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My hardest sermon to preach

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Galatians 5:22

During the Korean War, two American soldiers were stationed a long distance from the conflict, and were allowed to rent an apartment off base. They hired a local Korean boy to do their housekeeping, and were immediately impressed with his positive, joyful spirit. So they began playing pranks on him. They nailed his shoes to the floor, put water buckets over doorways, smeared grease on stove knobs. And the boy would smile and pull out the nails, dry himself off, clean off the stove, with never a word of complaint.

Finally they became ashamed of themselves and told him they would stop their pranks. He said, “You mean, no more nail shoes to floor?” “No more.” “No more water over door? No more grease on stove?” “No more.” He smiled again and said, “Okay, then, me no more spit in soup.”

We all have problems in our relationships from time to time. This morning I want to talk to every person who has a problem in a relationship today, and every person who might have one in the future; in other words, each of us.

The thesis of God’s word this morning is simple: we should be as patient and kind with each other as God has been with us. But that’s hard. I hate waiting in lines, and I take red lights personally. Several of our staff think it’s really humorous that I have to preach on patience today. This is my hardest subject personally. But I’ve found hope even for me this week, and for us all.

How God treats us

Let’s begin with some definitions.

“Patience” translates makrothumia, which literally means to be “long or large-tempered.” In other words, to be longsuffering, patiently enduring under injuries inflicted by others.”

“Kindness” translates chrestos, which means “goodness, kindness, generosity toward all people, no matter what they have done to us.”

And the two need each other. I can be patient but not kind, waiting in line but not happy about it. I can be kind but not patient, kind only until the person makes the same mistake again. The two need each other, just as two wings of the same airplane, as water requires both hydrogen and oxygen.

Now, listen to what the Scriptures teach about the long-suffering of God toward us.

“God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is patient with all people, even those who are rejecting his love, wanting every person to come to eternal life.

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8). Four other times the Old Testament says this about God.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). God was patient even with Paul, the murderer of his people. He is therefore patient with you, no matter what you’ve done.

And listen to what the Scriptures teach about the kindness of God toward us.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 106:1). Three other times the psalms say this about God.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7). He is kind to us even when life is not.

“When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5; cf. Ephesians 2:7).

I remember as if it were yesterday the Sunday morning in Midland, Texas I was preaching on the sermon title, “Is God Fair?” I had written a sermon defending the fairness of God, when one of our Sunday school volunteers saw the title and said, “Aren’t you glad he’s not?” I had to go back to my office and rewrite the sermon. Aren’t you glad he’s not fair, but patient and kind with us today?

Why should we be patient and kind?

But that’s God. Are we expected to be as patient and kind as he is? Apparently so.

“As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13-14).

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

“We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).

Why are we commanded to be patient and kind with others? There are at least three reasons. First, this is our best witness. Paul said, “As servants of God we commend ourselves . . . in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love” (2 Corinthians 6:4,6; cf. 2 Timothy 3:10). If Paul could learn to be patient and kind, anyone could.

Think about those people who have had the most lasting impact on your life. Why? For me, it has always been their personal kindness and patience. Dr. John Newport, the most brilliant man I’ve ever known, preaching a revival at New Hope Baptist Church and eating lunch with our people, being so kind to us.

My sixth grade teacher who went each afternoon after class to an impoverished part of Houston to teach reading skills, and took me along a few times. A high school arts teacher who sponsored our boys club and gave evenings and weekends each year to us. My biology teacher who sponsored our Christian Student Union and met us weekly at 7:15 a.m. for prayer. My college Old Testament professor who played tennis with me each week and came for my ordination and wedding. I’ll never forget their patience and their kindness.

A second reason: patience and kindness toward others is necessary for our own souls. Jesus told us not to bring our gift to God until we had made things right with our brother (Matthew 5:23-24). More long-term stress is generated by unforgiveness and impatience than perhaps any other single factor.

Frederick Buechner is one of my favorite writers. Remember his definition of anger: “Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you” (Wishful Thinking 2).

Third, success seldom comes quickly. The National Sales Executives Association has discovered that 48% of all sales persons make one call, then give up on the prospect; 25% quit after the second call; 12% call three times, then quit; 10% keep calling until they succeed, for 80% of all new sales are made after the fifth call to the same prospect.

Success seldom comes quickly with God’s people, either. Abraham was 75 when God first promised him an offspring (Genesis 12:4,7), and 100 when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5). Moses was a shepherd for 40 years, and wandered in the wilderness for 40 more, until coming to the edge of the Promised Land.

We must be patient and kind, trusting in God’s will and in God’s time.

How to be patient and kind

Make this your goal. We have heard God’s word command us to be patient and kind. Longsuffering and undeserved kindness are a choice, never deserved or natural.

It’s far easier to respond to anger with anger, to criticism with criticism. Lloyd Ogilvie says, “Tell me what ticks you off and I’ll tell you what makes you tick.” Decide you don’t want to be a problem person, and that you want to be more patient and kind with the problem people in your life.

Let God be the judge in your relationships.

Scripture is clear: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:17-19; cf. Deuteronomy 32:35).

I once heard Chuck Swindoll tell a pastor’s conference how to deal with critics and opponents in the church: “Tell God on them.” And leave them with him.

Lewis Smedes’ excellent book, Forgive and Forget, explains what forgiveness is and what it is not. Forgiveness is not excusing, or forgetting, or explaining away. To forgive is to pardon—to refuse to punish, even though you could, as a governor pardons a convicted criminal. To release the person from the punishment they deserve.

Let God be the judge, while you offer longsuffering kindness. But you can’t do this alone.

So, ask the Spirit to help you.

Paul prayed for the Colossians to be “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Colossians 1:11). The Spirit can empower us to be longsuffering and kind.

Scripture teaches that “[God’s] love is patient, love is kind. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. . . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5, 7).

Patience and kindness are the “fruit” or result of the Spirit’s work in our lives. Ask God to help you make them your goal in your relationships, to love through you, to be longsuffering and kind through you, by his Spirit. And he will.

Conclusion

Now, where is the problem relationship in your life? With whom? Over what issue? Very specifically, would you choose longsuffering kindness, let God be judge, and seek the Spirit’s power and help? Believe it or not, God can work a miracle. Let me prove it.

Corrie ten Boom, the famous Holocaust survivor and marvelous Christian, once experienced this very miracle. Here’s how she told the story:

“It was at a church service in Munich, Germany, that I saw him, the former S. S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there—the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, my sister’s pain-blanched face.

“As the church was emptying, he came up to me. ‘How grateful I am for your message, fraulein. To think that, as you say, [God] has washed my sins away!’

“His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

“Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? ‘Lord Jesus,’ I prayed, ‘forgive me, and help me to forgive him.’

“I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer: ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.’

“As I took the man’s hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

“And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on God’s. When God tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Will you receive his gift today? Will you give it away?