Love is patient. Talk about going for the gut on the first punch. Paul doesn’t start his “Love is” list with something easy like kindness or gentleness but with patience. The one fruit of the Spirit that seems in the shortest supply.
We all have limits to our patience. How many strikes or mistakes do we allow someone to make before diminishing their value in our estimation? One strike? Three? Five? But maybe we’re looking at this all wrong. It’s not the amount of patience we have or the amount of grace we’ll extend but how much we love.
Everyone has a finite depth of patience, but love resets the counter. Peter put it this way, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, NASB95) “Multitude” in this verse has the idea of a large crowd, a plethora of incidents, all of which is greater than one, three, five, or even fifty. “Cover” is this context means to hide, to place out of sight. Love creates more patience than we can imagine by resetting our counter. Maybe our capacity for patience is three, but love extends grace by covering offenses.
God exercises this same kind of patient love. He sees all our sin, even those that we don’t know about yet, and He still extends His love and grace towards all. Our sins are covered, hidden, in Christ. At this point some readers may grow a bit nervous, thinking this is some kind of unitarian theology where all are saved. But hidden, does not mean forgiven. God overlooks our sins, covering them in Christ, so that His love may flow. But, while all are offered grace only some will accept grace and turn from sin, confessing them to God, and receive forgiveness – the account wiped clean which is far better than covered.
Looking at history’s long arc confirms God’s kind of patience. Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NASB95) Even our own lives are examples of God’s patient love. None of us deserves His love, but He keeps calling to us in spite of ourselves. God’s patient love is like that of a farmer.
A farmer plants in hope and patiently waits for the seed to grow and mature towards harvest. There are risks. Unknows of weather, pests, disease, and weeds. But the farmer plants anyway and waits patiently for the harvest. Patient love is like that farmer by taking the risk to sow love into others without knowing when (or even if) the seed will sprout, or the fruit grow.
Patient love is not blind, however. Letting love cover sin doesn’t mean we’re blind to it or that love lets everything go. Paul wrote, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, NASB95) Call this patience with a purpose. Loving folks where they are but calling them towards Christ. Patience, you see, has to have something to be patient about. It sees the distance yet to travel but keeps urging folks on instead of giving up on them.
There’s more to love of course. This is just the first of love’s attributes. And maybe now we can see why Paul placed it first in the list. Love must be patient for its flow to continue in all the other ways we have yet to uncover.
Love is patient – enduring, persistent, persevering. Love takes the long view, overlooking today’s offenses for tomorrow’s gains.