At times, the English language lets us down. These are two of those times.
First, in Greek, the 16 qualities of love in 1 Corinthians 13 are all verbs—something that does not translate into our English versions. The significance of this is that verbs portray each quality as a vibrant action—not a placid state, emotion, or feeling.
Second, the English words used are somewhat limited. Greek has a selection of words for both “patient” and “kind,” which are richer and more insightful than our English terms.
This post examines the first two dynamic behaviors: “love is patient, love is kind” (13:4a). The word for “patient” translates the Greek word group makrothum*; “kind” is from chrēst*. These two words are linked together in no fewer than four other texts (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 6:6; Galatians 5:22-23; and Colossians 3:12).
Clearly, these two words hold a great deal of importance for us in manifesting God’s character and loving others. Let’s look more closely at the meaning of each of these words.
This is the first of three different Greek words we encounter among the 16 qualities that can be translated as “patient.”
Our present word group, makrothum*, combines two words: makros meaning long, and thumos meaning passion or temper, even wrath.
Anthony Thiselton (1 Corinthians, page 1,046) notes that this word translates as “long-tempered (curiously absent in English, as opposed to its opposite short-tempered); colloquially ‘with a very long fuse.’”
This activity of love holds off—is slow to anger—with the hope of something (perhaps something good) appearing. Henri Nouwen puts it this way in “A Spirituality of Waiting”:
“The word ‘patience’ [makrothum*] means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”
From his own life, Paul illustrates what it means to experience this ‘patience’ [makrothum*]. He confesses (1 Timothy 1:12-17):
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, … I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience [makrothum*] as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
Before he became a follower of Jesus, Saul (later, Paul) rebelled against God and harmed the Lord’s disciples. Any earthly king would have immediately dealt with such an opponent with unrestrained fury. Not so the Lord Jesus. Paul experienced the Lord’s ‘long-temper’ that gave time and space for repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus.
Saul, the vicious opponent of Christ and his people, became Paul, the worshiping servant of Christ and his people.
So, agapē-love actively restrains expressions of passionate temper, allowing the time and space for that hoped-for “something” to show itself in the other person.
As we saw earlier, “kind” is translated from the word group, chrēst*, which carries the basic meaning of being adapted to its purpose, serviceable. In this basic sense, we read Jesus’ words (Matthew 11:30):
“My yoke is easy [chrēst* —that is, my yoke is adapted for its purpose, serviceable—if you like, ‘kind’] and My burden is light.”
This is not an ill-fitting yoke of oppression; it is designed for the blessing of inviting and enabling followers of Jesus to work in harmony with their Lord and His purposes.
From this foundational meaning, we realize that this quality of love is something adapted for its purpose, serviceable for others, beneficial, and good for them. This is not a wishy-washy, sentimentalized kindness or “niceness.” It is a practical, beneficial, mercy-filled dynamic that pours out what the other person needs to move toward alignment with God and His purposes of grace (see Romans 2:4; Ephesians 2:7).
By way of illustration, God is kind.
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness [chrēst*] and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness [chrēst*] of God leads you to repentance? (Rom 2:4)
The “kindness of God leads you to repentance”—that radical “change of one’s attitude toward self, toward sin, toward God, toward Christ.”
In the context of loving those who don't like us, here is what our Lord says to his disciples in Luke 6:27-38:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. … love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind [chrēst*] to the ungrateful and wicked.
Again, this is not “niceness.” This is a practical, beneficial, mercy-filled dynamic that pours out what the other person needs to take needed steps toward God and his purposes.
Being patient and being kind are two sides of the same coin—one restraining, the other inviting.
As we complete this post and prepare to move into the next qualities of love, I leave you with a statement by Dan Allender that may help you understand where this agapē-love of God is leading us:
Bold love is courageously setting aside our personal agenda to move humbly into the world of others with their well-being in view, willing to risk further pain in our souls, in order to be an aroma of life to some and an aroma of death to others.
In the next post, we will examine the practical implications of four negative qualities—ways in which love does not behave.
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Photo credit: Perhaps Logos Logos Bible Software, July 7, 2014. If you have further information on this image, please write to me.
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