First Corinthians 13--Love is Patient
Jul 01, 2017
God has always looked for fruit, because He is a farmer, or “husbandman” (John 15:1 KJV; James 5:7 KJV). He planted Israel in the land of Canaan through Joshua (Yeshua, Jesus) and expected to find good “grapes” (Isaiah 5:1, 2). Israel was “His vineyard,” and Judah was “His delightful plant” (Isaiah 5:7).
But Israel rebelled and produced only “worthless” grapes, so Israel was cast off in 721 B.C. Years later, when Jesus came to Judah, He found the same situation and told a parable based on Isaiah’s Song of My Beloved. In Matthew 21:33-44, the stewards of God’s vineyard usurped the fruit for themselves and killed the Son in order to “seize his inheritance” (Matthew 21:38).
Either way, however, God was looking for fruit, but was unable to enjoy the fruits of His labor. Either the quality of the fruit was poor, as with Israel, or the stewards were stealing it, as with Judah. In other words, the wild grapes (KJV) or worthless grapes (NASB) of Israel represented the illegitimate sons of God claiming Joseph’s Birthright; while the people of Judah usurped the Scepter from the true Heir of all things. True sons of God have love, and true Jews (Judahites) do not usurp the scepter from Jesus Christ.
The fruit of God’s vineyard is the same as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, 23. The first and foremost fruit is love, on which all the others are based. Even as the entire law hangs upon love, so also all of the fruits of the Spirit are different expressions of love.
What is Love?
There are sixteen characteristics of love in Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Sixteen is the biblical number of love. An overcomer may possibly go through life without demonstrating the gifts of the Spirit—although this is improbable—but love is absolutely indispensable.
1. Love is patient
2. Love is kind
3. Love is not jealous
4. Love does not brag (or boast)
5. Love is not arrogant
6. Love does not act unbecomingly
7. Love does not seek its own welfare
8. Love is not provoked
9. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered
10. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness
11. Love rejoices with the truth
12. Love bears all things
13. Love believes all things
14. Love hopes all things
15. Love endures all things
16. Love never fails
These are the characteristics of the sons of God who are destined to inherit life in the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4, 5, 6). Not all believers are overcomers. Most believers, in fact, will inherit life in the general resurrection at the end of the thousand years, as Jesus tells us in John 5:28, 29, and as Paul tells us in Acts 24:14, 15). The general resurrection, which is the second, includes both believers and unbelievers, whereas the first is limited and includes only believers (overcomers).
In Luke 14:12-14 we read what Jesus said:
12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. 13 But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Such overcomers, whose love is unconditional, with no thought of benefit in return, will be repaid at the first resurrection, which is “the resurrection of the righteous.” This instruction sets forth the foundation of genuine love that is “kind” and “does not seek its own welfare.”
Because love is also expressed by all of the laws of God (which hang upon it), we know that God intended for the law to be written upon our hearts, so that we would be love. Believers who are yet in an Old Covenant mindset are those who do acts of love. This is not a bad thing, but neither is it the goal. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we grow in grace until love becomes our nature and is expressed naturally and without effort.
How is Such Love Achieved?
The Old Covenant is limited in its ability to achieve the goal. Old Covenant unbelievers will find it impossible. Old Covenant believers (in Christ) will find some success, but with difficulty and with limitations. In the end, it takes a clear understanding of the nature of the New Covenant to overcome the limitations of the Old Covenant.
In other words, if our faith lies in our own vow of obedience, by which we may become God’s people, based on the pattern found in Exodus 19:8, then we will struggle unsuccessfully to achieve the goal of perfect love. But if our faith lies in God’s vow to make us His people, according to the vow that He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose pattern is based on Deuteronomy 29:12, 13, then and only then can the goal be achieved. God cannot fail to fulfill His New Covenant vow.
Hence, if our faith resides in ourselves, and the ability of our own will to fulfill its good intentions, we will fail. But if our faith resides in God and in His ability, then our faith has the proper foundation to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit that God intended from the beginning.
This is not to say that we do nothing. Instead, we seek to be led by the Spirit in all that we do, but in the end, we recognize that God is the One who is working within us by His Spirit. The promise of the Father was to send His Spirit to accomplish the goal that our flesh was incapable of doing. In this way, He transforms us into the image of Christ little by little each day through real-life experiences, often by suffering and pain.
It is not likely that such incremental change will cause anyone to reach perfection during one’s lifetime, yet those who are faithful in what they are given will not lose their reward. Someday, when the second set of feasts is fulfilled in us, whatever imperfection yet remains in our hearts will be cleansed on the Day of Atonement. We will be granted the Jubilee on that day, so that we are eligible to be born as sons of God on the first day of Tabernacles. We will then be presented to the Father on the eighth day according to the law (Exodus 22:29, 30).
The first characteristic of love is patience. Patience is possible (and necessary) only because God created time. We usually measure patience in terms of time; however, patience is actually measured by faithfulness. Faith is timeless, but faithfulness is the outworking of faith over a period of time.
The Hebrew root word aman is a verb that means “to believe,” that is, to be faithful and trusting.
It is not a momentary act, for though it must have a beginning point, it also has endurance over time. Hence, it has a quality of being faithful, and such faithfulness is the measure of patience. The book of Hebrews has much to say about patience and endurance. The beginning of faith makes one a believer; but patient endurance measured by faithfulness makes one an overcomer.
Because patience is the foremost quality of love, insofar as Paul’s list is concerned, and because love is a requirement to be an overcomer, we may conclude that overcomers are those who have learned patience. But such lessons cannot be learned quickly, for patience requires time. Time for what? Well, look at the example of Abraham, who received the promise of God, but then waited for many years before the promised son was born.
Even then, his son Isaac was only the first fruit of the promise. In fact, Isaac was only a type of the first fruit, because the first fruit was Christ. Isaac was merely a type of Christ. Yet how could we despise the day of small beginnings, now that we can look back over the passage of time and see the progressive fulfillment of God’s promise? If it were not for the record of Scripture, Isaac’s birth would have passed unnoticed in the national archives of nations. Yet his birth changed the future of the world.
Many of us have received promises from God. Not all that we perceive to be promises are actual promises, of course, for our discernment is usually flawed, and our understanding is often carnal. However, many have received genuine promises from God, which we assume (at first) are to be fulfilled immediately. But the time is delayed, and delay gives birth either to despair or patience.
Sometimes the promises of God are fulfilled in the next generation—or even thousands of years later, as we see from the promise given to Abraham. We today are beneficiaries of his promises, for anyone who has faith and is faithful is a child and heir of Abraham (Galatians 3:29) and “are blessed with Abraham, the believer” (Galatians 3:9). But to be Abraham’s heir, one must follow Abraham’s example. “It is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7), not those who may claim physical descent from him.
Most of us have been taught about Abraham’s faith, and we think we are sons of Abraham by accepting Christ and vowing (or deciding) to follow Jesus. But Abraham was qualified because he believed the promise of God, not because he himself made a promise to God (Romans 4:20, 21). He believed that God was able to fulfill His promise, even though it looked impossible.
That is biblical faith. Those who do not truly believe this find it necessary to help God fulfill His promise. They think that the promise can be fulfilled only through man’s help (“cooperation”). God usually allows us to cooperate until we realize that we only mess it up. When we give up and tell God, “I give up! You do it!” then faith is born—faith in God, not in ourselves. Hence, cooperation can be evidence of faith or evidence of a lack of faith. It depends upon how we define the term and how we implement it.
Patience, then, is a life of faith, where in we see ourselves as responders, not as initiators. It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). I am just a body in which He manifests Himself. I am just the glove upon His hand. I have no more confidence in the flesh, for in my flesh dwells no good thing (Romans 7:18). Apart from Christ, I can do nothing (John 15:5).
Patience, then, is the primary expression of love.
This is part 70 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones