“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy…” This description of love from 1 Corinthians is familiar to most of us. Maybe too familiar! Have you ever thought that it is odd that the most well known definition of love begins with patience? I have. I think it is strange for two reasons. First, patience requires the passage of time and the experience of difficulty in a relationship. And second, patience requires other attributes to be a virtue.
We often hear about “falling in love” and “love at first sight” – as if love is something that explodes upon the landscape of our feelings in some irrepressible and irreversible manner. It is certainly the case that often various “somethings” do cause us immediate and significant emotional responses. The teenager sees a pair of shoes and she “loves ” them – she simply must have them… But that “love,” whatever else it may be more aptly called, is by definition not the love described in 1 Corinthians 13. It is not biblical love. It may be attraction, or desire, or approval… but it is not love. You see, if 1 Corinthians 13 gives us anything like an authoritative definition of love, love cannot truly exist until some passage of time has been endured because by definition, love is patient.
We cannot begin a relationship with this kind of love any more than we can begin a relationship with patience. Consider a puppy or a new car. You may have strong feelings for that new puppy or new car. But you have not needed patience until some reasonable grounds for dissatisfaction is introduced into your relationship with that puppy or car and you choose to willfully persist in your commitment to them anyway. Until then, it is not love in its highest, fullest sense. You love your puppy when you continue to appreciate her even after the second pair of shoes and the third couch cushion have been chewed beyond recognition. You love your car even after the new smell has gone away and you realize that the Stow-N-Go feature is not all you believed it would be… In order for a commitment to another to aspire to the biblical definition of love, it requires the passage of time and the experience of difficulty. Love is what lays beyond the period of attraction when you merely saw what you desired and desired what you saw.
In addition to that, think about what patience is. The dictionary on my shelf says “capable of bearing affliction with calmness; capable of bearing delay; not hasty.” Machiavelli was great at those things! So were countless other tyrants who could, with cold, calculating hearts, patiently endure what they perceived were obstacles to their happiness. We say that “patience is a virtue,” but we should really say that “patience in virtuous attitudes and endeavors is a virtue!” Patience alone is not necessarily either good or bad. But patience in being good is good! So why does God begin his wordiest description of love with patience? I think that love, to be a distinctively Christian love, requires a demonstration of other virtues beyond the crush of instant affection common to the world in general. Until we persevere in kindness, trust, and hope, our love is really nothing more than the anonymous goodwill that has marked every secular humanitarian effort the world has ever seen. This means that as Christians we must not assume that we have embarked upon an authentic Christian love for one another and the world until we have genuinely persisted in loving others despite prolonged reasons not to.
Throughout the scriptures we are called to begin obedience in the toughest of places – our own homes! Will you resolve to love those God has placed in your lives and homes? With patience? We have all heard of “tough love.” Instead of reminding yourself that “sometimes love must be tough,” make it a point to remind yourself frequently that “sometimes it is tough to love.” And despite the great need for patience, resolve to love more and better – even as Christ loves you. And rejoice brothers and sisters! Because Jesus Christ’s love for you is patient!