Love Is Patient

Ask the Apostle Paul to explain love (agápē) and the first thing out of his mouth: “Love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Forget the rest of his list for a moment; my work is already cut out for me.

I’m prone to impatience. I can’t honestly blame this merely on my temperament or my family of origin. Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Impatience is a fruit of selfishness. And selfish is simply an ugly, accurate description of my fallen, depraved nature, which wants all of creation to serve me. Selfishness is the real archenemy of love:

Selfishness seeks its own private happiness at the expense of others. Love seeks its happiness in the happiness of the beloved. It will even suffer and die for the beloved in order that its joy might be full in the life the purity of the beloved (John Piper, Desiring God, 206-207).

Love is patient because patience is a dying to selfishness. It is the belief that in this dying we will find greater joy in the joy of the ones we are seeking to love: God and neighbors. It’s one of the ways we fulfill the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).

Nine Verses to Consider

The Bible says we are to be:

  • “Patien[tly] bearing with one another in love,” (Ephesians 4:2)
  • “Patient with them all [the idle, fainthearted, and weak]” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
  • “Reprov[ing], rebuk[ing], and exhort[ing], with complete patience” (2 Timothy 4:2)
  • “Patient in tribulation” (Romans 12:12)
  • “Patiently endur[ing]…sufferings” (2 Corinthians 1:6)
  • “Patiently enduring evil” (2 Timothy 2:24)
  • “Imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12)
  • “Still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7)
  • “Patient…until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7)

There are really no loopholes here. We are to be patient with people, pain, evil, and God.

What It Is and Isn't

Patience requires both faith and humility. It requires that whenever things go differently than we envision or wish, we believe that God is working all things for good (Romans 8:28), that he will complete all the good things he begins (Philippians 1:6), and that we can trust him because our understanding is incomplete and inaccurate at best (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Patience is not permissive; it doesn’t think sin or injustice is okay. Neither is patience passive; it doesn’t do nothing. It is just a relentless trust in all that we do, and all that we cannot do, that God will deal with everything in perfect justice (Deuteronomy 32:4). And he will accomplish all his purposes (Isaiah 46:10). Therefore we do not need to get angry.

Ultimately, love is patient because God is patient: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). And that’s why we are to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, [and] slow to anger” (James 1:19).

You and I and Our Opportunity

So, today you and I will have an opportunity, likely numerous ones, to lay down our lives for the sake of Christ.  It will come when we are tempted to be impatient. That moment will be our invitation to love.

And if we fail, we will not fear condemnation (Romans 8:1). The cross has already paid for that sin. We will just get up, repent of our failure to God and to others, rejoice in the grace of Jesus, and press on to grow in the grace of patient love.