Is patience becoming extinct these days? What does this fruit of the Spirit tell us about ourselves and our Heavenly Father, who commands us to be longsuffering?
You’ve probably heard the saying “Patience is a virtue.” But judging by society around us, it doesn’t seem to be a virtue that many people want to develop. More often we hear phrases like “I’m running out of patience” and “I have no patience for the likes of you!”
Few today use the synonym of patience that the New King James Version uses in Galatians 5:22 in the list of the fruit of the Spirit: longsuffering. Fewer still would consider that a virtue! We don’t want to wait, and we certainly don’t want to suffer!
What is longsuffering?
From walking, to horse-drawn carriage, to automobile, to jet plane, humanity’s technological progress reflects our desire for speed and our growing impatience. Longsuffering, or patience, is in short supply in this world, especially now that people get frustrated if their mobile devices take five seconds to load the Internet instead of three seconds. This trend has also, undoubtedly, affected our relationships and attitudes. How could it not?
Part of Ephesians 4:2 says “with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” This verse connects longsuffering with patiently working with others even when it is not entirely pleasant for us.
A section of Colossians 3:12-13 uses the same language, but adds another component. We’re told to put on “longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (emphasis added throughout). This passage tells us that longsuffering is closely related to forgiveness. Both of these scriptures are from sections that detail how the “new man,” full of the Holy Spirit, should act.
What is longsuffering? It is the godly patience and mercy we need to show to others that mirrors as closely as possible the patience and mercy God shows to us. It is when we bear with others, put up with their mistakes and inconsiderate actions and truly forgive them for real or imagined offenses against us. It is enduring trials and waiting patiently and faithfully for God’s intervention.
Why does God want us to demonstrate longsuffering?
As with all the other fruit of the Spirit, God wants us to be like Him. God cares for all humanity; and He does it with tremendous compassion, mercy and longsuffering. God’s people are in training to become kings and priests to rule with Him in the future (Revelation 1:6), and this involves learning to forgive others, to show mercy and to be forbearing—or else we would be just like the worldly leaders of today.
Psalm 130:7 states: “O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption.”
God set the example of mercy and redemption. God patiently waits (and has waited) for us as humans to repent and to stop destroying ourselves. God desires that we turn to Him, and when we do, He even promises to help us overcome.
It can be a slow and frustrating process to go from selfish human nature (what the Bible calls the “old man”) to a new creation in Christ, but God lovingly guides us and helps us with amazing patience. And He wants us to become like Him and show the same patience to others.
Luke 17:3-4 gives us an example of what this looks like in everyday life: “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
This takes longsuffering! This passage makes no excuses one way or the other. Sin should not be tolerated and should be pointed out when it is our responsibility to do so. Yet even repeated sin must be patiently forgiven, even if it happens seven times in one day! This is what God does, and this is what He wants us to do.
Why? If we don’t learn to demonstrate godly patience and forgiveness, God is not going to forgive our offenses against Him (Matthew 6:14-15).
An example to follow
One of the major prophets of the Old Testament, Jeremiah, provides a startling example of patience and longsuffering. Jeremiah was given the seemingly impossible task of telling the people of Judah that Babylon was going to take them captive because they were refusing to repent of their sins—a very unpopular message.
Jeremiah did not give up trying time and again to get God’s people to repent and turn from their wicked ways, even to the point of deep sorrow. He wrote: “Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jeremiah 9:1).
What did this heartfelt attempt to turn people from evil get Jeremiah?
He was destitute and alone in his thinking. His life was constantly threatened through schemes of those around him. He had other prophets calling him a liar and a traitor to Judah. He was beaten, persecuted, arrested and put in a dungeon pit where he sank into the mire (Jeremiah 38:6). A scroll of the prophecies God had given him was callously burned and had to be rewritten.
Throughout all this, Jeremiah continually tried to turn God’s people from their sin; he never gave up on them, never stopped doing what God asked him to do and never felt pleasure in their prophesied fate.
An example to avoid
Jesus Christ provided a powerful parable showing the fate of those who are not willing to be longsuffering with other human beings. It is found in Matthew 18:21-35 and is often called the parable of the unforgiving servant. After Christ told Peter that he must forgive 70 times seven, He began a story about a servant who owed an enormous debt to a great king.
The servant begged for mercy and patience, and the great king had compassion on the man and forgave the enormous debt. But that same servant then went out and found someone who owed him a much smaller debt by comparison and demanded that the man pay up. Despite the man’s begging for patience and mercy, the unforgiving servant threw the man in prison until he could pay the debt.
When the king found out about this, he was angry and rebuked the servant for not showing the same compassion and pity the servant had been shown. That servant was then put in prison and tortured until he could pay the original enormous debt.
The parable ends with: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (verse 35). Christ made it clear that in order for God to show longsuffering and mercy to us, we must also be merciful and longsuffering to others.
Longsuffering self-examination questionnaire
- Am I slow to wrath or quick to condemn? Why am I like this?
- Do others describe me as calm and laid-back or impatient and easily offended? What are some examples?
- Does my patience with others mirror God’s patience with me? How do I know?
- Do I truly forgive others, or do I hold grudges? What makes it hard for me to forgive people?
How do we demonstrate more longsuffering?
We’ve seen that longsuffering is not just a desirable trait for Christians to have but a necessary component of walking a life leading toward salvation. If we don’t show longsuffering and forgiveness to others, God will not show them to us.
So how do we make sure we have this fruit overflowing in our lives?
- We should write down the name of anyone we have a grudge against or have not truly forgiven, and then we should write down the reasons we have not been longsuffering with this person. Are these valid reasons according to the Bible? What do we need to do to forgive the person? (See more in the section on forgiveness and the article on grudges.)
- Calmly think about things said and done to us, rather than reacting rashly. One of the hardest areas to control in respect to longsuffering is our strong desire to let our tongues run free.
- Whenever we’re offended or “sinned against,” we must remember to react in a way that we would want God to react to our sins.
Christians must be known by their patience—their patience with God’s timetable and plan for them and, especially, their patience with other human beings. Let’s show the rest of the world the longsuffering and forbearance God has with us. Learn more in our article “Patience Is a Virtue That Can Build Relationships.”
Read more about how to receive and use the Holy Spirit in the articles “Christ in Us: How Does He Live in You?” and “How Do You Know You Have the Holy Spirit?” For more about the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, see our article “The Fruit of the Spirit” and the links to the other eight.