pa·tience ˈpāSHəns noun the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
Oh, is that all? No wonder patience is so hard to come by!
The fourth characteristic of the Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 is patience. If you read through different Bible translations, you may notice that some translate this word “longsuffering.” Longsuffering is no longer a very common word, and this is most likely why most translations go with the word patience. But longsuffering really is the better translation and gives a fuller picture of just what real patience is. The Greek word here (makrothumia) is made up of two words: makro with means “large” or “long” and thumos which means “temper.” Literally then, the word means to be “long-tempered.”
We tend to associate patience with time – the ability to wait on something. That really is more of a by-product of patience. While patience in the Bible is often is associated with slowness, it is a slowness to repay for offenses. Here is that idea of longsuffering. According to Greek scholar W.E. Vine, being patient really then is the opposite of getting angry.
Anger is often described as a secondary emotion. What this means is typically there is an underlying emotion or dynamic at work within us that provokes or triggers our anger. Impatience often is one of those primary underlying causes of anger. Think about it. When we are running late and impatient on the road, road rage rages more freely rears its ugly head. When we are impatient with our spouse or children, the little things can bring out an over-the-top reaction. Impatience keeps us from bearing with others and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Impatience – either with others or with God Himself – is very short-suffering and is often the root cause of unkindness, rudeness, selfishness, irritability and resentment to name a few.
The Fruit of the Sprit is God producing in us His own qualities. And patience or longsuffering is certainly a godly trait. Psalm 86:15 states: But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. And in the New Testament, 2 Peter 3:9 reminds us that The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. God is longsuffering towards us, always ready and willing to be merciful and full of grace and forgive. While we do see the time aspect of patience here (God is not slow), it all centers around the idea of withholding judgment with the goal to give every opportunity for all to repent and make things right.
Put simply, biblical patience is the capacity to be wronged and not retaliate.
One scholar described it as what we might call “staying power,” to endure hard events and obnoxious people (and oh yes, we all know that nothing will try our patience more than obnoxious people!). And therein lies the rub of growing in patience – we will have to experience hard events (and obnoxious people!) to grow in patience.
One word of caution about what longsuffering is not. We must be careful to distinguish patience or longsuffering from indifference. Patience bears with an offense, but indifference ignores it altogether. Patience will seek to make peace with an offender if at all possible, indifference will simply blow them off. Longsuffering is not avoidance. Neither does patience include the toleration of evil. When an offense takes place that is harmful or destructive to oneself or to others, it must not be entirely overlooked. While “overlooking an offense” is indeed a valid and patient way to deal with conflict (Proverbs 19:11), it is only so when one can really overlook the offense. Otherwise bitterness and contempt will simmer under the surface and leak out in times of stress.
Some Fruit for Thought:
- God is patient with all of us and His timing is not our own (how often do we wish God would just sync his watch to ours!?!). How well are you able to wait on God and His timing? Do you find his patience to be just plain slow? How does that impact your relationship with Him? How can you better wait on God?
- Consider how much of an underlying catalyst impatience is with your reaction to different circumstances. How much is it impatience that triggers unkindness, rudeness, selfishness, irritability, anger, etc.
- Is there people in particular that you know a God wants you to better bear with? How can you be more longsuffering with them?
- Are there any circumstances or relationships that you are trying to convince yourself you are being longsuffering when in reality you are simply avoiding? Is there some unfinished business that you really do need to address directly, yet lovingly, graciously and respectfully?