Thursday, March 3, 2011
Love is Patient
(1 Corinthians 13:4)
by Max Lucado
Patience is the red carpet upon which God’s grace approaches us.
The Greek word used here for patience is a descriptive one. It figuratively means “taking a long time to boil.” Think about a pot of boiling water. What factors determine the speed at which it boils? The size of the stove? No. The pot? The utensil may have an influence, but the primary factor is the intensity of the flame. Water boils quickly when the flame is high. It boils slowly when the flame is low. Patience “keeps the burner down.”
Helpful clarification, don’t you think? Patience isn’t naive. It doesn’t ignore misbehavior. It just keeps the flame low. It waits. It listens. It’s slow to boil. This is how God treats us. And, according to Jesus, this is how we should treat others.
He once told a parable about a king who decides to settle his accounts with his debtors. His bookkeeper surfaces a fellow who owes not thousands or hundreds of thousands but millions of dollars. The king summarily declares that the man and his wife and kids are to be sold to pay the debt. Because of his inability to pay, the man is about to lose everything and everyone dear to him. No wonder “the man fell down before the king and begged him, “Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.” (Matt. 18:26–27 NLT, emphasis mine)
The word patience makes a surprise appearance here. The debtor does not plead for mercy or forgiveness; he pleads for patience. Equally curious is this singular appearance of the word. Jesus uses it twice in this story and never again. Jesus reserves the word for one occasion to make one point. Patience is more than a virtue for long lines and slow waiters. Patience is the red carpet upon which God’s grace approaches us.
Had there been no patience, there would have been no mercy. But the king was patient, and the man with the multimillion-dollar debt was forgiven. But then the story takes a left turn. The freshly forgiven fellow makes a beeline from the courthouse to the suburbs. There he searches out a guy who owes him some money.
“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. “Be patient and I will pay it,” he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full.” (vv. 28–30 NLT, emphasis mine)
The king is stunned. How could the man be so impatient? How dare the man be so impatient! The ink of the CANCELED stamp is still moist on the man’s bills. Wouldn’t you expect a little Mother Teresa–ness out of him? You’d think that a person who’d been forgiven so much would love much. But he didn’t. And his lack of love led to a costly mistake. The unforgiving servant is called back to the castle. “Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny” (Matt. 18:34 NLT).
Whew! we sigh. Glad that story is a parable. It’s a good thing God doesn’t imprison the impatient in real life. Don’t be so sure he doesn’t. Self-absorption and ingratitude make for thick walls and lonely jails.
Impatience still imprisons the soul. For that reason, our God is quick to help us avoid it. He does more than demand patience from us; he offers it to us. Patience is a fruit of his Spirit. It hangs from the tree of Galatians 5:22: “The Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience.” Have you asked God to give you some fruit? Well I did once, but … But what? Did you, h’m, grow impatient? Ask him again and again and again. He won’t grow impatient with your pleading, and you will receive patience in your praying.
And while you’re praying, ask for understanding. “Patient people have great understanding” (Prov. 14:29). Why? Because patience always hitches a ride with understanding. The wise man says, “A man of understanding holds his tongue” (Prov. 11:12 NIV). He also says, “A man of understanding is even-tempered” (Prov. 17:27 NIV). Don’t miss the connection between understanding and patience. Before you blow up, listen up. Before you strike out, tune in.
“God is being patient with you” (2 Pet. 3:9). And if God is being patient with you, can’t you pass on some patience to others?