Love is Patient

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : 1 Corinthians 13:4, 7

Is there a limit to how much we should love? Are there things love shouldn’t put up with?

“Love is patient,” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. “Love bears all things . . . endures all things.” This chapter tells us all about love; not ordinary human love but the Christlike love that is selfless and sacrificial and reaches out to the needs of others without thought of its own reward. This love is the most important thing in the whole world. It’s the most desperately needed thing in the whole world. It’s not even too much to say that this love is the key to life itself.

When people puzzle over the deep mysteries of the universe, the deepest one of all is the question of why. Why does anything exist at all? The Bible’s answer, in a word, is love. God’s love is the power that called the universe into being. God’s love is the power that supports and carries the whole creation along and keeps it going. God’s love is the reason you and I were made and why you are still alive to draw breath at this very moment. Love “bears all things” in the most literal sense. It holds up the universe.

Despite the fact, though, that it’s something we probably think about every day, we still often misunderstand the nature of true love. Most of us tend to think of love primarily as an emotion. It is feeling a certain way about a thing or a person. Love is something that just happens to us, and there isn’t much we can do about it. We either love or we don’t. After all, we think, you can’t control your heart. We often talk about “falling in love” as if love were an accident that happens involuntarily, like falling in a lake.

In ancient mythology, love (at least love of the romantic variety) was the province of Venus’s son Cupid. He’s represented as a naughty, blindfolded little boy, shooting his arrows randomly at human targets who have nothing whatsoever to say about it. Nobody believes in the old mythology, of course, but a great many people accept the view of love that it represents. Many still think that love is all a matter of feelings, and therefore that our loves and our hates, our likes and our dislikes, are all beyond our control, beyond even our understanding.

What Love Is Like

But when the Bible comes to talk about love, it doesn’t talk about feelings at all. First Corinthians 13 opens with a paragraph stressing the surpassing value of love, and then it gets down to the business of defining love by describing in detail the way it behaves.

One of America’s newest fictional heroes is the amazing Forrest Gump, a simple man who gets through life with the help of wise sayings he learned from his mother. To those who accuse him of being stupid, Forrest responds, “Mama says, ‘Stupid is as stupid does.’” The Bible says the same about love: “Love is as love does.” A loving person is one who does loving things. This is what love is like:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Let’s look at these specific actions of love one at a time, beginning with the first one: Love is patient. “Love,” Paul says a little later, “endures all things.”

Patience in the New Testament sense means having and exercising the power to endure. Patience, to use a beautiful old synonym, is “longsuffering.” The root meaning of the New Testament word, as one ancient writer explained it, was “to have a wide and big soul” (St. John Chrysostom). In other words, it means to have the inner strength to choose to stay with someone when it would be much easier to leave him.

That’s exactly what love is like. If you tried to come up with examples of patience from everyday life, you would probably think of an activity that required hours of quiet perseverance – a fisherman hunched motionless over his line in the water, a woman focused intently on fine needlework, somebody sitting at a table endlessly flipping up cards in a game of Solitaire (or “Patience,” as the British call it).

But the patience of love is not persistence in an activity. It is persistence in caring for a person despite the pain she may cause. Patience is, quite literally, longsuffering; suffering, because you will be hurt and disappointed by the failures of those you love, and long, because, despite the pain, you persist in loving. You refuse to give up. You won’t turn away. You don’t quit and go look for someone who is easier to care about.

Forbearing and Forgiving

There is a wonderful passage from another of Paul’s letters that sheds light on love’s patient endurance:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you. . . .

(Colossians 3:12,13)

The meaning of patience is well expressed in the statement that we are to be forbearing and forgiving toward each other. The basic idea in forbearance is to put up with things that are off-putting, to bear with people, to overlook minor offenses, to tolerate each other’s flaws and faults and failures, to live with imperfections, to accept the aggravation that comes when someone irritates or annoys you.

Have you noticed how very little forbearance we see these days? People can’t seem to put up with anything from each other. Several years ago my brother was living in New York City, and as he walked to work one morning in the middle of Manhattan, he turned a corner and came upon an appalling scene. A man lay sprawled in the middle of the street, bleeding to death. He wasn’t the victim of a traffic accident. Just moments before he had entered the intersection to cross the street. A vehicle was partially blocking the crosswalk, forcing him to go out of his way around it and as he did so, he shouted an angry word and banged on it with his hand, whereupon the driver jumped out and in the ensuing argument stabbed the man to death. Admittedly, that is a shocking example, but it is the sort of thing that seems to be happening more and more often.

People hate each other, curse each other, scream at each other, sue each other, strike each other, sometimes even kill each other, often for the smallest of reasons. In a world where the favorite refrain seems to be, “I don’t have to put up with that!” where insults, real or imagined, and mistakes and offenses both small and large are destroying relationships as never before, the love that bears all things and endures all things is a radical alternative. In a culture filled with thin skins and short fuses, longsuffering begins to look more and more like a strength, not a weakness.

The only way to be able to love patiently is to practice forgiveness as well as forbearance. “Forbearing one another,” Paul says, “and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.” Christian love requires people to practice indiscriminate forgiveness. According to the Bible, it doesn’t seem to matter what the complaint or offense is, we’re just supposed to forgive. This is stated in the broadest possible terms: If anyone has anything against another, then forgive – no matter who offended whom, or how, or why. Nothing is said about getting an apology first or making sure that forgiveness is deserved or being careful not to let yourself get taken advantage of. We’re told simply to forbear and to forgive.

Why Be Patient?

Love is patient. And patience means continuing to put up with pain caused by the actions of those we love. It means practicing forbearance toward people when they’re difficult to live with. It means ignoring the little wrongs and forgiving the big ones.

Loving like this doesn’t come easy. In fact, in a way it doesn’t even sound healthy. It is possible, in fact, to put up with wrong for too long. There are times when people do harm both to themselves and to those they love by allowing or even enabling destructive behavior to go on unchecked. We do have to recognize that there is a limit to love’s patience. The call to love patiently doesn’t mean we turn into doormats who never say no.

Patience means suffering with and for those whom we love. It means enduring many things, even enduring all things without giving up, but it does not mean enduring all things for all time. Patience means suffering long. It does not mean suffering forever. Loving as God loves means we must also care about other things like justice and truth, and at some point – and only love knows when – patience must give way to judgment.

But the question remains: Why go on forbearing and forgiving as long as we do? Why the long-suffering? The answer, as always, is because this is the way God loves us. Listen again, “Forbearing one another and . . . forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you.”

Do you realize how patient God is? The psalmist wrote that the Lord is “slow to anger” (Ps. 103:8). God knows what it is to put up with a lot, to bear patiently with those who are offending him. That’s what he does with us. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why the world still continues, despite all the evil in it.

Perhaps you’ve wondered why, if God is so good and so powerful, he keeps putting up with so much wrong every day. Why doesn’t he just put a stop to it all? Well, one answer is because he keeps putting up with us. Doing away with all the suffering in the world would involve doing away with every person who helps to contribute to it. “The next time you’re tempted to ask, ‘Why didn’t God stop this tragedy from happening?’” said a wise Christian writer named Dorothy Sayers, “you might just as well ask, ‘Why didn’t God strike me dead last week before I did that hurtful thing?’” The reason he didn’t is because God is longsuffering toward his wayward creatures.

And he is this way for a specific reason. The Bible says, “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you [is patient toward you], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “Do you not know,” Paul writes in another place, “that God’s patience is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4).

God, you see, is patient with a purpose. He is not simply putting up with everything indefinitely. There will be a limit also to his patience. Some day he too will say, “That’s enough!” Only perfect love knows when, and after that will come the judgment.

Patience is actually the time love gives to change, to repent, to believe, and to become new creatures in Christ. For us, today is the day of salvation, not tomorrow. By God’s wonderful patience, you are still alive at this moment, and one reason you are is so that you may turn to Jesus Christ in repentance. Whether you’ve done that a thousand times before or never once, do it right now.