Calvary Road Baptist Church

“UNNATURAL LOVE”

First Corinthians 13.4a

 

John 3.16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

 

John 15.13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

 

First John 4.11: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”

 

Just a few of the numerous verses about love found in the Bible. Do you really know what love is? This morning we will slowly begin to learn what real love is. When I use the English word love, or charity, I am referring to something that in the Greek language is called agape, which represents the highest and most noble concept of love.

You may remember, from two weeks ago, that we learned of the necessity of this quality of love the translators labeled charity . . . that you cannot effectively function as a Christian, no matter how spiritually gifted or naturally talented you are, without it. Is it not sad, then, that our own ignorance of the subject, and our own lack of familiarity with the concept of Biblical love, results in so many talented and so many gifted people thinking they are effective in their service to God, when from a heavenly perspective they are not?

By the way, I also hope that my reminiscing about my little brother on that Ford tractor two weeks ago did not distract you from my feeble attempt at penetrating thought on the necessity of love. Since I related that incident to you, I have been thinking about my own childhood a great deal. You can learn a great deal by evaluating your own experiences in the light of God’s Word. This is because when you look at your past experiences through the lens of scripture, there is a completely new perspective that you had not appreciated without resorting to the Bible.

For example: Beginning my formal education in an all Indian boarding school, and being the only white kid in a school that was attended by Sioux and Chippewa Indians, was quite interesting. You see, my father was a government employee who worked in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. So, for most of my childhood our family lived on Indian reservations. Let me show you how very distorted and wrong a child can be about certain things. I used to think I was a genius. What was the basis for my confidence? I could simply outperform anyone in school in any subject who was in my grade level. For that reason I had to be very smart, I thought. However, from an adult’s perspective, I have to admit that I was performing against youngsters who spoke no English until they began first grade. Why was that? Most of the Indian children lived so far out on the reservation that they had no contact with the English language until they reached mandatory school age. When that happened, they had to live in the boys and girls dormitories, since transporting students back and forth to their outlying homes was impossible in the winter.

So, you see, as hard as it might be for most of you to imagine, it turned out that I was not a bona fide genius. The more you think of it, and the more you know of the situation, the more you will realize that even without the language problems they were saddled with they still were at a significant disadvantage. Imagine being from rural North Dakota, having no access to radio, television, or newspapers, and then reading about a lion in the first or second grade reader. A lion! Great! What is a lion? Of course, I knew what a lion was ‘because I watched the lion acts on the Ed Sullivan Show, and my folks took me to the circus when it came into the nearest town, and my parents took me to the occasional movie. However, how do you explain a lion to someone who has never seen a picture of one? Think he will believe you when you say it is a 400 to 500 hundred pound cat that can take a stallion down? No way is he going to believe you. Or how do you explain an elephant? Well, it is an animal that weighs thousands of pounds, has huge ears, and its nose is ten times the size of its tail. It’s skin is really thick and tough, but also very susceptible to gnat bites. Will that kid, who does not much trust white people, anyway, believe you? Of course not. My classmates were at a tremendous disadvantage in school, until school officials wised up and began to show educational films and pictures of the things you and I already took for granted when we started first grade.

Think about that for a moment. Their alien experiences made it very difficult for them to adapt to and appreciate mainstream American culture. Do you realize that in certain respects we Christians face a problem that closely parallels the problem faced by my former classmates? Sure we do.

We know there is something called charity, love, that is said in the Word of God to be a vital part of our Christian life, and that love of this essence motivated God to send His Son, Jesus, to suffer and bleed and die for our sins. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul has convinced us that we need this stuff called charity, this thing called love, to be really effective Christians. However, what is it? Mention a big cat like a lion and my classmates on the Indian reservation would picture a large alley cat in their minds. Mention love to a Christian and we invariably think of brotherly love or sexual attraction, or some hybrid of the two. Wrong in either case. Why would Indian kids have such a hard time with a lion? Because a 400-pound cat seemed so unnatural, based on their limited experience. As well, why do Christians misunderstand or misrepresent charity so very much of the time? Because true charity, genuine love, is so unnatural. In fact, folks, charity, so important to every Christian, is supernatural. To show this, and to show Christians what charity really is, Paul shows how charity responds to people.

Stand with me so you can stretch your legs for a bit. Before you sit down, let me read how love, charity love, agaph love, the kind of love God has for you, and the kind of love Christians are supposed to exhibit toward each other, generally responds to all people. First Corinthians 13.4a: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind.”

Let me ask you a question: How do you naturally react to people? If you analyze it, you and everyone else in this room have two basic response patterns to people . . . active and passive. Active is what you do, while passive is what you do not do. When someone acts a certain way, or when they just are a certain way, sometimes you do something and sometimes you do nothing. Sometimes you are active and sometimes you are passive. You do not much think about it, either. It just comes naturally. However, as we examine this short phrase, in preparation to biting off a larger chunk of scripture about love next week, I want you to notice how charity’s response is opposite the natural response.

 

First, LOVE’S PASSIVE RESPONSE

 

Whereas the natural man, the unsaved man, characteristically reacts quickly to many things, typically angers and spouts off to friends and “loved ones” in an active way when provoked, charity responds in a passive way to the same stimuli. “Charity suffereth long.”

Let me define the term suffereth. In the areas of behavior that we refer to as long-suffering and patience, there is a great deal of confusion. However, the confusion can be quickly cleared up when it is understood that in the New Testament these are two quite different words. Turn to James 1.2-4:

 

2      My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;

3      Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

4      But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

 

Here we have the word patience. The word patience, always and in every case that I am aware of, refers to circumstances and situations. It is the Greek word upomonh, and it refers to the capacity to bear up in the face of difficulty, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, and perseverance.[1] Patience is what you need to deal with barking dogs in the middle of the night, traffic jams when you are late for work and jalopy cars that never seem to start when you really need for them to start. It is patience that you are in short supply of when the lack of toothpaste disturbs you, the sticking closet door bugs you, or the long stop light drives you crazy. Please notice that love does not have anything to do with patience. It is faith that has to do with patience. Why? Because patience generally has to do with the circumstances of life, and not people.

Long-suffering, on the other hand, makroqumia, what Paul refers to in our text, is one of the ingredients of the fruit of the Holy Spirit of God. Know what this segment of the fruit of the Holy Spirit means? It means, “to take a long time to boil.” Long-suffering is that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation from other people, which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish.[2]

What does this mean? This means, if you have charity toward people, it will be difficult for your children to anger you, you will rarely snap at your wife, and you will not call your boss out when he infuriates you. It “depends upon God’s gift of time and the right attitude toward God’s gift and its exercise.” A person with this kind of love “does not rush in before the right time, and does not have a short fuse . . . Genuine love for the other will wait until the other is ready, especially if love prompts a word or warning or rebuke.”[3]

Look at some biblical examples of long-suffering with me. It should not surprise anyone that God is long-suffering:

 

Exodus 34.6-7:   6      And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,

7      Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

 

Numbers 14.18-19:  18     The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

19     Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.

 

See? God is long-suffering. Did you notice how closely related forgiveness is to long-suffering? Is it not your experience that hot-tempered people tend to be unwilling to forgive? I mean, really forgive. No, it is commonplace for hot-tempered people to not really forgive easily. You see, it is the fact that they never really forgive people, which explains why they frequently blow their stacks for such little provocations. They never really forgave the last provocation.

People who are wise are also long-suffering:

 

Proverbs 14.29: “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.”

 

Proverbs 15.18: “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.”

 

Proverbs 16.32: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

 

Proverbs 19.11: “The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.”

 

Notice the checklist I have printed on the back of your bulletin. The first is a checklist that one writer compiled to summarize that aspect of love Paul refers to as long-suffering. Ask yourself these questions:

 

#1     Am I slow to anger?

#2     Am I merciful (that is, do I hold back wrath)?

#3     Am I forgiving? By the way, forgiveness means you don’t throw the issue up to that person later on when you get mad again.

#4     Am I willing to listen?

#5     Can I endure other’s sins? Or does it infuriate me when other’s sins affect me.

#6     Do I rest in God’s plan and knowledge?

#7     Do I give up on people?

 

If you answered the first six questions with a “Yes” and the last one with a “No,” then you may be long-suffering. Let me ask you this: How many of you were not raised in a home where long-suffering was in evidence? If so, the home you were raised in was not a home in which there was real love. What likely passed for love in the home you grew up in is generally what you think is the kind of love Paul is talking about, at least subconsciously. However, it is not. It is a completely different thing that passes for love.

This brings to a conclusion our examination of love’s passive response. Reflect on what I have said when you go home. Discuss the issue with members of your family. Moms and dads? Dare to ask your children if, by what we now know, they think you love them. “Love suffereth long.”

Husbands and wives? Dare to close the door to the bedroom tonight and ask your mate if he or she thinks you love her or him. Of course, the proof that you do not suffer long will be your anger if you do not get the answer you want.

 

Now, LOVE’S ACTIVE RESPONSE

 

Just as charity does not “boil quickly” when typical human nature is short with people, there is another unnatural response of charity. When lost men naturally do nothing, we find in Christians that “charity . . . is kind” . . . always.

Again, let me define the term. Those of you who are familiar with Galatians 5.22 probably recognize that this, too, where in its noun form “is kind” is here translated gentleness, is part of the fruit of the Spirit of God. The word “is kind,” cresteuomai, comes from a root word meaning, “to take into service.” Thisleton remarks that the verb “clearly matches the modern English equivalent, except that it conveys more warmth in first-century Greek . . . In its positive sense, kindness is pure and unselfish concern for the well-being of the other.”[4]

Now, for some examples of kindness in the Bible. God is kind, Romans 2.4: “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” Twice in this verse the noun form of our word “is kind” is translated into the word “goodness.” Notice how God is useful, serviceable, excellent or valuable, in other words kind. The things He does in people’s lives, the active role He plays, influences them to repent of their sins. This does not mean that being nice to people will cause them to repent of their sin. Remember, the Bible word “kind” is not exactly the same as our English word “nice.” If you doubt that, turn to Romans 11.22: “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”

If you are the type of person who thinks that being nice to people while they merrily march toward an eternity in Hell is kind, you need to read this again. Parents, you do your children no favors by confusing this issue. “Kind” as they respond and do right. Correction when they sin and do wrong.

Next, we see that the Lord Jesus Christ is “kind,” Matthew 11.28-30: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” See that word “easy” in verse 30? That is the noun form of our word “is kind.” What exactly is it that “is kind?” It is the Lord’s yoke. And what does His yoke do? It keeps you in harness, under control, headed in the right direction . . . the same direction as the Lord is headed.

If we were to draw some conclusions based on what little we have learned about “is kind,” it would seem to involve direction and heading. God’s “kindness” heads a person toward repentance. For the Christian, Christ’s yoke “is kind” in heading us in the right direction toward conversion and then to properly pull our load for the cause of Christ.

Look at that second checklist on your bulletin. Ask yourself:

 

#1     Am I kind and forgiving?

#2     Am I useful and beneficial to others?

#3     Am I kind to those undeserving and unresponsive?

#4     Do I relieve burdens and not burden others down?

#5     Do I forget other’s sin and not hold them up? That is, throw their sins in their face.

#6     Do I nudge others in the right direction?

 

Folks, six “Yes” answers suggests you might be a person who is kind, in the Biblical sense of the word. How many of you were raised in a home in which there was kindness? If you were not raised in the home of parents who guided you to Christ, you were not raised in a home where kindness was featured in what was passed on to you as love.

Kindness is a yoke that keeps others oriented in the right direction and moving in the direction of conversion and then consecration. It is parents who exercise control over their children’s environment, supervising their television time, guarding who they spend time with, and making sure they are fully involved in every aspect of church life.

 

Therefore, you have seen that charity (love), responds in an unnatural way, in a supernatural way, to people and their actions. When man would rise up in anger or frustration, charity suffers long. When man would do nothing and let things slide or continue on without seeking to influence the direction of others, charity is kind. In each case, charity is opposite from the actions or the reactions of what is natural for man to do and to be.

I know only One Who was long-suffering and did not give me the Hellfire I deserve. I know only One Who treated me with kindness after I rejected His love for me and scorned His Son for so long. Do you know the long-suffering and kind One? Is His precious Son your personal Savior? If you have not yet considered how dramatically different God’s love is from what you always thought love was, then you have not really considered the gospel with the care and serious reflection it deserves. I urge you to come and discuss this important matter with me after the service.

Christian, is the response of love your response to people? Are you long-suffering, or do you find yourself blowing your stack to your children, becoming frustrated with your coworkers, or getting short with your mate? Are you kind? I’m not asking you if you are nice, for it’s possible to always be nice and still not be kind, in the Biblical sense of the word. When I ask if you are kind, I refer to actively dealing with other people in such a way as to lead them to repentance, if they are lost, or to lead them to serving Christ, if they are saved. That is kindness.

You see, the kindest thing you can ever do for a lost person is bring him to Christ. As well, the kindest thing you can ever do for a believer is to keep him directed toward serving Christ. If you will allow the Word of God to define those two terms for you, then many of you have already realized the absence of love in your life. You have neither loved nor have you been loved. For none ever suffered you long and you do not suffer others long. For none was ever kind toward you, and you have not been kind to others, pointing them in the direction they ought to go.

A final word to parents before we move on. An older member of my family was a dear and sweet Christian woman, who never seemed to comprehend real Christian love, insofar as she was seen to express it to anyone. She concentrated on the unconditional aspect of real love, but really projected her concept of love into the Bible . . . erroneously. An example: She spoiled her youngest child rotten. He was a wicked kid who never honored either his mother or his father. He always took advantage of them and was profoundly disrespectful toward them. Still, his mother was always apologizing for him, and covering for him, and making excuses for him. She thought she was being kind. She thought she was loving her youngest son, and protecting him. What she was doing was nurturing and cultivating sin in his life.

Parents, there is no better example of love than God. And yet, does He tolerate sin in the lives of His children? No. If you have a child who is in sin, you do him no favor by excusing or explaining it away. Further, you do the cause of Christ and your testimony no good either. If you really love your kids, remember to love them the way God loves His kids. Deal with their sin and their response to the gospel. It’s better for them in the long run. I pray God works in each of your lives that we would more effectively display the love of God toward others, rather than the love of men.



[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 1039-1040.

[2] Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words, (Westwood, New Jersey: Barbour and Company, Inc., 1952), page 12.

[3] Anthony C. Thiselton, First Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical And Pastoral Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), page 221.

[4] Ibid.



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