Patience (longsuffering; a long temper)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22,23)
Ambition is lauded as a virtue. To lack ambition in our society is to risk being called lazy, fearful, and even stupid. We are constantly reminded that people with drive, zeal, and enthusiasm made this country what it is.
Success is a game with rules that lots of people talk about and penalties that few will acknowledge. It speaks to the price of ambition! People are finding themselves on the treadmill…they feel as if they are being ground up…and they are confused because they are miserable while seemingly doing so well!
Each profession has its criteria for success, a collection of trophies, a list of rewards, that mark the path to make it. The most common metaphor we use is “climbing the ladder of success.” Another? We use the phrase “playing the game” which may reflect some of our self-doubts about what we are doing.
The ambition treadmill is all about reaching ever higher. It’s a thief of time, a killer of contentment. It leads to exhaustion, and an even more depleted sense of self.
And success doesn’t always bring the anticipated sense of fulfillment. After attaining a goal, some people run out of steam and lose direction. They forget, or perhaps never knew, that the process of mastery or ambition should be rewarding on its own terms.
I cannot think of a virtue that is more desperately needed, or harder to produce in our lives, than patience.
ILL. The story is told of a young Christian who went to an older Christian for help. “Will you please pray for me that I may be more patient?” he asked. So they knelt together & the old man began to pray. “Lord, send this young man tribulation in the morning; send this young man tribulation in the afternoon; send this young man…”
At that point the young Christian blurted out, “No, no, I didn’t ask you to pray for tribulation. I wanted you to pray for patience.” “Ah,” responded the wise old Christian, “it’s through tribulation that we learn patience.”
WHAT IS PATIENCE?
“Patience” (makrothumia) is the quality of putting up with others, even when one is severely tried. The importance of patience is evidenced by its being most often used of the character of God, as in the great text from Joel: “Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil” (2:13, RSV).
- “Patience is self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate against a wrong.” That’s pretty good. When someone does you a wrong, how do you respond – with patience or anger?
- Here’s another: “Patience is the ability to accept delay or disappointment graciously.” How do you deal with delay or disappointment? For some that’s really tough. Yet, patience is the ability to accept it without becoming upset.
- Here’s another: “Patience is the powerful attribute that enables a man or woman to remain steadfast under strain – & continue pressing on.” Maybe that is where some of us are. We’re dealing with difficult circumstances. We’re a raising a child, or we’re caring for aging parents, or maybe we’ve had a loved one who is ill & we’ve spent long hours at the hospital or nursing home. We’re weary, but patience is the quality that says, “This too, will pass. It’s almost over. I can keep on keeping on.”
- But here is my favorite definition: “Patience is a calm endurance based on the certain knowledge that God is in control.”
Makrothumia expresses a certain attitude both to people and to events. It expresses the attitude to people which never loses patience with them, however unreasonable they may be, and which never loses hope for them, however unlovely and unteachable they may be.
It expresses the attitude to events which never admits defeat, and which never loses its hope and its faith, however dark the situation may be, and however incomprehensible events may be, and however sore the chastening of God may be.
The story is told of an artist who went to visit an old friend. When he arrived, she was weeping. He asked why. She showed him a beautiful handkerchief that had great sentimental value, but which had been ruined by a spot of indelible ink.
The artist asked her to let him have the handkerchief, which he returned to her by mail a few days later. When she opened the package she could hardly believe her eyes. The artist, using the inkblot as a base, had drawn on the handkerchief a design of great beauty. Now it was more beautiful & more valuable than ever.
IT IS DIFFICULT TO DEVELOP PATIENCE
Well, as desirable as patience may be, as the young Christian found out, it is not easy to develop patience. For instance, I think developing patience is difficult because it goes against human nature. We aren’t born patient, are we?
When a baby wakes up in the middle of the night & is hungry, or its diaper is wet, it doesn’t lie there & think, “I know Mom & Dad are tired. So I’ll just wait until a more convenient time to let them know that I need something to eat or my diaper changed.”
No! That baby cries impatiently & continues to cry until it receives the attention it demands. Children aren’t very patient. Have you ever traveled with a child? That can be quite an experience.
ILL. How about the little 4-year-old boy who was traveling with his mother & constantly asking the same question over & over again? “When are we going to get there? When are we going to get there?” Finally, the mother got so irritated that she said, “We still have 90 more miles to go. So don’t ask me again when we’re going to get there.” Well, the boy was silent for a long time. Then he timidly asked, “Mom, will I still be four when we get there?”
Now here’s a second reason why developing patience is difficult. It’s because there are weeds of pride, selfishness & anger that can choke out the fruit of patience.
A couple of years ago a survey revealed that we have become an impatient & oftentimes angry nation. You see it at work. You see it in school. You see it on the highways.
A man’s car stalled in heavy traffic just as the light turned green. All his frantic efforts to get the car started failed, & a chorus of honking horns behind him made matters worse. He finally got out of his car & walked back to the first driver behind him & said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to get my car started. If you’ll go up there & give it a try, I’ll stay here & honk your horn for you.”
Thirdly, patience is difficult to develop because it’s contrary to our culture. We don’t live in a relaxed culture. Go to most third world countries today & you’ll find a much different lifestyle. They’re more laid back. They think, “Whatever happens, happens. It’ll be all right.” And they wonder why we’re so uptight.
It’s because we’re on a fast track, & in a rat race. We’re in a world of fast food & quick print & expressways & 10-minute oil changes & instant cameras & microwaves.
One Calvin & Hobbes comic strip pictured his father sitting at a computer saying, “It used to be that if a client wanted something done in a week it was considered a rush job, & he would be lucky to get it. Now, with modems, faxes, & car phones everybody wants everything instantly.” About that time Calvin walks by holding a microwave dinner, reading the instructions. “It takes 6 minutes to microwave this,” he says. Who’s got that kind of time?”
I think another reason that patience is difficult to develop is because we have convinced ourselves that impatience is a virtue. So you hear people say, “Well, I may be impatient, but I get things done.”
We like “type A” personalities, hard-charging people who get things done, & somehow impatience is seen as a virtue.
Proverbs 14:29 says, “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.”
Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.”
ILL. A young man was very upset with his mother. They had argued, & at work that day he wrote her an angry letter giving all the things that he felt were wrong with her. It was a very nasty letter. After sealing the envelope, he handed it to a co-worker to mail it for him. Well, the co-worker knew what was in the letter, so he put it in his pocket. “Maybe he’ll have second thoughts about it. I can always mail it tomorrow,” he thought.
The next day, when he went to work, his friend was sitting there all forlorn, saying, “Oh, I wish I had never written that letter. I’d give $100 to have it back.” Well, you know what happened, don’t you? His friend pulled it out of his pocket & said, “Here it is.”
Would you consider yourself to be a patient person? Do you show patience in your life? No doubt many of us struggle with this. No doubt we all could use a little more patience. It’s so often the case, is it not, that we allow ourselves to become guilty of impatience.
You know, it can even be said that in some ways, impatience lies at the heart of almost every sin you can think of. Just look back to the beginning of sin, when Eve was tempted by the serpent in the garden of Eden. The serpent tells her that if she were to eat of the forbidden fruit, she could be like God, knowing good and evil. She saw that the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. She became impatient for that wisdom, she became impatient with the command of God which said to her that she did not need to have that wisdom, so she ate, and she gave some to her husband, and he ate.
Consider also the Ten commandments, and how impatience will cause you to break each and every one of them:
- Command 1: You shall have no other gods before me. Why would we want other gods? Because we are impatient with God, and we think that perhaps some other gods can give us more of what we want than God.
- Command 2: no graven images. We make graven images because we are impatient with the way of worship which God commands of us in his Word, we impatiently want to make an image of Him that we can see. Remember how the Israelites were impatient when Moses was up on the mountain, so they made a golden calf.
- Command 3: no taking God’s name in vain. We take His name in vain in cursing because we become impatient in reaction to something which has happened to us. Can you think of any instance where you would swear in anger when you are not being impatient?
- Command 4: remember the Sabbath. We break Sabbath, doing unnecessary work because we are impatient to see that that work gets done. We can’t wait until Monday to do what we want to do.
- Command 5: honor your parents. You do not show your parents the proper respect which God commands of you because you are impatient with their weaknesses.
- Command 6: no killing. You show anger toward your neighbor, perhaps even going so far as killing them, because you believe that they did something wrong to you, and you are too impatient to leave it to God to avenge.
- Command 7: no adultery. You lust after someone sexually, you commit some sexual sin, because you are too impatient with respect to having your physical desires satisfied in the proper context of marriage.
- Command 8: no stealing. You steal from your neighbor, because you are too impatient to actually earn for yourself that which you stole. Someone steals a car to sell for money, they are too impatient to earn their money in a legitimate job.
- Command 9: no bearing false witness. Someone lies about their neighbor, bearing false witness against them, because they are too impatient to let the truth takes its course.
- Command 10: no coveting. You envy what belongs to your neighbor, because you impatiently believe that God has not given you enough. You are impatient with His providence, knowing that He has promised to take care of all your needs, but not believing that he is taking care of them fast enough.
So much sin, so much impatience. Think about the sins you have committed this past week. You spoke ill of someone behind their back, because you were impatient with what you perceived as their weakness.
You became angry with some person, some family member, a child, a brother or sister, whatever the case may be, you became angry because you were impatient with how they did not act exactly as your wanted them to act. Boys and girls, you grabbed some toy away from a brother or sister because you were too impatient to wait until they finished playing with that toy. Even babies get angry because they are impatient to be fed.
We can also be impatient during church services. For instance, we can be impatient with a song that has a tune we are not very familiar with. Perhaps we become impatient with a sermon that we find boring, or that we don’t quite agree with, or that hits a little bit too close to home. Maybe you are even becoming impatient with the fact that I am talking about impatience so much in this sermon.
I would dare say that there is hardly a sin which you could think of which somehow is not connected, if not directly, than at least indirectly, to impatience.
It should not be surprising then, that impatience is so completely contrary to the will of God. It should not surprise us that God commands his people to be patient. As Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
And Colossians 3:12 – “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”
We have been called by God to live as his chosen, redeemed people, and as redeemed people, washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ, we should be living as patient and humble people, putting up with one another as people who share a common bond of love.
This is not just simple moralism here. I am not just trying to promote a feel-good, let’s-all-try-to-get-along, sort of attitude. People of God, this is the will of God for His people. This is what redeemed people will be like, having the Holy Spirit live in their hearts, producing in them the fruit of patience. This is the will of our God for our entire lives.
We must be patient with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. But now, consider this: if you are sitting there thinking, “Yeah, that’s right, that so-and-so over there, he sure has to be more patient”, then you yourself are being impatient with that brother or sister, and you had better look to your own heart to see where you yourself can be more patient.
But now, OK, we need to be more patient with other people. But what about when people do something terrible to us? Are we expected to be patient then? How are we supposed to be patient when an injustice is done against us?
Well, we read in 1 Peter 2:21-23 – “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. `He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
Not easy to follow that sort of example, is it? We would much rather seek revenge, and try real hard to get what’s coming to us. But is that what God’s Word requires of us?
Consider also the example of Paul put before us in 2 Corinthians 6:4-7 – “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left.”
Now, you might say that this sort of patience is just too difficult. Maybe a super-Christian like Paul might be able to have that sort of patience, but it’s impossible for someone like me. I can’t do it. How can God expect that sort of patience from me?
Well, consider this: God calls us to be patient because He Himself is patient. He does not require of us patience while being at the same time an impatient God. He is not one to say, “do as I say, and not as I do.” Oh, while preachers may have to preach about things where they could use some improvement themselves, God does not need any improving with regard to the patience He demands of us. He is perfect. He is perfectly patient. God, by his very nature is a patient God, and He calls us to be patient as He is patient.
Consider how God so often demonstrates patience. For one thing, think about the fact that there is so much sin in the world. Now, if he wanted to, He could destroy at any time all the reprobate who have not been cleansed by the blood of Christ. He could destroy at any time all those who are not a part of his people. He would be perfectly justified in doing so. And yet, He does not destroy them right away.
In Romans 9:22 we read, “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath- prepared for destruction.”
God endures with much patience those who are destined to suffer his just wrath. For the time being, He puts up with those who reject him and violate his Word. And in doing so, he demonstrates his power and his glory.
But of course, not only is God’s patience shown in how he deals with the unbeliever, but His patience is even more clearly demonstrated in how He deals with His people. For instance, in Nehemiah 9:16,17, we read about how God was patient with the people of Israel when they were in the desert after having been delivered from Egypt – “But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.”
In spite of the wickedness of the people of Israel, God was slow to anger. He did not leave them to perish completely in the wilderness, even though He had every right to do so. He put up with their complaining. And He still brought them to the land of Canaan.
Psalm 103:8 says, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” Psalm 145:8 – “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”
Joel 2:13 – “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”
Our God is a gracious God. Our God is a merciful God. Our God is slow to anger, He is patient. And as He is slow to anger, as He is patient, as He has so clearly shown with us, so also He demands that we show in our lives.
But now, perhaps you might be asking yourself the question, what exactly does it really mean that the Lord is patient? Does it mean that he is willing to put up with sin, turning a blind eye toward it, ignoring it until we try his patience for too long and then He blows his top? Is God like a parent who will ignore something that his young child does until he runs out of patience, at which time he finally punishes the child in anger?
Well, actually, this is not at all what is meant by the fact that God is slow to anger. His being slow to anger does not mean that he is willing to overlook sin for a while.
We read in Nahum 1:3 – “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.” Now, at first it may seem that these statements contradict themselves. On the one hand, God is slow to anger, patient, but on the other hand, he will not leave the guilty unpunished. How can these two go together?
Well, we have to understand why it is that God is patient and slow to anger. To help us understand this, consider 1 Timothy 1:15,16 – “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
The patience of God was demonstrated in the fact that a horrible sinner like Paul, a man who persecuted and killed believers, a man who resisted Jesus Christ with all his might, such a man could still be brought to salvation. What a marvelous testimony to the patience of God!
And in 2 Peter 3:15 we read another verse which emphasizes what the patience of God is all about: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.”
The Lord’s patience means salvation! God is patient in not coming back right away, and in not destroying the world right here and now. And in this patience is found salvation. Since he is not coming back right away, this means that more will be able to become a part of his people. More people can be saved!
Also, God is not slow to anger because He wants to be easy on those who are reprobate, those who are not elected to be a part of His people. Rather, God is slow to anger in order that the salvation of all of His people may be accomplished.
God was patient with Paul, and eventually He brought him into the fold, and the life of Paul was a marvelous witness to the grace of God. God is slow to anger against this wicked world, in order that all of God’s elect may be born and brought to salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. And God is slow to anger against each and every one of us, in order that we might know of His grace and trust in His mercy. God is slow to anger, that you might be saved.
Ecclesiastes 7:8,9, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.”
There is much wisdom here, wisdom which, if we keep it in mind, can certainly help us to cultivate patience in our lives. For instance, consider the first statement here: “The end of a matter is better than its beginning”.
There is one way to cultivate patience: keep your eyes on your goal. Keep your focus on the end which God has in store for his people.
We know of the end that the Lord has in store for us. We can see that He has salvation awaiting us. And knowing of the salvation that is ours, we can be patient with respect to what happens to us. Patient with God, knowing that ultimately He will accomplish His purposes. Patient in the face of adversity, knowing that God works all things for the good of those who love Him. How can we help but be patient, knowing how God has eternal life in store for us?
But now, in all of this, there is one thing that we especially need to remember: patience is a gift. Patience is a blessing. Patience is a blessing which the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those who have been called apart to be the people of God.
Consider also this: patience is not a sign of weakness. Rather, patience is a sign of strength. It’s a sign of the strength which only the Holy Spirit can ultimately provide. It’s a fruit of His work in our life.