I once considered myself a patient person. I know, presumptuous right? I used to work with children who were angry, explosive, and often violent. I assumed that if I could respond to their curses and threats with patience, I must be a patient person.
Parenthood revealed to me just how little patience I actually have.
I see my impatience all through the day as I respond in irritation to hearing the same question asked over and over. I find myself frustrated when I have to ask, “Did you wash your hands?” for the thousandth time. When I intervene in another sibling squabble, I wonder will my work as a referee never end?
1 Corinthians 13 is the famous love chapter in the Bible. In this passage, Paul defines for us what love is and what it is not. And what is the very first characteristic listed about love? Patience.
I want to be patient with my children. I want to instruct them over and over again in the same life lessons with quiet calm and a tender voice. I want to hear their endless string of questions and not respond in annoyance or irritation. Above all, I want to show them my love for them through my patience.
Yet patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and like all fruit, it develops over a period of time. Any gardener or farmer knows there is a process involved in tilling the soil, planting seeds, watering and fertilizing, and waiting for them to take root and grow. John 15 tells us that a branch cannot bear fruit apart from the vine. This is true for us spiritually; we cannot bear spiritual fruit apart from Christ.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
In John 15, Jesus tells the disciples over eleven times that they must abide in him. When it comes to the fruit of patience, we must abide in Christ to bear such fruit. What does abiding look like? It involves studying his word and seeking him in prayer. It means relying on his grace to strengthen and sustain us in every moment of the day. It means dwelling on who he is and what he has done for us through the gospel. It means understanding and realizing the depths of his great love for us at the cross.
The truth is, 1 Corinthians 13 is ultimately about Christ and his perfect love for us. Only Christ fulfills each and every description of love. That’s because as 1 John 4:16 tells us, “God is love.” Christ has perfect patience toward us, forgiving us of sin and faithfully working in us to transform us into his likeness.
Our own patience for others will grow as we abide in him and experience more and more of his love and patience for us. When we grow frustrated and impatient with others, we can remember Christ’s patience for us every day as we sin against him. We can remember how he teaches us the same lessons over and over and how he never gives up on us. The more we look to what Christ has done for us, the more we relish and meditate on his love and patience toward us, the more we can extend that same love toward others.
To love is to be patient. But it’s not a fruit we can produce on our own. Only God can do that. May we abide in him, drawing from the nutrients found in his word, seeking him in prayer, dwelling on his deep love for us, and wait for the day of his harvest.