Before we dive in and unpack thes attributes, I want to point out the kind of love we’re dealing with. Remember, in the Greek there were 4 different types of love: eros, storge, philia and agape. Each had a different meaning and application. These all get lumped into our modern day term, “love”. So we use the same word when we describe our affinity for certain foods (I love fried okra) and our affection for our spouses (I love my wife). Without getting too far into the nitty gritty, what Paul is describing in these verses is Agape. To keep it simple, think of agape as “loving even without any self-benefit”. Of the 4 types of love, this one requires the most of us. It requires the most work.
P.S. – I already don’t like where this is going….
The first attribute of love that Paul names is patience. The Greek word is: makrothymeō. It means ‘to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others. To be slow to avenge or punish.’ I like what one commentator, Matthew Henry, says about it:
It will put up with many slights and neglects from the person it loves, and wait long to see the kindly effects of such patience on him.
Patience is a powerful, strong, and willful thing. It is having the position and power to punish, yet choosing not to. Isn’t it interesting that the first thing Paul says about love is that it’s slow to punish? Logically it makes sense to me; if we avenge or punish our partner quickly after an offense, there is no time for sorting things out, explaining intentions, reconciliation or redemption. It just explodes.
Let’s think about it for a minute: what does it look like to hold back punishment? For me it means not popping-off with some hurtful comment. It also looks like engaging the conversation rather than giving Shelley the cold-shoulder. Another angle is that when I am hurt I withhold compliments and/or affection; that’s punishment too.
How do you punish your spouse and what might it look like to practice patience?
This patience thing leads me to another question though: does Love ever get angry? Does the text say that Love means I’ll never be angry with my spouse?
No, it doesn’t. In fact this is addressed by another attribute: being slow to anger. Depending on the translation you may also see it as “not irritable” and also “not easily provoked”. Here again, background is important. The Greek word is, paroxynō, meaning to ‘provoke, irritate or rouse to anger.’The concept this term conveys is easily misunderstood. We might be inclined to read it as “love does not get angry”, which misses the heart of the matter. Instead, think of it as a quick temper; Love doesn’t have a quick temper. Loving in this way means we don’t fly-off-the-handle. While we may in fact become angry, it is only after we have practiced patience. It is similar in notion to what is described in Isaiah 5:25; “Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people. “ God wasn’t irritated so he wanted to quickly prove his point. Nor was he responding to being provoked or taunted. He was roused to anger, over time, by the idolatrous lifestyle of his people. He didn’t just lose his stuff one afternoon and make a rash decision to punish his children. It took time. He was patient.
Thus, the gist of what Paul is describing for us is a love that is going to overlook as many offenses as it can, for as long as it can, in hopes of a change in relationship.
That is so counter to my concept of love. I thought love meant Shelley should change what bothers me so I don’t have to overlook anything. If she would act differently, then I would act differently. See the conditions on that? Thus the work of love was on her, not me. We now know that’s not love at all; its selfishness.
The question I’m asking myself in light of this new understanding, and perhaps you’d like to ask yourself, is this:
In what ways am I asking my wife to change to make it easier for me to be patient and slow to anger?