Greek word (makrothumein) used in the New Testament always describes patience with people and not patience with circumstances.

It is the word used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in his power to avenge himself and who yet will not do it.  It describes the man who is slow to anger and it is used of God himself in his relationship with men.

Chrysostom said that it is the word used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in his power to avenge himself and who yet will not do it.  It describes the man who is slow to anger and it is used of God himself in his relationship with men.  In our dealings with men, however refractory and however unkind and hurting they are, we must exercise the same patience as God exercises with us.  Such patience is not the sign of weakness but the sign of strength; it is not defeatism but rather the only way to victory.

Fosdick points out that no one treated Lincoln with more contempt than did Stanton.  He called him “a low cunning clown”, he nicknamed him “the original gorilla” and said that Du Chaillu was a fool to wander about Africa trying to capture a gorilla when he could have found one so easily at Springfield, Illinois.  Lincoln said nothing.  He made Stanton his war minister because he was the best man for the job and he treated him with every courtesy.  The years wore on.  The night came when the assassin’s bullet murdered Lincoln in the theatre.  In the little room to which the President’s body was taken stood that same Stanton, and, looking down on Lincoln’s silent face, he said through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.”  The patience of love had conquered in the end.

In our dealings with men, however refractory and however unkind and hurting they are, we must exercise the same patience as God exercises with us.  Such patience is not the sign of weakness but the sign of strength; it is not defeatism but rather the only way to victory.

Impatience still imprisons the soul. For that reason, our God is quick to help us avoid it. He does more than demand patience from us; he offers it to us. Patience is a fruit of his Spirit. It hangs from the tree of Galatians 5:22 : “The Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience.”

Have you asked God to give you some fruit? Well I did once, but … But what? Did you, h’m, grow impatient? Ask him again and again and again. He won’t grow impatient with your pleading, and you will receive patience in your praying.

And while you’re praying, ask for understanding. “Patient people have great understanding” ( Prov. 14:29 ). Could it be your impatience stems from a lack of understanding? Mine has.

Sometime ago one of our members complained after services because of a distraction during the Sunday morning worship. Two people were mumbling to each other, it seemed. Because I knew the situation, I was able to offer a quick and adequate explanation: “Forgive them,” I said. “I need to explain that one of the people is a new Christian and doesn’t speak much English, so the message is being translated.”

Something similar occurred here: a young man was wearing a baseball cap during the Sunday morning class…one of the members commented on it to me after class ended. I explained calmly that the person had just concluded chemotherapy and was conscious of the fact that he’d lost most of his hair. To that person’s credit, there was quick retreat from his words and thoughts.

All of a sudden everything changed. Patience replaced impatience. Why? Because patience always hitches a ride with understanding. The wise man says, “A man of understanding holds his tongue” ( Prov. 11:12 niv ).

He also says, “A man of understanding is even-tempered” (Prov. 17:27 niv ). Don’t miss the connection between understanding and patience. Before you blow up, listen up.

Before you strike out, tune in. “It takes wisdom to have a good family, and it takes understanding to make it strong” (Prov. 24:3 ).

Before anything else, love is patient. May I urge you to do the sa

me?  “God is being patient with you” ( 2 Pet. 3:9 ). And if God is being patient with you, can’t you pass on some patience to others? Of course you can. Because before love is anything else: Love is patient.

Fosdick points out that no one treated Lincoln with more contempt than did Stanton.  He called him “a low cunning clown”, he nicknamed him “the original gorilla” and said that Du Chaillu was a fool to wander about Africa trying to capture a gorilla when he could have found one so easily at Springfield, Illinois.  Lincoln said nothing.  He made Stanton his war minister because he was the best man for the job and he treated him with every courtesy.  The years wore on.  The night came when the assassin’s bullet murdered Lincoln in the theatre.  In the little room to which the President’s body was taken stood that same Stanton, and, looking down on Lincoln’s silent face, he said through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.”  The patience of love had conquered in the end.

We should not be surprised to find that God is described by the term “longsuffering”:

6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth (Exodus 34:6).

4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22)

16 And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life (1 Timothy 1:16).

20 Who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water (1 Peter 3:20).

9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. … 15 and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you (2 Peter 3:9, 15).

Years ago a man preparing for the ministry shared with me a bit of advice someone had given him: “Brother,” he said, “if you’re going to minister in these circles, you’d better have rhinoceros hide.” He was right. We do need to be thick-skinned when it comes to the hurts others impose on us. Christians are so thin-skinned and touchy they fall apart at a raised eyebrow. Let’s get tough, so we can suffer long at the hands of others and thereby demonstrate Christian love.

The word “abuse” is one of the great “excuse” words of our day. Let me be very clear that there are certain kinds of abuse no one should put up with, such as sexual abuse. However, the categories of abuse seem to multiply daily. For example, there is verbal abuse and mental abuse. But now, Christians seem to think that whenever the “abuse” word arises, every Scriptural command is put into a different category, one which does not apply. Turning the other cheek is out because that would be tolerating physical abuse.

And yet Peter speaks of our Lord’s silent enduring of verbal abuse as a pattern for all Christians (1 Peter 2:18-25). On and on it goes, but somewhere Christians must make up their minds to suffer at least certain kinds of abuse from others. In a day when our individual rights seem to have the highest level of priority, longsuffering does not seem to be a very popular characteristic, and yet it is one of two terms Paul uses to sum up the conduct of love.

The Greek word used here for patience is a descriptive one. It figuratively means “taking a long time to boil.” Think about a pot of boiling water. What factors determine the speed at which it boils? The size of the stove? No. The pot? The utensil may have an influence, but the primary factor is the intensity of the flame. Water boils quickly when the flame is high. It boils slowly when the flame is low. Patience “keeps the burner down.”

Helpful clarification, don’t you think? Patience isn’t naive. It doesn’t ignore misbehavior. It just keeps the flame low. It waits. It listens. It’s slow to boil. This is how God treats us. And, according to Jesus, this is how we should treat others.

Paul said that patience was a characteristic of his own heart (2 Cor. 6:6) and should characterize every Christian (Eph. 4:2). Stephen’s last words were ones of patient forgiveness: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60). As he lay dying under the painful, crushing blows of the stones, his concern was for his murderers rather than for himself. He was long-tempered, patient to the absolute extreme.

The supreme example of patience, of course, is God Himself. It is God’s patient love that prevents the world from being destroyed. It is His patience and long-suffering that allows time for men to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9). As He was dying on the cross, rejected by those He had come to save, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Robert Ingersoll, the well-known atheist of the last century, often would stop in the middle of his lectures against God and say, “I’ll give God five minutes to strike me dead for the things I’ve said.” He then used the fact that he was not struck dead as proof that God did not exist. Theodore Parker said of Ingersoll’s claim, “And did the gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of the eternal God in five minutes?”

He once told a parable about a king who decides to settle his accounts with his debtors. His bookkeeper surfaces a fellow who owes not thousands or hundreds of thousands but millions of dollars. The king summarily declares that the man and his wife and kids are to be sold to pay the debt. Because of his inability to pay, the man is about to lose everything and everyone dear to him. No wonder

the man fell down before the king and begged him, “Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.” Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. ( Matt. 18:26–27 nlt, emphasis mine)

The word patience makes a surprise appearance here. The debtor does not plead for mercy or forgiveness; he pleads for patience. Equally curious is this singular appearance of the word. Jesus uses it twice in this story and never again. It appears nowhere else in the Gospels. Perhaps the scarce usage is the first-century equivalent of a highlighter. Jesus reserves the word for one occasion to make one point. Patience is more than a virtue for long lines and slow waiters.

Patience is the red carpet upon which God’s grace approaches us.

Had there been no patience, there would have been no mercy. But the king was patient, and the man with the multimillion-dollar debt was forgiven.

But then the story takes a left turn. The freshly forgiven fellow makes a beeline from the courthouse to the suburbs. There he searches out a guy who owes him some money.

But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. “Be patient and I will pay it,” he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full. (vv. 28–30 nlt , emphasis mine)

The king is stunned. How could the man be so impatient? How dare the man be so impatient! The ink of the CANCELED stamp is still moist on the man’s bills. Wouldn’t you expect a little Mother Teresa–ness out of him? You’d think that a person who’d been forgiven so much would love much. But he didn’t. And his lack of love led to a costly mistake.

The unforgiving servant is called back to the castle.

“You evil servant!” [the king, a.k.a. God, declares.] “I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny. ( Matt. 18:32–34 nlt )

The king’s patience made no difference in the man’s life. To the servant, throne-room mercy was nothing more than a canceled test, a dodged bullet, a get-out-of-jail-free card. He wasn’t stunned by the royal grace; he was relieved he hadn’t been punished. He was given much patience but gave none, which makes us wonder if he actually understood the gift he had received.

If you find patience hard to give, you might ask the same question. How infiltrated are you with God’s patience? You’ve heard about it. Read about it. Perhaps underlined Bible passages regarding it. But have you received it? The proof is in your patience. Patience deeply received results in patience freely offered.

But patience never received leads to an abundance of problems, not the least of which is prison. Remember where the king sent the unforgiving servant? “Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny” ( Matt. 18:34 nlt).

Whew! we sigh. Glad that story is a parable. It’s a good thing God doesn’t imprison the impatient in real life. Don’t be so sure he doesn’t. Self-absorption and ingratitude make for thick walls and lonely jails.

What is given in these four verses is not a long, dry, methodical definition of love. On the contrary, the very acts of love are given—the very behavior of a person, the very way a person is to live among and with others. In living and moving among others in the world, a person is to love, and this is what loving others means.

Maybe you didn’t know God did that for us. Maybe no one has told you about “God’s … patience and willingness to put up with you” ( Rom. 2:4 cev ). Could be you dozed off the day the minister read Psalm 103:8 : “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” ( niv ).

If so, no wonder you’ve been edgy. No wonder you’ve been impatient. Bankruptcy can put the best of us in a foul mood. You know what you need to do?

Those thousand sunsets you never thanked him for? He could have put you on beauty rations. But he didn’t. He was patient with you.

Those Sundays you strutted into church to show off the new dress? It’s a wonder he didn’t strike you naked. But he didn’t. He was patient.

And, oh my, those promises: “Get me out of this, and I’ll never tell another lie.” “Count on me to stand up for you from now on.” “I’m done with temper tantrums, Lord.” If broken promises were lumber, we could build a subdivision. Doesn’t God have ample reason to walk out on us?

But he doesn’t. Why? Because “God is being patient with you” ( 2 Pet. 3:9 ).

Paul presents patience as the premiere expression of love. Positioned at the head of the apostle’s Love Armada—a boat-length or two in front of kindness, courtesy, and forgiveness—is the flagship known as patience. “Love is patient” ( 1 Cor. 13:4 ).

The King James Version renders it “suffereth long” (“suffers long,” NKJV). W. E. Vine indicates that longsuffering is the most frequent meaning of the term in the Bible, and he distinguishes “longsuffering” from “patience” in this way:

  • Longsuffering is that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish; it is the opposite of anger, and is associated with mercy, and is used of God, Ex. 34:6 (Sept.); Rom. 2:4; 1 Pet. 3:20.
  • Patience is the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial; it is the opposite of despondency and is associated with hope, 1 Thessalonians 1:3; it is not used of God.174

Leon Morris adds this comment: “First, love is long-suffering. The word Paul uses indicates having patience with people rather than with circumstances (as William Barclay notes). In fact, Paul’s word is the opposite of ‘short-tempered,’ it means—if we may invent a word—‘long-tempered.’”175

In his commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:4, Matthew Henry says of the term longsuffering:

It can endure evil, injury, and provocation, without being filled with resentment, indignation, or revenge. It makes the mind firm, gives it power over the angry passions, and furnishes it with a persevering patience, that shall rather wait and wish for the reformation of a brother than fly out in resentment of his conduct. It will put up with many slights and neglects from the person it loves, and wait long to see the kindly effects of such patience on him.176

David exemplifies longsuffering. King Saul persistently seeks to kill David, once he knows he will someday replace him as king of Israel. David not only endures this persecution graciously, refusing to take the king’s life when given the chance, he actively seeks to do good to Saul. David is both longsuffering and kind.

For the Christian, longsuffering is not optional. Longsuffering is named as one of the “fruits of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). We are commanded to be “patient” or to manifest “longsuffering” toward others:

2 With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).

14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

The Corinthians must have cringed as they read these words since they clearly fell far short of what God required of them regarding longsuffering. The Corinthians found it unbearable to wait for those who could not arrive before they started to eat the meal at the church’s weekly gathering. Paul had to command them to wait for one another. Had love been present in Corinth, it would have prompted them to wait (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). And when one Corinthian Christian irritated another, the response was, “I’ll see you in court!” (see chapter 6). This is not patience!

Before we begin to feel too smug, we are not doing all that well either. Christians in our part of the world are not inclined to endure ill-treatment from anyone. How often do you hear, “I wouldn’t put up with that!” Putting up with ill treatment is what longsuffering is all about. We are to put up with one another: “Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:13). We should silently endure ill treatment from unbelievers and believers alike, even as our Lord did (1 Peter 2:18ff.; see also Matthew 17:17; Acts 13:18). Let us not forget all that Paul put up with from the Corinthians (see 4:6-21).

James Dobson wrote a book on the subject of “tough love,” an expression I hear often these days. Certainly there is a need for tough love in the sense that we must “get tough” with those whom we love, like our children and other family members. I would suggest we also need another kind of tough love. We personally need the kind of love which makes us tough enough to handle the grief others give us.

Love’s patience is the ability to be inconvenienced or taken advantage of by a person over and over again and yet not be upset or angry Chrysostom, the early church Father, said, “It is a word which is used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in his power to avenge himself but will never do it.” Patience never retaliates.

Like love itself, the patience spoken of in the New Testament was a virtue only among Christians. In the Greek world self-sacrificing love and nonavenging patience were considered weaknesses, unworthy of the noble man or woman.

Aristotle, for example, taught that the great Greek virtue was refusal to tolerate insult or injury and to strike back in retaliation for the slightest offense. Vengeance was a virtue. The world has always tended to make heroes of those who fight back, who stand up for their welfare and rights above all else.

But love, God’s love, is the very opposite. Its primary concern is for the welfare of others, not itself, and it is much more willing to be taken advantage of than to take advantage, much less to avenge. Love does not retaliate. The  Christian who acts like Christ never takes revenge for being hurt or insulted or abused. He refuses to “pay back evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17), but if he is slapped on the right cheek, he will turn the left (Matt. 5:39).

Since Adam and Eve first disobeyed Him, God has been continually wronged and rejected by those He made in His own image. He was rejected and scorned by His chosen people, through whom he gave the revelation of His Word, “the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). Yet through the thousands of years, the eternal God has been eternally long-suffering. If the holy Creator is so infinitely patient with His rebellious creatures, how much more should His unholy creatures be patient with each other?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” (Galatians 5:22).

“Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (Col. 1:11).

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).

1) Patience is a duty

We need to make this point clear because in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul is basically descriptive versus being imperative. “Take a look,” he says, “here is what love is, this is what it looks like.” The idea of duty stems from the fact that Paul’s whole point in this chapter is to show us an excellent pathway for our footsteps. This is the narrow way that Christ spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount. The excellence of love is the way to obtaining the gifts and using them.

Description serves to map out the duties of love. Here is what love looks like; now that is what you are to look like in your conduct. There is the pathway; now walk in that way. Description is for subscription. Knowledge is for action; all Christian learning is for obedient learning and should be pursued to that end. We should always be looking for how to improve our conduct based on what we learn from Scripture.

Thus 12:31 governs every description like an overlay. If you think of each fruit of love as a separate page, the overlay of 12:31 can be placed on each page where it adds the dimension of duty to the picture. Excellence, excellent graces, Christian virtues are placed before our eyes in all their perfection to aid us and inspire us in the way of duty.

The extreme height of this duty is not a discouragement. It is helpful to have clear goals and to know that this goal and that goal are required of me by the Lord. That He requires it is all the assurance I need to know that He will be my helper and my rock of strength.

Very specifically then, it is your duty to cultivate the Christian virtue of patience toward God. We need to have a sense of duty and diligence. It is like pondering a road map very carefully so we can travel in the right direction.

2) Patience is rooted in Christ

This answers the question, “How could Abraham show such patience toward God?

It was the fact that he fixed his gaze on the Lord Jesus. Somehow, Abraham saw the day of Christ and rejoiced (Jn. 18:56). This is interesting language when we remember that Isaac means laughter and joy. Abraham saw the greater Isaac in his son Isaac. He embraced the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ. He believed that He would be the promised offspring of Eve who would bring restoration from all the effects of the fall.

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, cultivates patience. To be patient we must fix our gaze on Him not on the stormy waters surrounding us.

3) Patience focuses on the covenant keeping God

Abraham focused on God’s righteousness, His promise, and His ability as the Sovereign Judge of the entire earth. By imitating his example, we are enabled to wait for God’s time, place, and way of fulfillment without complaining and with a calm spirit within.

Did Abraham ever see his descendents like the sand of the sea? Did he ever possess the land? Did he ever see the blessing of the nations through his son and his greater son? No. But he did come to see God and to know Him better and better. He and all the patriarchs died not having obtained the promises (Heb. 11:13). Abraham was content to have nothing of this world for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10).

This is the outlook toward the future that we should likewise cultivate. No doubt we all have things that we desire deeply and that we thought the Lord would have given to us by now in our lives (life time goals, the salvation of the unsaved, etc.). So we pray, work, long, wait, and wait still longer. He is righteous and He is able. He will keep His promises. To this end the Lord assures us by adding oath to promise (Heb. 6:16-20).

4) Patience is first and foremost a matter of love

This specific fruit of love, loving patience, is rooted in our love to Christ. It is how we love Him. We long for Him. “O Lord Jesus how long, how long, shall we shout the glad song, Christ is returning, Christ is returning, hallelujah, amen.” Love means that we will look to our God as the covenant keeping God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So we wait patiently. The key is waiting for Him to act; looking for Him to act. In other words, patience is a way of waiting with love for God because we wait for Him.

Love is Patient toward Sinners (1 Cor. 13:4)

Introduction

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.

1B. Negatively

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.

  1. 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.).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

 

Control yourself! Anger is only one letter short of danger.    — Anonymous. Men of Integrity, Vol. 2, no. 3.

My seven-year-old daughter wanted to take violin lessons, so I took her to a music store to rent an instrument.  Hoping she would understand the importance of practicing, I explained that violin lessons were expensive so she would have to work hard. “There may be times when you feel like giving up,” I said, “but I want you to hang in there and keep on trying.”

She nodded and then in her most serious voice said, “It will be just like marriage, right Mommy?”    — Debra K. Johnson, Dublin Ohio, Christian Reader, May/June 1996, p. 58.

Sixteenth-century spiritual director Francois Fenelon clarifies a confusing biblical concept:

Self-denial has its place in a Christian’s life, but God doesn’t ask you to choose what is most painful to you. If you followed this path you would soon ruin your health, reputation, business, and friendship.

Self-denial consists of bearing patiently all those things that God allows to pass into your life. If you don’t refuse anything that comes in God’s order, you are tasting of the cross of Jesus Christ. — Francois Fenelon, The Seeking Heart, (Library of Spiritual Classics), p. 24, Leadership, Vol. 21, no. 3.

PATIENCE

“Take your needle, my child, and work at your pattern; it will come out a rose by and by.” Life is like that; one stitch at a time taken patiently, and the pattern will come out all right like embroidery. Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)

A delay is better than a disaster.

A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains. Dutch Proverb

All comes at the proper time to him who knows how to wait. Saint Vincent de Paul (1581–1660)

Be patient with everyone, but above all with yourself. Saint Francis of Sales (1567–1622)

Dear God, please grant me patience. And I want it right now.

Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly; many things lie unsolved, and the biggest test of all is that God looks as if he were totally indifferent. Oswald Chambers (1874–1917)

God engineers our circumstances as he did those of his Son; all we have to do is to follow where he places us. The majority of us are busy trying to place ourselves. God alters things while we wait for him. Oswald Chambers (1874–1917)

God often permits us to be perplexed so that we may learn patience. T. J. Bach

Have patience! All things are difficult before they become easy. Persian Proverb

He that can have patience can have what he wills. Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)

How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees? William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

Never become irritable while waiting; if you are patient, you’ll find that you can wait much faster.

Never cut what you can untie. Joseph Joubert (1754–1824)

Never think that God’s delays are God’s denials. Hold on; hold fast; hold out. Patience is genius.

Comte Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1707–1788)

No one will ever know the full depth of his capacity for patience and humility as long as nothing bothers him. It is only when times are troubled and difficult that he can see how much of either is in him. Saint Francis of Assisi (c. 1181–1226)

One minute of patience, ten years of peace. Greek Proverb

One moment of patience may prevent disaster; one moment of impatience may ruin a life. Chinese Proverb

Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skill to do difficult things easily. Johann Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805)

Patience achieves more than force. Edmund Burke (1729–1797)

Patience and diligence, like faith, remove mountains. William Penn (1644–1718)

Patience has its limits. Take it too far, and it’s cowardice. George Jackson (1785–1861)

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778)

Patience is the ability to put up with people you’d like to put down. Ulrike Ruffert

Patience is the companion of wisdom. Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430)

Patience is the mother of expectation. Henri J. M. Nouwen

Patience means waiting without anxiety. Saint Francis of Sales (1567–1622)

Patience: accepting a difficult situation without giving God a deadline to remove it. Bill Gothard

Patient waiting is often the highest way of doing God’s will. Jeremy Collier (1650–1726)

Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.

Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work. Peter Marshall (1902–1949)

The Almighty is working on a great scale and will not be hustled by our peevish impetuosity. William Graham Scroggie (1877–1958)

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open.  Arnold Glasgow

The times we find ourselves having to wait on others may be the perfect opportunities to train ourselves to wait on the Lord. Joni Eareckson Tada

There is no such thing as preaching patience into people unless the sermon is so long they have to practice it while they hear. No man can learn patience except by going out into the hurly-burly world and taking life just as it blows. Patience is riding out the gale.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887)

To lie down in the time of grief, to be quiet under the stroke of adverse fortune, implies a great strength. But I know of something that implies a strength greater still. It is the power to work under stress, to continue under hardship, to have anguish in your spirit and still perform daily tasks. This is a Christlike thing. The hardest thing is that most of us are called to exercise patience, not in the sick bed, but in the street. George Matheson (1842–1906)

Wait on the Lord in prayer as you sit on the freeway, sharing with him the anxiety of so many jobs to be done in such a short time. Watch your frustrations melt into praise as you sing hymns and choruses for his ears alone. Joni Eareckson Tada

We do not obtain the most precious gifts by going in search of them but by waiting for them.

Simone Weil (1909–1943)

We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and lightning, in the cold and the dark. Wait, and he will come. He never comes to those who do not wait.

Frederick William Faber (1814–1863)

 

Why are we so impatient? (Why is it difficult to cultivate patience?)
It’s difficult to be patient isn’t in an environment that is more suited to cultivating impatience than patience.

We are a culture of the quick fix rather than the long haul. We are the product of 200 years of the modern scientific age. A lot of good has come from that. But we have picked up some bad habits too. One of the most unfortunate results of the modern age is arrogance. We have assumed that we can solves any problem and along with advances in industrialization and transportation we assume that we can fix anything now. (If anything good is coming of post-modernism, it is that the consequences of our arrogance are now convicting us to be a bit more humble).

In every area of our lives we are often committed to the quick fix. Politics: “Why haven’t we rebuilt the Gulf Coast? It’s been weeks! Why haven’t we won the war on terror? It’s been years!” Health: “Do you want to lose weight instantly? Here’s the solution …” People seek out doctors to get the quick fix for what’s wrong with them, but they don’t realize that health is often the result of how they have been caring for themselves over the long haul. Faith: “I want to grow as a Christian and I want to do it now!” God saves us instantly, but salvation lasts for eternity. Some of us want to cultivate the fruit of the spirit right now, or at the end of this season. But cultivation is a lifelong process and in an impatient culture that is intimidating, but that’s the way the world really is. When we cultivate patience we learn that the best things take time. Olive tree farmers know that. An olive tree will only start to bear fruit in its 5th or 6th year, and doesn’t reach maximum yield until it is 30 or 40 years old. When the olive growers in the Middle East plant an olive tree, they say a prayer: “God protect it and make it grow so that my children’s grandchildren will benefit from its abundance.” Once I heard a story that an olive tree farmer said that he harvests the trees his father planted and he plants the trees his son will harvest. That is patience.

We are obsessed with speed and productivity. Because of that obsession, some olive trees have been forced to yield maximum harvest in 5 to 6 years. Now think, is that so we can have better olives or is it to make more profit more quickly? Our obsession with speed and productivity is rooted in greed which is the antithesis to patience.

A few weeks ago I was in Silver Dollar City watching the knifesmith. He described our culture as a throwaway culture. That’s why his trade (which is really just a hobby for him) is no more. The way he makes knives is just for collectors and hobbyists, but it used to be for everday work. The knife smith worked in an inefficient and slow way to make a knife that would last for generations. But now knives are pressed on a machine that can turn out thousands in the time it takes the knife smith to make one. That makes the knives cheaper and easily replaceable. But are they better knives? Are they items that can be passed on to your children and maybe even grandchildren?
Our obsession with speed and productivity has put even our faith on the clock. We want to attend to all of our spiritual needs in one hour a week. And God help us the church has sometimes catered to this fixation with productivity. A church in Orange County, California has a slogan “Give us 90 minutes of your time and we will change your life.” Well, that is a step better than Jesus who asks us to take up our cross and follow him for the rest of our lives. But then we are so much more advanced than Jesus was back in the first century, yes?

We regard time as a commodity rather than a gift. One of the advancements since Jesus is the clock. (The concept of the “second” wasn’t invented until the 1700’s). People have always had means for gauging time, but the mechanical clock allowed us to standardize time. And now we feel that what started as a tool has become a master. We are now a tool of the tool. This is toxic to patience because Our lives have become ordered by an unnatural rhythm instead of the rhythms of God’s created order. God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Do you see how God built patience into the natural rhythm of the created order. He gave us the lights in the heavens to order the times and seasons. But we have invented artificial light and weather so that we can order time our way! And we are more impatient and stressed out than ever. Think about it, what is the most common response you get to the question “How are you doing?” – BUSY!

This busy-ness has changed the way we view time. It is a commodity, not a gift from God. We hoard it and sell it. The language we use with time is unique to our culture. We “spend” time. We “invest” time. We “waste” time. We “steal” time and “take-up” time. We have invented the concept of quality time as an excuse to spend less time with people. We are apologetic of intruding on one’s time and we are disturbed sometimes when others want to take some of our time. Why? Because we all have the sense that there is precious little time – but more because we regard time as “my time, my day.” It is mine! Now how does that make us patient? How does that help us cultivate the spirit among us that is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

How shall we cultivate patience? If we want to cultivate patience we must actively resist the powers that make us impatient.

  1. Give away time in worship, fellowship and service.– Time is a gift from God. We are destined for an eternity, so time isn’t something scarce. Spend time with God in worship. Worship with others and let’s come to the table as if we are coming to a banquet not fast-food carry out. Let’s spend time with one another for no other reason than to know one another. (What I appreciate about our Care Groups and LIFE groups is that so many in our groups, especially our new ones, have said that they want to give up their “personal time” to spend it with others. They realize that there is a power of selfishness and impatience that needs to be challenged.) If we spend time in service with others, do it just to serve others not to be more productive.
  2. Appreciate the journey as much as the destination.– Our impatient culture wants to convince us that the end product or the destination is all that matters. The quicker you arrive there or produce it the better. In 2001 my family took a trip in an RV to New York, my father’s home. The journey is as much a part of that trip as the destination. In some ways even more so. How will our children remember our faith? By the destination or the journey. When we read the stories of the patriarchs, we see that the journey is even more important than the destination, because the goals weren’t always achieved in one generation.
  3. Trust the future to God.– Much of our impatience is rooted in the fact that we do not trust the future to God. We have forgotten the stories. God doesn’t abandon us. He doesn’t leave us with a set of Tinkertoys and Lego’s and say build it yourself. He is working in the details to accomplish all things in his own time and his own way.
  4. Forgive others.(See Matthew 18:23-35) – If we truly want to be patient, then we need to be as patient with others as God is with us. This is the point of Jesus vivid parable about the unforgiving servant. You have been forgiven of so much by a God who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness. How dare you not be forgiving of others. “But you don’t understand they did …!” This isn’t about them. It’s about God. It is about cultivating patience. It’s about being like God.

[1] Bruce B. Barton and Gant R. Osborne, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999), 187.

[2] Joh+++n F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 337–339.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2022 in 1 Corinthians

 

1 Corinthians #12 – We’re in this together!  1 Corinthians 12


Division was a major problem in the church at Corinth. Each group followed its chosen human leader, exercised its gifts selfishly, and cared little for the health or ministry of the whole body.

Communion was doing more harm than good. The church had received an abundance of spiritual gifts (1:4–7), but they were lacking in spiritual graces.

Spiritual gifts had become symbols of spiritual power, causing rivalries in the church because some people thought they were more “spiritual” than others because of their gifts.

This was a terrible misuse of spiritual gifts because their purpose is always to help the church function more effectively, not to divide it. We can be divisive if we insist on using our gift our own way without being sensitive to others.

 We share the same confession: Christ is Lord  (vv. 1–3).

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

A citizen of the Roman Empire was required once a year to put a pinch of incense on the altar and say, “Caesar is Lord!” This was anathema to believers. No true Christian could call anyone but Christ “Lord,” so this was a definite test of faith.

We serve the same God (vv. 4–6).

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

The church, like the human body, has diversity in unity. Our human members all differ, yet they work together for the health of the body. In the spiritual body of the church, we possess gifts from the Holy Spirit (v. 4), partake in service to the same Lord Jesus Christ (v. 5), and share in the workings of the same Father (v. 6).

Our diversity seeks to build up the same body (vv. 7–13).

Paul now lists the spiritual gifts and shows that they are given for the benefit of the whole church, and not for the private enjoyment of the individual Christians.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

We must distinguish between: (1) the spiritual Gift, which is the Spirit Himself, received at baptism (Eph. 1:13–14);

(2) spiritual gifts, which are ministries to the church through the Spirit, and not just natural abilities or talents

(3) spiritual offices, which are positions of trust in the local church

(4) spiritual graces, which are the fruit of the Spirit in Christian conduct.

Paul compares the body of Christ to a human body. Each part has a specific function that is necessary to the body as a whole. The parts are different for a purpose, and in their differences they must work together. Diversity can maintain unity as long as all submit to one Lord.

Christians must avoid two common errors: (1) being too proud of their abilities; and (2) thinking they have nothing to give to the body of believers.

Instead of comparing ourselves to one another, we should use our different gifts, together, to spread the Good News. We speak Christ’s “body language” when we practice our unique gifts under his sole authority.

It is clear from 1 Cor. 13:8 that some of the gifts granted to the early church were never meant to be permanent. When the church was in its infancy (13:11), before the completion of the NT Scriptures, these gifts were needed; but they are not needed today. These “sign gifts” are not necessary for the ministry of the church.

Every person is valuable! (vs. 14-20)

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The Spirit places each believer in the body as He sees fit, but each part of the body has an important ministry to perform. “Many members in one body” is the program for this present age.

  1. We Need Each Other (12:21–25)

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

Paul argued for diversity of gifts and acceptance of the full range of gifts that God gives to his people. No one should feel superior about his or her gift; instead, all should use their gifts to willingly serve.

Too often the “up-front” gifts are more highly regarded than the “behind-the-scenes” gifts, like helping and serving. No one should discount the contribution of another person, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

We should not be dissatisfied with the gift God has given us but be eager to serve. Nor should we envy those who seem to have more gifts than we do. In love, treat everyone’s gift, yours included, as valuable to God.

Paul teaches that every member of the body is essential to the life, health, and growth of the church.

No Christian can say to his less-gifted brother, “I don’t need you!” In fact, those parts of our body that seem the least important can do the most good—or cause the most trouble if not functioning properly!

We are responsible to use and sharpen our gifts, but we can take no credit for what God has freely given us.

Note that discussions about spiritual gifts usually create difficulties when two central points are overlooked:

(1) Properly used, spiritual gifts are not self-serving but serve the whole body of Christ;

(2) each gift becomes practically useless when used without love. As we seek to identify and utilize the gifts, let us make the love of God and the love of fellow Christians our highest motives.

We Affect Each Other (27)

2If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

It is important that we realize our relationship to one another in the church. There can be unity even where there is not uniformity.

Christ never prayed for uniformity in His church, but for the same spiritual unity that exists between Him and His Father. We should likewise pray for spiritual unity and do all we can to guard it and extend it.

The idea that Christians can somehow function and flourish outside of the body of Christ sounds as ludicrous as a rebellious ear or foot. Solitary Christianity has no basis in God’s Word. We need the church, and we are needed by other Christians.

There should be no division (schism) in the body, since we all share the same life through the Spirit. But it is not enough simply to avoid division; we must also care for each other and seek to build the church and strengthen the body.

In the human body, the weakness or pain of one member affects the other members. This is also true in the spiritual body: one believer suffers, we all suffer; if one member grows in strength, we all receive help. This fact lays upon each Christian the responsibility for being the strongest member possible.

It is essential that we keep in mind God’s method for strengthening the body. He has chosen spiritual leaders, given them spiritual gifts, and placed them in the body as He chooses. There were, in the early days of the church, apostles, and prophets. There are no apostles today, since it was necessary to have seen the risen Christ to qualify for apostleship.

28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. 1 And I will show you a still more excellent way.

We must recognize, however, that God’s purpose in giving gifts has little to do with self-esteem. We cannot ask for gifts in order to feel more powerful, important, or significant (James 4:3). When we make it our goal to be available to God and to seek to serve others for Christ’s sake, our spiritual gifts will come to the surface. We may need the insight of others to recognize our specific gifts.

Consider these steps:  

1. Ask God to increase your usefulness.    

2.  Seek opportunities of service.

3. Observe how other believers serve.

4. Ask those you’ve served and those who serve with you to help you discern your spiritual strengths.   

5. Practice these gifts even more.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2022 in 1 Corinthians

 

1 Corinthians #11 – The Faithfulness of God 1 Corinthians 10:11-13


10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.

Paul mentions again that these punitive actions taken by God were to serve as examples for Christian believers. In fact, Paul continues, these were recorded in Scripture to provide warnings for Corinthian saints.

While Scripture clearly has a manifold purpose for the people of God, one of those purposes is to contain warnings so that God’s people do not continue to make the same mistakes that their spiritual ancestors made at an earlier time (2 Tim 3:16–17).

The term “warnings” (νουθεσία, nouthesia and cognates) was a favorite of Paul’s. In fact Paul saw warning as a very important part of his apostolic ministry and the ministry that believers had with one another. (See use of this Greek term in Rom 15:14; 1 Cor 4:14; Col 1:28; 3:16; 1 Thess 5:12, 14; 2 Thess 3:15; and Titus 3:10). Paul ends this verse with a very important reference of eschatological significance to his readership.

The apostle’s phrase “ends of the ages” (translated by the NIV as “the fulfillment of the ages”) clearly reflects his eschatological perspective. When Paul uses the term “ages” he is reflecting the Jewish apocalyptic notion of this age and of the coming age (cf. Eph 1:21; 2:7). The apostle has already used the phrase “this age” in 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6, 8; 3:18 in a pejorative sense. Because of Christ’s resurrection and current reign at the right hand of God, Paul affirms that Christians live in the final period of human history, a period whose boundaries are set by the resurrection and ascension of Christ at one end and by Christ’s second coming at the other end.

Since all of God’s prior dealings with mankind, both through his general revelation as well as his revelation through his elect people, pointed toward the age characterized by the reign of Christ, Paul affirms all prior Scriptures have as their ultimate goal instruction and teaching for those who live in the era of the Messiah. This is why Paul so naturally embraces the concept that everything which occurred in past generations and everything recorded in sacred Scripture is meaningful for God’s people who live in the last days of God’s dispensation.

10:12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

Because of the surrounding contextual injunctions against idolatry as well as Paul’s threats to the Corinthians about possible destruction by God, there is little doubt what Paul intends to communicate here. This verse is written to persuade idolatrous Corinthian believers that they can have too much confidence about their security with God. Within the rhetorical context of 1 Cor 10 Paul’s reference to standing firm refers to a misplaced confidence that certain believers have that they can continue to participate in immorality and idolatry and never be punished by God.

Even though these saints had Corinth had been baptized, had partaken of the Lord’s Supper and had a relationship with Christ, none of these insulated them from the need to be told “be careful that you don’t fall.” John Calvin’s interpretation which says that Paul does not want them to “be afraid that there is doubt about their salvation”  can only be maintained by removing this verse from its clear exegetical setting which is characterized by threats of destruction from God because of idolatry, immorality, the testing of God, and open rebellion.

The Christian’s assurance of blamelessness based upon the work of God in Christ (1:7–9) was not meant to negate or undermine the teaching found in ch. 10. In fact, as Paul will point out in v. 13, his acknowledgment of the possibility of destruction from God is not predicated on the issue of the faithfulness of God.[1]

We are living in a greatly different age from that of the Hebrews in the wilderness under Moses, but we can learn a valuable lesson from their experience. Like them we can forfeit our blessing, reward, and effectiveness in the Lord’s service if, in overconfidence and presumption, we take our liberties too far and fall into disobedience and sin. We will not lose our salvation, but we can easily lose our virtue and usefulness, and become disqualified in the race of the Christian life.

Every believer, especially when he becomes self-confident in his Christian liberty and spiritual maturity, should take heed lest he fall. Paul expresses a timeless principle, articulated in Proverbs as “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (16:18). It is easy to substitute confidence in ourselves for confidence in the Lord—accepting His guidance and blessing and then taking credit for the work He does through us. It is also easy to become so enamored of our freedom in Christ that we forget we are His, bought with a price and called to obedience to His Word and to His service.[2]

The Bible is filled with examples of the dangers of overconfidence. The book of Esther centers around the plan of a proud and overconfident man who saw his plan backfire. King Ahasuerus of Persia promoted Haman to be his second in command, with instructions for the people to bow before Haman as they would the king. Mordecai, however, would not bow to him, and when the proud and arrogant Haman was told that Mordecai was a Jew he persuaded Ahasuerus to declare an edict that would give him revenge on all Jews in the land by having them destroyed. Through the intercession of Queen Esther, also a Jew and the niece of Mordecai, the king issued a far different edict, which allowed and even encouraged the Jews to defend themselves—which they did with great success. Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai, who was given all of Haman’s possessions and the royal honor Haman had expected for himself.

Sennacherib, king of Assyria, taunted Israel with the boast that her God could no more save her than the gods of other lands had saved them. A short time later, “the angel of the Lord went out, and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, all of these were dead.” A few days after the defeated king returned to Assyria, he was assassinated by two of his own sons and succeeded on the throne by a third (Isa. 37:36–38).

Peter discovered that where he thought he was strongest and most dependable he actually was the weakest. He assured Jesus, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” But, as Jesus then predicted, before dawn Peter three times denied even knowing Jesus (Luke 22:33–34, 54–62).

The church at Sardis was proud of her reputation for being spiritually alive, but the Lord warned her that she was really dead and needed to repent (Rev. 3:1–2). If she did not He would come upon her like a thief (v. 3)—just as one night enemy soldiers under Cyrus had sneaked into the seemingly impregnable acropolis at Sardis by way of an unguarded footpath. A handful of soldiers crept up the path and opened the gates to the rest of the army. Overconfidence led to carelessness, and carelessness led to defeat.

The self-confident believers at Laodicea thought they were “wealthy” and in “need of nothing,” but were told by the Lord that they were really “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (3:17).

Christians who become self-confident become less dependent on God’s Word and God’s Spirit and become careless in their living. As carelessness increases, openness to temptation increases and resistance to sin decreases. When we feel most secure in ourselves—when we think our spiritual life is the strongest, our doctrine the soundest, and our morals the purest—we should be most on our guard and most dependent on the Lord.

10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

In light of the possibility of falling and being destroyed by God, Paul wants to remind the Corinthians that they cannot justifiably excuse themselves from bearing responsibility in their own sinful behavior. In the Greco-Roman world temptations of immorality, idolatry, etc. were commonplace. This means that the Corinthians cannot excuse themselves on the basis of special pleading regarding their unique circumstances in their temptations.

Next the apostle affirms the faithfulness of God, though it is not a faithfulness which will preclude the possibility of the Corinthians sinning and falling. Rather the faithfulness of God is manifested in the fact that he will support them spiritually and prevent them from being overwhelmed by an unbearable temptation. Kistemaker rightly noted in this regard “God’s faithfulness to his people is perfect, even though man’s faithfulness to him is imperfect. Scripture proves that not God but man is a covenant breaker.”  Since the faithfulness of God is likewise a doctrinal affirmation of the Old Testament, there is no way that Paul would have assumed the affirmation of the faithfulness of God would excuse God’s covenant people from owning moral responsibility.

Nor would the faithfulness of God, as the previous Old Testament illustrations demonstrate, preclude God’s severe punishment of his covenant people. Having spoken a word about the character of God (“God is faithful”) and a word about the action of God (“he will not let you be tempted”), Paul now shifts to the second person plural and tells the Corinthians about their responsibilities. He instructs them with the words, “you can bear,” thereby jerking them out of any misconceived notions of passivity on the part of a believer in moral choices. Paul next affirms that as temptations occur in the context of temptations to immorality and idolatry, God will provide an exit. As the concluding phrase of v. 13 make evident, though, the way out which God provides is that the believer endures the temptation. C.K. Barrett’s analysis of these concluding thoughts and their connection to the following unit of thought in chapter 10 are quite helpful. The Christian

… must resist, and he must not put his trust in false securities; this would be to court and insure disaster. The way out is for those who seek it, not for those who (like the Corinthians) are, where idolatry is concerned, looking for the way in. The connection with the next paragraph makes this clear.

The basic meaning of temptation (peirasmos) is simply to test or prove, and has no negative connotation. Whether it becomes a proof of righteousness or an inducement to evil depends on our response. If we resist it in God’s power, it is a test that proves our faithfulness. If we do not resist, it becomes a solicitation to sin. The Bible uses the term in both ways, and I believe that Paul has both meanings in mind here.

When “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1) it is clear that both God and Satan participated in the testing. God intended the test to prove His Son’s righteousness, but Satan intended it to induce Jesus to misuse His divine powers and to give His allegiance to Satan. Job was tested in much the same way. God allowed Job to be afflicted in order to prove His servant was an “upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:8). Satan’s purpose was the opposite: to prove that Job was faithful only because of the blessings and prosperity the Lord had given him and that, if those things were taken away, Job would “surely curse Thee to Thy face” (v. 11).

God’s tests are never a solicitation to evil, and James strongly corrects those who suggest such a thing. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). “By evil” is the key to the difference between the two types of temptation. In the wilderness God tested Jesus by righteousness, whereas Satan tested Him by evil. A temptation becomes an inducement to evil only when a person “is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:14–15).

Earlier in his letter James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (1:2). The nouns trials (see also verse 12) and testing (v. 3) are from the same Greek root as the verb tempted in verses 13–14. The context indicates which sense is meant.

God often brings circumstances into our lives to test us. Like Job we usually do not at the time recognize them as tests, certainly not from God. But our response to them proves our faithfulness or unfaithfulness. How we react to financial difficulty, school problems, health trouble, or business setbacks will always test our faith, our reliance on our heavenly Father. If we do not turn to Him, however, the same circumstances can make us bitter, resentful, and angry. Rather than thanking God for the test, as James advises, we may even accuse Him. An opportunity to cheat on our income tax or take unfair advantage in a business deal will either prove our righteousness or prove our weakness. The circumstance or the opportunity is only a test, neither good nor evil in itself. Whether it results in good or evil, spiritual growth or spiritual decline, depends entirely on our response.

In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus says that we should ask God not to “lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13). “Evil” is better translated “the evil one,” referring to Satan. In other words we should pray that God will not allow tests to become temptations, in the sense of inducement to evil. The idea is, “Lord, stop us before Satan can turn your test into his temptation.”

Temptations come into every believer’s life—no one is exempt. Temptation is not sinful; the sin comes when the person gives in to temptation. Believers must not be shocked or discouraged, or think that they are alone in their shortcomings. Instead, they should realize their weaknesses and turn to God to resist the temptation. Enduring temptation brings great rewards (James 1:12). Yet God does not leave his people to Satan’s whims. God is not a spectator; he does not leave his children alone to face whatever temptations Satan can throw at them. Instead, God is faithful. He will not always remove the temptation, because facing it and remaining strong can be a growing experience; however, God does promise to keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. This means that there exists no temptation that a believer cannot resist. But the believer must resist and stand against it. Each temptation can be resisted because God made it possible to resist it. The secret to resisting temptation is to recognize the source of the temptation and then to recognize the source of strength in temptation. God promises to give his people the strength to resist.

Not only that, but God also promises to show you a way out so that you will not give in to the temptation and fall into sin. It will take self-discipline to look for that “way out” even in the middle of the temptation and then to take it when it is found. The way out is seldom easy and often requires support from others. One of the God-given ways of escape from temptation is common sense. If a believer knows that he will be tempted in certain situations, then he should stay away from them. Another way out of temptation is through Christian friends. Instead of trying to deal with temptation alone, a believer can explain her dilemma to a close Christian friend and ask for support. This friend can pray, hold the person accountable, and give valuable insights and advice.

The truth is that God loves his people so much that he will protect them from unbearable temptation. And he will always give a way out. Temptation need never drive a wedge between believers and God. Instead, a believer ought to be able to say, “Thank you, God, for trusting me that much. You know I can handle this temptation. Now what do you want me to do?”

BATTLE PLAN

In a culture filled with moral depravity and sin-inducing pressures, Paul gave strong encouragement to the Corinthians about temptation. He said:

  • Wrong desires and temptations happen to everyone, so don’t feel as though you have been singled out.
  • Others have resisted temptation and so can you.
  • Any temptation can be resisted because God will help you resist it.
  • God gives you a way to resist temptation by helping you
  • recognize people and situations that give you trouble;
  • run from anything you know is wrong;
  • choose to do only what is right;
  • pray for his help; and
  • seek friends who love God and can support you when you are tempted.

Running from a tempting situation is your first step on the way to victory (see 2 Timothy 2:22).

The phrase the way is formed by the definite article and a singular noun. In other words, there is only one way. The way of escape from every temptation, no matter what it is, is the same: it is through. Whether we have a test by God to prove our righteousness or a test by Satan to induce to sin, there is only one way we can pass the test. We escape temptation not by getting out of it but by passing through it. God does not take us out; He sees us through by making us able to endure it.

God’s own Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. It was the Father’s will that the Son be there, and Jesus did not leave until all three temptations were over. He met the temptations head-on. He “escaped” the temptations by enduring them in His Father’s power.

God provides three ways for us to endure temptation: prayer, trust, and focusing on Jesus Christ.

“Keep watching and praying, that you may not come into temptation,” Jesus told His disciples (Mark 14:38). If we do not pray, we can be sure a test will turn into temptation. Our first defense in a test or a trial is to pray, to turn to our heavenly Father and put the matter in His hands.

Second, we must trust. When we pray we must pray believing that the Lord will answer and help us. We also trust that, whatever the origin of the trial, God has allowed it to come for our good, to prove our faithfulness. God has a purpose for everything that comes to His children, and when we are tested or tempted we should gladly endure it in His power—for the sake of His glory and of our spiritual growth.

Third, we should focus on our Lord Jesus Christ. “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb. 12:3–4). Christ endured more than we could ever be called on to endure. He understands our trials and He is able to take us through them.

The punishments that came upon the disobedient Israelites not only were an example to their fellow Hebrews but also to believers in every age since. More than that they were given for our instruction, for the benefit of Christians, those upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Instruction (nouthesia) is more than ordinary teaching. It means admonition and carries the connotation of warning. It is counsel given to persuade a person to change behavior in light of judgment. The ends of the ages refers to the time of Messiah, the time of redemption, the last days of world history before the messianic kingdom comes.

We are living in a greatly different age from that of the Hebrews in the wilderness under Moses, but we can learn a valuable lesson from their experience. Like them we can forfeit our blessing, reward, and effectiveness in the Lord’s service if, in overconfidence and presumption, we take our liberties too far and fall into disobedience and sin. We will not lose our salvation, but we can easily lose our virtue and usefulness, and become disqualified in the race of the Christian life.

Every believer, especially when he becomes self-confident in his Christian liberty and spiritual maturity, should take heed lest he fall. Paul expresses a timeless principle, articulated in Proverbs as “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (16:18). It is easy to substitute confidence in ourselves for confidence in the Lord—accepting His guidance and blessing and then taking credit for the work He does through us. It is also easy to become so enamored of our freedom in Christ that we forget we are His, bought with a price and called to obedience to His Word and to His service.

When I visited Israel several years ago I was shown the place at the Golan Heights where, in 1967, the Israelis penetrated the Syrian defenses and secured that strategic area for themselves. From those heights Syrian guns overlooked most of the Galilee region of northern Israel and were a constant threat. The entire Golan area was closely guarded by the Syrians, except for one spot where the cliffs were so high and sheer that they seemed perfectly safe from attack. One night, however, Israeli bulldozers cut out the cliffs enough to push tanks up to the top. By morning a large contingent of tanks, followed by infantry and supported by fighter planes, completely overran the Syrian positions and secured an area that extended ten miles inland. The spot the Syrians thought to be the safest turned out to be the most vulnerable.

The Bible is filled with examples of the dangers of overconfidence. The book of Esther centers around the plan of a proud and overconfident man who saw his plan backfire. King Ahasuerus of Persia promoted Haman to be his second in command, with instructions for the people to bow before Haman as they would the king. Mordecai, however, would not bow to him, and when the proud and arrogant Haman was told that Mordecai was a Jew he persuaded Ahasuerus to declare an edict that would give him revenge on all Jews in the land by having them destroyed. Through the intercession of Queen Esther, also a Jew and the niece of Mordecai, the king issued a far different edict, which allowed and even encouraged the Jews to defend themselves—which they did with great success. Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai, who was given all of Haman’s possessions and the royal honor Haman had expected for himself.

Sennacherib, king of Assyria, taunted Israel with the boast that her God could no more save her than the gods of other lands had saved them. A short time later, “the angel of the Lord went out, and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, all of these were dead.” A few days after the defeated king returned to Assyria, he was assassinated by two of his own sons and succeeded on the throne by a third (Isa. 37:36–38).

Peter discovered that where he thought he was strongest and most dependable he actually was the weakest. He assured Jesus, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” But, as Jesus then predicted, before dawn Peter three times denied even knowing Jesus (Luke 22:33–34, 54–62).

The church at Sardis was proud of her reputation for being spiritually alive, but the Lord warned her that she was really dead and needed to repent (Rev. 3:1–2). If she did not He would come upon her like a thief (v. 3)—just as one night enemy soldiers under Cyrus had sneaked into the seemingly impregnable acropolis at Sardis by way of an unguarded footpath. A handful of soldiers crept up the path and opened the gates to the rest of the army. Overconfidence led to carelessness, and carelessness led to defeat.

The self-confident believers at Laodicea thought they were “wealthy” and in “need of nothing,” but were told by the Lord that they were really “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (3:17).

Christians who become self-confident become less dependent on God’s Word and God’s Spirit and become careless in their living. As carelessness increases, openness to temptation increases and resistance to sin decreases. When we feel most secure in ourselves—when we think our spiritual life is the strongest, our doctrine the soundest, and our morals the purest—we should be most on our guard and most dependent on the Lord.

After the strong warning about self-confidence and pride, Paul gives a strong word of encouragement about God’s help when we are tempted (v. 13). First he assures us that none of us has temptations that are unique. Then he assures us that we can also resist and overcome every temptation if we rely on God.

By this time the Corinthians were no doubt wondering how they could possibly avoid all the pitfalls Paul had just described and illustrated. “How do we keep from craving evil things as Israel did (cf. v. 6)? How do we keep from falling into idolatry in our hearts? How can we live righteous lives when the society around us is so wicked? How can we avoid trying the Lord and how can we keep from grumbling?”

Paul’s answer is that a Christian should recognize that victory is always available, because a believer can never get into temptation that he cannot get out of. For one thing, Paul explains, No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.

The basic meaning of temptation (peirasmos) is simply to test or prove, and has no negative connotation. Whether it becomes a proof of righteousness or an inducement to evil depends on our response. If we resist it in God’s power, it is a test that proves our faithfulness. If we do not resist, it becomes a solicitation to sin. The Bible uses the term in both ways, and I believe that Paul has both meanings in mind here.

When “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1) it is clear that both God and Satan participated in the testing. God intended the test to prove His Son’s righteousness, but Satan intended it to induce Jesus to misuse His divine powers and to give His allegiance to Satan. Job was tested in much the same way. God allowed Job to be afflicted in order to prove His servant was an “upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:8). Satan’s purpose was the opposite: to prove that Job was faithful only because of the blessings and prosperity the Lord had given him and that, if those things were taken away, Job would “surely curse Thee to Thy face” (v. 11).

God’s tests are never a solicitation to evil, and James strongly corrects those who suggest such a thing. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). “By evil” is the key to the difference between the two types of temptation. In the wilderness God tested Jesus by righteousness, whereas Satan tested Him by evil. A temptation becomes an inducement to evil only when a person “is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:14–15).

Earlier in his letter James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (1:2). The nouns trials (see also verse 12) and testing (v. 3) are from the same Greek root as the verb tempted in verses 13–14. The context indicates which sense is meant.

God often brings circumstances into our lives to test us. Like Job we usually do not at the time recognize them as tests, certainly not from God. But our response to them proves our faithfulness or unfaithfulness. How we react to financial difficulty, school problems, health trouble, or business setbacks will always test our faith, our reliance on our heavenly Father. If we do not turn to Him, however, the same circumstances can make us bitter, resentful, and angry. Rather than thanking God for the test, as James advises, we may even accuse Him. An opportunity to cheat on our income tax or take unfair advantage in a business deal will either prove our righteousness or prove our weakness. The circumstance or the opportunity is only a test, neither good nor evil in itself. Whether it results in good or evil, spiritual growth or spiritual decline, depends entirely on our response.

In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus says that we should ask God not to “lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13). “Evil” is better translated “the evil one,” referring to Satan. In other words we should pray that God will not allow tests to become temptations, in the sense of inducement to evil. The idea is, “Lord, stop us before Satan can turn your test into his temptation.”

Common to man is one word (anthrōpinos) in Greek and simply means “that which is human, characteristic of or belonging to mankind.” In other words, Paul says there is no such thing as a superhuman or supernatural temptation. Temptations are human experiences. The term also carries the idea of usual or typical, as indicated by common. Temptations are never unique experiences to us. We can never have a temptation that has not been experienced by millions of other people. Circumstances differ but basic temptations do not. Even the Son of God was “tempted in all things as we are” (Heb. 4:15), and because of that “He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (2:18). And because temptations are common to us all we are able to “confess [our] sins to one another” (James 5:16) and to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). We are all in the same boat.

Not only are temptations common to men but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. No believer can claim that he was overwhelmed by temptation or that “the devil made me do it.” No one, not even Satan, can make us sin. He cannot even make an unbeliever sin. No temptation is inherently stronger than our spiritual resources. People sin because they willingly sin.

The Christian, however, has his heavenly Father’s help in resisting temptation. God is faithful. He remains true to His own. “From six troubles He will deliver you, even in seven evil will not touch you” (Job 5:19). When our faithfulness is tested we have God’s own faithfulness as our resource. We can be absolutely certain that He will not allow [us] to be tempted beyond what [we] are able. That is God’s response when we pray, “do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13). He will not let us experience any test we are not able to meet.

When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked them twice whom they had come for, who was designated on their arrest order. After they answered for the second time, “Jesus the Nazarene,” He said, “If therefore you seek Me, let these go their way” (John 18:4–9). John explains that Jesus prevented the disciples from being arrested with Him in order “that the word might be fulfilled which He spoke, ‘Of those whom Thou hast given Me I lost not one’ ” (v. 9). The disciples were not yet ready for such a test. Had they been arrested, they would have been devastated, and Jesus would not permit it. As best we know from church history, most of those eleven disciples died a martyr’s death. The other, John, was exiled for life on the island of Patmos. All of them went through persecution, imprisonment, and countless hardships for the sake of the gospel. But they did not go through those things until they were ready to handle them.

But with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. The phrase the way is formed by the definite article and a singular noun. In other words, there is only one way. The way of escape from every temptation, no matter what it is, is the same: it is through. Whether we have a test by God to prove our righteousness or a test by Satan to induce to sin, there is only one way we can pass the test. We escape temptation not by getting out of it but by passing through it. God does not take us out; He sees us through by making us able to endure it.

God’s own Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. It was the Father’s will that the Son be there, and Jesus did not leave until all three temptations were over. He met the temptations head-on. He “escaped” the temptations by enduring them in His Father’s power.

God provides three ways for us to endure temptation: prayer, trust, and focusing on Jesus Christ.

“Keep watching and praying, that you may not come into temptation,” Jesus told His disciples (Mark 14:38). If we do not pray, we can be sure a test will turn into temptation. Our first defense in a test or a trial is to pray, to turn to our heavenly Father and put the matter in His hands.

Second, we must trust. When we pray we must pray believing that the Lord will answer and help us. We also trust that, whatever the origin of the trial, God has allowed it to come for our good, to prove our faithfulness. God has a purpose for everything that comes to His children, and when we are tested or tempted we should gladly endure it in His power—for the sake of His glory and of our spiritual growth.

Third, we should focus on our Lord Jesus Christ. “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb. 12:3–4). Christ endured more than we could ever be called on to endure. He understands our trials and He is able to take us through them.

In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress Christian and Hopeful fall asleep in a field belonging to giant Despair. The giant finds them and takes them into Doubting Castle, where he puts them in a dark and stinking dungeon, without food or water. On his wife’s advice, the giant first beats them mercilessly and then suggests they commit suicide. After the giant leaves, the two companions discuss what they should do. Finally Christian remembers the key in his pocket. “I have a key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.” Sure enough, it opened all the doors in the castle and even the gate. “Then they went on, and came to the King’s highway again.”

Paul concludes this section by saying three things about temptation.

(i) He is quite sure that temptation will come. That is part of life. But the Greek word which we translate temptation means far more a test. It is something designed, not to make us fall, but to test us, so that we emerge from it stronger than ever.

(ii) Any temptation that comes to us is not unique. Others have endured it and others have come through it. A friend tells how he was once driving Lightfoot, the great Bishop of Durham, in a horse carriage along a very narrow mountain road in Norway. It got so narrow that there were only inches between the wheels of the carriage and the cliffs on one side and the precipice on the other. He suggested in the end that Lightfoot would be safer to get out and walk. Lightfoot surveyed the situation and said, “Other carriages must have taken this road. Drive on.” In the Greek Anthology there is an epigram which gives the epitaph of a shipwrecked sailor, supposedly from his own lips. “A shipwrecked mariner on this coast bids you set sail,” he says. His bark may have been lost but many more have weathered the storm. When we are going through it, we are going through what others have, in the grace of God, endured and conquered.

(iii) With the temptation there is always a way of escape. The word is vivid (ekbasis). It means a way out of a defile, a mountain pass. The idea is of an army apparently surrounded and then suddenly seeing an escape route to safety. No man need fall to any temptation, for with the temptation there is the way out, and the way out is not the way of surrender nor of retreat, but the way of conquest in the power of the grace of God.[3]

[1] Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1995), 1 Co 10:11–12.

[2] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 226.

[3] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 90.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2022 in 1 Corinthians

 
 
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