I offer you a peak into my studies this week. While digging in the commentaries on 1 Corinthians 13:4, I found quite an array of suggested meanings to the Greek words commonly translated ‘patient’ and ‘kind.’
1 Corinthians 13:4a ‘Love is patient; love is kind…’
The word generally translated ‘patient’ is a compound word that cannot really be translated into English in any literal sense; the closest we can get is probably something like ‘long-passioned.’ But the issue of translation is compounded by the fact that the word is a verb, which doesn’t come out so well in the word ‘patient.’ The KJV uses the word ‘long-suffering,’ which is probably closer to the actual meaning (and it brings out the compound nature of the word). F.F. Bruce suggests the word ‘long-tempered’ (as opposed to short-tempered). Matthew Henry suggests something like ‘big-hearted.’ The main idea is that love patiently bears being wronged.
As for the word translated ‘kind,’ it is even harder to translate in some ways. It only appears in this particular form in this text (nowhere else in the NT). It is also a verb and it appears (surprisingly, at least to me) in the middle voice, which denotes interest in the subject, such as ‘Love is kind in, or of, itself’ or ‘Love shows itself kind.’ The actual word denotes more than ‘kindness.’ It is a mixture, as some commentators have noted, of kindness and goodness. In other words, it denotes benevolence, or a good disposition (but in an active, demonstrable form). Phillips translates it ‘love looks for a way of being constructive.’ Gill uses the words ‘liberal’ and ‘bountiful.’
Between Gill, Henry, Clarke, Calvin, Coffman, Bruce and others, I came up with this list of paraphrases:
- Love is big-hearted and open-handed.
- Love receives wrong and gives good.
- Love is slow to get angry, quick to do good.
- Love is long-suffering and liberal.
- Love accepts rudeness and offers kindness.
- Love suffers long and wishes well.
- Love patiently endures and actively does good.
All of these are accurate descriptions of the disposition and actions of the Lord Jesus Christ, bearing evil and giving good. This is summarized nicely by the words of Jesus in Luke 9:41: “Jesus answerd, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ Jesus patiently bears the faithlessness of his people, and then positively heals in spite of it. He does not withhold good even though he has been wronged. He does not return ‘in kind.’ This is where the good news comes in. We fail, and he endures our failing and offers us good. And experiencing that gives us strength to do the same for others.
So, how am I going to preach the text? I want to demonstrate the meaning, give examples, demonstrate how Christ personifies the meaning, reminding them of the suffering and compassion of Christ, remind them that they fall short, and call upon them to respond to Christ in faith that they might become more like him. ‘As I have loved you, so must you love one another’ (John 13:34).