Love is patient

You know how when you’ve read something too many times it starts to lose all meaning? Just pick a word and write or speak it out repeatedly and very soon you’ll find yourself wondering if it is even a word at all, the letters and syllables have dissolved into nonsense.

The most familiar passages of Scripture get a bit like that too. They’re just words – our eyes glide over them, they slip past our ears – and while we might murmur our assent at their familiar tones, their meaning doesn’t touch our heart.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 has got to be one of the most often repeated Scriptures. Hands up if you had it at your wedding, or if, like me, you purposely didn’t have it at your wedding because everyone else did. It was like Pachelbel’s canon in the 90s, poor overused and under-appreciated Pachelbel.

“Love is patient.”

1 Corinthians 13:4

Yeah, yeah, I know…

But a while ago I read this:

“Love patiently endures mistreatment”

That’s the translator’s note in The Passion Translation of this verse. Say what you will about these loose paraphrase translations, but Brian Simmons hasn’t done anything crazy here. The word for patient is μακροθυμέω (makrothumeō) and it has this very meaning of being patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others. (Why yes, I did do two years of university Greek, and every now and then I even use it!)

Even your English dictionary is going to unearth this for you – “forbearance”, “long-suffering”. I’d heard that, I knew that, but somehow I’d missed the SUFFERING part.

Real love puts up with mistreatment from another…. Now that’s confronting. I’m not talking about abuse here. But even with disclaimers aside, it is still provoking.

I’ve spent a while thinking about how God endures mistreatment from me. Oh His poor vulnerable loving heart, wanting relationship, but with all that free-will He gave us, risking rejection. And oh, do we reject him.

I think of all those times I’ve got angry at God about something that wasn’t His fault. When I was all, “Why did you… ?!?!”, but actually it was just the broken creation playing out the fall, or even worse me sabotaging myself. Cringe.

And He took it. He didn’t rebuke me, He gently led me to see His heart as it actually is.

As Will Reagan wrote in his song “Let You Go”

He is different by far than our broken conclusions
You are not the god my pain has conceived
You are deeper and stronger than my eyes can see

These ideas I love. My heart opens a little wider, rejoices a little more. It feels GOOD.

You know what doesn’t feel good – having to apply that kind of love in my relationships. That is hard. But if you’re really going to love a person you necessarily open yourself up to the possibility of that person hurting you.

Love invites suffering.

You won’t find that on a Valentine’s card!

Tit for tat is just not how relationships are made to work, but time and time again that’s my natural response.

When someone mistreats me, do I patiently endure it, or do I give them what I think they deserve? Do I gently lead them to see my heart, or do I complain, defend, grouch and withdraw? … No surprises here, it’s the second option.

Oh Lord, make me more like you.


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