Galatians 5:22, 23—But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
The dictionary definition of patience is the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like; an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay; quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence.
The Greek word in Galatians 5:22 is makrothumia [makro- (long, distant in time or space, large-view) + thumos (passion, rage, the emotions of suffering)]. So it literally translates as “longsuffering.” It has a usual meaning of having an enduringly calm temperament. Another Greek word for patience is hypomone, which is a compound word made up of hypo (meaning under) and moneo (meaning to remain or abide). Thus, the idea is to “remain under” or “abide under” difficult circumstances—as when it is impossible to escape or avoid them.
I believe God intends for us to use a combination of makrothumia and hypomone. In other words, I think it is God’s intent for us to abide under difficult circumstances with an enduringly calm temperament. Essentially, we are to take everything in stride…with a smile on our faces. That, my friend, requires patience. Wait. Did I just say that it takes patience to be patient? Yup.
They say patience is a virtue. I believe that to be true. But, if it is, then there aren’t so many virtuous people running around. We live in a fast-paced world with a “microwave” society that thinks it needs everything now, now, now! Folks want the fastest cars, the fastest food, the fastest technology, the fastest answers, and the fastest track to success. But, as the old adage goes, slow and steady wins the race. It is a marathon and not a sprint, by the way. Hebrews 12:1-4—Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.
Patience in the Bible is:
- Needed in a crisis (Luke 21:15-19—for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls)
- Rewarded (Romans 2:7—eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality)
- Comes from reading Scripture (Romans 15:4—For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope)
- Comes from being tested (James 1:3—knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience)
- Waiting for Christ’s return (James 5:7, 8—Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand)
- Is shown by the prophets (James 5:10—My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience)
- Will inherit the promises of God (Hebrews 6:12—that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises)
Christ’s patience is shown by His mercy toward all of us. I Timothy 1:16—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 for everlasting life.
In Colossians 1:9-12—“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light,” Paul and his colleagues pray that the Colossians may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, which will bear fruit and the Colossians may attain patience.
In II Timothy 4:2—“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching,” those who preach and/or teach are given charge to do so with all patience. One of the most common descriptions of God’s own characteristic patience is found in Exodus 34:6, 7—And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”
Longsuffering is not the spiritual fruit I exhibit the most easily. As someone who growls when a car cuts me off on the highway, I can’t say that I’m a completely patient man. Sidebar*: Surprisingly, I have no problem being patient in the “big” things. It’s the small stuff that I sweat. The problem is really rooted in selfishness. We can’t seem to get out of our own little worlds long enough to see that everyone is going through something. If we would be patient with people as we strive to be patient with circumstances, maybe we would see another’s open wounds.
Our fleshly inclination is not to sit still while people go through their issues. Our instinct is to move on and let them deal with it. “What? Me suffer over someone else? Yeah right! Life’s too short. There’s too much to do, and to heck with anyone who gets in the way.” Today’s humanoid is unwilling to put up with what does not conform, is quick to ditch a spouse if things are not “working out,” engages in “get rich quick” schemes, dumps chemicals in a nearby stream instead of disposing of them properly, is unwilling to let the commercials finish before finding something more watchable on TV or more “listenable” on the radio.
We cannot afford to be patient, according to this outlook. People who bear the burdens of those they love are fools who should “cut the dead weight loose” for their own good. There is just no time to be tied down by all that junk. At least, that’s what human logic tells us. However, the Holy Spirit is not willing to just cut someone loose. Let us not forget, He was patient with us while He drew us closer to Christ. He’s been patient through all of our “growing up.” The Spirit counsels patience. We have eternity. We’re just getting started here on earth. Anything that produces weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Also, love demands patience. A whirlwind affair is simply not as deep and powerful as a relationship that builds over time. It takes time to go through the repeated, day-in, day-out confidence-building incidents that bind two people together. Just as we must be patient with a spouse, and they with us, so shall we be patient as we grow in God. Spiritual practices and the disciplines of devotion can help us grow the ability to become patient, because the gains from them cannot be rushed.
Patience is also a key piece to prayer. We, who demand instant responses, have to deal with the truth that any answer will come on God’s schedule, not ours. In Psalm 40:1, it says “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry.” Yes, the wait feels so long sometimes. But, anything truly worth having is worth waiting for. The Psalms say it over and over again: wait for the Lord, be still, etc. As James put it, wait like the farmer waits for the coming crop.
God’s timing is always perfect, so it helps to be in tune with Him. Spiritual practices can help you develop that sense—it’s like you’re exercising your “patience muscles,” sort of adjusting your inner antenna. This in turn fills you with contentment and a more balanced way of looking at the matter. You won’t just look for instant results; you will want the issue resolved in as positive a way as is possible. Patience comes easier when you think about God’s timing rather than your own. It also comes easier knowing that going through trial is one of the ways you develop patience.
Challenge: Part One—This week, take up a hobby that helps build patience. For instance, put together a big puzzle, read a book, do some gardening, or try fishing. In each, the results do not come quickly…or on demand. You have to wait. Part Two—Seek to be patient with your loved ones, no matter how much they try your patience.