I was once given the advice “Don’t pray to God for patience because He will give you plenty of opportunities to practice”. Notwithstanding one’s opinion of that particular directive, I have decided for now to write about it rather than pray for it. As you may have guessed, I am not examining The Fruits of the Spirit in any particular order or with any sort of overriding structural theme. I think they each tell their own individual stories that guide us down the correct path when viewed collectively.
Longsuffering is an interesting word. It certainly isn’t common terminology we utilize in everyday conversation. It comes from the Greek word makrothumia, meaning long-tempered…the opposite of short-tempered. Longsuffering can be defined as forbearance, patience, steadfastness, self-restraint in avenging wrongs, and the ability to endure adversity, persecution, provocation, suffering, & ill will with no thought of retaliation or punishment. Longsuffering is the antithesis of anger and is associated with mercy. It is being mild, gentle, and constant in all circumstances.
There are many shades of anger. I do not consider myself to be violent. I have never beaten anyone up or made any type of legitimate threats. I don’t brandish weapons, and I don’t generally go around causing mayhem or destruction. But…..I am easily annoyed, tend to hold grudges, and have an overall sense of resentment against people, situations, and entities that I perceive to have caused me harm or even mere inconvenience. This acrimony, more often than not, does not manifest itself in any tangible way. Most who interact with me personally and professionally would consider me to be kind, polite, and even-tempered. Only those few with whom I am most comfortable ever get a glimpse of the animosity simmering just beneath the surface. And even then I have the ability to spin things with wit and a modicum of charm. But does the fact that my frustration with those things that fall short of my standards and expectations doesn’t lead to any corporeal damage make it okay?? Jesus tells the Pharisees in the 16th chapter of Luke that ““You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” In other words, I have some work to do.
However, I suspect that I am not alone. Our society can be rather aggravating. Between job related stress, the pressures inherent with raising a family, economic woes, inescapable socio-political divides, technology that is both awesomely wonderful yet sadly fragile, and a dog-eat-dog fast paced world where we all want to keep up with the Joneses to the point that even a vacation can cause strife…well, as Kevin Costner says in Bull Durham, “We’re dealing with a lot of stuff”. It isn’t uncommon to hear people wistfully hearken back to a simpler time, where they perceive life was better. But that is a mirage. Life may not have been as fast paced a hundred years ago…no automobiles or super highways, no televisions, no Internet, no video games, not as many “everyone else is going there” tourist traps…but economic conditions were even tougher, people had to work much harder for much less, living conditions and illness meant shorter lives, and the world was far smaller and less accessible. In other words, throughout the ages humanity has had issues to face and burdens to endure. There has only been one constant over all the years, and with all due respect to James Earl Jones, it isn’t baseball. The 13th chapter of Hebrews tells us that God will never leave or forsake us and that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
Which leads me to the first key point we need to ponder in relation to longsuffering. One does not have to look any further than the example of Christ to understand the essence of the fruit we are to bear. No greater demonstration of longsuffering can be found than that shown by God toward man. Everyone knows John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We know it so well and it is a verse that is so often quoted that I sometimes fear its meaning has been watered down or atleast taken for granted. Do you know anyone who would literally die for you, or anyone who you would die for?? We all have close family and maybe a few good friends. It is likely that most parents would answer yes to the question in regard to their children. But honestly…and I am truly trying to put aside my cynical tendencies here…how many people would REALLY die for another human being?? I suspect the honest answer is “not many”.
Have you ever done a favor for another person?? I am sure most everyone has at some point in their life. How did the person react?? They probably said thank you, or maybe they went so far as to buy you a nice gift or treat you to dinner. However, have you ever experienced a person for whom you have done a favor say to you “I owe you one”. I have…many times. And let me tell you what usually happens…they never get around to actually doing anything about it. I think that is how we treat The Lord. He made the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity, and how do we repay Him?? By not being even one thousandth of one percent as patient and understanding with our fellow man as He is with us. Our life is 100% in His hands. Every breath we take is a gift from Him. All that is asked of us is to be a mirror image of Christ, to bear the fruits that we are discussing in this series. Yet every single day…multiple times during the day…we carelessly ignore our responsibility and casually disregard the favor that was done for us…that is done for us every moment. If The Lord was an impatient with us as we are with everything and everyone none of us would last 5 minutes. But 2 Peter tells us that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” If we make an honest effort to live life in a Christ-like fashion one of the first things we need to do…that I know I need to do for sure…is to shed much of the frustration and resentment that we allow into our daily lives. 1 Timothy says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 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”. If we want the gift of eternal life we need to use Jesus as the pattern and show others the mercy that He shows us daily. Another verse that we tend to use as a cliché without actually giving it the consideration it deserves is found in Matthew 7:12, which says “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them”. Of course we refer to this as The Golden Rule…but do we follow it?? More often than not we tend to bend it into “do unto others as they have done unto you” or even “do unto others before they do unto you”. But those twists are the result of Man’s brokenness and the damage that sin has wrought on the world, and following those rules will get us nowhere except our very own extremely warm corner of Hell.
The second point that needs to be touched on is the question of how to bear the fruit of longsuffering. It is not a skill that one can learn in a six week correspondence course or that will magically develop overnight. It takes effort. It might seem rather obvious, but the only way to become more Christ-like is to develop a relationship with Christ and study His holy teachings. In one of my previous places of employment when a new supervisor was hired one of the first things they did was “shadow” an experienced supervisor for a number of weeks. We need to “shadow” Christ not just for a few weeks or months, but every day for the rest of our lives. Spend time with Him in prayer, study your Bible, and surround yourself with fellow Christians who you can learn from and emulate. This last part is admittedly a delicate balancing act because we are not to shut ourselves up in church and only associate with fellow believers. We are to be “fishers of men”. Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. On the other hand, we need the support and relationship of other believers in Christ. A relationship with Christ is pretty much the whole ball of wax…it is what everything boils down to. And I think as we grow in that relationship we can’t help but become more and more the person that we are meant to be, which in part means bearing fruit. This holds true for all the Fruits of the Spirit, but I believe it is especially important in regard to longsuffering, as it may be the one we struggle with the most yet is most easily put into practice if only we make the effort.
When we accept the free gift of salvation we are to be “born again”. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Once saved we are a new person. Ephesians instructs to “no longer walk as the rest, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness”. Furthermore, according to 2 Timothy we are to “flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will”. It is important that we bear fruit not only as proof of our maturing relationship with the Lord, but so that we may also be a guiding light for others. The same chapters tells us that we are to “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching”. Anyone who has ever tried to teach anyone anything, whether it was one on one or in a group setting, will understand the need for patience in such a setting.
The final point I want to emphasize about longsuffering is…well…suffering. Afterall, it is part of the word, right?? Many new Christians come to the Lord through a “mountaintop experience”. They hear an especially powerful sermon, attend a large gathering like Promise Keepers, or go to an old fashioned fire & brimstone revival. In situations like that it becomes easy to run to an altar and “make the decision” for Christ. Please don’t misunderstand…I am not questioning the authenticity of salvation received in these settings. I myself gave my heart to The Lord following a performance of the drama Heavens Gates and Hell’s Flames. But my concern is what comes afterward. The next day one must go back out into the world…work, school, friends, family, and dealing with the general public in everyday situations. This is the true test. Contrary to popular belief life does not suddenly become sunshine and roses just because one said a prayer and asked Jesus to forgive their sins. Salvation is not the end, it is the beginning. Relationship and growth must follow, and it is my sincere belief that it is during this lifelong process that Satan will come after a person with a full court press. The question is how will you react to these tests of your faith?? Make no mistake…they are not graded on a curve and a C is not acceptable. Life is pass/fail. Our response to the difficulties we face is an excellent barometer of where we stand in our relationship with Christ. And I am not talking about the big stuff. I think most people have a tendency to call on the Lord in times of real trouble…severe illness, death, and other significant calamities. But how do you react to the “ankle biters”…the little aggravations and roadblocks we encounter every day?? James 1:2-4 counsels us to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” It may seem a bit odd that we should rejoice when we’re in trouble, but that is exactly what we are supposed to do. Remember, Christ DIED for our sins…so is it really too much to ask that we endure annoying co-workers, bad drivers, slow checkout lines, thoughtless friends, overbearing in-laws, rambunctious children, and all the other obstacles life throws in our path??
The 103rd Psalm says “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever”. God is complex. He is love, and He shows us infinite mercy and patience on a daily basis, yet one day we will all face judgment. How can we hope for a free pass that we do not deserve if we do not bear fruit?? Why do we assume and expect God’s continuous patience with us in light of our sins but not show the same understanding toward others ourselves?? I cannot sum up the expectation God has of us any better that Colossians 3:1-5 – “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, 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. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful”.
- Understanding the Fruit of the Spirit of God (brighthub.com)
- The Fruit and Gifts of the Spirit (pjsprayerline.blogspot.com)
- Freely You Have Received, Freely Give (pastorpaulvbsblog.blogspot.com)