Love suffers long and is kind (1 Cor 13: 4)

15-12-2011 10:12 AM

By - Pope Shenouda III

It is a piece of advice from St. Paul the Apostle among other characteristics of love. And the church sets in the introduction to the Matins Prayer some verses from the Epistle to the Ephesians where the Apostle says, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4: 1- 3)

With longsuffering a person can keep meekness and peace.
With longsuffering one will not fall easily in anger but bears with the others in patience till they calm down, as the apostle says, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (Jas 1: 19, 20) And Solomon the Wise says, “The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools.” (Eccl 7: 8, 9)

Indeed, anger can be remedied by longsuffering and patience.
By longsuffering a person does not hasten to be angry but calms down within, because who loves someone ought to bear with him in patience without getting angry quickly.

Love makes us suffer long with the weak and the fainthearted, as the apostle says: “Comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” (1 Thess 5: 14)
The weak need those who can bear with them, a matter which needs longsuffering, and longsuffering is created by love. Moreover the apostle considers longsuffering a fruit of the Spirit, saying, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness …” (Gal 5: 22) It is true, for who suffers long with the others will have peace and will be kind; and all this is the result of love.

Longsuffering is an attribute of God, for He suffered long both the Jews and the Gentiles.
He suffered long the Jews who were stiff necked and disobedient to a great extent. They caused much trouble to Moses who was very patient more than all the people on the earth (Num 12: 3), and they killed the prophets and those who were sent to them (Mt 23: 37). As Nehemiah the Prophet said, “Our fathers acted proudly, hardened their necks, and did not heed Your commandments … But You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger … did not forsake them.” (Neh 9:16, 17)

Longsuffering then is connected with kindness, mercy, and forgiveness.
God##s kindness and mercy are due to His love for humanity, and the result is forgiveness and longsuffering. Man knew this fact from the very beginning, and Moses the Prophet said, “The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression.” (Num 14: 18) The same is recorded in the Psalms, as in (Ps 86: 15; 145: 8).

In Psalm (103) the Psalmist expounds these attributes of God, saying:
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103: 8- 14)

God##s longsuffering was meant to lead people to repentance.
As St. Peter the Apostle says, the Lord “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance,” “and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation – as also our beloved brother Paul … has written to you.” (2 Pet 3: 9, 15) What then had St. Paul said? He said, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom 2: 4)

God##s longsuffering therefore is a chance given by the loving God to lead us to repentance, not to indifference and negligence; for the apostle continues saying, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his deeds.” (Rom 2: 5, 6)

God dealt with Pharaoh in the same way.
God suffered him long and many times, and Pharaoh admitted his fault several times and asked for mercy that God might remove away the plague. But each time God removed away the plague and gave him a chance to repent, he despised God##s longsuffering. So, at the end, God let him drown with his soldiers and chariots in the Red Sea.

God also suffered the Jews long and many times, and forgave them their worshiping the idols and gods of the Gentiles, but as they despised His longsuffering He delivered them to captivity in Babylon and Assyria, and said to them, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.” (Isa 1: 15)

In His love God suffered the Gentiles long.
He suffered them long though they worshiped idols and took for themselves gods other than the Lord God, and the fool among them said in his heart: there is no God (Ps 14: 1). But in the fullness of time the Gentiles embraced faith, and the wild olive tree was grafted into the original olive tree (Rom 11: 24), for the Lord said to His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mk 16: 15)

God##s longsuffering was clear toward Nineveh and Jonah the Prophet.
That sinful nation Nineveh where there were more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left, through God##s longsuffering and the preaching of Jonah His prophet, repented, fasted, covered themselves with sackcloth and sat in ashes (Jon 4). So God forgave them and accepted their repentance as He did for the people in the ship. In the same way God treated Jonah who fled from His presence in a ship going to Tarshish (Jon 1).

God did not take him while he was in his sin, fleeing from His presence.
He suffered him long in spite of his disobedience, prepared for him a great fish, and gave him a lesson. So, Jonah finally obeyed and went to Nineveh and warned them till they repented and were saved (Jon 3: 3). For in His love God does not have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die, but that he should turn from his ways and live (Ezek 18: 23).

God##s longsuffering extended to the sinners.
He bore with Zaccaeus the tax-collector although people complained how He went into the house of a sinner. But the Lord declared it: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.” (Lk 19: 9) The Lord did the same to Matthew the tax-collector, so Matthew did not only leave the tax office, but he also became one of the twelve disciples!

He bore with the Samaritan woman who had five husbands till she repented and told her city about Him (Jn 4); and with the Magdalene from whom He cast out seven demons (Mk 16: 9), so she followed Him and announced His resurrection to the disciples.
He bore with the lost son who had been dead and became alive, and had been lost and was found (Lk 15); and bore with Saul of Tarsus who had persecuted the church violently, turning him into a great apostle who afterwards said, “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man … sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him.” (1 Tim 1: 13- 16) He bore with Irianos the Governor of Ensena in the days of Diocletian. Irianos was the fiercest among the other governors in tormenting the Christians, but through God##s longsuffering he believed and was martyred.

Many sinners through God##s longsuffering repented and turned into saints.
Among those were Augustine who repented, became a monk and a bishop, and wrote deep contemplations that benefited the following generations; Moses the Black who repented, became a father to the monks and an example of love and meekness; and Mary the Copt who repented and became a hermit and even blessed Zosima the priest. Time is lacking to speak about the many sinners who were led by God##s longsuffering to repentance and holiness. This reminds us of the tree that gave no fruit and was to be cut down, but its keeper said,
“Let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.” (Lk 13: 8, 9)

These are mere examples to which we may add the Lord##s longsuffering towards His disciples in their lack of understanding, in their weakness when they could not stay awake with Him one hour in Gethsemane (Mt 26), in their wondering several times who would be the first and chief among them (Mt 20: 26; Lk 20: 24), in their doubts concerning Him as Thomas did (Jn 20), in their fleeing at the time of the arrest and hiding in fear, and in their doubting His resurrection (Mk 16). However, He suffered long with them and was patient, remedied their weakness, and made of them leaders to the believers.

These are lessons in longsuffering, but longsuffering should not be with displeasure but with love.
We have to be patient concerning God##s promises and interference to solve our problems and respond to our prayers, to wait for Him, sure that by our patience we possess our souls (Lk 21: 19).

We should be patient and longsuffering in the field of ministry.
We should not fall in despair and discontent if the fruit delays in our ministry, for the sinners need longsuffering so that they may repent and forsake their past habits and lusts. The ignorant likewise need longsuffering that they may understand and accept the spiritual way and grow. We should be patient with all (1 Thess 5: 14) with all love towards them and not be annoyed of their slow repentance or even of their return to their old ways.

Longsuffering therefore is an attribute required most in pedagogues, guides, and instructors.
It is also required in parents towards their children till they grow up, bearing in love and longsuffering their faults and weaknesses, and in teachers till their students understand and be broadminded, as well as in the guides and father confessors and in all leaders to behave with love and longsuffering, like a physician who needs to be longsuffering with the patient till he responds to treatment.

Know that getting used to virtue is not that easy to our children and students. Remember that hard diabolic wars against them and stumbling blocks may hinder their spiritual way. Let us remember the words of the apostle: “Love suffers long and is kind.”
Now we shall stop here and continue on our subject in the coming week, God willing.

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