I Corinthians 13:4
We often say that those who go on mission trips receive the greatest benefits of the trip, and those who teach Sunday School classes get the most from the lesson. The same thing is surely true of those who preach sermons. This week, as I have studied “Love is patient” from I Corinthians 13:4, I have found myself in a number of situations during the week in which those first words have flashed silently across my mind: “Love is patient!”
Over the past several weeks, we have been studying love in I Corinthians 13, under the theme, “The Real Thing”. We have seen that God’s agape love is a different kind of love, and that showing His love to others is His highest priority for us. But what does it mean to show love to someone? We have seen that love is not just a “feeling”, but actions. There are 15 verbs in I Corinthians 13:4-8 which describe what love does. This morning we are going to begin our study of these 15 qualities by looking at the first one: “Love is patient.”
I. The Meaning of “Love is Patient”:
The root of the Greek Bible word here is makrothumia, which is comprised of two shorter words: “macros”, which means “long”; and “thumia”, which means “passion” or “wrath.” Thus a very literal translation of the word might be something like: “long wrath.”
You have probably heard the expression before: He/she “has a short fuse”. When that is spoken about someone, it means that it doesn’t take much to get them upset. Say a word, and they get angry. Do something, and they quickly get offended. We say they “have a short fuse.” Well, the Bible tells us here that love is the opposite of that. Love has a “macro thumia”; it has a “long fuse”, if you will! In fact, that wouldn’t be a bad translation of this phrase: “love has a long fuse.” It is not easily angered or upset.
Now we need to remember that in Biblical Greek, this is a verb: “makrothumei.” We have translated it in English as if it were an adjective: “love is patient”, because we don’t really have a verbal form of “patient.” But just remember, in Greek, this is a verb: we might translate it something like, “love long-fuses”. The King James’ “Love suffers long” is actually one of the better translations of this verse.
And it “suffers long” and is “long-fused” towards people. In studying this word this past week, I was struck by how similar this word “patience” is in meaning to “perseverance.” They have some similar qualities. But “patience”, “makrothumia”, is almost always used regarding people, not just circumstances. You can persevere through circumstances, but you are patient with people – because you love them. Love is patient.
We also need to remember that love comes from God Himself. He is the source of love, as we have seen: “God is love” and “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” Since God is love, He is also patient towards us. He is the great example of the patience of love. In fact, this is a part of the very nature of God. In Exodus 34, when Moses asked to see the glory of God pass before him, the Lord proclaimed His basic qualities: “YHWH, YHWH God, compassionate, gracious, slow to anger …”. That “slowness to anger” is the same quality we see here in I Cor. 13: “long wrath”, “slow to anger.” God is patiently loving towards us. The scriptures are full of examples of this: it is the story of the whole Old Testament, how God was patient with the children of Israel, even though the continually disobeyed Him. Psalm 103 quotes Exodus 34 and says: “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness … He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” God has been patient with us – and this is even more true of us who have been saved by faith in Christ than it was of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. He has mercifully shown us His love and patience and saved us through Christ – so it is incumbent upon us to demonstrate that same patient love to others.
That is the point of the parable of the two servants in Matthew 18. Jesus told the story there of a servant who owed his master millions of dollars in gold, and who could not repay him, but he asked his master to have mercy on him, and he would repay him. So the master had compassion on him and forgave him the debt. But then, Jesus said, that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii – a much smaller amount, and seized him and began to choke him, saying, “Pay back what you owe.” So his fellow slave said to him, “Be patient with me, and I will repay you.” But the first slave was unwilling, and went and threw him into prison until he should pay back all that was owed. Of course, this story, that someone would do that, after they had been forgiven so much, is heinous to everyone who hears it. If you have been shown great mercy, then you should show it to others.
And of course, the story is pointed at US! God had such great mercy, and love for us, and showed us patience, in saving us through Jesus. If you really understand how patient God has been with you, then you will have no qualms about showing that same patient love towards others. Max Lucado wrote: “Patience deeply received results in patience freely offered.” If you know that you have received God’s patient love, you will share that same patient love with others.
And patience IS to be applied in our relationships with others. When James uses this Greek word “makrothumia” in James 5, he immediately applies it to relationships of people with each other. Two times there in James 5 he says, “Be patient”, “Be patient” – and then in :9 he immediately applies it, “Do not complain against one another, brethren …”. So their patience was to apply to the way that they treated each other in the church. There are a number of ways which we can apply the patience that comes from love – the “long fuse” — in our relationships with others, both those in the church and those outside. I want us to spend the rest of our time this morning applying this truth: in what specific ways can we apply this truth, that “Love is patient”?
II. Applications of “Love is Patient”
It is very significant that this is the very FIRST quality describing love that is listed here in I Corinthians 13. As we have seen before, there are 15 total qualities here that describe love. Don’t you think the very first one listed would be especially important? I believe it is. “Love is patient”! It is a vital quality; it the first quality of love. How do we apply that to those whom God has commanded us to love?
1) First of all, Love is patient regarding a loved one’s salvation.
This is an area in which God demonstrates His patience towards us. II Peter 3:9 tells us that God is not slow about His promise about His return, but that He “is patient towards you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.” God is patient towards us; we should have all been eternally lost the moment we disobeyed His commandments, but He was patient with us, and sent us the conviction of His Holy Spirit, and patiently waited for us to respond. The Apostle Paul wrote in I Tim. 1:16 that in him “Jesus .. might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” Paul said that the Lord was patient with him – and He was patient with us too – so we should be patient with others regarding their salvation too. Keep sharing, keep hoping, and most importantly, keep praying for your loved ones to be saved. Love is patient.
George Mueller, the great man of faith and orphanage minister in England, had some men that he loved, and for whom he prayed for their salvation. After many months, one of them came to the Lord. Ten years later, two others were converted. It took 25 years before the fourth man was saved. Mueller persevered in prayer for the 5th man for 52 years — until his death. He never saw that 5th man saved. But 3 months after his funeral, that 5th man did come to know Jesus as his Savior! George Mueller never saw the results of all of his prayers, but he never stopped patiently praying. This is a word for some of us today: do not give up on a loved one’s salvation; love is patient.
Lee Whitley, the pastor of our mission church in Grand Lake, had some relatives for whom he had been praying for years, similar to the way George Mueller did for his friend. But a little over a year ago, Lee stood right there in this baptistery and baptized that husband and wife!
Some of you have someone like that. Keep praying, and keep sharing with them when God gives you an opportunity. Invite them to Friend Day next week, to come and “show their colors” and eat with us. I’m going to be preaching on “Love is kind” – and I will share the gospel in a very winsome way. Give God another opportunity to speak to your loved ones. But never give up regarding their salvation. Love is patient.
2) Love is patient in Romance.
This is one of the salient qualities that separates “The Real Thing” from the cheap substitutes. When you truly find genuine love with a man or woman, that love is patient.
One of the greatest human examples of the patience found in love is demonstrated in the Old Testament, in Genesis 29, the story of Jacob and Rachel. Jacob had left his family, because of the conflict he had with his brother Esau, and went back to Mesopotamia, from which Abraham had originally come to the Promised Land. He went back to stay with his uncle, Laban, and by God’s providence, met Rachel coming with her sheep, as she was bringing them to water them. Laban let Jacob work for him, and asked him what he wanted for his wages. :18 says, “Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your daughter Rachel’”, and Laban agreed. Then :20 says: “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.”
You ought to underline that in your Bible: “seven years … seemed to him but a few days BECAUSE of his LOVE for her”! Jacob had a genuine love for Rachel, and because he had real love for her, he was willing to wait – he waited seven years for her – and I have no doubt that he would have waited longer. THAT is real love! Jacob’s love for Rachel was patient!
And this is exactly where so many of the so-called “loves” of today fall short. There is no such patience in them. The cheap substitutes always say, “I want you NOW; I’ve got to have you NOW; let’s sleep together NOW.” It is exactly the opposite of what the Bible describes here as love.
It is just like the old saying, “True love waits.” That is exactly what I Corinthians 13 is telling us here. Real love is patient. It is willing to wait. If it is not willing to wait, it is not true love.
Ladies, if some man tells you that he loves you, and he has got to have your body right now, he does not love you. It is not love that can’t wait; that is lust. Love is patient. Love can wait. Love will wait seven years and it will seem as but a few days. Love will wait a lifetime if it must. Love is patient. Shakespeare wrote: “Love alters not with (time’s) brief hours and weeks, but bears it out to the edge of doom”! Love is patient.
If someone will not wait for you, they do not love you. Love is patient.
3) Love is patient in listening.
In Acts. 26:3 the Apostle Paul said, “I beg you to listen to me patiently”. This gives us another application: do you listen to others patiently? Do you really listen to people?
A few weeks ago, someone said something to me after one of our services here at church, and a few minutes later it hit me: “They said WHAT?!” It didn’t really register with me; unfortunately I hadn’t listened very well.
Listening is not just a matter of the sound of someone’s voice going in your ear. It involves truly patiently hearing what they have to say, and thoughtfully considering what they are talking about. Too many of us are like the senile old king in the movie “The Princess Bride”, when Princess Buttercup tells him she is going to kill herself, and he nods his head and says, “Isn’t that nice?” We’re not really listening to each other.
This applies in all relationships, but especially in marriages. Husbands, one of the greatest needs your wife has is for you to patiently listen to her talk to you about her day. You may or may not need to discuss the day like that – but she does. One of the ways that you can demonstrate love for her is by patiently and earnestly listening to her. This applies to your children too, and to people on the job and at school — and especially here at church. We show that we love each other by really listening to each other! There are some people in some of YOUR personal relationships today, who, if they could, would say to you just what Paul did that day in Acts: “I beg you to listen to me patiently!” If you love them, you will. Love patiently listens!
4) Love is patient with the flaws and annoyances of others.
Eph. 4:2 “with all humility and gentleness, with PATIENCE, showing tolerance for one another IN LOVE”. Because we are to walk in love in the church, we are to be patient with each others’ flaws and annoyances.
Unfortunately too many of us are like Emma Woodhouse, in Jane Austen’s novel, Emma, who had a talkative woman in her circle of friends, by the name of Miss Bates. Every time they were together, Miss Bates would chatter on. One day, when all of their friends were at a picnic on Box Hill (which we got to visit in England!) someone suggested that everyone in the group share one thing very clever, two things moderately clever, or three things very dull indeed. Miss Bates, always talkative, immediately jumped in and said, “Three things very dull indeed; that will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, sha’n’t I?” And Emma, finally fed up with the chattering, responded: “Ah, Ma’am, but there may be a difficulty … you will be limited as to the number: only 3 at once!” Emma knew what she did was wrong, mocking Miss Bates – and it hurt her old friend deeply.
We need to be careful that we do not similarly “run out of patience” with others – and end up saying something that hurts them. We need to have a “long fuse”. Ephesians 4 says “with … gentleness, with patience” we are to show “tolerance for one another IN LOVE.” Love will make us patient and tolerant of the flaws and annoyances we get from each other.
5) Similarly, Love is patient with spiritual immaturity.
This especially applies in the church. In fact, it was the problem they had at the church at Corinth. Paul said they were still “men of flesh, babes in Christ”; they were spiritually immature. And so they were constantly “at” each other. And so Paul challenged them in I Corinthians 13 to exercise “the Real Thing”, Godly love, in their relationships. And he said the first way it would manifest itself would be in patience for the spiritual immaturity they saw in the other church members. They were not to fight each other about all those issues in the church; they were to be patient with each other.
Jesus is the great example of this, in the patience He always demonstrated towards the spiritual immaturity of His disciples. They were SO self-centered and immature. In Luke 22, Jesus was sharing the Lord’s Supper with His disciples, and talking about how His blood was going to be poured out for them, and how He was about to be betrayed – and the very next thing you read, is that the disciples were arguing over which of them was the greatest! Unbelievable! But Jesus was patient with them. He always was. When the Samaritan town would not receive Jesus and His disciples as they were traveling, and James & John asked Him, “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven and devour them?” Jesus patiently said, “You do not know what kind of spirit we are of; the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
Jesus had a long fuse with His disciples. If He were like some of us, He might have said to them, “Call down fire from heaven and devour THEM? I might call down fire from heaven and devour YOU!!!” You guys just don’t get it, do you?!” But He never did that; He was always patient with them.
And He wants us to follow in His steps. He is so patient with us; it is incumbent upon us to demonstrate the same patience to others, that He constantly shows to us.
6) Love is patient when wronged.
Peter asked Jesus: “How many times shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him; up to 7 times?” But Jesus responded with His famous answer: “Up to 70 times 7”! In other words, we are to be extraordinarily patient with others’ sins and failures.
Truthfully, if you are a Christian, it should not be hard for you to be patient with other peoples’ sins. Think about it: how many times have YOU repeatedly come to God for forgiveness for the SAME sin?! Whatever that sin is, which you continually bring to Him, God does forgive you for that – He is patient with you; He loves you! – and that is incredible. But a corollary of that same truth is that it is incumbent upon YOU to show that SAME patience to those with whom YOU have dealings: show that same patience you have received from God to the sins of your husband or wife, show that same patience to the sins of your children, to those of your fellow church members, to that guy at work; to the kid at school. Someone has said: “Patience is love on the anvil, bearing blow after blow of suffering.” Be patient with others’ sins – just like God is patient with yours!
We could go on and on with applications, but the bottom line is, we should show the patience that comes from love in every area of our lives. I Thess. 5:14 says: “be patient with everyone”—that Greek word “pantas” literally means, “all.” As we saw previously, there is no relationship in your life, in which you are not to show agape love. And because love is first of all, patient, it means that there is no one in your life to whom you are not to demonstrate the patience that comes from love.
Well, if you are hoping that this is the place where I give you my sure-fire “3 quick steps to patience” – I am afraid that there is no such thing! Rather, let me wrap up with just a couple of conclusions:
1. We can see from these verses and examples what Biblical patience looks like, so we can know what we are supposed to be shooting for. We are to settle for no less than a patient, godly kind of love in every relationship.
2. When we DO see the kind of patient love we are supposed to have, many of us who have thought that we were very loving, see how far short of it we really fall. Some of us need to look at these verses and examples, and be cut to the heart, because we have to admit: I am not living like that! I am not living out that kind of patient love!
— It should cause us to be grateful that our salvation does not depend on how patient we are – thank God we have a Savior, who forgives all of those who come to Him! This should cause some of you today to admit that you need Jesus as your Savior; you have no hope of going to heaven unless Jesus forgives your sins and shortcomings, and gives you a home in heaven by His grace. It also shows you that you have no hope of loving like this apart from His Spirit coming into your heart and, and planting His kind of patient, godly love in you.
— it should be the cause for others of us – who are Christians, who do have the Holy Spirit inside of us — to fall down before God, and seek His forgiveness for not loving people the way we should have; and to ask forgiveness for sins in our lives which have kept us from being filled with His Spirit, and the love and patience that He would bring. Let us beseech God today, to so imprint the truths we have heard today on our hearts and minds; so that the very first words that whisper across our innermost thoughts when we deal with any person, in any situation this coming week, will be: “Love is patient”!