Paul’s great discourse on love, found in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, begins with “love is patient.” What does it mean to have patient love? First remember that the Greek word Paul uses here for love is agape. If you recall there are three Greek words all translated “love” in our English Bibles. Agape is the word used to describe God’s love. It is a supernatural love that is not native to us but can be practiced by us through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Patience is not a natural virtue in many of us because patience requires self-sacrifice. It means putting the good (or perhaps the laziness) of someone else ahead of ourselves. If we are selfish then we will not be patient. Yet as we read the entire text of Paul’s discourse on love we will see that agape love is a self-sacrificing love and therefore incompatible with a lack of patience.
John Piper wrote:
“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).
Patient love is other-directed love.It is a love rooted in desiring the happiness of the other as more important than our own happiness. In fact is a love that finds it’s happiness in the happiness of another. Think of an earthly example. How often must parents be patient in their love for their children? Raising a child takes tremendous patience as we are born immature and rebellious. If our parents ceased to love us the moment they grew impatient their love would be very short-lived. Patiently loving a child though is often easier than patiently loving an adult. The child is our off-spring and their selfishness is regarded as part of their immaturity and thus to be expected to some extent. We still hope for their maturity and our love for them enables us to persevere through much.
When it comes to a fellow adult though, be it a spouse, a boy friend/girl friend, a friend, a family member, a co-worker or neighbor, then we are far less understanding as we believe they are mature enough to not try our patience. Suddenly we become selfish and our needs come before their needs. We run the risk in our divorce friendly society into becoming cynical about relationships and we put our needs first and determine we will never let someone else’s needs trump our own. We look for a partner who will allow us to keep our needs first. If they will do so and your feel compatible then you seek a relationship but protecting your needs is always foremost on your mind. You’ve been burned before so no more.
Yet paradoxically such an attitude really undermines love and lessens the chance at future success. As soon as needs come in conflict, as often they do, then the solution is often another divorce. What makes love work between two people is when they put each other first and learn to find happiness in serving the other. If that brings you happiness then you will never lack for it. If the other person loves you the same in return you will both overflow with happiness. Both will have your needs met yet not in a selfish way.
Happiness is elusive in a sense. If you seek it you won’t find it but if you seek to give it you will find it in return. When you are not at the center of your world, but God is, then patience will go with the territory and you will possess a patient love.
Patience comes from God:
God’s patience give us time to repent and time to grow in our faith. Patience does not mean inaction but rather faith that our actions will be used by God for good (Romans 8:28).
We all know deep down inside that we are imperfect. We desire that others show us patience. Nothing is worse in a relationship than fearing that one wrong slip up and the other person will dump you. You know you will make mistakes but if they have a patient love they will allow you to grow through your mistakes having faith in you.
Consider practicing a patient love towards all. Remember too that our call to love patiently is not conditional upon being loved patiently in return. As followers of Christ we are to love as He loves. Agape love is unconditional love.Since it seeks not it’s own reward it does not matter how the other responds.We find love in giving love.
A final thought. That does not mean we should enter into a relationship with someone who does not love us.We can love them unconditionally but it would be unwise to seek a marriage with such a person. However we can and should always love patiently and especially in those relationships we already have.
May God grant us the grace to love with patience as He has patiently loved us.