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Christ’s Love to Sinners in the Midst of Sin

Commenting on Peter’s three denials of Christ, and of the general abandonment of Jesus by his disciples during his passion (his greatest expression of his love), Goodwin makes the point that we learn something very important about the heart of Christ toward his people:

And by the way, so God often orders it, that when he is in hand with the greatest mercies for us, and bringing about our greatest good, then we are most of all sinning against him; which he doth, to magnify his love the more.

-Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ, p. 28

 

 

Love is Humble (1 Cor. 13:4c-5 Study Notes)

Study Notes is where I share some of the fruits of my  weekly sermon studies
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  • Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful
    (1 Cor. 13:4-5).

I offer my paraphrase of vv. 4c-5:

  • Love is not self-inflated; it is not self-assertive, self-seeking, self-conscious, or self-defensive.

1. Love is not self-inflated = not puffed up, not arrogant
2. Love is not self-assertive = not overbearing, doesn’t transgress proper boundaries
3. Love is not self-seeking = it terminates on something other than itself
4. Not self-conscious = not touchy, not prone to fly off the handle
5. Not self-defensive = not keeping lists of acts of aggression

The overarching idea is that love is not prideful. Positively this means that love is humble. Together with all of verse 4 (positively), you get, (1) Love is meek (long-suffering and positively kind), (2) love is content (not envious or boasting), and (3) love is humble (not concerned with self).

The point is clear enough: if you are going to love, you have to get your attention off of yourself and put it somewhere else. You must decrease that Jesus Christ may increase. In turn, you must decrease so that ALL may increase.

You can read previous entries on 1 Corinthians 13 HERE and HERE.

Meek Love

It’s been a busy week that has included trying to come up with a Sunday School lesson on ‘he descended into hell’ from the Apostles’ Creed. I haven’t had time to write much outside of that and sermon work. But as I meditated on 1 Corinthians 13:4 tonight, thinking about the meekness of love (suffering long and being kind), I found my mind going back to two quotes that are worth sharing. The first is Thomas Watson’s description of meekness:

Meekness is a grace whereby we are enabled by the Spirit of God to moderate our angry passions…First, meekness consists in the bearing of injuries…The second branch of meekness is in forgiving injuries…The third branch of meekness is in recompensing good for evil… (Thomas Watson, An Exposition of Mat. 5:1-12).

And I thought of C.S. Lewis’s challenge to us in The Four Loves:

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

And so the blessed Spirit continues 1 Corinthians 13, and men like Watson and Lewis, to rip up my heart and put it back together as they point me to the Lord Jesus Christ, the meek One, who bids us, in the words of Watson, not to learn of him how to perform miracles, but how to be meek.

Study Notes: 1 Corinthians 13:4a

I offer you a peak into my studies this week. While digging in the commentaries on 1 Corinthians 13:4, I found quite an array of suggested meanings to the Greek words commonly translated ‘patient’ and ‘kind.’

1 Corinthians 13:4a ‘Love is patient; love is kind…’

The word generally translated ‘patient’ is a compound word that cannot really be translated into English in any literal sense; the closest we can get is probably something like ‘long-passioned.’ But the issue of translation is compounded by the fact that the word is a verb, which doesn’t come out so well in the word ‘patient.’ The KJV uses the word ‘long-suffering,’ which is probably closer to the actual meaning (and it brings out the compound nature of the word). F.F. Bruce suggests the word ‘long-tempered’ (as opposed to short-tempered). Matthew Henry suggests something like ‘big-hearted.’ The main idea is that love patiently bears being wronged.

As for the word translated ‘kind,’ it is even harder to translate in some ways. It only appears in this particular form in this text (nowhere else in the NT). It is also a verb and it appears (surprisingly, at least to me) in the middle voice, which denotes interest in the subject, such as ‘Love is kind in, or of, itself’ or ‘Love shows itself kind.’ The actual word denotes more than ‘kindness.’ It is a mixture, as some commentators have noted, of kindness and goodness. In other words, it denotes benevolence, or a good disposition (but in an active, demonstrable form). Phillips translates it ‘love looks for a way of being constructive.’ Gill uses the words ‘liberal’ and ‘bountiful.’

Between Gill, Henry, Clarke, Calvin, Coffman, Bruce and others, I came up with this list of paraphrases:

  • Love is big-hearted and open-handed.
  • Love receives wrong and gives good.
  • Love is slow to get angry, quick to do good.
  • Love is long-suffering and liberal.
  • Love accepts rudeness and offers kindness.
  • Love suffers long and wishes well.
  • Love patiently endures and actively does good.

All of these are accurate descriptions of the disposition and actions of the Lord Jesus Christ, bearing evil and giving good. This is summarized nicely by the words of Jesus in Luke 9:41: “Jesus answerd, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ Jesus patiently bears the faithlessness of his people, and then positively heals in spite of it. He does not withhold good even though he has been wronged. He does not return ‘in kind.’ This is where the good news comes in. We fail, and he endures our failing and offers us good. And experiencing that gives us strength to do the same for others.

So, how am I going to preach the text? I want to demonstrate the meaning, give examples, demonstrate how Christ personifies the meaning, reminding them of the suffering and compassion of Christ, remind them that they fall short, and call upon them to respond to Christ in faith that they might become more like him. ‘As I have loved you, so must you love one another’ (John 13:34).

He Delights More in Simple Sincerity than Grand Acts of Pride

Jonathan Edwards takes 1 Corinthians 13:3: ‘If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing,’ along with Mark 9:41: ‘For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward,’ and comes to this conclusion:

God abominates the greatest things without sincerity, but he accepts of and delights in little things when they spring from sincere love to himself. A cup of cold water given to a disciple in sincere love, is worth more in God’s sight than all one’s goods given to feed the poor, yea, than the wealth of a kingdom given away, or a body offered up in the flames, without love.

-from Chapter 3 of Charity and Its Fruits

If we accept this conclusion (and I think we have to), then we can never underestimate the value of small acts performed out of sincere love for Christ. In that sense, there is more cosmic significance in the Jesus-loving housewife changing her child’s dirty diaper than in the religious man burning in flames of martyrdom for his pride. He delights more in the loving mopping of the janitor than in the grand politicking of the prideful leaders of the masses. He delights more in the modest hymning of the loving country church member than in the grandiose singing of the loveless tenor.

Let that fact encourage you, as it has me, in the midst of the mundane.

Unreflecting Love

I was reading some poetry this weekend and came across John Keats’s 52nd Sonnet (otherwise known as When I Have Fears). It is a beautiful sonnet to say the least, but I was particularly moved by these words:

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
   That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Here I simply one to record one train of thought thought from my reading of this sonnet.

The line ‘Never have relish in the faery power/Of unreflecting love…’ struck a particular chord with my imagination. Just yesterday I finished up a lengthy series on Romans 8 and had to deal with that famous line of the Apostle Paul, ‘What shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ As I thought about how I might go about presenting such a grand theme as the love of Christ, I almost felt at a loss for words. I have reflected on the love of Christ for years, and because of that past reflection, at times I feel it is an unreflecting love at this point.

I would never say that love must be fully unreflecting. Rather, I would urge that we reflect on the object of love to the point that our experience in the present, at times, feels as though there were no need for reflection: that is that we would simply bask in beauty from time to time. That is what I wanted to do Sunday morning before the great love of Christ. And if the beauty of that experience were taken from me, indeed I think that I would sink. But I would not appreciate that beauty quite so much in the present had I not spent years previously reflecting on it.

The same is the case with purely human love in some sense. To enjoy unreflecting love is a great privilege; but it will never truly be enjoyed if the unreflecting love of the present is not backed up the deep reflections of the past. Beauty is fleeting. I can look at my wife and cringe at the thought of never again seeing her face. But if it is just a face, why would I cringe? Rather, behind that face, for me, lies a thousand reflections from that past dozen years that reinforce the significance of that beauty. Again, I say, it is the reflection of the past that makes way for the true beauty, or faery power, of unreflecting love in the present.

You can read the entire sonnet HERE.