Over the past week, we have experienced great fear after the Boston Marathon Bombing and deep sorrows following the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion, as well as, many individual losses and significant hurts. When tragedy strikes, the priority of love becomes clear. Even the greatest of rivals can come together to support one another in tough times. The problem, however, is not loving others in times of disaster, but loving in the daily grind.
How do we love others in the busyness and weariness of daily life? This was the problem the church in Corinth was experiencing. 1 Corinthians 1-12 points to all kinds of problems in the Corinthian church—and one of the biggest is how they regularly treat one another. Paul’s goal was to help the busy, bustling church of Corinth focus on what matters most: LOVE. In helping them deal with their misplaced priorities, he gives them one over-arching principle as a guideline to help them determine what’s really important every day.
If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthans 1:1-3
Paul says, “Anything minus Love is Nothing.” If we were to put it into a mathematical equation it might read (A – L = N). In vs. 13:4, Paul begins his description of what a lifestyle of love looks like: “Love is patient, love is kind.”
These first two descriptive words, patient and kind, go straight to the problem of how followers of Christ love others in daily life. How does love respond to hurts? We’ve all been hurt. You don’t have to live very long to realize that relational pain is inevitable. You don’t have to be married very long to be wounded. And you don’t have to be in the church very long to realize that Christians often hurt each other, too. We’re going to get hurt and we’re going to cause hurt in others. It’s impossible to relate to people with any real depth without getting hurt at some point. The question is how we choose to respond when someone hurts us.
When we are hurt, disappointed, or frustrated by another person, we have a choice is how we respond. Our choices are to lash out, leave, or love. Most often, our natural response is not necessarily to lash out, although when we’re really angry that is certainly a temptation. Usually, our response is more passive. We ignore the hurt and the person and then, begin to walk away from the relationship – either emotionally or over time, literally. As a result, our relationship begins to cool. Elie Wiesel (writer, professor at Boston University, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor) has famously said “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Unless we make an active choice to love, we become indifferent – we leave.
God says, “Love is patient.” Patience absorbs the blow of hurts like a pillow. The word for patience is macrothymeo (μακροθυμέω)— from macro (big, broad, long) and thymos (passion). So it’s “stretched-out passion.” These two words, when they are found together in the Bible, carry the idea of breathing hard for a long period of time because of stress. Patient love is long-tempered, slow to anger, unhurried to complain or criticize. In 1 Corinthians 13:4 it refers to being patient, not in tough circumstances, but in dealing with people. Patience is marathon-like endurance under provocation. Godly patience chooses to bear the offense rather than retaliate or retreat. Patient love recognizes imperfections, is aware that everyone is growing into Christ likeness at a different pace. Patient love is victory over resentment. In the face of injuries, wrongs, or simple frustrations, patient love persists and prays. Patient love absorbs the blows of those who nag, criticize, disappoint, frustrate or irritate. Patient love does not disappear or walk away when discouraged or angered.
Here are some Sunday morning questions to ask on Monday afternoon (or if you’re really serious ask your spouse or a close friend):
- Do I demonstrate irritations, or reflect anger, or have a quick temper?
- Does my love have a long fuse before the circuit blows?
- Do I write people off or treat them with indifference?
- Am I quick to criticize or easily find faults with others?
- Do I often give way to sarcasm when I have been hurt, when I am tired, or when I am annoyed?
- Am I sometimes betrayed into speech and action that I later regret?
- Can I accept a fellow believer for who he/she is and realize that he/she, too, is moving in the direction of becoming Christ-like?
God says, “Love is kind.” Kindness returns hugs for hurts. Kindness is active goodness, helpful service, going forward in the interests of others. As Paul sees it, kindness constantly characterizes God, but this love finds particular expression and completion in His saving work in and through Christ. Kindness responds with what the offending person least deserves.
Loving kindness is the power of God’s Holy Spirit that prompts us to support and serve someone who may not, will not, or possibly cannot offer anything to us in return. Loving kindness is the Spirit’s power that moves our self-centered egos toward the weak, the ugly, the hurt, the aggravating and moves that ego to invest itself in personal care with no expectation of reward. Just as patience will take anything from others that they give, kindness will give anything to others, even to those who hurt or disappoint us. Loving kindness simplifies the complexities of life that come because of hurts.
Consider some questions about kindness:
- Do I offer to help to others before I am asked?
- Am I thoughtful and considerate?
- Am I concerned with doing little things for people?
- Do I have a pleasant tone in my voice?
- Do I lash out or rip another person apart with harsh, critical language? Am I sarcastic?
- Do I appreciate my parents, my family, my friends, my church, my boss?
- Am I quick to say thank you for all that someone does, even the little things?
- Am I more likely to complement or criticize others?
Jesus loves with patience and kindness. When He was on the cross—betrayed, rejected, humiliated, brutally beaten—He absorbed the blow. He committed Himself to God, forgave those who were executing Him. And then, after He rose from the dead, He moved toward the same ones who had abandoned, denied, and rejected Him in loving kindness.
What hurt comes to mind that seems impossible to absorb? Who in your life is difficult to move toward and forgive? Is there any bitterness and unresolved conflict that is draining your energy? Is there someone you are tempted to lash out at, to leave (emotionally or literally), or worst, to treat with indifference?
If you want this simple life of patience and kindness to really sink in and transform your life and relationships, your first assignment isn’t to go out and try to be more patient and kind. The first step is to accept God’s patience and kindness to you. In the words of 1 John 4:9, “We love because He first loved us.” In other words, our ability to love Him and others flows out of our experience of being loved by Him. Trying to express God’s love to others without first knowing His love for us is like trying to be a fountain without a water source. We can’t give what we don’t have. The second step is to pray for God to change your heart and give you His ability to supernaturally love with His patience and His kindness. The final step is to make a move toward those whom God brings to your mind. Follow the good and loving impulses that God’s Holy Spirit brings to your attention. “Walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us.” Ephesians 5:2
A friend told a story last week about how his five-year old daughter, Ella, was invited to a neighbor’s birthday party. At the party, a band of girls were exclusive of her and generally rude to her all night. On more than one occasion, her dad overheard one of the girls plot aloud, in his daughter’s presence, how they could elude her and play without her. Initially, her dad pulled her away from the girls and sat her on his lap while they watched a movie that was on their TV. I imagine her dad was fuming mad and considering ways to confront the girls or their parents. Ella, however, was determined to break through with these girls. She hung tough all night. When it was time to go, without being prompted by anyone, she ran straight to the birthday girl who had been the rudest to her and gave her a big hug.
Love is patient. Love is kind.