Sermon preached by Mr. D. G. Crowter on Sunday evening,
22nd October 1989 at Gower Street Memorial Chapel.
`Charity suffereth long, and is kind’. 1 Cor. 15 v.4.
There is a great deal of natural, human kindness in the earth. I have often received kindness from those that are evidently unbelievers, who have no knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and no love to Him. And we should not be loth to admit that this is certainly so; I should think that every one of us here has received much kindness from those around us in life. When the apostle Paul and others were shipwrecked on the way to Rome on the island of Malta, we find that it is written, ‘The barbarous people skewed us no little kindness.’ There they were, shipwrecked, very wet and cold, and no doubt hungry as well; and it might have been supposed that the barbarous people would have taken advantage of them in that situation. But no, they showed them ‘no little kindness.’ And it is evident that, by the general influence of the Spirit of God, there is in the earth a great restraint of evil, and also much inclination to do those things which are naturally right and good.
And then also there are those who do ‘suffer long’ in a natural way. They have, for various reasons, a spirit to receive in a natural patience the many indignities and injuries that they may have to bear, without reacting against them. There is a natural spirit of longsuffering to be seen around us.
But what is written here is as far above that as heaven is above the earth. It is really of an altogether different character from those good. natural qualities. This love which is mentioned throughout this chapter is the result of the life of Christ within. It is the effect of a new birth and a new life, which is a life of faith and of love. That is the love which intended here throughout these verses, and nothing less than that. Now
we may not always be able to tell the difference between what is natural, and what is supernatural; what is merely human, and that which is of God. Because we do not see men’s hearts; we do not see the reasons and motives for the way in which people act. But that does not really matter so much. We may be absolutely certain that God Himself sees; that He reads the hearts; and He knows exactly the situation. He recognises precisely the difference there is between that which is merely natural, and proceeds from a much inferior motive, and that which is spiritual and flows from the love of Christ in the heart.
But it is necessary for us to realise that that is the situation. And it is good, very good, that it should be so Â— that there should be a great deal of natural kindness and longsuffering in the earth. But it is altogether different from what the apostle is here saying, which is the effect of spiritual love, the result of nothing less than the love of God in the heart.
So here the apostle says, ‘love suffereth long, and is kind.’ In the first reference to the excellencies of this love we have these positive qualities towards mankind. This describes a disposition towards those who are around us in life, those we meet with from day to day, in our families, in the Church of God, in the world. And the text states very plainly that the love of Christ has this disposition Â— both to ‘suffer long’ injuries and insults which we may be called upon to bear, and to continue in a spirit of kindness notwithstanding all these things. This respects what we suffer from others, and the attitude that we show toward others. Now to understand these things at the beginning a little, we must look to the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. How long He suffered! How patiently and meekly He endured all the appalling insults, indignities, reproaches and scoffings that were laid upon Him! And how exceedingly kind He was toward all those with whom He met! He ‘went about doing good’, showing kindness wherever He went. The spirit of longsuffering and kindness here is the spirit of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we so need to look to Him for it, because we shall certainly greatly need it. This then is the effect of the love of Christ within, seen in these two aspects of it; that love suffereth long, and is kind. It is the dispositon of a loving spirit towards all those that are around us.
First then there is the spirit of longsuffering: ‘Love suffereth long.’ Now the literal meaning of this word is to be `long-tempered’. We don’t really use that word in our language, but you know what it means to be short-tempered. We have no doubt heard it said that some people are short-tempered, it is sometimes said that they have ‘a short fuse’. So easily can something make them flare up. They become very angry at a very little; and they show this spirit which is so completely contrary to the spirit of Jesus Christ. May I just say this Â— in our natural temperaments some are much more inclined this way than others. And where that is so, we so need especially this grace of love so that that spirit of ‘being short-tempered and soon angry’ does not prevail in us.
Now this word that love suffereth long clearly implies two things. It first shows that we must expect that in this present world there will be many things for us to suffer and to bear from our fellow-creatures. Otherwise we should not find such a word as this at all; and it does occur a good many times in the Scriptures. In that heavenly state above, longsuffering is no longer needed. Love will be there, but there will be no need for it to suffer long any more; because there will be no such insults and affronts to suffer any more; because all who are there will be full of holy love, no longer will there be any of these things to suffer. But in this present world we may be sure that there will be.
First, there will be such things to suffer from the world around us. This is very plain from the teaching of the Saviour in Scripture. He said to His disciples (and He puts it as ‘when’, and not ‘if’) Â— ‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.’ All through the ages the Lord’s people have suffered at the hands of those who do not possess the grace of God. How could it be that any of us could be true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was such a ‘Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’, who ‘endured such contradiction of sinners against himself’ Â— and not know something of the same? The apostles, including the apostle Paul, went back to the cities where they had themselves been so bitterly persecuted and almost killed, and taught the disciples saying that ‘we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom.’ The spirit of this world is contrary to the spirit of Jesus Christ. It was so very manifest in the reaction of those around Him, those that did not fear God. And the most bitter of His opponents and persecutors were the religious people! They were those Pharisees and Sadducees and the chief priests. It was they who were so filled with envy and bitterness against the Saviour Himself. And that has so often been so in the Church of God. It has been those who profess the name of Christ falsely who have been so much against the people of God and have so bitterly persecuted them. When they were burned at Smithfield, it was at the hands of the Roman Catholics, not the ordinary common people. The bitterness arose in those that opposed the religion of Jesus Christ. And so this must be expected in this present life, more or less, varying in different times and places indeed. It must be expected that there will be that to suffer from those who do not fear God. Jesus said to His disciples; ‘Marvel not if the world hate you; ye know that it hated me before it hated you.’ And Peter says to those who were suffering in his day, who had been scattered by persecution; ‘Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed,
ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.’ He was saying that such sufferings as they were enduring at the hands of the world were not to be accounted strange. It is unusual, really, if we’re not persecuted; and in this present age and in our own land at the present time there is comparatively little.
But then also, sad to say, there is often much to be suffered long in the Church of Christ. That’s really a very sad couplet, but it is so true often:
`From sinner and from saint We meet with many a blow.’
The apostle Peter was writing to the Church of God when he says: `Above all things have fervent love among yourselves: for love shall cover the multitude of sins’; there are a multitude of faults in us and others, which only love will cover over. But where this spirit of love is lacking, then there will be those things which have to be endured; and to be endured in this spirit of longsuffering, and meekness, and patience, and submission to the will of God. We often read in the epistles words like these Â— we had them at the beginning of the fourth chapter of Ephesians: ‘I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord’ Â— there was Paul in prison, suffering for the sake of his testimony. He says, ‘I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.’ There is a good deal to forbear. If we are honest we have to say, each of us, ‘There are many faults in me; there are many things which call for a spirit of longsuffering love in others.’ And should not we also consider that it is the same in reverse, that we have such need of this spirit of longsuffering with regard to others?
We must then expect that both in the world and in the Church of God there will be a measure of suffering which we have to bear; and we so need the right spirit in which to bear it.
The second thing that we conclude from this expression is therefore
that we shall need much of the spirit of love to suffer long. Because
nothing else will have this effect Â— not in a spiritual sense; only the love
of Christ in us will enable us to do this. The apostle almost personifies
this principle and implies it is like a person: ‘Love suffereth long, and is
Now this is so with regard to the world in which we live. When there are those injuries which are inflicted upon us by those that are in the world, this is an occasion (we might say it is an opportunity) for showing the spirit of Jesus Christ. Why was it that He Himself had so many insults levelled against Him, so many indignities so poured upon Him? I’m sure that one reason was because those who were so bitter against Him wanted to provoke an angry reaction. But they never succeeded. He suffered in such a perfect example, as we read of Him that ‘Christ also suffered for us’ Â— that is, for all the people of God Â—’leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.’ Whatever His enemies hoped to provoke from Him, they were completely disappointed. There was no sinful reaction, no angry spirit, no reviling again. And
He was so pure and innocent. It is to be feared that with us there is often considerable cause for what is said about us; there is so much sin in us that there may indeed be a good reason for us having to bear some of those things which are laid upon us. But for Him there was nothing: there was not the least excuse for the way that they treated Him. And so the apostle Peter says there, with regard to those in suffering: ‘If a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully’ Â— well, then if ye take it patiently that is thankworthy before God. But if any man be buffeted for his faults and take it patiently, well that is a different matter. It is really the least you can do if it is really your own fault that you are suffering. But with regard to those things which are inflicted without any just cause, there is much need for this spirit of longsuffering love. Now you must know that that is so; we are bound, each one of us, to meet occasions when we are ill-treated by others. And only this spirit of love will enable us to ‘suffer long’, with patience and meekness and submission, which is honouring to God, that ‘meek and quiet spirit which is in the sight of God of great price.’
But this is also needed in the Church of God. This is a word to one of the churches, and we read similar words to other churches. The apostle says to the Colossians: ‘Put on therefore, as the elect of God… bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.’ He is saying that this is going to be needed in the church, ‘forbearing one another in love.’ There is this principle which is so needed with regard to one another; and only this spirit of love will be sufficient for us to suffer long. We see this so often expressed in these epistles; and they are not words to be passed over quickly, but to be considered. At the beginning of that fourth chapter to the Ephesians we read those words concerning longsuffering; and then at the end of the chapter, ‘be ye kind one to another.’ Still, in spite of all that you may have to suffer, there is this spirit of kindness which is needed. So these things really do blend very well together. There is the more negative side of suffering long; and then there is the positive side of being kind. ‘Charity (or love) suffereth long, and is kind.’ Or in that word: ‘Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ Then it goes on to say; ‘And walk in love’ Â— always be found in this spirit of love, actively walking in the spirit of the gospel, which is so much a spirit of the love of Jesus.
So, secondly, here we see that love is kind. Its disposition towards others is to be kind to them, to ‘do good unto all men, especially unto those that are of the household of faith.’ This means to be beneficent and benevolent, to be ‘gentle to all men’, to seek their good in every way that we are able. Again, of course, we see the perfect example of spiritual kindness in the, whole of the Saviour’s life. How very kind He was towards others! We see constantly His loving disposition toward all those that were around Him.
Now this kindness is seen in various ways, according to the circumstances. First, it is shown by sympathising with those that are sorrowing. The word says: ‘Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.’ And there are always those around us who, for some cause or other, are sorrowing. Now that word sympathy means ‘to sigh with,’ and therefore indicates a good deal of blending together. Oh, it is easy to feel a kind of superficial spirit of sympathy towards others, just a temporary pang of sorrow with them. But really to sigh with them is a different matter. Much has been said with regard to the friends of Job, and how they spoke in many ways things that were wrong concerning God and concerning Job His servant. But it still should be remembered that they did come deliberately to sympathise with him, and for seven days they sat there silently. They were showing that they did have a real measure of grief, a sighing with him; they were there. We see, in a much greater way, the Lord Jesus sympathising when He was outside that tomb of Lazarus with the sisters Mary and Martha weeping. We read that ‘Jesus wept.’ There were doubtless other reasons why He should weep. No doubt it reminded Him of His approaching death; no doubt it reminded Him of the havoc that sin has brought; but surely there was also a deep sympathy, a loving compassion toward those whom He loved, Mary and Martha Â— they were weeping; and Jesus wept openly with them. And surely if we are to be kind towards others we shall feel something of their sadness and sorrow, and weep with them, and show a true tenderness and sympathy towards the many around us who do suffer so much. Especially, surely, this will be towards those who are in such a sad and desperate and miserable state in their sins; surely this kindness should flow out towards those who are ‘without God, without hope in the world.’ And certainly it should include the people of God in a special way, that in every possible way we should show kindness towards those who are in sorrow, seeing that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself bought such precious souls with His own blood and so suffered for them.
But secondly, here this kindness also means to rejoice with those that rejoice. And that is not always an easy thing for us to do. It is linked with what follows in the next place, that ‘love envieth, not’; it is exactly opposite to the spirit of envy. And that is something which does tend to rise in us all. Now if you see someone greatly blessed, do you rejoice?
If you see one that has something, some event in life, which causes them great joy, do you really rejoice with them as though it was your own joy, as though it was your own benefit? You see, this spirit of envy often works the opposite way; it regrets the good that others receive, wishing that oneself had it instead. What a bitter, evil thing this is, envy which is ‘the rottenness of the bones’ ! What a rotting, wretched principle this really is Â— envy! Now this spirit of love is exactly opposite to that. Kindness toward others then will have the effect of rejoicing with them. As the apostle says earlier in this epistle concerning the Church of Christ, if one member is honoured, the others rejoice with it (see 1 Corinthians 12.26). Would you rejoice, would you really rejoice, if others in this chapel were greatly blessed, and you were not, as yet? We do so need this spirit of love to rejoice in the good of others, and especially to desire their spiritual good, and to rejoice in every evidence of the Lord’s blessing bestowed upon them. This is the spirit, then, of love. We may say that this is really lovingkindness; it is the kindness which flows out of love. That word lovingkindness’ is often found in the Old Testament concerning the Lord Himself; that His lovingkindness is so great. ‘How excellent is thy lovingkindness, 0 Lord!’ The Lord in His great love shows such kindness to so many Â—such immeasurable kindness. And surely many of us have to say that He has shown it to us. As that word says: ‘Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.’ And if we have been drawn to that blessed Saviour in His lovingkindness, how wonderful that is! And how it calls for us to show a like spirit towards others, and to rejoice with those who are blessed of God!
Thirdly here, this means being helpful to those who need help; the spirit of practical Christian kindness, or lovingkindness. There are many around us in various ways who are greatly in need of help. And there are ways in which that help may be given; there are many ways in which it is possible to help one another. For instance there is this: ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.’ Do you see someone, perhaps someone close to you, who is carrying a heavy burden? Well, love in your heart will surely go out and say, ‘I will help you to carry that burden.’ In a literal way, the Saviour taught this very plainly in His `Sermon on the Mount’, as it is called. This should be the attitude of those who follow Him: ‘Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.’ Of course in those days a Roman soldier was entitled to commandeer someone and force that person to carry his burden for a mile. Now it would be a very unusual thing for that person at the end of that mile to say, ‘I will carry it another mile’; without having to do so at all. Surely that would have caused a Roman soldier a great deal of surprise. But that is the kind of thing that Jesus was exhorting and commanding His disciples to do; to do more than they were asked, to
help more than was absolutely necessary; to show this disposition of love, to help as much as we can. ‘Love is kind’ Â— it is the spirit of helpfulness towards others.
Now we know that amongst us here there is that spirit of love and kindness. It is often seen, one helping another. Meeting here does give occasion for the carrying out of this spirit which is shown here. And indeed there is no lack, really, of opportunities in our lives of lending some help here and there. There are many ways in which it is possible for us to help others; I mean not just in a spirit of general benevolence, but because of the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done for us; and because He Himself so commands these things in His Word.
Then also there is praying one for another. Now there are some ways in which we cannot really help others directly; there are those matters which we cannot actually touch; of course I mean especially those matters of the soul, where the Lord works. There are things we really cannot do. But where that is so, the throne of grace is open, and kindness towards others is surely shown very much in praying for them. How could you really say that you love somebody if you never pray for them? Because that is the very least you can do; and it is, under God’s blessing, the very best thing, often, that you can do for others. The apostle James says: ‘Confess your faults one to another.’ That is no easy thing to do; we are very loth, as a general rule, to confess our faults to each other. ‘Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another that ye may be healed.’ Praying one for another is not an easy matter either. Oh it does not cost very much merely to ask the Lord to bless one and another, speaking in a very general way. But this kindness should go a good deal deeper than that. With regard to this spirit of loving sympathy and regard, we need so to identify ourselves with the cause of another. We see this spirit in Jonathan, who loved David as his own soul. And he so loved him that he wasn’t in the least envious because he knew that David was going to be king. It was the spirit of love showing itself in that kindness, and a rejoicing in David’s future succession to the throne. But with regard to this matter of prayer, the apostle writes to these Corinthians in the second epistle. He was telling them how he had come through a great trial; he had been in great distress, so as to despair even of life. He says also, (although they hadn’t clearly been very much aware of it), ‘ye also helping together by prayer to God for me.’ These Corinthians had prayed for the apostle and he knew that it was helping him. We cannot tell often how much help is accomplished by prayer. But when we think of the possibilities Â— they are so great. That is a human line, but there is a great deal of truth in it: ‘More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.’ How much is accomplished we cannot yet tell in this life, but it must be very much. Now the apostle Paul was a great man of prayer; he probably knew much, much more about prayer than any of us do. We find at the end of these epistles, time after time, words like those: ‘Brethren, pray for us’ We might have thought that this great apostle could pray so well for himself that he didn’t need others to. But that’s not how he saw it. Constantly he says, ‘Pray for us’ My dear friends, this is one great way in which we can, secretly often, show kindness towards others Â— by praying for them.
And so this is the disposition of love set before us here: ‘Love suffereth long, and is kind’ Now it is for us each to examine ourselves with regard to this matter. This is no ordinary kindness, no common longsuffering, which is before us here; it is the effect of love, love to Christ in the heart. His love in our hearts. Now does this love cause you to suffer long, without retaliating, without resenting, in that spirit of meekness which is the spirit of Jesus Christ? As the apostle says in the second of these epistles: ‘I beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.’ That is His glorious example, so often before us, in this matter. So, how is it, dear friends, with us? How will it be tomorrow, and the next day, and through this week? Surely, surely, during this week if we are spared, we shall each have many occasions for longsuffering and for kindness. If there is love in our hearts toward the Saviour then we shall respond to those needs. But where that love is lacking it may well be that we shall neglect those occasions. How we need this spirit of Christian love, the love of Christ in our hearts!
And then also we should so seek this spirit. It is so honouring to the Lord. You know that those around us do watch us to see how we react. It may well be that some of you who go out in business are really tested in this way. People know that you make a profession of religion by attending the Lord’s house, and so on; and they may well be deliberately unkind to you to see how you react:
`Watched by the world with jealous eye, That fain would see our sin and shame, As servants of the Lord most high,
As jealous for His glorious name May we in all His footsteps move With holy fear and humble love.’
The apostle showed this in his own ministry. I would leave you with those beautiful words in the second epistle. Referring to his own ministry in its various ways he said: ‘Commending ourselves as the ministers of Christ, by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned.’ Now you just put all that together. Think of what those things mean, and how beautifully they all blend together, and show this spirit of lovingkindness and of longsuffering.
May the Lord grant us that continual influence of His love in our
hearts, that in these testing times we may truly show before others this spirit of love, the very love of Jesus Himself.