The Key to Patience

Studies in First Corinthians

by Bob Burridge ©2018
Lesson 32: 1 Corinthians 13:4a (ESV)

The Key to Patience

Waiting doesn’t come easily for us in our fallen human nature. We become impatient so quickly and may be tempted to make that insincere prayer, “Lord teach me patience. And could you please be quick about it?”

I once found an old letter in an abandoned house in an overgrown orange grove off US-19 near Tampa Bay. It was written by the Taylor family, one of the early pioneer families in Pinellas County, Florida. The letter spoke of a trip to Tampa from Clearwater. It was a full day’s trip by horse cart around the north side of Tampa Bay. Those early pioneers would be amazed to see people commuting daily by car over our present choice of three high speed causeways between the two sides of the Bay. We have turned that full day’s trip into a 10 minute drive (admittedly longer during rush hour). Yet, you can’t make that trip today without seeing drivers impatiently going over the speed limit, weaving in and out of traffic, and getting angry when they can’t get around a slower car.

We live in a very fast paced world. We’ve come to expect our hamburgers to be served fast, and restaurant servers to be quick in taking care of us. It’s hard to wait around for vacation trips or special events. We want our news up-to-date: to see it while it’s happening on cable TV, or over our phones or the Internet. When I used to get the newspaper every morning it was last night’s news and had often changed since then. News magazines are a week or month old when we get them. Often the stories have changed dramatically by the time we read them. We want traffic to move fast. If it doesn’t, people get restless and sometimes irritated. We expect check-out lines to move fast, never getting bogged down with slow customers, people ahead of us who can’t get their credit cards to work, lazy checkers, price errors, or lagging computers.

As Christians, we need to learn to perceive the larger picture: God at work in everything around us. Even the bad and challenging things that happen to us are part of God’s larger, wise, and gracious plan. But just knowing about God’s providence isn’t encouraging if we don’t have a true love for God.

We need to love him so much and so purely that we put him above everything else; above our hobbies, our vacations, our TV time, sports, friends, and even family. We need to love him so much that treating others in the ways he says becomes more important than getting our way, than proving we’re right, than avoiding unpleasant situations, than having people honor us and compliment us.

When we’re restored to fellowship with God through faith in Christ, the new life he implants in us changes the disposition of our souls. One of the things implanted is the ability to love God and others with the kind of love God created us to know and to show.

In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul explains the true nature of that special gift of love. The troubling issues he’d been dealing with in this letter are the opposites of love. The Corinthian church was torn apart into factions by jealousy, false teachers, false doctrines, immorality, and pride. But of all the gifts God gives his church, central is the changed heart that’s made able to love in this right and biblical way. Without love the revealed truth of God might be known as facts, but not appreciated. Without love all our skills and abilities are put to selfish and evil uses. Without love Sin and Satan win.

But there is this true biblical love. It’s not something far away, or only reachable by those with superior knowledge or sensitivities. It’s inside every true believer in Christ, though imperfectly in all of us. It’s a power we often underestimate, a fruit that needs to be cultivated and enjoyed.

To help the Corinthians and us learn to love as we should, verses 4-8 list 16 characteristics of true love. They are concomitants of love, things that should go along with it if it’s really there. That’s the theme of this whole 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Love produces certain dispositions in your life.

The first thing 1 Corinthians 13 says about love
is that, “Love is patient … “

The Greek word for patience in the original text is “makro-thumei” (μακροθυμει). It’s made up of two root words. The first part of the word is “makro” (μακρο). It means something large. “macro-economics” is when we look at the larger effects on the economy in a society. “macro-evolution” is the theory that on the large scale, all things evolved from lower life forms. In contrast, “micro-evolution” refers to little changes like variations in race and breeds. In computer programming, a “macro” is a group of commands combined to do some larger job. The second part of the word is “thumei” (θυμει). It comes from a word that means “passions, emotion, anger”

When we put these two words together they mean that love has the strong ability to keep our passions under control for a long time. The King James Version uses the older but very accurate word “longsuffering”. Love doesn’t give up when faced with annoyances, challenges, and complaints. It doesn’t get angry or impatient when God doesn’t do things as quickly as we think he should. It doesn’t try to hurt back. It endures without loosing self-control.

Obviously God is perfectly patient and longsuffering.

He never doubts the successful unfolding of his own plan. He always knows exactly when it’s time for the next event. He works according to a large cosmic time schedule set by his eternal decree. He makes all things move at the pace that best displays his glory.

God has good reasons for his patience even when it’s directed toward those still held captive by sin. But he doesn’t show us what those reasons are in every case.

1 Peter 3:20 gives us some insight into the reasons for the delayed execution of his wrath. In the time of the great flood it tells us about the disobedient saying, “because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.”

In the pre-flood days, the world had fallen into horrible corruption. But God allowed time for the wicked to show how much they deserved his wrath, and for the Ark to be constructed to deliver Noah, his family, and the animals. Peter used the same word for God’s patience [makro-thumei] that Paul used here in 1 Corinthians 13:4. When God allows evil to spread for awhile, he’s waiting patiently for the very best time to reveal his power and grace.

Acts 14:16 explains, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.” When evil continues for a while in defiance of God, it’s season is limited. When the moment is right, God will pour out his wrath, and preserve divine justice.

The foolish might construe God’s patience as apathy, weakness, or approval of sin. They assume that if God doesn’t judge them immediately, they’ve gotten away with something. But the wise know that God works all things in his own good time.

As believers, God’s patience with us is a great blessing. He gives us time to repent and show his work of grace upon our hearts. In those moments when he lets sin have its way in our lives, it humbles us. It lets us see what we would be without his work in our hearts. It brings us to repentance and thankfulness for the faith he gives to the undeserving.

To show us what this patience looks like,
God gives us great examples in his word.

Jesus showed his patience during his life on earth. He held off entering his ministry for 30 years after he was born. That was the age set for the priests of God to be ordained to their work. Before that time we know little about his quiet life in Nazareth.

Then during his ministry, when the enemies of truth provoked him and attacked him, Jesus didn’t impatiently strike them dead at that moment sending them to eternal punishment. He firmly but with self-control answered their questions. He patiently taught them and warned them. He stood quietly during his unjust trial, and complied as he was led to the cross to die in our place.

He knew what he was sent to do, and he loved the cause for which he lived and died. It was his good and perfect plan formed out of a deep love for his people. When you love God and his plan, it makes it easier to wait patiently as it unfolds in time.

We have good human examples of patience in Scripture too: Hebrews 6:12 points us to those who have gone before us saying, “so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. ”

James 5:10 reminds us of the heroes of Scripture, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

The Apostle Paul was a good example himself: In 1 Timothy 1:16 he wrote, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” It’s among the things he wanted Timothy to imitate. In 2 Timothy 3:10 he wrote, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness.” Then in 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul told Timothy to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

Patience and longsuffering should be
growing in every Christian’s life.

God created us in his image to show his patience in us. It’s the 4th fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22. It’s the 5th item in Colossians 3:12 of those things we should put on as the elect of God. Here it’s the first in the list of the properties of true God implanted love.

Living patiently is an important quality if we expect to live at peace in God’s world. Our attitude toward events and time should be shaped by our confidence in God’s holy and wise ways.

When we remember that God is at work, and that his work is always good, it helps us to wait patiently. We need to see the larger picture, and love the picture we see. When we’re confident about God’s plan and timing of all things, it helps us to be willing not to get all the things we want when we want them.

Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”

But being patient doesn’t mean
we become apathetic or inactive.

Jesus knew the right times when he should act in his authority as Priest and Judge. Twice, he drove the dishonest money-changers out of God’s Temple. He warned the apostate religious leaders of the impending doom of Jerusalem. And he will come again one day to judge the living and the dead.

But he was always patient in each case to wait until the time was right. He didn’t let the moment get the best of him. He saw the larger plan, and he loved the plan — because he knew it was good.

It’s not patience if we stand by idly waiting for bad things to correct themselves, while our children get taken in by harmful drugs, immoral life styles, and rebellious friends. Or while our own lives crumble from neglected responsibilities and missed opportunities. Patience doesn’t ignore the need to get involved and make changes. Though there’s doubt that Edmund Burke ever actually wrote it, he’s alleged to have said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

But Patience also knows that some things can’t be changed. They are unchangeable, or are outside our authority to correct. God gives us the weather each day, our responsibility is to adjust to it and do our best in storm or calm. When we get behind a slow driver on the highway, it would only provoke the situation to be rude to him or show anger. Patience looks for a safe and legal way to get around him, and meanwhile use the time wisely.

When someone we meet in public or have to work with is rude or annoying, we don’t have the authority to attack them or punish them. The best we can do is to patiently wait for a good opportunity to try to help them positively, and to endure their insensitivity with dignity and humble grace.

Before a tornado destroyed our house we had that well known saying in a frame on our wall that said, “God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

Patience provides that serenity when it’s motivated by a supreme love for God.

The world is getting faster paced all the time.

The ways of thousands of past years have changed dramatically in the last century: We can micro-wave up a whole meal faster than King David could build a fire to cook on. We can travel farther in one day by car than a month’s travel by caravan, even with traffic jams. News took weeks to reach people in the past, now we know instantly what’s happening all over the world. We see it live on cable TV, the internet, or our phones. E-mail and text messages reach our family, friends, and business contacts the moment we type them.

But with our improvements we tend to want things faster: We enjoy fast foods, fast weight loss programs, fast cures, fast repairs, fast check-out lines, quick answers, and higher speed internet.

With all these expectations of quick service, lines grow longer, traffic goes slower, and tempers get shorter. With earth’s population now over 7.6 billion there are more needs to be met, limited resources available, and more competing ways of handling those needs. Life moves fast. Things are always changing and adjusting. And waiting is something many believe we shouldn’t have to do anymore.

All this helps make patience
more challenging than ever before in history.

When we have to wait in long lines, put up with rude neighbors, sit through traffic back-ups, endure unfair treatment by unkind people — whatever tries our patience — we need to rest with confidence that there’s a plan far larger than what we can see, and we need to deeply love and trust in God who made that plan to be as it is.

We may dislike the incompetence, sin, and slowness that disrupts our schedule. But knowing that there is a larger purpose, a good purpose behind it, helps us through. That knowledge honors God, and helps us promote peace around us in his world.

Impatience obscures the attributes of Christ which ought to be growing in us, and it diminishes the display of God’s kingship over our lives.

It’s easier to quote Romans 8:28 than to put it into practice. It reminds us by saying, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Loving God so much that we accept what we can’t change, and deal with it calmly, shows our trust in him and in his purpose behind all things.

Love isn’t presented in 1 Corinthians 13 in some ideal environment. It’s a love that fits us for the real world: a world of challenges, rudeness, waiting, and sin.

Just knowing about God’s providence isn’t encouraging, if we don’t love the God of providence. But when we love him greater than our own schedules, comfort, personal goals, and ease, we are comforted in the situations that put us to the test.

1 Peter 2:20, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”

(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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