Love Is Patient
1 Corinthians 13:4 says that love “is patient.” The Greek word is a compound of “long” (in time or distance) and “passion” or “temper.” It depicts perseverance in the face of difficulty, or self-restraint in the face of provocation. Love “suffers long” (NKJV). While the term can refer to patience with circumstances, it is mostly used of patience with people.
Remember, the love described in this chapter is one that is like God’s love toward us. His great love for imperfect people means that He is longsuffering toward us (Romans 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:16; 1 Peter 3:20). Following His Spirit will bear the same fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22).
Sometimes people mistreat us—even our brothers and sisters in Christ may do it. How we respond makes all the difference. Among the ancient Greeks it was considered a virtue to refuse to tolerate insult or injury, and to repay every wrong done. The same philosophy prevails in our own time, especially in a nation where so many are concerned with their “rights” above anything else. The sheer number of lawsuits in our society shows that many are not inclined to be “longsuffering” toward any mistreatment, whether intentional or accidental, whether real or imagined. Love, on the other hand, puts up with a lot. Why? Because love is concerned with the other person, not me. Love seeks the good of its object; and what good can I bestow by losing my temper and lashing out, even if I think it is deserved?
Picture the Savior hanging on the cross, pleading with God to forgive those who abused him (Luke 23:34). “And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats” (1 Peter 2:23). Picture Stephen, who, even as the stones were flying, asked God not to charge his murderers with their sin (Acts 7:60). No retaliation, no bitterness, no revenge. That’s love.
However, people don’t have to resort to outright abuse to try our patience. Sometimes all it takes is an honest mistake or some well-intentioned bungling. Admit it: we can get upset over some pretty silly things. And often it’s with the people we care about the most—our spouses, our children, our brothers and sisters in the Lord. That sort of impatience is a sign of self-centeredness. In contrast, think of how longsuffering Jesus was with his apostles, even though they tried his patience on occasion (see John 14:8-9; Matthew 14:25-31). Seeking the good of others means being patient with their shortcomings.
I need longsuffering when sharing the gospel. The person I am trying to teach may respond with indifference, ridicule, or even hostility. Even a sincere truth-seeker will have questions that need answering, misconceptions that need correcting, and objections that need a response. Evangelism demands patience.
I need longsuffering when dealing with a sinning brother. He may get defensive. He may lash out in anger. He may shut me out. He may be slow to realize (or to admit) his sin. Correction demands patience.
The way of love is longsuffering. We need patience with our spouses, with our children, with our fellow saints, with everyone we meet. We must rise above the worldly inclination to be short-tempered and vengeful. Jesus’ people are to walk “with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).