The Sweet Cup of Kindness
About the Guest
What would our world be like if Christians were known for their love? Wheaton College President Phil Ryken takes a closer look at the love chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, and explains what Paul meant when he told us that "Love is kind."
Philip Graham RykenPhilip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the eighth president of Wheaton College. He preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. Ryken has published more than 50 books, including When Trouble Comes and expository commentaries on Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah. He serves as a board member for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the Lausanne Movement, and the National Association of Evangelicals...more
What would our world be like if Christians were known for their love?
The Sweet Cup of Kindness
Bob: Most people think of First Corinthians 13 as “The Love Chapter”. Dr. Phil Ryken, the President of Wheaton College, thinks maybe we ought to consider it “The Jesus Chapter”.
Phil: I don’t think, at the beginning of this passage, the Apostle Paul says, “Now, let me tell you what the love of Jesus is like;” but when you start going through—“Okay, where have I seen this kind of patience—non-envious, non-boastful, fully- kind—?” I mean, when you start going through this list, what is the best example of this love? Where do we see it fully fleshed-out? Of course, the answer to that is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. First Corinthians 13 describes Jesus. Does it also describe you—your marriage? We’ll talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’ve been reading, recently, in the book of Philippians. I’ve spent a lot of time in Philippians—going through it. Paul’s prayer, at the beginning of the book, where he’s praying for the church at Philippi, begins with this declaration: “My prayer for you is that your love would abound more and more.”
Bob: You know, this was a church that was a pretty loving church. I mean, they sacrificed for Paul—cared for him. And the first thing he prays for them is that their love would continue—that it would abound more and more. I got to thinking, “What would it be like, in our world, if the thing we were known for—
Dennis: Oh, yes!
Bob: —was our love abounding more and more? How would that change the Gospel and the proclamation of the Gospel? How would it change families? How would it change marriages if our love abounded more and more?
Dennis: And I think it’s one of the subjects that we need to be talking more about because I think it’s totally misunderstood by the culture. There are a lot of confusing messages being sent out to young people who fall “in love”—
Dennis: —and, then, think that kind of love is going to last for a lifetime—because it doesn’t.
With us, here, to talk about loving the way Jesus loves—which is the title of his new book—is Dr. Phil Ryken. Phil, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Phil: Thank you, Dennis and Bob. I just really appreciate your program. We catch it, from time to time, in Chicago. Thank you for everything you do to strengthen families.
Dennis: Well, there’s a reason why he’s in Chicago. He is the President of Wheaton College—the eighth president. His claim to fame is that he’s married to Lisa since 1987. He’s got the silver; now, he’s going for the gold. They have five children—they’re very much in process—but you’re a prolific author. You’ve written over 30 books in your spare time.
Phil: Yes, that’s true. You know, it is part of God’s calling in my life. I remember we had a missionary friend visiting with us—this was when I was in ministry in Philadelphia. She asked me a question nobody had ever asked me before: “You must enjoy writing. Do you enjoy writing?” I said, “I’m not sure I actually do. It’s so difficult—there’s so much suffering that’s involved in writing—in the editorial process.” [Laughter] But it is what I’m called to do.
My father’s a writer. When I was a little boy, I would put my pillow at the end of my bed. I’d be able to look across the hallway and see my father at his typewriter, typing out books. I would pretend, on my pillow, to be typing on my bed. It runs pretty deep in my life—a calling to be a writer.
Dennis: Well, let’s talk about this subject of love here. I want you to start, just with your own observations, about what the culture is communicating about what real love is.
Phil: Yes, you know, you opened the broadcast by saying we live in a culture that is confused about love. I think the culture thinks that love is primarily emotional—that the most important kind of love is romantic love. That’s very different from the picture you get in the Scriptures—where love has an emotional dimension, for sure—but a lot of love is the practical living out of putting another person first in life. The Bible does talk about romantic love—celebrates it, rejoices in it—but there are other dimensions of love.
I think one of the rich things about the biblical teaching on love is you have multiple vocabulary words. You know, in English, we really try to do all the work that love can do with a single word; but that’s not how it is in Greek and Hebrew. You get a richer, fuller picture of multiple dimensions of love. So, it’s a very different picture that you get in the Bible than in culture.
Bob: Well, at the center, of the culture’s idea of love, is self-satisfaction and self-gratification. That’s antithetical to the biblical idea of love, which is concern for others; right?
Phil: Yes, you know, even love can be a selfish thing if what I’m really excited about is my experience of being in love.
Phil: True love is a costly, sacrificial, sometimes-painful thing, even, as you live it out in your own life. Of course, it’s a beautiful thing in another sense of the word. Love is a life commitment that comes at a great cost.
Dennis: You say, in your book, that First Corinthians 13 is like a portrait of love or a good description of love, but it really is pointing back to the One that was love—who visited this planet.
Phil: Yes, I think so. First Corinthians 13 is a very well-known passage of Scripture. Most of us have heard it at a lot of weddings, for example. This book is really just a careful exposition—explanation—and application of the full richness of First
I don’t think, at the beginning of this passage, the Apostle Paul says, “Now, let me tell you what the love of Jesus is like;” but when you start going through—“Okay, where have I seen this kind of patience—non-envious, non-boastful, fully- kind—?” I mean, when you start going through the list, what is the best example of this love? Where do we see it fully fleshed-out? Of course, the answer to that is in the life of Jesus Christ. I think this passage is a great lens for looking at the life of Christ. If you want the full portrait of First Corinthians 13, you see it lived out in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Bob: It’s interesting to me, too, because from an apologetics standpoint, that’s not the center of the picture for other prophets or deities around the world. We don’t think of Allah as the god of love. We don’t think of Buddha as being the—as love being at the center of the bull’s eye. For the Christian, this is the sine qua non; isn’t it?
Phil: Yes, and you know, John says that in his epistles; doesn’t he? “God is love.” He makes a direct identification of God as love. You could, equally—the Bible, I don’t think, says it in so many words, but—Jesus is love. That’s certainly the message of the Gospel. Of course, there are other attributes of the character of Christ—love isn’t His only attribute—but if you’re looking for the living definition of love, that is in the person and in the work of Jesus Christ.
Dennis: I’ve often wanted to, maybe, swap with one of the disciples and to have been near Jesus. I’ll tell you why, Phil—it’s what you’re hitting on here. He was love incarnate.
Bob: You think you could have picked up a few things if you’d—?
Dennis: I would just, truthfully—and I’ve thought about this many, many times, “What would it have been like to have looked into the face of a man who loved perfectly?” I don’t know. Have you ever had that thought, after writing a whole book on this topic?
Phil: Well, you know, we get a little glimpse of that, don’t we, in the Gospel of John, where John refers to “the disciple that Jesus loved”. It’s brilliant, really. I think it’s commonly recognized that John is talking about himself. There is a certain humility there but, also, a deep joy that comes through that he was one of the beloved disciples. But it’s also written in such a way that we can sort of put ourselves into that place.
You, too, Dennis Rainey, are the disciple that Jesus loved. That’s worked out in the pages of the Gospel. That’s the love of Christ for you and for me and for people that are listening to us today. So, in a sense, we do get that privilege, but we’re going to have to wait for that face-to-face—
Phil: —seeing love-in-the-face experience, which is promised to us in the Bible.
Dennis: So, you and Lisa have been married 25 years.
Dennis: What have you learned from gazing into the life of Jesus Christ? What have you learned about loving her?
Phil: Yes! Well, how long do we have on today’s broadcast? [Laughter] You know, one thing we often joke about—this is something that her mother would say, from time to time, “The first 25 years are the hardest.” So, next year, we’ll probably say, “The first 26 years are the hardest.” [Laughter] I mean, marriage is an amazing crucible for discipleship—for the life of sanctification. I tell young people: “When you are prayerfully making a decision about a life partnership, you are really choosing the person that you will become because this relationship will have a bigger impact on your sanctification than any other relationship.”
I think, if you asked me, “What’s the first thing that comes to my mind—what have I learned about love, from being married to Lisa Maxwell for 25 years?” I have learned how selfish I am. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind because there are all kinds of things that you just cater to your own wants and desires. That doesn’t really get fully exposed until you live with somebody in that close proximity.
Maybe, she would say, you know, I haven’t learned enough about the love of Jesus, yet. [Laughter] But, you know, you look back over 25 years and you’re able to say: “Praise God! I’m not the man that I was at the beginning of this relationship.” Hopefully,— I’ll be able—25 years, later, from now, I’ll be able to say—you know, at this point—“I’m not the man I was 25 years ago.” It’s a lifelong process.
Dennis: To that point—you mentioned, earlier, that the Greek language is robust in describing the one English word we have called “love”. Just real quickly, because I think our listeners could benefit from this, unpack the different Greek words that we have, in English, one word to describe—and that is “love”.
Phil: Yes, as I was mentioning earlier, this is part of the richness of the biblical teaching on love. You know, this is something that C.S. Lewis gave a great exposition of in his book, The Four Loves, where he talks about storge, which is a very comfortable, familiar, shoe-leather kind of love—that’s an analogy that’s often given—agape, which is a unique New Testament term, which Paul really frequently uses in the epistles, which is selfless love—it is an active love. You have eros, from which, of course, we get our vocabulary of “erotic”. It’s more in the category of a romantic love, and it has this passion to it that’s in a love relationship. Then phileo, which is brotherly love—like Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.
Even that vocabulary shows that there are different relationships in life that have a different quality. I have a different kind of love relationship with a close colleague—that I’ve worked with in ministry—than I do with Lisa, as my wife, or even than the kind of love that I have for my children. There are different loves that God gives us in life, according to our various callings in life.
One thing that I would just emphasize, since we’re talking about loving the way Jesus loves and thinking a little bit about First Corinthians 13—I think it is important to recognize that First Corinthians 13 is about this agape, selfless love that we’re called to, as the followers of Christ.
Dennis: And one of the descriptive words that is used about love in First Corinthians 13 is that it is “kind”. You know, I think sometimes we take for granted kindness. Our listeners know that I’ve been doing this—kind of on a personal mission for the past few years—to thank every TSA agent at the airport, as I go through the security line. You really get the feeling that there are not many people who are attempting to be kind to these TSA agents because almost all of them, when I say, “You know, I want to thank you for your work,”—and, to me, it is an aspect of kindness—they will say, “And I want to thank you for thanking me.” They’ve shared with me that they’ve been spit on, they’ve been cursed at—people are rude to them. Kindness, though, is a mark of the Savior’s love in our lives; is it not?
Phil: It is, Dennis. Here, I thought the airport security people—that was a thankless job—but, apparently, Dennis Rainey is making this a thankful job. So, thank you for doing that.
Phil: One of the huge privileges of a life in ministry—where you have the privilege that I have, which is to regularly spend private time studying God’s Word in a deep way, preparing to teach God’s Word to others—is really digging into the Scriptures and getting a fuller sense of what is really there. I think kindness—we think of as something that is a very small virtue, if it’s a virtue at all—but the biblical notion of kindness is really robust. It has a strong sense to it. I really go back to the Old Testament and the vocabulary of lovingkindess, which is actually God’s covenant, faithful love.
The whole love of God, for His people, is really expressed in terms of kindness. So, then, rather than thinking of this as a small thing, it’s a huge privilege for us to be showing kindness to others, in the biblical sense of lovingkindness, in imitation of the amazing lovingkindness of God.
Bob: In Romans, Chapter 2, there’s a phrase that’s used. Paul talks about God’s kindness being what leads to repentance.
Bob: I’ve always wondered, “Does that mean that it is kind of God to bring us to repentance?” or, “Does it mean that is in the observation of His characteristic of kindness that we are convicted and we repent?”
Phil: Yes, you know, I want to be careful about giving a sort of exegetical answer to that—
Bob: I don’t want to put you on the spot, here!
Phil: —without having done careful work in Romans 2. It strikes me, just instinctively, that it may be one of those things that could be both; and it’s sort of open-ended to that. The Bible certainly describes repentance as a gift of God. It’s, actually, a gift of God’s grace that we are able to repent and it is God’s kindness to us that He gives us that gift—but it may also be observing the kindness of God that motivates us to come to that place of repentance.
I’ve got another passage—I just have my Bible open, here, Bob: “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us. Not works done by us in righteousness….” It goes on to talk about the saving work of Jesus Christ. “What is the story of the Gospel and the message of salvation in Christ?” It is the appearing of the kindness of God in His Person and through His saving work.
Bob: And you mentioned that, in the Old Testament, the word “lovingkindness”—the hesed of God. I haven’t gone through and counted, but somebody told me that is the most common adjective ascribed to God in the Old Testament—His lovingkindness. Now, we always talk about His holiness. He is thrice holy—and a defining characteristic there. But, over and over again, the children of Israel remembered the lovingkindness of God. That was one big idea for them.
Phil: It’s a very frequent word in the Psalms, specifically. You see it a lot in the Psalms of David and in other Psalms. I just think of that beautiful phrase—and somebody would have to remind me which Psalm it is—“Your lovingkindness is better than life.”
Bob: “Better than life,” yes.
Phil: You know—that’s David’s perspective on the lovingkindness of God. It’s a verse I quote from, in just explaining kindness, in the context of First Corinthians 13.
Dennis: Phil, one of the stories that Jesus told, that you unpack in your book, is the story of the Good Samaritan. Have you used that parable to teach your kids? As mentioned, you’ve got five of them—four of them still at home. Have you taught them about kindness from that story that Jesus told?
Phil: Yes, in one sense; sure, because we have a regular pattern of family devotions that is part of our usual dinner routine—we’re not slavish to it. There are times, just in the course of things—maybe, various reasons you don’t have a devotional time every night; but we’ve certainly read through the Gospels together. That’s a well-known story for our children—so much to learn about kindness there.
Partly, you know, people talk about kindness to strangers. That’s, really, at the heart of that story—kindness towards that person—who is in whatever category we think of as not being one of our people—they’re outsiders, not insiders. Jesus, of course, flips the story around. It’s, actually, the stranger who’s showing kindness. It’s a reminder, in a very practical and helpful way, that kindness is not just something for our close family relationships but, actually, for all the relationships we have in life.
Bob: It’s sometimes easier to be kind to the stranger—[Laughter] —than it is—
Dennis: I knew what you were getting ready to say! [Laughter]
Bob: You know what I’m saying?
Bob: Why is that? Why is it that it’s easier to be kind to somebody I just see on the street, who’s in need, than it is to be kind to my wife?
Phil: You know—I’m not sure I know the full answer to that. I think, partly, it’s the familiarity and regularity of just being with the people that you love. I think we are more authentically ourselves in family life. Some of those barriers come down. The things that we do to very carefully manipulate and present an image of ourselves to the world—you just can’t do that day-in and day-out, hour after hour, in family life. So, your family knows more authentically and completely who you are. I just don’t think we can keep up those defense mechanisms the way that we do in casual encounters. I think that’s part of it.
Dennis: Okay, our listeners had to know this had to be coming. So, here’s your assignment: “Pick a stranger, in the coming couple of days—maybe, in the coming week—that you’re going to be kind to—just go out of your way to be kind.”
The second application is: “I want you to make kindness, wrapped in flesh and blood, from your life to your spouse—if you’re married; to your children—if God has blessed you with children; or if you’re single and you’ve got a roommate—which I can tell you—I had plenty of roommates before I got married! [Laughter] Some of those relationships sure needed me to be a little kind to them. Apply what Phil is challenging us with from the Scriptures.”
Bob: Demonstrate some kindness.
Dennis: Demonstrate some—on purpose—and go out of your way to be kind to your wife—guys—for a week. Just think of thanking her for doing the laundry. Thank her for preparing the meals. Thank her for making the bed—well, maybe, she didn’t make it—maybe, you left it—but thank her for loving you and being your champion.
Bob: And not just thankfulness but, proactively, do things that bless her—I mean, I think that’s a part of kindness—or a wife can, proactively—I just want to make sure I get mine on this, too! —a wife can, proactively, bless her husband; right?
Dennis: And I would say—here’s the thing about Phil’s book—I don’t think we do enough reading, from a biblical perspective, about topics like love. We talk a lot about love. We see all kinds of crazy illustrations, from the culture, about what they think it is; but what Phil has done in his book, Loving the Way Jesus Loves, is an exposition of First Corinthians 13, as illustrated by Jesus.
Bob: It wouldn’t be bad for every married couple to read through this and say, “Does our love look like this kind of love?”
Dennis: Yes, back to your statement—you made at the beginning, Bob: “What if our family became known as a family that really was a loving family?”
Bob: We’ve got copies of Dr. Ryken’s book, Loving the Way Jesus Loves,in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to request your copy. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The title of the book is: Loving the Way Jesus Loves. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. You can ask about how to receive a copy when you get in touch with us.
Let me also mention that one of the ways we cultivate the kind of godly character that Dr. Ryken’s been talking about here today is by getting together with other couples and going through small group studies together. This month, the small group resources we’ve developed, here at FamilyLife, are available at a special price. You can find out more about our small group resource sale when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you have any questions, at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
You know, one of our core commitments, here at FamilyLife, is we want to help couples cultivate a legacy of spiritual vitality in the next generation, whether that’s your family or families in your church or your community: “How can you help cultivate a godly legacy that will live beyond you?” We had a conversation, not long ago, with Dr. Steve Farrar, who wrote a book called Anchorman: Anchoring Your Family in Christ for the Next 100 Years.
This week, we are making available that conversation, on audio CD, for those of you who share our goal of cultivating a godly legacy in the next generation and who can support this ministry with a donation to help defray the cost of producing and syndicating this radio program. If you go to FamilyLifeToday.com this week, click the button that says, “I CARE”, and make an online donation, we would be happy to send you the CD audio of our conversation with Dr. Steve Farrar on anchoring your family in Christ. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone. Be sure to ask for the CDs on anchoring your family in Christ. You can also mail a donation to us, here, at FamilyLife Today. Our mailing address is: FamilyLife Today, Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas. Our zip code is 72223. One more time: FamilyLife Today, Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas—Arkansas is “AR”. The zip code is 72223. Be sure to ask for the CDs from Steve Farrar when you get in touch with us by mail.
And we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to continue talking about what authentic love looks like. We’ll continue our look at First Corinthians, Chapter 13, with Dr. Phil Ryken. I hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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