Before moving on in 1 Corinthians 13, we need to ensure we understand what is meant by love. The Greek term is agape. There has been much written on this term, so I will only mention one source here to help us define this word. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states this about the definition of agape: “affection, good-will, love, benevolence – of the love of men to men; especially of that love of Christians toward Christians which is enjoined and prompted by their religion, whether the love be viewed as in the soul or as expressed.”
Notice that this is the highest expression of love. It has an eye on others and is not merely something one feels, but it is also expressed in deeds or actions. It is acting on behalf of and for another or others for their highest good. From experience we know that this usually comes in spite of what one deserves.
That most famous verse, “God so love the world that He gave… (John 3:16) is an example of this love. Paul wrote, “God demonstrated His love in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). These two verses speak of God loving sinners and expressing or demonstrating His love by sending Christ. He did it not because we deserved it, but it was for our best interest or our good. Much more could be said, but that will give us a good understanding of the idea Paul has in mind in his use of the word love.
As we return to 1 Corinthians 13, we pick up in verse 4. Paul begins to discuss the essence of love. This verse, along with verse 5, is stated in terms of being, while verses 6-8 are stated in terms of doing. In verse 4 we read, “Love is patient and kind.” This speaks of what love is and, by implication, what it is not. Application certainly follows and flows from these two nominatives (patient and kind), and that is where most people begin to realize love’s depths and how far short we all come from truly loving in this manner.
In the context of spiritual gifts, Paul is telling these Christians, especially the ones that might seem to be more mature, that if they love one another rightly they will be patient with each other. The term patient means to suffer long or forbear. The less mature believers may not understand the essence of spiritual gifts as clearly or may be seeking gifts for the sake of their selfish desires. It could be a combination of these aspects or any other circumstances that would tempt the mature Christians to lash out impatiently.
Paul is clearly stating that to love others means to suffer long with them. It means that if I truly want the good of others, I am willing to forbear with immaturity, foolish ideas at times, actions not exuding wisdom, etc. Love calls me to patiently endure or suffer long with imperfections of others because I want to see their good ultimately. It is fixed on the good of others and not selfish desires and wants.
That in no way means I am to condone sin or gross doctrinal error. It also doesn’t mean that I am a rug that people walk over without ever standing up for truth. I dare say we don’t have that problem by and large in our day. What we often lack is patience with others because we are so set on having things our way. We are focused on our perceived rights and making sure no one offends us unduly. This is why the call for patience is so necessary.
I am mindful of Paul’s words to Timothy in his last letter before being martyred. He wrote, “The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Tim. 2:24-26)
Paul told Timothy that a godly Pastor demonstrates his love to Christ and Christ’s flock in his interactions with the flock in ways that are fitting for God’s glory. This calls for patiently enduring evil. The temptation for all fallen beings, even pastors, is to lash out at evil with fury; but to love God’s people rightly, patience must be exercised because love is patient.
Where would any of us be if God were not patient with us? What would happen if, starting today, God struck us dead the moment we sinned? Sinned not only in deed or word, but in thought, motive, or desire also? If He is patient with us, should we not also exercise patience with others? If we love them, we will.
Paul also states that love is kind. This term is defined by Thayer’s as, “gentle; full of service to others [because of a kind disposition]. It certainly is correlative to patience. If one is patient, it will show through in longsuffering and gentleness toward others. Kindness toward others comes because we are patient with them. I begin to lash out and revert to unkindness often when I have no patience.
Paul also mentioned kindness in the passage above when writing to Timothy. He says that the Lord’s servant must be “kind to everyone.” A few words later he mentions the necessary patience as well. Their correspondence shows through in this passage as well as others in Scripture.
Now would be a good time to mention that for this highest expression of love to be truly realized and exhibited, the power of the Holy Spirit is necessary. Both kindness and patience are fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). In order to bear such fruit, one must walk in the Spirit so as not to succumb to the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
The fallenness that still resides in the breast of the saint seeks to express itself in ways that are opposed to the Spirit’s work. This is seen in the private lives of God’s people when we are tempted in ways that affect us individually. It is also seen in the corporate life of the Church as well. That is the context into which Paul is speaking. When this body of believers, or any church for that matter, was assembled, there would be temptations to exercise self-will, be angry, say hurtful things, and other expressions that were not Christ-like. Those things flow from a love of self.
Paul is reminding these believers of a higher calling. He is calling them to love one another, and this love is patient and kind. This is the more excellent way because it doesn’t allow self to dictate. It seeks to act for the good of others and the glory of God.