In one of the most powerful and poetic chapters of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul describes the sort of love Christians are meant to embody: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”1
Longsuffering heads the list, and I think that’s significant because to love freely and consistently in the other ways Paul names requires a readiness to go the distance. We can’t reserve our love for certain situations or special people, and we can’t withdraw it when people disappoint or fail. Longsuffering is both a prerequisite and the bottom line.
In some other versions of the Bible, the Greek word for longsuffering is translated “patient” or “patience,” but longsuffering goes deeper than that. One dictionary definition is “long and patient endurance of injury, trouble, or provocation.”2
How do we find it within ourselves to continue to show love to someone who has hurt us or others? Giving the person the benefit of the doubt can help, and so can remembering that we also hurt others through thoughtlessness, blunders, and unloving choices. But the surest way I know can be found in another translation of this same passage. In the New International Version, the phrase “love thinks no evil” is rendered “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Hurts are real and take time to heal, but when we resist the all-too-human urge to replay them in the courtroom of our mind, when we choose rather to forgive and truly forget, God gives us the love and grace to go the distance. And everyone wins.