Nowadays, people generally define or recognize love as an act of kindness or self-sacrifice. Therefore, words which have become commonly associated with love include those such as giving, helping, caring, having compassion, doing good deeds, and so forth. We can certainly define love through such actions for it is biblical to love in deed and in truth. But how else does the Bible define love?
The first and foremost definition Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 13 is: love suffers long. Other translations say love is patient. How are the two related? What does each one entail? What is the range of meanings derived from the original word in Greek?
Let’s start by introducing the original word: μακροθυμέω. If we break down this compound word, it literally means to be “long-tempered” (makros, “long,” thumos, “temper”). Without surprise then, the above translations (long-suffering, patient) make so much more sense. Essentially, being long-tempered (albeit an adjective rarely used and possibly non-existent) is the opposite of being short-tempered. Patience, then, is the opposite of anger.
Further definitions gathered from a number of Greek-English lexicons of the New Testament include the following: to remain tranquil, to bear up without complaint when provoked, to endure afflictions, to delay long, to be mild, to be slow in avenging, to refuse to retaliate with anger, to have God-directed patience. What can we notice about all of these definitions? They are not easy for anyone! How many people do you know who possess all of these qualities, all of the time? Thank God if you can identify more than a few.
The crucial point is that all of these qualities are hidden within one’s heart. In other words, this definition of love is by no means an act which can be seen. Therefore, this kind of love is much harder to recognize, practice, and treasure both within ourselves and in others. Of course, we can generally tell whether or not a person is patient, depending on how well we know him or her. However, most of the time, we do not see nor do we know all the pain, struggle or self-denial which a person of great patience has already gone through. The interesting point about patience is that you can only see its fruit, not its process of growth.
Even though it is hidden, it is of great value. In fact, such love and inner beauty is something very precious in God’s eyes and worthy for all of us to pursue (cf. 1 Pet 3:4). It also gives us a deeper understanding and appreciation of God’s unspoken love for us (i.e. His forbearance of us rather than material blessings). Now that’s something to think about the next time we think about the true meaning of love.