1 Corinthians 13:4
Love is patient and kind;
Paul has just concluded the introduction to this section with the words “…have not love, I gain nothing.” In fact, he uses Jewish parallelism to make his point:
If I speak . . . but have not love, I am just a sound.
If I have . . . but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give . . . but have not love, I gain nothing.
I think (and this is simply my own thoughts, not the Word of God) that Paul is trying to say this: Without love, the Christian simply… isn’t a Christian. There is no Christian without love.
Our Lord Jesus said this: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 RSV
Thankfully, love is something we choose to do, not something that must well up from within us. In other words, we can be loving without feeling love. Love doesn’t have to be motivated by anything except the desire to be obedient to God. Isn’t that amazing? Rather than waiting around to feel loving toward someone, we can simply choose to act loving toward them (toward our families, toward other Christians, toward those around us).
I’m so glad that Paul gave a description of what love is, what it looks like. I’m a practical person. Don’t tell me to do something unless you tell me how to do it! Paul is telling us how to love.
- Love is patient.
- Love is kind.
We don’t use that word a lot anymore… patient. We use words like “respect, dignity, rights.” But we don’t use “patience” much anymore.
Patient: bearing pains or trials calmly and without complaint; enduring suffering without complaining
Wow! I know, using that definition, that I am far from patient. In fact, I seem to look for every opportunity to complain, to grip, to whine, to make my case. I don’t like to suffer, to endure pain, and I enjoy having people commiserate with me when I am suffering.
Patience is the decision to bear pains and trials calmly and without complaint. And if I want to be a loving Christian, I will make a decision to do this.
Think about how life would be if everyone decided to do this. First of all, we would have to change how we have conversations because much of our talk is peppered with complaints… about our bodies, about our jobs, about our families, about our lives. We would have to learn to focus on the positive, the good things … the blessings! And we would have to learn to suffer silently when we were misused, overlooked, or persecuted.
The Bible is filled with commands for us, as Christians, to rejoice… regardless of our circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 simply says to “Rejoice always.” More than that, both Paul and Peter talk about rejoicing in the middle of trials, while we are suffering:
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 RSV
“But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13 RSV
There are many more scriptures about rejoicing. The fact is, we are not a joyful people. Oh, we know how to jump up and down and shout in church, but even in the church lobby we are complaining and grousing about our lives and the difficulties we are going through. Think how all that would change if we simply decided to become loving in this one thing!
To learn to be patient.
The Greek word for “kind” is defined this way: “to show oneself useful.” It’s not about some kind of empty sympathy that says, “Tsk, tsk,” and then goes one’s way. It’s about reaching out in true concern and doing something to help someone else.
James talks about this kind of empty “Christian-ness” (a lack of faith):
“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:14-17 RSV
When James talks about “faith” here, I really believe he is talking about that desire to ally oneself with Christianity (to be a Christian) which is, in a very real sense, the same thing Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 13 (love=being a Christian). James is so clear! If you are a Christian, you are kind; you are useful; you will put your concern into action.
That is true kindness. Kindness isn’t sympathizing. It’s helping. (And studying all this shows me how terribly unkind I truly am.) We all need to learn how to reach out, how to decide to be the kind Christians that God wants us to be.
Love is much more than a feeling, far much more than words. Love is about what we do with our time, our resources, our lives.