Monday, July 10, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - The Friend Who’s Patient

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 9, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This was the fifth message in the series entitled "Living by the Spirit." You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website ( for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

And so here we are, plowing through this series on what the Apostle Paul considers living by the Spirit. In other words, this morning we’re going to continue talking about how we can show some spiritual fruits in our own lives. And to this point, we’ve considered four different topics. First, we looked at how easy it is to misinterpret and misuse the freedom we have in Christ and how that can lead to very unspiritual lives. And then second, we looked at how Christian love, the first spiritual fruit, is both a decision and an obligation. And then, in the third week, we looked at how Christian joy is grounded in faith and how it strengthens those who suffer and how it must be shared among believers within the church. And then, last week, in the fourth message, we looked at Christian peace and how God has called us to live in harmony with ourselves and with God and with one another. Now that’s what we’ve covered to this point.

And this morning, we’re going to talk about the fourth fruit shown by folks who are living by the Spirit, and now I’m talking about patience. And I’ll tell you, this is another one of those characteristics that’s a little sketchy in our world, as I think this little video illustrates.

I’ll tell you, I think we’ve all known people a little like the impatient friend in the video. But I’ve got to tell you, when I saw it the first time, I was kind of surprised by how frustrated I was with the other girl. I mean, why did she waste so much time getting everything arranged in the car and what was the deal in the restaurant, just order your food for crying out loud? I’ve got to tell you, that was frustrating, and it sort of surprised me. But what made me really uncomfortable was how often I act like the impatient one. I mean, nobody’s going to watch a complete show if I have the remote control. And I often interpret a yellow light as the universal symbol for acceleration. And just ask Debbie how often she’s finished a meal before me. I’m afraid that I’m a charted member of the impatient club. But, having said that, I don’t think I’m alone, not in our instant gratification world. I mean, I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t see a whole lot of folks who have either the ability or the willingness to take a step back and wait for much of anything. In fact, I think most of us are more like little Wednesday Addams in the movie, The Addams Family. They’re eating supper, and Wednesday asks her Uncle Fester to pass the salt. Mortica says to her, “What do we say?” You know, like “what’s the magic word?” And Wednesday says, “Now.” “Lord, give me patience. And give it to me now.” Or one I like even better, “Lord, give me patience, because if you give me strength, I’m going to need bail money too.” Let’s face it, patience is a real challenge for people now-a-days.

But there it is, the third fruit of the Spirit, darn it. And so, with that in mind, we’re going to talk a little bit about patience this morning, you know, about what it is and how we might develop it. And maybe, by the time we head downstairs for the luncheon, we’ll be less likely to push and shove so that we can be first one in line. But before we can really look at what patience demands, I think we need to be clear about what it is. And I’ll tell you why I believe that’s important. You see, in my opinion, patience has gotten a pretty bad rap in our microwave society. I mean, often it’s seen as something shown by people who are indecisive, you know, folks who are not able to make up their mind. Or it’s shows a lack of strength or courage or at least that’s what some assume; in other words, patient people are willing to put up with stuff they don’t like because they lack the guts to do anything about it. But I think more than that, people often equate patience with indulgence. For example, a parent might say they’re being patient with a naughty child, but in reality, that parent doesn’t want to deny his child anything and so he stands by and watches his kid run wild. I mean, that’s often the kind of stuff that people associate with patience.

But of course, that really has nothing to do with how patience is presented in the Bible, especially as it relates to God, the ultimate example of being patient. You see, when Paul wrote to the Romans that “God wanted to show his anger and reveal his power against everyone who deserved to be destroyed. But instead, he patiently put up with them,” [Romans 9:22] I don’t believe he was suggesting that God was being indecisive or compliant or indulgent. Instead, God’s patience is actually a sign of his mercy and his authority. Let me read the whole passage. Paul wrote: “God wanted to show his anger and reveal his power against everyone who deserved to be destroyed. But instead, he patiently put up with them. He did this by showing how glorious he is when he has pity on the people he has chosen to share in his glory. Whether Jews or Gentiles, we are those chosen ones...” [Romans 9:22-24] In other words, the kind of patience shown by God has a very definite purpose, namely mercy. And yet, this purpose shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness. In fact, God’s patience is really a blending of mercy and authority. And this is something that the writers in the Old Testament described over and over again. For example, the author of Exodus wrote, “Then he passed in front of Moses and called out, ‘I am the Lord God. I am merciful and very patient with my people. I show great love, and I can be trusted. I keep my promises to my people forever, but I also punish anyone who sins. When people sin, I punish them and their children, and also their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.’” [Exodus 34:6-7] You see what I mean by mercy and authority. And I think this is exactly what the prophet Nahum understood when he wrote, “The Lord God demands loyalty. In his anger, he takes revenge on his enemies. The Lord is powerful, yet patient; he makes sure that the guilty are always punished. He can be seen in storms and in whirlwinds; clouds are the dust from his feet.” [Nahum 1:2-3] Man, although patient, this is not a weak God. And for that reason, we really need to see his merciful patience and his patient mercy as both a gift and an opportunity, one that’s grounded in his will. As the prophet Joel wrote, “The Lord said: ‘It isn’t too late. You can still return to me with all your heart. Start crying and mourning! Go without eating. Don’t rip your clothes to show your sorrow. Instead, turn back to me with broken hearts. I am merciful, kind, and caring. I don’t easily lose my temper, and I don’t like to punish.’” [Joel 2:12-13] And I’ll tell you, Paul said the same thing, when he wrote, “You surely don’t think much of God’s wonderful goodness or of his patience and willingness to put up with you. Don’t you know that the reason God is good to you is because he wants you to turn to him?” [Romans 2:4]

You see, it’s actually a gift. That’s what biblical patience is all about, and I’ll tell you, that’s the kind of patience that we’re called to show, as best we can. And even though it won’t be easy, I think it’s possible. I’m telling you, it’s possible for us to be patient, but to develop it, to develop Christian patience, I think it demands three things. And let me briefly tell you what they are.

You see, if we’re serious about showing the kind of patience that’s intentional, well, that demands humility. You see, to be patient, I think we need to realize that it’s not all about us, you know, about what we think and what we believe and what we want. In fact, it’s really about moving past ourselves so that we can focus on the other guy, and I’m talking about, the guy who’s trying to find his way through a life that’s become too complicated or the kid who’s struggling to make good choices without a clear understanding of all the consequences or the older person who’s both scared and confused by a world that’s moving too fast at the same time life is slipping away. It comes down to putting aside a little bit of self for the sake of someone else. In fact, that may be the only way we can actually do what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “My friends, we beg you to warn anyone who isn’t living right. Encourage anyone who feels left out, help all who are weak, and be patient with everyone. Don’t be hateful to people, just because they are hateful to you. Rather, be good to each other and to everyone else.” [1 Thessalonians 5:14-15] You know, maybe it’s true; to be patient we also need to be humble. And that’s the first thing patience demands.

And second, I’m telling you, I think it also demands a willingness to love, you know what I mean, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Remember, a couple of weeks ago, when we were talking about love, we looked at 1 Corinthians 13, and we saw that love is a decision not a feeling, because the qualities that Paul listed as loving were practical, not emotional. Well, I think it’s interesting that as he was describing what love looks like, Paul wrote, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” [1 Corinthians 13:4-6] You see, for Paul, patience was the first quality of love. And to the Ephesians he wrote, “As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other.” [Ephesians 4:1-2] Christian patience is impossible without love, and Christian love is shown by our willingness to be patient. You see, I believe love is the second thing that patience demands.

And third, it definitely demands faith, and I’m talking about faith in God, the one who really defines patience in the first place. You see, I don’t think we can ever look past ourselves and our beliefs and thoughts and desires without some knowledge or hope that there’s something or someone out there greater than ourselves. And to reach out in love to someone who might do to us the same kind of thing that humanity did to Christ, well, I think that takes an awareness that ultimately neither they nor we will be writing our final chapter. In other words, to offer the gift of patience, man, I believe that takes some pretty definite trust in one who holds the future of creation and everything in it in his hands. In a word, it takes faith, at least it does according to Paul. He wrote to the Colossians, “We have not stopped praying for you since the first day we heard about you. In fact, we always pray that God will show you everything he wants you to do and that you may have all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. Then you will live a life that honors the Lord, and you will always please him by doing good deeds. You will come to know God even better. His glorious power will make you patient and strong enough to endure anything, and you will be truly happy.”[Colossians 1:9-11] And a little later in the same letter, he said, “God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.” [Colossians 3:12-14]. You see, genuine Christian patience may only be possible for those who believe, for those who have faith. And that’s the third thing patience demands.

Of course, having said all this, I don’t expect to see a major up-tick in patience anytime soon. I mean, most people want immediate gratification, and they assume that waiting is actually a sign of weakness, you know, a sign that we lack confidence and principles and courage. You see, that’s what a lot of folks think. But of course, that’s not how God’s patience is described. For him, it’s a sign of both his mercy and authority and something we can only receive as a gift. And as believers whom Paul challenged to show this same quality in our lives, we can recognize that it’s going to demand humility and love and faith on our part. Of course, this kind of patience, it’s not going to be easy. But I’ll tell you, when we make the decision and put forth the effort, if they make a video of us, we’re going to be known as the friend who’s patient.

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