1 Corinthians 13:4 “Love is patient, love is kind.”
“Patient” is an interesting way to describe love. The word that Paul uses for patience pictures this virtue as a person who takes a long time before he or she gets angry, blows up, or lashes out. The frustrations, the insults, perhaps even the pains, pile high, yet the person maintains a sense of calm, an uncomplaining spirit, a happy disposition. Our old word “longsuffering” captures the thought. Love looks to suffer for a long time without retaliating in some way.
Isn’t that a useful virtue for life? There are little irritations which call for patience. Slow traffic tries my patience, as does waiting on hold for the customer service representative to take my call. There are also major issues which require patience. Spouses, parents, children, or friends may take a long time to change. Their habits may be irritating, or their behavior might be outright offensive and hurtful. Selfish choices can tear at the fabric of your relationship. Dishonesty may chip away at the foundations for a shared life. Jesus never suggests such treatment should be simply overlooked. But love doesn’t look to give up right away. It doesn’t jump ship when we discover that relationships take work, and people we love have far more flaws than we imagined. Love is patient.
This patience is a feature of love because it is a feature of how God has treated us. Think of how long he has been putting up with you and me. Our record of offenses against him stretches the entire length of our lives, from conception and birth to this very day. We continue to repeat many of the same blunders until the day we die. Every inconsiderate act we commit against friend or family member is a sin against his holiness.
Yet we are still standing here today, alive and well. We survive because he is patient with us. Through Jesus’ death on the cross he has forgiven the mound of sins we have piled up throughout our lives. He patiently continues to extend forgiveness for Jesus’ sake until we need no more forgiveness in heaven. God’s patience is more than a model. It is a gift to take to heart and treasure as long as God gives us breath.
For when we have taken God’s forgiving patience to heart, then he can change our hearts. Then he will live in our hearts and help us look for the next thing love does: “Love is kind.” A couple of features of Christian kindness help us see what love looks like more clearly. Kindness is really an action word. It suggests that we are finding ways to be useful to each other. It is more than doing affectionate things. It is a life of serving others.
That itself is a gift of God for every area of our lives. Apply it to marriage. In giving us marriage our Lord has given us more than an interesting diversion, a little trinket to enjoy selfishly. No doubt we would soon become bored with it if that were the case, like a child who loses interest in his Christmas presents shortly after Christmas.
But God has injected marriage with purpose. It is a place where his people can practice kindness. Husband and wife make their time and abilities useful to each other and to the children they share. This is, in part, how love looks. Love looks for ways to do something with my life that takes care of someone else.
Apply kindness to people we hardly know. People often find unexpected help deeply moving. Stories about it make the evening news and fill the human interest columns of magazines. You have probably heard the proverb, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” But once they know how much you care, they are all ears.
That makes kindness a useful bridge for the gospel. That makes kindness a useful tool for bringing others the greatest help they can receive: the peace of sins forgiven and heaven guaranteed.
Shakespeare wrote, “Love is a many-splendored thing.” Movies and song-writers have repeated the theme. They have romantic love chiefly in mind.
God’s love is even more worthy of the description. The Apostle Paul goes on to describe love fourteen different ways in this chapter of his letter to the Corinthians. It is no accident that patience and kindness lead the way.