by Peeter Lukas
We’re all familiar with the ethereal beauty of 1 Corinthians 13. In verses 1-3 Paul speaks of the absolute necessity of love. If it’s absent then I am a mere clanging cymbal or resounding gong, I’m nothing, and I gain nothing. In verses 4-7 the apostle uses 15 verbs to describe the characteristics of love, and in verses 8 and 13 he says that “Love never fails” and “the greatest of these is love.” But I want to focus on two specific aspects of love that we find in this chapter. Verse 13:4a reads, “Love is patient and kind…” That’s from the ESV; the KJV may be an even more revealing translation: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind…”
Love defines life for the Christian. John 13:34,35 reads, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” But 1 Cor.13:4 serves as a reality check to this command. There are evil and injury in a fallen world, and so there are weaknesses and sins amongst God‘s people. And yet we’re called to suffereth long and to be kind.
“Love suffereth long.” Here is the passive quality of love. It considers that we are unloveable. Matt.5:46 – “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” And it considers our suffering. Romans 8:23 – “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
“Love is kind.” Here is the active goodness of love. It listens and engages with others even at personal cost. It extends Gospel goodness, even in the face of being rebuffed. Could there be a more active exercise of love than imitating Christ’s love for us? John 15:12 – “…love one another as I have loved you.”
Love suffereth long and is kind…. Can any Christian read these words and say, “I got this!”? Of course not. We have all failed and will continue to fail. Paul assumes this in Eph. 4:2 when he says, “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Bearing with one another requires love.
Love to God and others is exhaustive in its scope, and perfection is its expectation. Are we therefore hopeless? No, because the love that we see in 1Cor 13 is for those in Christ. We are the objects of God’s perfect love. 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” His righteous judgment has been averted in the death of His Son.
And Longsuffering describes His attitude and disposition towards us now. Rich in mercy, God pours out blessings upon His people day in and day out. Paul had only to look upon his life to say, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) And to say, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:16,17)
There is no shortage of “What the post COVID church will look like” internet articles these days. But we have the answer. Love to God and love to neighbor — the two tables of the law, in that order — must forever and a day be the foundation of how the Church moves forward. The love of God suffereth long and is kind, and therefore, so must the love of God’s people.