Question: "What does it mean that love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4)?"
Answer: First Corinthians 13 is the most beloved chapter in the Bible on love. Often recited at weddings, this chapter serves as a pattern for the ideal marriage. Yet many have not reflected on the larger context and its implications for today. In verse 4 we read, “Love is patient.” Three words filled with meaning.
After making the point that love is a necessary ingredient in all ministry (verses 1-3), the apostle Paul begins to describe love. “Patient” is at the top of the list—“long” patience or “endurance,” according to some other translations. Godly love and a patient spirit go hand in hand.
Patience is noted as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Love is also mentioned there, revealing the close connection between these two attributes. Both love and patience are products of the Spirit’s presence in one’s life.
Since God is love (1 John 4:8), He is necessarily patient. “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6; see also Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8). Even in judgment, God’s patience is evident: “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:20).
The Corinthians needed patience. Their sin of improperly taking the Lord’s Supper, for example, was partly the result of impatience and refusing to wait for others (chapter 11). Arguments regarding spiritual gifts (chapters 12 and 14) were likewise partly attributable to a lack of patience.
An insistence on one’s own schedule is selfish, and it is opposed to godly love. Patient endurance and long-suffering are hallmarks of a loving character. Love melts away the impatience and frustration that so often hamper one’s dealings with others. When the object of one’s love fails or disappoints in some way, what is the proper response? According to 1 Corinthians 13:4, the loving response is patience.