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(I Corinthians 13:4a) Surprised by the Appearances of Love

(I Corinthians 13:4a) Surprised by the Appearances of Love

Ref: 1 Corinthians 3:4

Paul has been roaming around the city with a divine camera, secretly taking snapshots of 'true love' in action. Are there any pictures of you in his scrapbook?


Surprised by the Appearances of Love

I Corinthians 13:4a

I happen to love to surprise my wife, whether it’s a birthday party, a trip, or a new appliance. 

But she’s hard to surprise. I usually have to tell at least 25 lies and commit 30 misdemeanors in order to pull off one surprise.

She turned the tables on me when I turned 40. That was a few months ago, but now, She had planned for almost a year and pulled off one of those “This Is Your Life” parties. There were people from all over who traveled to Cary to surprise me. A close friend from Dallas paid the moving expenses from Dallas to Cary 21 years ago to start Colonial. A close friend from college days. However, I nearly fell over in shock when, around the corner, came a boyhood friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. He was another missionary kid whose father worked with mine. What a shock – he was married, had children . . . looked so grown up. He and I (2 missionary kids) were inseparable growing up, getting into all sorts of mischief. We used to play tag with a BB gun . . . but that’s another story. I don’t have time for that tonight. But I said that I would encourage all the moms out there who are wondering if little Junior will survive. He will – and he’ll probably grow up to become a preacher . . . so be patient with him.

Marsha loves surprises a lot more than I do, but I’ll never forget that birthday.

I recently received another surprise in the mail—not nearly as fun. At first, it took me some time to figure out why I was being sent pictures of my Ford F150 pick-up truck until I realized it was a notice of violation from the Town of Cary. 

My beloved town had taken pictures of me going through a red light. I had been caught on film. Three pictures; one from a distance of me in the left turn lane, turning left; another picture with the light clearly showing red and my truck in the middle of the intersection, turning left; then a third picture – a close-up of my license plate – POIMENAS. It’s the Greek word for shepherds – the same word which gives us our word, pastor, in the plural form. When I got that special license plate, my wife told me she was glad it was in Greek because of the way I drive. I didn’t think that was funny either.

The uniqueness of that license plate didn’t help – there’s no denying that POIMENAS on a black F150 was me.

The town of Cary even has a video of the violation. It’s an open-and-shut case. The only positive thing about the pictures is that the truck really looks good. Thank you again for it.

At the bottom of the notice, it said to mail in my $50.00 if I wanted to avoid further civil action.

No way to argue . . . no need to bother.

Although I read recently about a guy who thought he’d be a wise guy. He got one of these notices in the mail with pictures of his car running a red light, and he was told to mail in $40.00. He thought he’d respond in kind, so he mailed in a photograph of $40.00. He took a picture of two 20-dollar bills and mailed them in. A week later, he got another letter from the Town with a picture enclosed – a photograph of a pair of handcuffs. He promptly mailed in his money.

I have to tell you . . . it was odd seeing these pictures of me going through that intersection with undeniable proof of a violation of the law. And I was embarrassed because of it.

It’s made me think . . . what if someone was taking pictures of us throughout the day? What if we were surprised by a snapshot taken throughout the day? Our facial expressions clearly exposed. Our words are captioned underneath. Our actions . . . all recorded on camera.

How much of it would bring us embarrassment at the end of the day – how much of it would bring us joy?

Would we be surprised by the appearances of loving actions in those photographs, or would they simply catalog selfish words and self-centered living?

It’s as if the Apostle Paul has been roaming through our neighborhood and church with a divine camera. He’s been cataloging for some time what true love is up to. He’s delivered the photographs to us in an envelope marked 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

Now, if you’ve been under the impression that 1 Corinthians 13 is some kind of hallmark, romantic card of what love is, you’re in for another surprise. 

Even though our translation includes adjectives for love, in the Greek language, these are not adjectives; they are verbs—all 15 of them, present tense verbs.

Listen, this chapter does not tell us what true love is—it tells us what true love does. Agape is active. 

Agape isn’t something you feel; it isn’t some inner sensation or emotion. In fact, this kind of true love isn’t conveyed by words alone, it has to be shown. One author said agape can be defined only by what it does and does not do. [SOURCE: David Garland, Baker Exegetical Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Baker Academic, 2003), p. 616]

This is true love, caught on tape. This is undeniable evidence of what true love looks like in action.

Notice verse 4.

Love is patient, love is kind.

These are the first of 15 verbs. They are two positive statements followed by 8 negative statements.

Paul spends as much time telling us how love does not act as he does in how love acts.

We’ll reserve comments on the negative side of true love for our next session.

The first two descriptions are nothing less than two surprising snapshots of love. They are surprising in that they describe love in places where you would not expect to see love show up. They head the list.

We could translate these first two positive verbs this way; love exercises patience . . . love demonstrates kindness.”

  1.  First, love exercises patience

By the way, this verb from makrothumew (makroqumew) which means, “long suffering.” The word macro is used in our English language as a prefix for broad or long as opposed to micro for something tiny like a microchip.

Thumew refers to passion. It is used for something breaking into flames. [SOURCE: Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, (Regency, 1976), p. 432]

In other words, makrothumew takes a long time to burst into flame.

In our modern world, we would call this long-fused patience. There is a long fuse to agape.

By the way, this word, chosen by the Spirit of God, has to do with having patience with people, not things. [SOURCE: Leon Morris, Testaments of Love (Eerdmans, 1981), p. 244]

It’s one thing to exercise patience over a broken lawnmower, or a computer that crashes, or a photo-copier that keeps jamming or the vending machine where you put in your 75 cents and the candy bar slides to the end of the arm but won’t fall down. You stand there and say, “I can’t believe it!” You push on the machine – you smack the glass – you threaten it.

That’s certainly one kind of patience, but that’s not the word here. This has to do with exercising patience with people.

People that evidently are difficult, otherwise you wouldn’t need to exercise patience. People you’d like to shake or push or threaten.

At that moment, this divine snapshot is taken. Look at the photograph . . . maybe you’re in the middle of that scene now . . . what do the pictures reveal?

Our church is blessed with so many teachers from so many different teaching venues. Perhaps you can especially identify with this incident submitted by John Beukema from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. 

An elementary teacher was helping one of her kindergarten students get his cowboy boots on before leaving for home. He’d asked her for help, and she could see why. Even with her pulling and pushing, the boots just didn’t want to fit on all the way – they seemed too small. But she persisted, and by the time she got the second boot on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost cried when the little boy said, “These are on the wrong feet.” You know how boots can sometimes be hard to tell – so she looked closely, and sure enough, they were. She tugged and pulled and finally pulled the boots off, and she managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on the right feet. Finally, just as she was finished, he said, “You know, these aren’t my boots.” She bit her tongue rather than scream. Once again, she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off his little feet. No sooner had they gotten the boots off, he said, ‘See, they’re my brother’s boots, but my mom said I could wear ‘em.” She didn’t know if she would laugh or cry, but she mustered up what patience she had left to wrestle the boots back on his feet one more time. Finally, she finished. Helping him into his coat, she asked, “Now, where are your mittens?” He said, “I stuffed ‘em in the toes of my boots.” (In 2 years, she’ll be eligible for parole) [SOURCE: “Child’s Boots Leave Teacher Frustrated” John Beukema, Chambersburg, PA]

I don’t blame her.

Isn’t it interesting that the first evidence of true love is patience?

This is how love acts toward the unloving.

I found it interesting that the Pharisees in the days of Paul held to the “theory of compensation.” That is, you return to others what they give to you. [SOURCE: TDNT, p. 380]

That’s why Christ's teaching was so radical. It was no longer an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—which was certainly the basis for justice and remuneration.

But now it’s self-defacing, self-defrauding, self-emptying love toward others.

How unlike the world which lives by the opposite motto:

“Don’t get mad, get even.” For starters.

“Do unto others before they do it unto you.”

That’s the law of the jungle.

Jesus Christ says here’s a new motto - endure suffering without seeking retaliation: Paul writes to the Romans, “Do not repay evil with evil.” (Romans 12:17). 

Chrysostom, the church leader said that this word for patience describes a man who has been wronged and who has the power to avenge himself and who will not do it.

The Greeks of Paul’s day would have considered this a sign of weakness.

We know it is a sign of supernatural strength. In fact, the only way you can demonstrate it is not to drum it up – not to try to come up with it on your own, but to surrender to the Spirit of God who develops it in your life as one of His fruits – for the fruit of the spirit is patience.

This is true strength.

If you’ve read the biography of Abraham Lincoln, you’ve come across the bitter resentment shown toward him by Edwin Stanton, a political rival of Lincoln’s. Stanton called Lincoln a clown and nicknamed him, “the original gorilla.” He said that one particular explorer was a fool to wander about Africa trying to capture a gorilla when he could have found one so easily at Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln lived. Lincoln said nothing. In fact, after Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States, he eventually chose Edwin Stanton to be his Secretary of War. When friends and colleagues asked him why, he simply responded, “Because he is the best man for the job.” The years wore on. The night came when the assassin’s bullet murdered Lincoln in that theatre. It wasn’t long before Edwin Stanton stood, looking down on Lincoln’s silent face. He said through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” The patience of love had conquered in the end. [SOURCE: William Barclay, 1 Corinthians (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 120]

This is to love those who are the most needy and the most irritating among you. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, using this same word for patience,

“We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly/the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted – that is, those prone to worry and discouragement, help the weak – that is the morally unstable who seem to constantly need encouragement to do the right thing; and Paul then closes by adding, “and be patient with all of them.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Be long-fused with all of them.

Anybody can love the lovable. Anybody can exercise patience with the considerate. Anybody can put up with the neat and orderly and the strong and the refined and the polite. 

This is not the patience of agape.

The photograph of this kind of agape catches us when we exercise patience toward those who can’t seem to get their boots on without a lot of help. 

One author says that makrothumew is having the patience to bear with those who resist change, who are weak in their faith, who are quick to complain, forgetful of their responsibilities, emotionally unstable, fearful, or even wayward. Be patient with them all, Paul writes!

The ancient Greeks used the word patience for the physician who continued to treat chronic illnesses where there was little hope for a cure. [SOURCE: Gerhard Kittle, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Volume IV (Eerdmans, 1967), p. 375]

Why treat him? Why go through the sweat of it all? Why bother? Because he has inherent worth and value, therefore you have chosen to serve him even though the outlook is bleak and there are no guarantees.

Listen, “This is the agape of God, in that even though we were sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

This is true love: genuine, God-like, Christ-imitating, sacrificial, surprising love that is patient toward the irritable, the unexpressive, the disappointing, and the unlovely.

This is the surprising snapshot of agape.

Have you been caught in a photograph with this kind of love?

Love that expresses patience.

Agape does not stop with being patient with the unloving, Paul writes next in 1 Corinthians 13:4, that this love is also kind.

Being kind is the counterpart of being patient. In other words, while patience will put up with anything, kindness will give away anything to another. [SOURCE: Adapted from John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians (Moody Press, 1984), p. 339]

Listen, it’s possible to be patient without being kind.

I might be able to put up with you by staying away from you, right?

I mean, if you can avoid that person, you can avoid a conflict. But Paul doesn’t stop with “exercising patience” . . . he has the audacity to tell us that true love “demonstrates kindness.”

You’re gonna have to come into contact with that person to do that, aren’t you?!

Kindness is more than a sweet smile and a handshake.

This word means that we not only take the injury from someone with patience, but we return the injury with kindness. [SOURCE: Alan Redpath, The Royal Route to Heaven: 1 Corinthians (Revell, 1960), p. 164]

Agape is not for the weak at heart.

This is Jesus Christ telling His disciples to “love their enemies.” He did not simply mean they were to feel kindly about them but to be kind to them literally. [SOURCE: Ibid, p. 339]

He is the model we follow, for agape is of God.

“The kindness of God has led us to repentance.” (Romans 2:4)

Same word.

We are to demonstrate to others what Christ demonstrates to us.

Peter writes,

“We have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Same word.

We are being called to demonstrate the kindness toward the world that God has demonstrated toward us.

You remember Paul’s injunction to

feed your enemy when he’s hungry and if he is thirsty, give him a drink and in so doing you will heap burning colas of fire on his head. (Romans 12:20)

You say I like that part about burning coals on his head. I can do that!

Paul is describing a very kind deed from his culture that they would have easily understood. We can miss the point.

Nobody in Paul’s day had matches in the pantry. If you didn’t keep your fire going, you couldn’t cook or keep warm in the cold night. In fact, without a fire, you were desperate. The only thing you could do is go to your neighbor and ask for some live coals.

You’d carry along a basin you’d balance on your head, in the custom of that day, as you carried supplies. Neighbors would live quite some distance away from each other. If your neighbor was stingy and gave you only a coal or two, they might lose their heat and smolder out by the time you got home. If your neighbor were kind, he would heap coals of fire on your head – in other words, he’d give you enough coals to ensure that by the time you got home, you’d had enough live coals to start a fire and even begin cooking immediately. 

This would be nothing for a friend to do for a friend. 

What about a stranger? What about an enemy? It would require much more from you if your enemy showed up at your door. You wouldn’t be tempted to give him coal; you’d be tempted to throw it at him—put a hot one down his robe.

And it is that person of whom Christ is speaking.

If you want to demonstrate the love of God – the agape love of kindness, demonstrate self-sacrifice, self-denial, and selfless supportive love for someone you either don’t know or don’t feel kindly toward. 

Demonstrate kindness to them. Have you ever had your picture taken doing something like that?

This is one of those photographs that continues to surprise the world.

One magazine I subscribe to – World Magazine, carried in their Spring edition, 2006, an article written by an atheist who was absolutely devastated by the obvious fact the only people who really want to help other people in need are those Christians.

As he watched the Salvation Army and other faith-based ministries respond to Hurricane Katrina, he lamented in a newspaper column, “Notable by their absence were teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers’ clubs, and atheists’ associations – the sort of people who scoff at religion’s intellectual absurdity. According to Hattersley, it was an obvious conclusion that Christians “were the most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others.” He went on to say that drug addiction offends Christians, but they are the most willing ones to change bandages and clean the addicts up. Listen to this, “The only possible conclusion is that Christians have moral imperatives . . . that makes them morally superior to atheists like me.” [SOURCE: World Magazine, Spring 2006, p. 67]

Listen, this goes all the way back to the early church.

In the second century, the pagans were so struck by the kindness of the Christians toward people who rejected them that; they were so surprised by their kind deeds that, according to Tertullian, they were nicknamed by the changing of one Greek letter, from Christiani (followers of Christ) to Christians – made up of kindness. [SOURCE: Garland, p. 617]

Do we surprise anybody today with our kindness?

Are there any living pictures of us involved in the actions of patience and kindness?

There are two reasons why there aren’t more of us in more pictures that reveal patience and kindness.

There are two demands that make these verbs of love difficult:

First, neither patience nor kindness can be developed apart from the Spirit.

They are the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness—and there they are, side by side again.

Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t decide here to muster up the fruit of the spirit. This is not some resolution you can develop on your own.

They are the results of surrender to the Spirit of God.

So pursue Him . . . and patience and kindness will eventually find you in their photo album.

Neither patience nor kindness can be developed apart from the Spirit.

Secondly, neither patience nor kindness can be demonstrated apart from suffering.

These two actions invite difficulty.

Patience demands, what? irritation people to be exercised.

So if you ask God for more patience, He’ll probably send you more irritating people.

He may send you true suffering. Patience demands irritating conditions to be proven.

Kindness demands unloving conditions to be practiced.

You don’t exercise patience and demonstrate kindness in private. You have to go public; and not just any kind of public.

Lenski wrote, “These two actions are not revealed in surroundings of friendship and affection where each individual embraces and kisses the other – this is action in a bad, self-centered world.” [SOURCE: R. C. H. Lenski, 1 Corinthians (Augsburg Publishing House, 1937), p. 555]

Maybe that’s why these photographs are so rare—and far too rare in our lives to be excused.

I read several years ago about a group of people who demonstrated kindness in a rare way. And the world took note.

In 1975 a child name Raymond Dunn was born in New York State. The Associated Press reported that at his birth, a skull fracture and oxygen deprivation caused severe retardation. As Raymond grew, the family discovered further impairments. His twisted body suffered up to 20 seizures per day. He was also found to be blind, mute, and virtually immobile. He had severe allergies that limited him to only one food – found after numerous attempts to find something he could digest. It was a meat-based formula made by Gerber Foods. But in 1985, Gerber stopped making the formula that Raymond thrived on. Carol Dunn scoured the country to buy what stores had in stock, accumulating cases and cases of it. But in 1990, her supply ran out. In desperation, she appealed to Gerber for help. Would they help her and her son, Raymond? The employees of the company were given the news. They not only listened, but they responded. In an unprecedented action, volunteers donated hundreds of hours to bring out old equipment, set up a production line, obtain special approval from the USDA, and produce the formula – all for one special boy. In January 1995, Raymond Dunn, Jr., known as the Gerber Boy, passed away. But during his brief lifetime, he had called forth a surprising thing called kindness and compassion. [SOURCE: Leadership Magazine, Volume 16, #3]

What a surprising picture . . . what a rare photograph of kindness.

Can we, as the people of God, be any less? Would the world be surprised by the appearance of love in our lives?

Paul says, “Let me show you a more excellent way to live.” He isn’t giving the Corinthians or North Carolinians a different way to feel . . . he’s giving us a radically different way to live.

Surrender to the Spirit and invite suffering so that we can demonstrate to our watching world – which has cameras ready – the patience of agape . . . and the kindness of agape – which become amazing, irrefutable pictures of God-like, Christ-honoring, genuine true love.

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