What do you think of when you think of patience? Google dictionary defines it as, “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” Synonyms include forbearance, self-restraint, and the KJV’s preferred translation of longsuffering.
In the Bible, patience and/or longsuffering in both the Old and New Testament is translated from a combination of two words. In Greek, it’s makros (G3117, “long”) and thumos (G2372, “breath/anger/passion”). In Hebrew, it’s arek (H750, “long”) and aph (H639, “breath/anger/passion”). In both languages, patience is about waiting a long time before displaying your passionate emotions or getting all worked up about something. There’s a strong element of self-restraint implied in these phrases. You have the power to get angry, passionate, heated, etc. about something but you choose not to do so quickly or without good cause.
Patient self-restraint is a character trait of our heavenly Father, which means it’s a trait we should cultivate as well. It’s no wonder, then, that makrothumia (G3115) is one aspect of the fruit of the spirit. I’ve been studying the fruit of the spirit because I’m working on a Bible study resource I’ll be sharing here on this blog soon, and I found it fascinating that both the Greek and Hebrew concept of patience parallel each other so well.
Our God Is Slow To Anger
Back in Exodus, God revealed key attributes of His character when He proclaimed His name before Moses. We talked about this in the loving kindness posts, and it’s relevant here as well.
Yahweh passed by before him, and proclaimed, “Yahweh! Yahweh, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth, keeping loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and disobedience and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, on the third and on the fourth generation.” (Ex. 346-7, WEB)
The phrase “slow to anger” is the Hebrew words arek + aph — “longsuffering” in the KJV translation. It takes a long time for God to get stirred up into a passionate, nostrils-flared anger because He is incredibly merciful, gracious, and kind. As the story of Moses and the Israelites shows, however, Yahweh can become angry when confronted with ungrateful, complaining, disloyal, and unfaithful people who hate Him (Deut 5:9; Heb. 3:16-18). He does promise, though, not to “look in anger” on His people forever (Jer. 3:12).
Restraining His Anger For Salvation
About half of the uses of the phrase translated “patient,” “longsuffering,” or “slow to anger” in the Bible refer to God. He is “slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness,” and responds readily to repentance (Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 145:8; Joel 2:12-13). We can count on His patience even when He is angry at sin (Jer. 15:14-15).
Yahweh’s trait of being slow to anger is connected with His great power. Just because He is patient doesn’t mean He won’t punish unrepentant sin. It means that He’s holding His wrath in check to give as many people as possible an opportunity for repentance (Nah. 1:2-3). If God was quick to anger we wouldn’t last long enough to learn from our mistakes and turn back to Him.
The saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. However, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, for an example of those who were going to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:15-16, WEB)
Similarly, Peter tells us to “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” This follows shortly after his reminder that the Lord “is patient with us, not wishing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9, 15). God values reconciliation with us higher than dishing out justice, and He is patiently restraining His righteous anger over the terrible things the human race (and each individual) has done so that as many people as possible have an opportunity to choose life with Him.
Following His Example of Patience
Gratitude and praise should be our immediate and continuing response to God’s patience. There are also a few things we need to be cautious about. We can’t start thinking that because God is so patient with us we can get away with disobeying Him. We also dare not set ourselves up on a pedestal above those who haven’t repented yet just because God has shown patience toward us.
Do you think this, O man who judges those who practice such things, and do the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his goodness, forbearance, and patience, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? (Rom. 2:3-4, WEB)
We are all saved by God’s grace, and all alive because He is slow to anger and didn’t punish us instantly for the many sins we’ve committed. We need to let these precious gifts transform us. One of the reasons God shows so much patience toward us is so that He can guide us on a process of becoming like Him. And when we’re becoming like Him, we will also be slow to anger and unwilling to see anyone perish (Matt. 18:21-25).
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love; being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3, WEB)
Learning To Exercise Self-Restraint
God is love, and one characteristic of that love is patience (1 John 4:8; 1 Cor. 13:4). Without learning this kind of love and the patience that is so much a part of it, we can’t know God or become like Him.
Therefore, as the chosen of God, holy and dearly loved, put on affection, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, putting up with one another and forgiving one another. (Col. 3:12-13, LEB)
The character traits of God must become an integral part of our lives. The Father and Jesus Christ are refashioning us after Their image, just as They made the first people “in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26-27). When we’re “slow to anger,” we’re demonstrating understanding, peacemaking, and the ability to rule our spirits — all character traits of a God-honoring, God-following person (Prov. 14:29; 15:18; 16:32).
The patience we need to learn isn’t just related to how we respond to other people (though that’s a big part of it). We also have to be patient in how we relate to God. It’s easy to become impatient waiting for Him to take action in our lives or for Jesus to return. But a Christian life is one of patient waiting and diligent faithfulness (James 5:7-8; Heb. 6:11-15). As we develop the fruit of the spirit and become more like God, we’ll learn how to exercise self-restraint and patience in every aspect of our lives.
Featured image credit: Claudine Chaussé via Lightstock