“Love is patient. Love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4).
The first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13focus on the emptiness produced when love is absent. In verses 4-5, we find the most comprehensive biblical description of the fullness of love. Paul shines love through a prism, and we see fifteen of its colors and hues – the spectrum of love. Each ray gives a facet, a property, of “agape” love.
In most English translations of this passage, adjectives are used to round out the description. Interestingly, however, in the Greek original, forms of all of those properties are verbs. They do not focus so much on what love is, but rather on what love does and then follows that with what love does not do. “agape” love is active, not abstract or passive. It does not simply feel patient, it practices patience. It does not simply have kind feelings, it does kind things. It does not simply recognize the truth, it rejoices in the truth. Love is fully love only when it acts. “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Paul’s prism is not meant to be seen as a technical analysis of love, but it functions to break love down into smaller parts so that we may more easily understand and apply its full and rich meaning. As with all of God’s word, we cannot truly begin to understand love until we begin to apply it in our lives. Paul’s main purpose here is not simply to instruct the Corinthians but to charge them to change their living habits. He wanted them carefully and honestly to measure their lives against these characteristics of love. To use another metaphor, Paul is painting a portrait of love, and Jesus the Christ, our Savior, is sitting for the portrait. He perfected in his life, all of these virtues of love. This beautiful picture of love is a portrait of Him.
Love is patient.
Love practices being patient or long-suffering, literally “long-tempered” (Greek, makrothumeo). It is a common word in the New Testament and is used almost exclusively of being patient with people, rather than circumstances or events. Love’s patience is the ability to be inconvenienced or taken advantage of by a person over and over again and yet not be upset or angry. Chrysostom said: “It is a word which is used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in his power to avenge himself but will never do it.” Patience never retaliates.
Like “agape” love, the patience spoken of in the New Testament was a virtue only among Christians. In the Greek world, self-sacrificing love and non-avenging patience were considered weaknesses, unworthy of the noble man or woman (e.g. – Aristotle taught that the great Greek virtue was refusal to tolerate insult or injury and to strike back in retaliation for the slightest offence). Vengeance was a virtue. This is nothing new: the world has always tended to make heroes of those who fight back, who stand up for their welfare and rights above all else.
Robert Ingersoll and Theodore Parker are two examples from our own country. Well known Atheist Robert Green “Bob” Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899) was a Civil War veteran, American political leader, and orator during the Golden Age of Freethought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. Ingersoll would often stop in the middle of his lectures against God and say, “I’ll give God five minutes to strike me dead for the things I’ve said.” He then of course would use the fact that he was not struck dead as proof that God did not exist.
Theodore Parker (Lexington, Massachusetts, August 24, 1810 – Florence, Italy, May 10, 1860) was an American Transcendentalist and reforming minister of the Unitarian church. A reformer and abolitionist, his own words and quotes that he popularized would later influence Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. Theodore Parker said of Ingersoll’s claim, “And did the gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of the eternal God in five minutes?”
Since Adam and Eve first disobeyed Him, God has been continually wronged and rejected by those He made in His own image. He was scorned by His chosen people through whom he gave the revelation of His word: “Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2).Yet through thousands of years, the eternal God has been eternally long-suffering. If the holy Creator is so infinitely patient with His rebellious creatures, how much more should His unholy creatures be patient with each other?
Love is kind.
Just as patience will take anything from others, kindness will give anything to others, even to its enemies. Being kind is the counterpart of being patient. To be kind (Greek, chresteumomai) means to be useful, serving and gracious. It is active good will. It not only feels generous, it is generous. It not only desires others’ welfare but works for it.
When Jesus commanded His disciples, including us, to love our enemies, He did not simply mean to feel kindly about them but to be kind to them. “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:40, 41).
The hard environment of an evil world gives almost unlimited opportunity to exercise love’s patience and love’s kindness.