Learning Patience

Learning Patience

Characteristics of the Christian
by Bob Burridge ©2000, 2011

1 Corinthians 13:4a “Love is patient … ”

Waiting doesn’t come easily for us in our fallen human nature. We become impatient so quickly and may be tempted to make that insincere prayer, “Lord teach me patience. And could you please be quick about it?”

I once found an old letter in an abandoned house in an overgrown grove not far from here. It was written by the Taylor family, one of the early pioneer families in Pinellas County, Florida. The letter spoke of a trip to Tampa from Clearwater. It was a full day’s trip by horse cart around the north side of Tampa Bay. Those early pioneers would be amazed to see people commuting daily by car over our present choice of three high speed causeways between the two sides of the Bay. We have turned that full day’s trip into a 10 minute drive. Yet, you can’t make that trip today without seeing drivers impatiently going over the speed limit, weaving in and out of traffic, and getting angry when they can’t get around a slower car.

We live in a very fast world. We have come to expect our hamburgers to be served fast, and restaurant servers to be quick in taking care of us. We want our news to be up-to-date: to see it live on TV, or up-to-the-minute on the Internet. When I get the newspaper in the morning, it’s last night’s news and is no longer relevant. Magazines are a week or more old when we get them. Often the stories have changed dramatically. We want traffic to move fast. If it doesn’t, people get restless and sometimes irritated. We expect check-out lines to move fast, never getting bogged down with slow customers, lazy checkers, price errors, or lagging computers.

People complain when they have to wait around for vacation trips or special events. They don’t like to wait for people to see things their way, or to get over a dispute. They want immediate feedback when they try something new.

Learning patience is hard. But it is an important lesson.

Patience is the first attribute of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4a “Love is patient … ” The Greek word in the original text is makrothumei (μακροθuμει). It is made up of two root words:
1. “macro” (μακρο-) means something large. Macro-economics is when we look at the larger effects on the economy in a society. Macro-evolution is the theory that all things evolve from lower life forms. (Micro-evolution refers to the little changes in races and breeds within created forms.) A macro in computer programming is a group of commands that do some larger job.
2. “thumei” (-θuμει) is from the word that means “passions, emotion, anger”.

Together these roots combine to mean “the ability to keep our passions under control for a long time.” So literally this verse means, “Love puts up with things for a long time” (KJV uses “longsuffering”)

Though we might be faced with indifference, annoyances, selfishness, or even opposition, love doesn’t give up. It doesn’t try to hurt back. It endures the annoyances and selfishness of others.

Longsuffering is the 4th element in the fruit of the Holy Spirit in 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.”

It is the 5th item in Colossians 3:12-13 of those things we should put on as the elect of God, “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.”

Patience teaches us about God
because he is perfectly longsuffering.

He brings about his plan according to a large cosmic time schedule. He lets sin show itself so that his justice and power over evil can be displayed. He does all things in his own good time.

During this present period between Adam’s fall and the final day of judgment, God dramatically, but slowly, unfolds his plan of grace and wrath. He does it at the pace that best displays it for us finite creatures to observe it.

Those who don’t know the Lord misread the situation. They see God’s patience as inaction, or even worse as approval of their sin. If they aren’t judged right then and there when they do wrong, they expect they have gotten away with something.

God tells us that he often lets sin go unrestrained for very good reasons. He may not always show us what those reasons are in each case. However, we know that in his longsuffering with sinners, he brings about his perfect plan. God’s longsuffering should not be construed as inaction or approval. There is always a wise and good intent in those times when God seems to be silent about human sin and rebellion.

Acts 14:16, “who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.”
Acts 17:30, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,”

To the believer, God’s long endurance is a great blessing. When we do wrong, and the consequences don’t come along right away, he lets us see what we would be without his work in our hearts, and his longsuffering brings us humbly before him in repentance and grateful faith.

Peter described the slow execution of God’s wrath in the time of the great flood. 1 Peter 3:20 speaks of those, “who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.”

The same word used here for the patience of God, is the one found in our text for this study:
1 Corinthians 13:4a “Love is patient … .” God gave time for the wicked to show how much they deserved his wrath, and for those marked by grace to repent and show his work upon their hearts.

There is also a time, after God’s patience fulfills its purpose, when his wrath is justly displayed. Jesus put up with much. However, there were times when he exercised his authority as Judge. He drove the money-changers out of God’s temple which they were desecrating. He will come one day to judge the living and the dead.

Even in showing his wrath, our Lord did not act out of impatience, but in his proper authority as a Priest, having been set aside by the Spirit’s baptism to be Lord of God’s Temple, and as the Divine Judge over all that he created. He was patient until the best time to show his wrath. He didn’t lose his temper when provoked so many times in conversations, and during his trial.

It’s sad how some have been confused by the forged book called the Gospel of Thomas. There, Jesus as a little boy is shown impatiently striking playmates dead for disturbing his play, or those who accidentally bumped into him in public places. The Jesus of these myths is not the Jesus of the Bible. That was a false Christ injected into our literature by Satan’s hatred for the truth.

God acts only at the right time, when his plan reaches the point where it is best to judge. He waits until the better time has come, even putting up with sin and evil for his greater glory. God’s perfect longsuffering is our ultimate model.

We have good human examples in Scripture to help us as well:

Hebrews 6:12 points us to those who have gone before us saying, “that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

James 5:10 also points us to the heroes of Scripture, “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.”

Paul tried to be a good example himself:

1 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.”

2 Timothy 3:10, “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance”

2 Timothy 4:2. “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching”

When we learn Patience,
it fits us for a more peaceful life in God’s world.

Our attitude toward events and time should conform to God’s holy ways both to show his handiwork in us, and to obediently follow the unfolding of his plan.

As with our Lord, this doesn’t mean we never take decisive action against wrongs. It is not a lack of patience with a murderer that we finally execute him. It is not a lack of patience when we lovingly discipline our children. God commanded those things, but only within given authority to do so. These things are only to be done in love and in obedience to God’s prescribed methods. They must not be an unauthorized reaction, or done without careful deliberation.

Patience does not mean putting off exerting rightful responsibility. However, to act out of an unjustified passion is wrong. It is not our prerogative to show wrath when someone is slow on the highway, or rudely serves us our fries or burger. Impatience in those cases obscures the attributes of Christ which ought to be growing in us and diminishes the display of God’s kingship over our lives. We should learn to be examples of patience toward our children, friends, spouses and neighbors.

Patience means being willing not to get all the things we want when we want them. We learned in our study of Living Optimistically, how we need to see the larger picture. God is at work. As children we need to submit to the undisclosed plans of God as they unfold.

Psalm 27:14, “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” (KJV)

Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

This not only makes us optimistic, it helps us endure trials patiently. God is pleased with our patience, and blesses us for it. 1 Peter 2:20 says, “For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.”

Patience teaches us about God, and trains us to live as lights in God’s world.

Patience only comes to fallen hearts when redeemed by Christ and strengthened by the power of God. Colossians 1:11 tells us, “strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;”

God’s word encourages us to be patient, optimistic, and persistent as we live for him. Paul wrote in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

Patience brings wonderful honor to God and blessings for all his kingdom. When we learn to be patient …

  • we honor God by displaying his attributes restored in us by grace
  • we honor Christ by whose power we are restored
  • we make life easier for our loved ones and everyone else we deal with, when we aren’t impatient toward them.
  • we help ourselves spiritually by being obedient to the requirements of God.
  • and from our studies of science, it appears there are direct physical benefits: Learning sincere patience can lower a person’s blood pressure. It can ease stress on the various systems of the body. It appears to reduce the risk of heart attacks, and strokes, and may even improve the workings of our immune system in fighting diseases.

This then is how we improve our patience:

We need to …

  • make our salvation sure, so that the Spirit’s fruit can grow in us.
  • be mindful of God’s Sovereign rule working all things together for good.
  • pray for patience, because it is only by God’s power that we can grow in it.
  • think on the examples given to us in Scripture so they can be our model for living.
  • turn our attention to what we are doing, instead of what we are not yet able to do.

So often impatience flares up when something keeps us from what we planned, when we don’t get something fast enough, or when something isn’t done the way we prefer. The proper response to those things is to ask yourself, “What is my duty in this circumstance right now?”. As we are strengthened by our Savior, and assured by our confidence in his power as revealed in his word, we disable the impatient agonizing over circumstances over which we have no control.

This reminds us of Paul’s mature attitude while held in a Roman prison where he wrote in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:”

Note: The verses in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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