Love Suffers Long

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By Jon Bloom. Source:


Ask the apostle Paul what the fruits of the Spirit are, and the first thing he says is love (Galatians 5:22). Paul would say love is the greatest of the fruit of the Spirit, just as he said love was the greatest gift of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Then ask Paul what love is, and what does he say first? “Love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Now, I don’t assume this necessarily means Paul believed patience is the greatest quality of love. But the fact that he mentions it first in this beautiful description of Christian love must give us pause.


Love Versus Endurance

What did Paul have in mind when he wrote, “Love is patient”? The answer may not be as obvious as it seems.

We use the term patience for a wide variety of things: for instance, putting up with a generally difficult person; not losing our temper in rush hour traffic; financial investing for the long term; not yelling at our child who’s throwing his umpteenth tantrum today or who’s left the milk on the counter for the umpteenth time; working steadily toward that degree; or not thinking (or uttering) a profanity when the software program stalls, requiring a hard shutdown and losing our unsaved work.

But Paul had a specific meaning in mind when he said this. The King James translation gives us a little more linguistic help: “Charity suffereth long.” Looking at the Greek word Paul chose is even more helpful, a version of the word makrothymia.

Sometimes English translators choose to translate the Greek word hypomonēas “patience” (e.g. Luke 8:15Romans 2:72 Corinthians 12:12Revelation 2:3). But hypomonē differs from makrothymiaHypomonē almost always refers to perseverance or endurance in the face of difficult or painful circumstances(think James 1:3). But makrothymia almost always refers to a forbearing, persevering, patient love toward a person. It is a form of self-sacrificial love we extend to someone else.


God’s Longsuffering Love

This word had powerful connotations for Paul. As a Jew, he understood makrothymia — “longsuffering love” — as one of God’s most fundamental character traits. For when God revealed his glory to Moses on the mountain, he proclaimed,


“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6)


This description of God is repeated over and over in the Old Testament (e.g. Numbers 14:18Psalm 86:15Joel 2:13Jonah 4:2). And in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint), which Paul knew like the back of his hand, the phrase “slow to anger” is captured in one Greek word: a version of makrothymia.

This word is powerful because it describes God’s incredibly patient love toward sinners. God was lovingly slow to anger with the continual sin of the antediluvian peoples for many centuries. He was lovingly slow to anger with horrible and grotesque sins of the Canaanite peoples for many centuries (Genesis 15:16). He was lovingly slow to anger with the idolatrous rebellion of Israel during the period of the judges, and then during the period of the kings for many centuries. And he has been lovingly slow to anger with the wicked world for many centuries since Christ came, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).


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About the Author

Jon Bloom serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife live in the Twin Cities with their five children. 



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