There are certain Bible passages that believers tend to memorize. John 3:16 is probably the most famous of these. Another one might be Psalm 23; perhaps Romans 8:28 is another. Believers also memorize passages that include lists, such as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23.
First Corinthians 13 contains a list, one I memorized long ago. It’s known as the love chapter, for in it Paul describes what love looks like:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (v. 4–7).
Love Is Patient
The version I learned says that love, first of all, is “patient.” When I think of being patient, I think of reminding my kids every day to wash their hands. Or I think about waiting for the nurse to call my name to see the doctor. I think of patience as not getting irritated by little inconveniences or as overlooking weaknesses and idiosyncrasies in others or as learning to wait for things to happen.
But patient might not be the best English word here, at least for how we tend to use the word today. We use the word patient to mean being able to accept delays or problems without getting annoyed. The King James Version uses the phrase suffereth long instead of patient. Long-suffering, in contrast to being patient, means patiently enduring lasting offense or hardship. It is suffering long for the sake of love.
Jonathan Edwards, in his book Charity and Its Fruits: Christian Love as Manifested in the Heart and Life, writes that suffering long has to do with the evil or injury received from others. He writes, “He, therefore, that exercises a Christian long-suffering toward his neighbor, will bear the injuries received from him without revenging or retaliating, either by injurious deeds or bitter words. . . . He will receive all with a calm, undisturbed countenance, and with a soul full of meekness, quietness, and goodness.”
Edwards answers the question, Why is it called long-suffering? “We should persevere and continue in a quiet frame, without ceasing still to love our neighbor, not only when he injures us a little, but when he injures us much, and the injuries he does us are great. . . . We should meekly continue to bear them though they are long continued, even to the end.” He mentions that there are times when we should defend ourselves from someone who has been unkind. In those times, “we are not to do it out of revenge, or to injure him that has injured us, but only for needful self-defense.” Even then, Edwards writes that we do so out of a Christian spirit and for the purpose of peace.
This nuanced view of "love is patient" makes me look at the love I have for others in a new way. It’s easy to love those who treat me well, but what about those who don’t? That’s hard. It’s hard to love those who let me down time and time again, those who disappoint me over and over. It’s hard to love people who fail to encourage me or build me up. In fact, I tend to resist loving people who are not kind to me first. And what about those with whom I have constant ongoing problems and conflicts, especially when they are in the church? As Edwards writes, I am to love them to the end.