Do you ever get irritable or impatient? Is there one person who just winds you up? They don’t have to say or do anything; their very existence just irritates you... Whether it’s at home, work, driving in the car or waiting to be served in a restaurant, there are situations & people that just irritate us. This morning we’re going to look at three phrases in 1 Cor. 13. “Love is patient” (or longsuffering), “not easily angered (or not irritable) & “always trusts.” All the aspects of love described in these verses are connected to each other; but upon reflection I believe these three (along with always perseveres) are closer in relationship to each other. So we’re going to look at them together under the heading patient love.
To help illustrate this patient love we’re going to look at two stories from the life of Jesus. The first is Jesus feeding the 5000 in Mark 6. This story will help us learn what it means to be patient & not irritable with others. The second story we’ll look at is that of Lazarus in John 11, this story will help us see the importance of patient trust in God’s greater purposes. Let’s turn to Mark 6 & read verses 7-13 & 30-44 together.
Let me quickly point out a few things from the story. The 12 disciples go out on their first mission trip which included journeying, travelling light, & staying with whoever would have them. During this time they ministered to many people in different places. We read about their trip in verses 7-13. By the time we reach verse 30 they are back with Jesus, reporting all they had done & taught. We can imagine the excitement in their voices as they shared the stories from their trip... They were likely pretty impressed with themselves after such a period of ministry.
However the location of their feedback time was busy with people & the disciples couldn’t get an opportunity to eat... So Jesus says to them; “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So off they went hoping to get some peace, rest & food after their busy trip. Then it says V33; “But many recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.”
The apostles are tired & hungry after their ministry trip. What happens when you’re tired & hungry? You get more easily irritated & impatient; you also become more focused on your own needs than others. All of a sudden being celebrity disciples it’s so appealing... And we see them growing impatient with the inescapable crowd, but Jesus doesn’t. Verse 34 says; “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” Then in verse 35 it says; “By this time it was getting late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
You can hear the irritation in their tone – “Send the people away...” In fact it seems like they interrupted Jesus’ sermon to tell him to do so. Then Jesus adds to their irritation by making the most ridiculous suggestion; “You give them something to eat...” They want some solitude, not more time with the large crowd. Jesus is now stretching their patience. Would they ever get a chance to rest? Does Jesus not know when to call it a day? One thing we learn from this story is that it takes great patience to be a disciple of Jesus... Do we have the patience to be disciples of Jesus? The patience to be stretched & inconvenienced by his agenda to meet the spiritual needs of people around us!
The disciples thought they were the men after a short term mission trip but Jesus was showing them a glimpse of the ongoing reality of being his disciples. It’s not a one week blitz for the kingdom; it’s the ongoing demands of patiently & faithfully ministering to a world full of people who are lost like sheep without a shepherd. That takes patient love. It’s easy being Super Christian for a week, but to survive & excel as a disciple of Jesus we have to learn that “love suffers long” (KJV). We have to learn to put our own feelings aside in order to patiently & steadfastly love others. And this is exactly what Jesus asked his disciples to do here in this story.
Yes they’re tired & hungry, so is Jesus! But if they are to be his disciples then they need to patiently follow him right until the end of the day, without becoming irritable & self-focused. Jesus is teaching his disciples they need more patience. So instead of sending the people away Jesus takes the little his disciples could find & miraculously provides for 5000+ people! And his disciples get to be the distributors of the miraculous provision of God. Those who patiently persevere with Jesus witness the biggest miracles of all. And guess how many baskets of food where left? Twelve! One for each of the twelve disciples! Point being, if we put others first we will never go without – Jesus will always provide for our needs.
Patience is a virtue which helps us to love like Jesus; irritability is a sin which stops us from loving like Jesus. Irritability sees others as an inconvenience... When the disciples were irritated about how long Jesus was taking, they wanted rid of the people. When we are irritable, we want to get away from people & their problems. We see them as a burden to our lives. Irritability makes us resent others & push them away & distance ourselves from their issues. Irritability causes us to put our needs before the needs of others. Irritability can say some nasty things about others. Irritability criticises & blames everyone else for being the way they are, without trying to understand them...
That’s the problem with irritability; it always sees others as the problem... “They make me so mad... they are so annoying... stuff them, I have my own issues to deal with... they only have themselves to blame... idiots... I have no time for Muppets like him...” But here’s the bottom line: God is not judging our hearts on how irritating others are, but on how irritable we are. James 5:9 says; “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” We need to take responsibility for our own attitudes if we are to learn to love like Jesus loves. Loving like Jesus is to do with how loving we are, not how lovable others are. And maybe it would surprise us how less irritating others would become if we became less irritable!?
We are called to show loving-patience towards all people. 1 Thess. 5:14 says; “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” In church life & ministry we come across all sorts of people, as summarised in that verse, but we are called to “be patient with them all” (ESV). This is one way we demonstrate love towards them. Eph 4:2 says; “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” 2 Thess. 3:5 says; “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”
Love enables us to bear & persevere with people we would otherwise write off, it also helps us to patiently persevere in doing good to others even when we don’t feel like it – when we are tired, hungry & drained. In the story the disciples got irritated because they got tired of Jesus doing good... 2 Thess. 3:13 says; “And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.” This is the kind of patience we’re called to. Gal 6:9-10 says; “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.”
So it’s clear that we are to act patiently towards all people, especially our brothers & sister in Christ, but what about demonstrating patient trust towards God. In the story the disciples also needed to learn to be patient with Jesus. His compassion for people was clashing with their desire to eat & rest. This is another thing we need to learn: To be a disciple of Jesus means making our personal desires secondary to his purpose. This means being prepared to change our schedule & put others things on hold, including dinner. This will take patience love towards God & others. Let’s consider the patience trust we need towards God in the second story we’re going to look at. Let’s turn to John 11.
Paul has told us love is “the most excellent way.” And he chose to begin his portrait of love with the words “Love is patient.” This shows how important patience is in Christian discipleship. Paul also ends verse 7 by emphasising love “always perseveres”. You cannot persevere without patience.
The kind of patience Paul mainly has in mind is patience with people. Phil Ryken says; “It is the ability to put up with frustrations we face anytime we have a relationship with someone who is just as flawed & every bit as fallen as we are.” However as well as being patient with people it is important for us to be patient with God. You might think why would we have to be patient with God? Can God be irritating? Well for one, God does not plan according to our time table. He works in his own time & we can get irritated by that. Nor does God do things according to our logic. Sometimes he does things the wrong way round, from our perspective anyway, just to remind us he is God. This can be frustrating for people who are prone to be impatient & for people who like to be in control...
In order to live patient lives we not only need to avoid being irritable with people & circumstances, we also need to learn to trust God more... One of the reasons we get impatient is because there are so many things in life we cannot control which we wish we could. But note, when God makes us wait it is always because his plans are bigger & better & wider & more spectacular than ours.
In the story we see firstly that God is in control from beginning to end. From the perspective of Mary & Martha everything seemed out of control. Their brother was dying & Jesus showed up too late to make a difference, or so it seemed. However we see that Jesus was in control of the situation all along. We see that from his declaration in verse 4; “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for the God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” We see it in his words to Martha; “Your brother will rise again.” We see it in his question & commands; “Where have you laid him..?” “Take away the stone...” “Lazarus, come out.” Jesus was in control all along & knowing & believing Jesus is in control in the difficult times in our lives helps us live lives of patient trust towards God.
We see secondly that God is at work in more ways than we know. His plans were bigger & for the benefit of others – including the disciples (14) & the crowd (42) & God (4). Jesus was working something out. He was very deliberate in his delaying tactics. This might seem cruel, but it wasn’t. Verse 5-6 say; “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Lets us go back to Judea.” That’s sounds strange... but by delaying Jesus was making room for a bigger miracle...
We also see Jesus’ plans were bigger than one family. Jesus also had his disciples in mind. Verse 14 says; “So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” Jesus’ bigger picture included increasing the trust of his disciples. Then in verses 41-42 he prays; “Father, I thank you that you have heard me” & then says “I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” Jesus was also working for the good of the crowd. Jesus was not being cruel; he in fact loved more people by waiting until his good friend died before he acted. None of this made sense until the miracle happened! But when Lazarus walked out of that tomb it all made perfect sense...
We can patiently trust in the goodness of God even when life doesn’t make sense. We can trust that he is working out more than we can know & that there will come a miraculous moment when it will all make perfect sense. Knowing this helps us to remain patient through all the ups & downs of life.
Thirdly we learn that God permits suffering... Jesus let this family go through suffering for the glory of God & the benefit of others, as well as for the purpose of increasing their trust in him. The NT tells us very plainly that suffering is part of the Christian life. Philippians 1:29 ESV says; “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him buy also suffer for his sake.” In chapter 3 of the same letter Paul writes; “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Paul writes to Timothy (1 Tim 1:8); “join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” Romans 5:4-5 says; “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” In his first letter Peter writes a section on suffering for doing good & another on suffering for being a Christian. Then as he’s beginning to close he says (5:10-11); “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
This family was called to suffer a little while for the glory of God. And because they suffered their faith (as well as the disciples faith) in Jesus grew stronger & faith in Jesus was also birthed in the hearts of others. The Bibles calls us not only to believe in the power of healing but to also believe in the power of suffering. Knowing that this is part of what we are called too helps us live lives of patient trust... God’s plans are much bigger than our comfort & ease. He loves us & others too much.
But we will finish today on this last point: God will make sure that everything turns out well in the end. The raising of Lazarus is one of the clearest signs in the Bible that Jesus has the power to make everything right. Jesus could have performed a miracle right away. But then we would only have a miracle of coming back to health, not a miracle of coming back to life. Jesus waited for his Father until the time was right, then he commanded Lazarus to come out. Be patient, Jesus has a bigger plan. Things can never get so desperate that he cannot turn them around. Sometimes he just wants us to see that. We can trust him. He knows what’s he’s doing even if we don’t. Love always trusts the One who always loves, even if it hurts for a time. As it says in Psalm 30:5; “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” No matter what we face in this life Jesus has guaranteed for us an eternity of rejoicing! Trust him.
This is something to remember when we get impatient: God will making everything come out right in the end. Jesus is never early & never late but always right on time. And He is not indifferent to the sufferings we go through, any more than he was to Lazarus & his sisters. “Jesus wept.”
In his love, he has a plan to bring all our sufferings to an end. His great day will come at exactly the right moment. When it comes, we will see his glory. Then we will know he was in control all along, working everything for good, even what we suffer, and there was never any reason for us to be impatient at all. “Love... always trusts.”