GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
1 CORINTHIANS 13:4
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4 Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. Love does not boast. It is not arrogant.
None of the words in this verse are adjectives. Adjectives would be words that describe what a noun (in this case, love) is like. Here, all of the words are verbs. That means that they all depict what love does. Love is our subject, but it is shown by its actions. It is the way love acts that we see its true qualities.
Love is patient (μακροθυμεῖ). To be patient is to persevere, to wait for someone without causing them unnecessary stress, without giving them any criticism. God’s patience with his people lasts from generation to generation. “Our Lord’s patience means salvation (2 Peter 3:15), and our own patience comes from godly wisdom. “It is to man’s glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). Solomon observed that patience is better than pride, because the end of a matter is better than its beginning (Ecclesiastes 7:8). Love keeps calm without anger or resentment, and love keeps this up no matter how long it must endure.
Love is kind (χρηστεύεται). To be kind is to treat someone well, especially without any motive of getting something in return, or of testing someone to see what their reaction will be. Perhaps this is what led Agatha Christie to make her observation that “Women are not kind, but they can be gentle.” The word here does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament, but we find it in the earlier writings after the New Testament was completed. To be kind is to show kindness, which includes generosity but also takes time to teach, to share, to reassure. To be kind is to tell a child with new glasses that you like her glasses. To be kind is to tell a young man who just timidly preached his first sermon that you never thought of this or that in the word of God before, and to thank him for sharing the text the way that he did. To show kindness is to be active about building up the people of God.
Love does not envy (οὐ ζηλοῖ). Our word “zeal” comes directly out of this Greek word. The Lord can be zealous for his people and for his own holy name (Ezekiel 39:5), but here the word is obviously zeal or envy in a bad, sinful sense. Love does not become jealous when someone else prospers. James uses this word (translated “covet”) when he says: “You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want” (James 4:2). That is one side of being envious.
On the other hand, love will not hold back praise where praise is due. Love laughs and does not sulk when it loses at cribbage or checkers. Love even compliments the other player, just as love compliments the cook after a meal. In simplest terms, love is never a sore loser and never withholds what should be given. Love is a good sport.
Love does not boast (οὐ περπερεύεται). Bragging overestimates one’s worth and ability, puffing a sinner up like a bullfrog about to split open. The Lord said to the prophet, “See, he is puffed up… but the righteous will live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). One who boasts about himself with no cause to boast is a fool. “The mouth of the fool gushes folly” (Proverbs 15:2). Writer Terry Nation touched this truth with his exasperated quip: “You make your incompetence sound like an achievement!”
Love is not arrogant (οὐ ϕυσιοῦται). This word is connected with the previous one, and the two are sometimes found together: “To the arrogant I say, ‘Boast no more’” (Psalm 75:4; cp. Romans 1:30; James 4:16). “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2). In a sense, to be arrogant is a general behavior while boasting is a specific action. Jesus said that arrogance is one of the evils that comes from the inside to make a man unclean (Mark 7:22). The Lord hates arrogance, pride, evil behavior and perverse speech in particular (Proverbs 8:13).
What if Jesus had been unkind rather than kind? When they ran short of wine at a wedding, did he have the servants fill up have a dozen stone jars with water and dump it over the groom’s head on account of his bad planning? What if Jesus has been arrogant about his powers, boastful about his miracles, laughing at his disciples when they were unable to do the things he could do? What if Jesus had been envious of the glory Caiaphas had as high priest? What a strange gospel it would be if Jesus had plotted to kill Caiaphas instead of the other way round. What a strange gospel it would be if Jesus had been jealous of Peter’s beautiful wife, or if he forced his followers to walk three paces behind him whenever he was walking.
What a glorious Savior we have, who did none of the things we do! Our humble, donkey-riding, child-blessing, foot-washing, crucified Savior Jesus showed us what love truly is. What a hard lesson this is to learn and to apply. But what a friend we have in Jesus, who was never impatient, never unkind, and who did not envy, boast, or brag. May we follow his example, but more than this, may we be truly thankful for his righteous acts! By the grace of God, what Jesus did so well and so perfectly becomes ascribed to us by faith, so that when God sees us, he sees what Jesus did in our place. He brought glory to the Father by completing the work he was given to do (John 17:4). And now he has arrayed us in Christ’s robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), to be seated with him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6).
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota
God’s Word for You – 1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient. Love is kind.