Posted On October 6, 2014

“Love is patient and kind, not jealous, not boastful,” (I Cor. 13:4)

There is arguably no better place to examine what love looks and the attributes of this thing called love than I Corinthians 13, lovingly known as the “Love Chapter.” Given the Apostle Paul’s lengthy examination of what love is that is found in this beloved portion of Scripture, it seems an apt place to take a look at what it means for love to be patient and kind. After all, Paul does mention patience and kindness first in his list of love’s attributes.

So what does this word patience or long-suffering mean in the original language? Is there any clue we can pick up on from its meaning in order to grasp why love must be patient? The Greek word Paul uses in I Cor. 13:4 is the noun makrothymeō which means “to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others; to defer anger.” This concept is a rather important idea not only in Pauline theology, but also throughout Scripture. The practice of patience and longsuffering is firmly rooted in God’s approach to His creation, despite their many foibles and proclivity to be rather disobedient and to treat others in a way that does not reflect the holiness of God. The Greek word Paul uses for kind is chrēsteuomai, a verb meaning “to show one’s self mild, to be kind, use kindness.”

Noted scholar F. F. Bruce, in his commentary on I Corinthians, notes in regards to the idea of patience and kindness, something very important for us to understand:

“These first two clauses, “Love is patient, love is kind,” represent respectively love’s necessary passive and active responses towards others. The one pictures long forbearance toward them – indeed, it is difficult to improve on the KJV’s “suffreth long”; the second pictures active goodness in their behalf. In Pauline theology they represent the two sides of the divine attitude toward humankind (cf. Rom. 2:4). On the one hand, God’s loving forbearance is demonstrated by his holding back his wrath toward human rebellion; on the other hand, his kindness is found in the thousandfold expressions of his mercy. Thus Paul’s description of love begins with this twofold description of God, who through Christ has shown himself forbearing and kind toward those who deserve judgment. The obvious implication, of course, is that this is how his people are to be towards others.”[1]

This statement from Bruce really drives to the heart of what it means to be patient and why it needs to be such an essential part of our daily lives as believers. What is the very reason that we love God and others in the first place? The answer is found in I John 4:19 which declares “We love Him because He first loved us.” God is the perfect standard of what true love looks like in action. When it comes to the matter of patience towards our fellow man, even when we have been wronged or when those around us do not deserve a millimeter of patience, our response must be the same as demonstrated by God towards us time and time again, namely loving patience.

Let’s face it. When we sin we shake our fist at God. In doing so, we rightly deserve immediate and eternal punishment. We should be forever thankful that God demonstrates patience with His creatures because we certainly by no means deserve it. Dr. D. A. Carson rightly notes the word love used in I Cor. 13:4 “usually suggest not merely willingness to wait a long time, or endurance of suffering without giving way, but endurance of injuries without retaliation. Love is kind – not merely patient or long-suffering in the face of injury, but quick to pay back with kindness what it received in hurt.”[2]

Patience involves a complete paradigm shift from what we normally understand as being patient. In typically daily application, using a family situation as a relevant example, patience means giving someone one pass before laying the proverbial hammer down on them because after all, they deserved that response for their wrongdoing. Now mind you there is a difference between being patient and letting someone do wrong without punishment such as in the case of children. Expressing patience and kindness does not mean your children are allowed to run amuck or that people can walk all over you. Wisdom must be used in applying patience and kindness and discipline in the case of children or patient and kind firmness when dealing with those who do not have your best interests at heart. Lewis Smedes addresses this need for balance based in wisdom, noting that God does have limits to the amount of patience He will give us and the same should be the case for us as well. With that said, Smedes avers “when I turn off suffering for the sake of my pleasure, I turn it off too soon.”[3]

I know in my own life and family, being patient and kind is one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish, at least by my own efforts. Quite honestly, I have little patience or tolerance for wrongdoing when it comes to others, yet in turn, I expect others to show patience and kindness to me. Seems very hypocritical at best does it not but that is unfortunately the manner in which most of us, if we were brutally honest with ourselves, behave towards others on a daily basis. This is not what God has commanded us to do. Love as demonstrated in our loves must be patient and kind. Those intimately related attributes must be a hallmark of who we are as believers. Why? Because this is the example God has set for us through Christ. To be anything less is frankly sinful.

Alan Johnson in his commentary on I Corinthians outlines what I think is an excellent analysis of the kind of love Paul is talking about in I Cor. 13:4:

“The picture we see emerging is that authentic Christian love represents the power of the new age stamping us with the life of heaven that has come into our world preeminently in the incarnation, life, sufferings, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, together with the Holy Spirit’s mission. Christian love is God’s love as it is embodied in the story of Jesus and the Spirit. This love shows itself in habitual acts of concern, caring and respect for the welfare of others, causing us to identify with the other by making their interests our own interests. This love is unapologetically Christological and cruciform.”[4]

I want us to pay attention to a few things Johnson stated, specifically that Christian love is God’s love, it is a habitual act, and that we can only love in this manner through the Holy Spirit working in our lives to bring us to a place of maturity in the faith. Who among you can be patient and kind to others through their own efforts? I will raise my hand and admit I cannot. Time and again I fail in this aspect of my life with my wife, daughter, co-workers, family members, and those I come in contact with on a daily basis.

So how can we make that necessary change from being people who are quick tempered and rude to being the people of God who demonstrate and exude God’s love to everyone at all times in an attitude of patience and kindness? It is only by God’s grace and looking to Him constantly for strength that this can be accomplished. We also must spend time in prayer and in the Word of God reading passages such as I Corinthians 13 and reading about the life of Christ and how he acted when people mistreated him.

As a reminder of how Christ acted even when the cross was imminent, we must read the words of Isaiah 53:7:

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

Maybe the first step for most of us in moving towards maturity and being a people who are patient and kind is quite simply shutting our mouths and taming the tongue. The Pulpit Commentary in examining Isaiah 53:7 states that “The contrast of the Servant’s silence and passivity with men’s ordinary vehemence of self-assertion under ill usage is most striking. Who was ever silent but he under such extremity of provocation? “[5]
Are you willing to make a change in your life today to become one who demonstrates patience and kindness even towards those who in your estimation do not deserve such treatment? If you desire to become more like Christ, the only answer to that question should be a resounding yes! If so, get on your knees in prayer and devour God’s Word looking to the only One who can help us move to this needed place of maturity and to be a people who truly understand that love is patient and love is kind.

[1] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 636-637.
[2] D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of I Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 62.
[3] Lewis Smedes, Love Within Limits (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1978), 6.
[4] Alan Johnson, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: I Corinthians (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2004), 247.

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