love is patient 1 Corinthians 13:4 NASB
Patient – The Greek word is makrothumeo. It comes from two older Greek nouns, makros meaning “long” (i.e. an extended temporal duration) and thumos meaning “passion.” We might think that this mean love has a passion that lasts. That seems very nice, the sort of thing we like to hear at a wedding or read in a Hallmark card. We generally see patience as something that we do, by obligation or commitment. To be patient is to take active steps that overcome our natural response of self-protection, defense or revenge.
But this particular word chosen by Paul has a different context. In the Bible, makrothumia focuses our attention on God, not on our behavior. It is God’s gift of the postponement of judgment, always with a view toward repentance. Once we understand that God has postponed the judgment we deserved, we are also required to postpone our judgment of others. Patience becomes a necessary quality of service to God. The obligations of hesed require that we exercise the same quality of makrothumia toward others that God demonstrated toward us. In other words, you can’t be a follower of the King and have a short temper.
How do I express love as patience? I leave things up to God. Patience puts all of the circumstances of life in God’s hands, expressing the confidence that God will act as the divine judge. It does not demand repentance as a condition of performance but rather shows the gift of grace as a worshipful response to the pardon we received from God. It always allows a space for repentance. Dr. Laura once said that it wasn’t necessary to forgive someone until that person demonstrated a willingness to reform. She was wrong. Once we accept God’s hesed, we incur the obligation regardless of the other’s action.
The theological sense of makrothumia is both active and passive. It is active in the sense that I deliberately choose to wait no matter how long it takes. This is active spiritual obedience. I decide to behave like God. But “Love is patient” does not mean active endurance, as though I am called to exercise my mental and emotional muscles to attain that higher plane of ethical action. Biblical makrothumia is not the Greek idea of gritting my teeth and white-knuckling through life. Makrothumia is active in relation to God’s call, but it is passive in relation to the demands on others. If I am modeling God’s character, I wait. I accept what comes, I allow whatever befalls me. Of course, this can only be done because God is love and what befalls us is ultimately in His hands, under His control and within His power to affect. Love is patient is another glorious way of saying that I am not in control, that my world is not up to me.
Patience (makrothumia) is not self-control. It is not biting my tongue, enduring attacks, holding back my desires, restraining my self-defense. Patience is giving up my life to God, no matter what happens to me. Love as patience means that I turn it over to God and wait, just like He waited for me, just like He withheld judgment from me.
If your love is patient, you wait – because God waited. That is enough.
Topical Index: patience, makrothumia, 1 Corinthians 13:4