Love is Patient and Perseveres
Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
The context of the “love chapter,” as 1 Corinthians 13 is commonly called, is not a wedding but a letter written to a church in which strife and division were a thing (1 Cor. 1:10-12). This section of the letter focuses on how the church was to engage one another in the exercise of spiritual gifts in their gatherings (1 Cor. 12 – 14). These verses have something important to say to the church today which is splintering over opinions about the pandemic, politics, and how much progress has been made in race relations in our nation or churches.
The context of the “love chapter,” as 1 Corinthians 13 is commonly called, is not a wedding but a letter written to a church in which strife and division were a thing.
How Love Acts
The verses most often quoted (1 Cor. 13:4-7) are a description of how love acts. This description begins with “Love is patient” and ends with “love perseveres.” In fact, both could be translated as “love is patient,” or “love forebears.” In other words, “how love acts” begins and ends with persevering patience. Everything in between must be seen through that lens.
The unity made possible because of Christ can only be experienced through loving communication. Loving communication involves listening as well as, if not more than, speaking. The Babel story illustrates that point. The peoples of the world were divided because communication became impossible. When God wanted to bring the world back together under one head, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10), He began by bringing people from all over the known world together and inspiring speech that allowed everyone to hear what was said in their own languages (Acts 2:8-11).
The unity made possible because of Christ can only be experienced through loving communication.
The unity which God has made available in Christ can only be realized through loving, patient, engagement with one another. Sadly, that is something our broader culture is short on and all too often so is the church, hence we are still worldly (1 Cor. 3:3). The message of 1 Corinthians 13 is as needed by the church today as it was in the church in Corinth in Paul’s day. I was struck earlier this week by something I read from Adolph Schlatter.
Love understands the other person. Whoever esteems no one but himself is under the curse of continually having to misunderstand. To be sure he is soft and deferent toward himself. Toward others, however, he is hard. Yet when our eyes are illumined by love and our judgments are shaped by it, we become patient, because we understand others, give them time, and are able to wait, and can cope with the difficulties they cause us. (Adolf Schlatter, Do We Know Jesus?)
I don’t know whether Schlatter intended to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, but, in effect, he did. How different would our conversations about matters of difference be if we esteemed others more highly than ourselves? How different would our conversations be if we were patient to listen, giving time to those we disagree with, and sought to understand them lovingly?
How We Act
The problem we often have is that we don’t believe that we could be wrong on matters of our opinion and, therefore, neither do we think that the other person could be right. We readily suppose that we don’t need to listen. If we listen at all, it is only in order that we might defeat their argument, not understand it.
Why do Christians all too often behave unlovingly as Schlatter described above. I offer that it is because we think we are doing God a favor. We have God’s truth (our “right” understanding of what the Bible teaches) and we are going to stand for that truth. After all, there is only one truth, is there not? Is this logic not compelling? It is. However, it fails to recognize a key factor. It may well be the same failure which tripped up the Pharisees, causing them to miss the visitation of God. We are not God.
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Rom. 14:1-4)
It is a form of legalism that presumes to lord it over others, as if they stand or fall under our judgment. Far too often this is what is happening when the church is quarreling over disputable matters. There are essential creedal aspects of the Christian Faith (think: Apostle’s Creed), and there are even super important issues just below that. Beyond those, we need to remember who is their Lord, their God, and that it is not us. This is the posture necessary in order for us to be patient and to forebear patiently; to not strive for our own agenda.
It is a form of legalism that presumes to lord it over others, as if they stand or fall under our judgment.
Maybe Schlatter had the above verses from Romans in mind when he wrote:
What is revealed to us is what we ought to accept, nothing more. And what we are told to do, this we ought to do, nothing more. And what we were made to be, this we ought to be, nothing else. Thus, our authority over others comes to an end. For God is not merely our God, but the God of all. (Adolf Schlatter, Do We Know Jesus?)
Nations have often made the mistake to claim that their wars are “holy wars”; to claim that they are fighting on behalf of God’s will. That has done much damage to God’s name in the world. Sadly, I am finding that many Christians believe that their war is God’s war too and they exact it with the same kind of ungodly vengeance which the aforementioned nations have.
Letting God be God
We may well have convictions that we live by and which we believe we have received from the Lord. Those convictions do not make us lords of other believers. We are called to love them and to do so with patient listening and not striving to exert our own desires or seeking our own ends. Love is patient and perseveringly forebears!
When we learn to act with the love that is patient, not striving for its own agenda, we might well learn how to communicate in such a way that people can hear the wonders of God in their own language. When we do, there will be a unifying force among believers that exceeds anything unifying identity which the world can offer.
Live the Gospel,