Love Is Patient

[Listen to an audio version here]

Imagine a community that is deeply divided. There are numerous factions all vying for their interests. This confused state allows some people to break the rules in the most flagrant way and other rules to be enforced with exacting rigor. Everyone wants their gift to be recognized. The rich feast, and the poor go hungry, even in the same church.

Such a place was the church of Corinth. It was a highly polarized church. It was out of control. What did they need?

The Apostle wrote his first letter to the Corinthians to help them work through all these issues and try to bring about some semblance of order. It was clear that there were two things that would make a huge difference: to find their boast in Christ not in themselves and to let that shape them into loving people.

Paul calls love “the most excellent way,” the surefire way to restore community. He refers to three great virtues: faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these, he says, is love.

Paul writes about love in 1 Corinthians 13. It is justly one of the most famous chapters of the Bible for its beauty and power. We should remember that he wrote this to a congregation that was deeply divided. He wrote it to a community that needed to be restored.

When community needs to be restored, we can turn to this chapter for wisdom on how God builds community. And how does God build community? He creates the virtues within people that build the community. In this series, we are considering some of these virtues: being a listener, being patient, being humble, and being a servant. In 1 Corinthians 13, we discover the importance of patience.

Love is patient
In 1 Corinthians 13, there is a beautiful description of love. We can define love as an affection for someone and desire for union and communion with that person.

If you wanted to describe love, what word would you use first? The Apostle Paul begins, perhaps surprisingly, with patience. “Love is patient.” He says.

Patience and love are deeply connected in Paul’s mind. He says elsewhere: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). Love and patience go together.

This fits well with the rule that we discussed last week. James says that every one of us should be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. What this means is that we can’t rush getting our ideas and thoughts into a conversation. We have to go through the process of carefully listening, understanding, and interacting. This takes time. This requires patience.

Why does it require patience? Because the reward of community doesn’t come immediately, and there are obstacles to bringing it about. We will have to work through them. For this, we need patience!

We have opportunity to grow in patience every day. It took me a long time to realize that when you work with physical objects like putting a desk together or fixing a printer, nothing fits together exactly right. You’ve got to have the patience to overcome these obstacles. I’m still learning that. Relationships are no different. It takes time to build relationships, and it will involve obstacles.

Can we accept that community is a process and embrace it? When we do, we will have learned that love is patient.

Love is a process
What I mean is that love is not a mere feeling. It’s certainly not a one-time thing. It is a process of bringing people together. Relationships aren’t built overnight.

Aristotle said that to have a good friend, you have to eat a pound of salt together. He did not mean that you could magically build a friendship by sitting down and eating a pound of salt together in one sitting. He meant that you had to have enough meals that the salt added together would add up to a pound. Relationships take time. They take patience.

Our expectation is so often that relationships will come quickly. We come to a new place or church or family, and we expect it to be like the place we left. The trouble is that we have forgotten how much patience it took to build the relationships we had before. We’ve forgotten the process. We’ve forgotten how many pounds of salt we ate together to get the relationships that we have.

James warns us against being quick to speak and slow to listen. Sometimes, we think we can get heard quickly. This is not true. It’s a process. With people, fast is slow, and slow is fast. Relationships take time. Are we willing to engage in the process?

To do this two virtues are necessary. The first is perseverance. Perseverance is the virtue that enables us to continue doing good in spite of the fact that it gets boring or hard. It means that you keep doing your devotions, even when you don’t feel like it. You keep going to small group. You keep practicing an instrument. You keep exercising. The virtue that enables us to do this is perseverance.

Patience is a little bit different. Patience is the virtue that enables us to put up with obstacles and pain in pursuit of something good. Patience enables us to stick with people even when they disappoint us. It enables us to continue serving a community, even when it hurts us. It enables us to keep playing the guitar, even when we can’t seem to hit the F chord correctly. That’s patience. It is crucial for community. Why? Because love involves pain.

Love Involves Pain
When we enter into the adventure of community, it will involve obstacles, and it will involve pain. This requires patience, a willingness to endure for the good goal of community.

Let’s be honest, though, many of the things that hurt us aren’t because people do us wrong. Community is a challenge because people are different. They have different views that they come to at different rates than we do. They have different gifts that lead them toward different activities. They have different priorities. This requires patience.

What helps us with patience? It is re-envisioning the community. Differences are actually an asset not a hindrance to community. We are a body with different parts. Our differences show we need one another, not that we should break up into factions. Here’s how God shows us this in 1 Cor. 12:18–20:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

It’s a familiar image, but one we need to take in deeply, if we are going to develop the patience we need.

But we will not only experience differences. We will experience offences large and small. Coming together will hurt us. This requires patience. A willingness to forgive and bear with wrongs is going to be a big part of building community. This is how the Bible speaks of these virtues in Colossians:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Col. 3:12–13).

People will say things that hurt us. They will disappoint us. Can we move forward in the face of these and keep going? Sometimes we should confront, but sometimes we should forgive and just move forward.

One of the most challenging and rewarding examples of this came within my former Presbytery (a regional group of churches). The Presbytery was completely polarized. At the heart of it was the disagreement between myself and another Pastor over important theological issues. It started there, but it spiraled out of control.

After a time, the Lord did some things in me that caused me to look at that relationship differently. At one meeting, we were able to talk. Over the next year and half, we entered into the process of slowly unraveling several years of hurts and mistrust. Eventually, we became close friends and are to this day (you can read the whole story here). It took a lot of patience, on both our parts. I need to remember this lesson as I engage in a variety of relationships, even in ones where there has not been as much polarization.

Love Is Rooted in God’s love
So, how do we get the strength to patiently endure? How do we get the strength to love?

When the Apostle Paul thought of patience, I imagine the first thing he thought of was God’s patience. Here’s what he said to his associate Timothy:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life (1 Tim. 1:15–16).

When we consider our own guilt before God, we know our own sin better than anyone else’s. This can lead us to see ourselves as “the chief of sinners.” When we see ourselves this way, it will cause us to be amazed at “His immense patience.” This amazement will make it easier to be patient with others.

In this world, there are many righteous causes. We need to stand for righteous causes. It is important to fight for justice and righteousness. However, we also need to recognize the imperfection of our own righteous causes. The doctrine of justification by faith alone teaches us that both we and our opponents stand condemned before a holy God and are justified only by grace. This should moderate our feelings of antipathy to a degree and give us a feeling sympathy for our fellow human beings. We need both perspectives to retain balance. In this way, as Reinhold Niebuhr said, we can be both in the battle and above it.

When we understand our own sin, we can grasp that God has been more patient with us than we will ever be with others. Can we bear with others as He has born with us?

So, here’s what I would like you to do and what I will endeavor to do by God’s grace. First, I will recognize that building community is a process. This mean that I will try to do the little things day by day that will build the community and that I won’t be deterred because it takes time or is difficult.

Second, when I encounter obstacles or differences in relationships, I will not give up. I will remember that love is patient. Obstacles are part of the process not an end to it.

Third, I will believe that patient building of community will produce fruit. I will believe that God wants to use me to build community, and I will submit to His process of doing that with full hope that it will make a difference.

Finally, I will take in deeply of how many obstacles our Lord Jesus overcame to bring us to Himself, remembering these words:

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Heb. 12:2–3).


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