Peter Deyneka, director for years of the Slavic Gospel Association, told the story of a young couple in a small Russian village who heard and accepted the gospel message. Their lives and their testimony began affecting others.
The village priest was alarmed that he would lose influence as the representative of the state church. The priest began to speak publically against the couple and their unorthodox beliefs. Week after week he would disparage those who were not faithful to the church of Mother Russia. Eventually, he encouraged open persecution of the evangelical couple. Four young men took him seriously.
One morning, the couple was alerted by noises coming from their roof. The husband went outside, looked up and saw four young fellows on top of his house, tearing down the thatch. He went back inside and told his wife what was happening. He also told her that he wanted her to prepare a meal.
“Use the best tablecloth. Prepare as if it is a holiday. Make it a feast!” he instructed.
She cooked a very fine meal and set an attractive table. When it was ready, she told her husband. He went outside and spoke to the hot and thirsty men on his roof.
“Fellows, you’ve been working hard. I’m sure you could use a drink. Take a break and come inside. My wife has prepared something to eat, and we’d like you to join us.”
The fellows snickered to one another. If these evangelicals were crazy enough to give them a drink and some food, they would accept. They made their way off of the roof and into the house where they were given water to clean up with and then invited to the festive table. Still smirking, they sat down to eat.
“Before we eat, we would like to give thanks to our Lord,” said the young husband. Instead of merely bowing his head, he got on his knees. He not only thanked the Lord for the food, but also gave thanks to God for sending His Son to die for the sins of all men, including the four now much quieter fellows who sat around the table. After his prayer, he invited the men to enjoy the meal. But not one of them made a move toward the food.
“I’m not really hungry,” said one. The others agreed. Silently, they left the table and went outside. Instead of resuming their tear-down, they began the arduous task of carrying the thatch up the ladder and carefully putting it back in place. At the end of the day the roof was repaired. The four fellows went home, worn out and under conviction.
Over the next several days, each one made his way back to the house of the young couple with questions about the faith that enabled them to be kind even to their persecutors. Within a few weeks, all four young men repented and trusted in Jesus Christ as savior.
This was not just an evangelistic story. Bro. Deyneka was speaking in a Russian church in South America and he told the story of the faithful young husband and wife. At the end of the service an old couple approached him.
“We are that couple!” they said. They had since emigrated from Russia and were living in that South American country.
“Love suffereth long and is kind.” What does that look like? It looks like a young Russian couple offering a meal to those who would destroy their home. But it is more.
It is Elisabeth Elliot living among the tribe that murdered her husband and his four companion missionaries. Why did she do it? Because she understood what love is. It is longsuffering and kind.
It is the wife being faithful to a man who drinks too much, but does not complain. Instead she faithfully follows Jesus and prays that her husband will one day do the same. She does it because she understands suffering love.
It is the parents who keep their disabled child at home, sacrificing their freedom to give a better quality of life. Their kindness reflects their love.
It is the mom and dad who have raised their children for God, only to see them walk away from their values and embrace the fleshly life of the world. Instead of being bitter, they continue to show love and concern, even though their days are watered with tears. They have the Motel 6 attitude: “We’ll leave the light on for you.”
It is the Christian prisoner who had an atheist cell mate. Their food ration was scarce. “How can I listen to you about your Jesus when I’m hungry?” asked the antagonist. The Christian sensed he was to give his meal to his fellow prisoner. After receiving several extra plates of food, the atheist asked, “Tell me, what is your Jesus like?” The Christian answered, “My Jesus is like me.” “If Jesus is like you, then I want to serve Him too,” said the cell mate. And he gave his heart to Jesus. The Christian prisoner understood suffering love.
It is the single parent who maintains Christian integrity in raising children for God after the spouse has long gone for “greener pastures.” An aching heart is not an excuse for compromise, but an opportunity to be an example of love that suffereth long.
Suffering love rejects the impatience of natural man. It knows nothing of verbal abuse. It does not act one way in church and then behind closed doors at home acts like the unconverted. As the songwriter penned, “Lord give me more, give me more of this love.”
Suffering love is what Jesus showed us. Abandoned by the law, left alone by His disciples, bereft of human dignity, hanging on the cross, Jesus offered love and kindness. “Woman, behold thy son,” he said to Mary as he indicated the disciple John. But His kindness was not only to His mother. He saw those who had driven the spikes into His flesh and rammed the thorns into His scalp. He was aware of those who mocked Him and spit on Him. What did suffering love look like then? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Christ’s suffering love opens the door to eternal life for you and for me. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18a). Think about that again. Jesus suffered so that He could bring us to God!
Suffering love. Amazing grace.