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Longsuffering

Luis Daniel Zamora


The Longsuffering of the Bible is longsuffering with a purpose! A specific purpose: repentance. The word "longsuffering" itself is essentially the same in English, Greek, and Hebrew; it means "slow to anger." Some of our brethren want it to stop there. But context everywhere shows it means one is slow to anger when pursuing good. It means you don't just get angry and quit when someone or something opposes your good works. You keep at it.

But some of our brethren want it to mean you keep tolerating sin. That view of longsuffering is not Biblical. As a matter of fact, that view leads to the taking down of the church's walls and the ultimate destruction of the Lord's church. But don't take my word for it: let's go to the Scriptures to establish the meaning of Biblical longsuffering.

Exodus 34:5-7, "And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with [Moses] as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, 'The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.'"

Here God shows how his longsuffering works. The Lord does forgive, but there is no pardon for one who continues in sin! The fact that God did not kill all of Israel for their sins showed His grace and longsuffering indeed! Now, did the LORD keep His hand back so He could avoid being mean and show that He knows that, after all, we're only human? Is that the God of the Bible? Or did He show longsuffering towards Israel because he wanted them to do better and He would still fulfill the promise to Abraham? Isn't it the latter, brethren? God continued in longsuffering to do the good He had promised. That is, He kept after them and finished His purpose.

Romans 2:3-4, "And do you suppose this, man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His longsuffering and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the longsuffering of God leads you to repentance?"

Paul by inspiration of the Holy Spirit rebukes us for hypocritical judgment. We are hypocritical when we say something is wrong but do it ourselves. (We may as well be doing it if we go along with it, 2 John 9-11.) In so doing we thwart the purpose of God's kindness and longsuffering: He is kind and longsuffering toward us so we can have a chance to repent! Again, God could justly kill each of us for our sins on the spot, but instead graciously gives us time and opportunity to repent. Or do you think lightly of that grace by simply going along to get along? Does the God of the Bible tolerate sin in the name of kindness? Or is He longsuffering toward us so we will do better?

2 Timothy 4:1-4, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom, preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great longsuffering and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths."

Paul again by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit charges the preacher to stand fast for the truth. Our brethren have seized upon the end of verse 2, "with great longsuffering," to say that a preacher should put up with sin. They charge that we who from the beginning stand opposed to error being taught or practiced are not doing right because we are not being longsuffering. We ought at first, they say, to encourage the false teacher in the good things he or she did, and then later to work on the error, because if we stand opposed from the onset, we just close the door to open discussion and push these "overtaken" brethren into apostasy. This reasoning is patently false, brethren!

The context here shows that the great longsuffering to be had by the preacher is a longsuffering in doing good. Why must he have "great longsuffering and instruction?" Because (v. 3), "The time will come when they will not endure sound instruction!" Does this mean, "Timothy, you should take a softer approach towards sin or else they'll stop up their ears?" Or does it rather mean, "Timothy, you keep after it even when they stop listening?" Clearly the latter is correct. The preacher needs longsuffering because if he isn't longsuffering he won't make it--the forces of evil and discouragement from the brethren will prevail, and he will no longer preach the word of God. That doesn't necessarily mean he will step down from preaching, though. Many preachers have given up simply by preaching what people want to hear rather than the truth of God. They change the meaning of Biblical longsuffering, which has repentance as its goal, into their own brand of longsuffering, which has tolerance and "peace in my time" as its goals. These things ought not to be so.

As stated previously, exchanging the meaning of Biblical longsuffering for a more palatable definition leads ultimately to the taking down of Jerusalem's defensive walls. The Lord has put in place many safeguards to protect His church. We undo ourselves when we go along with sin and take away the ability to expose error (Ephesians 5:11). How will we expose error when we say nothing about it? How will we expose error when we give place to the devil (Ephesians 4:27)? How will we be longsuffering in doing good when we put up with evil? And how are we going to protect the innocent when we let error come right into the fold unmarked and unnoticed (Romans 16:17-18)? Don't you see, brethren, that if we encourage a false teacher at first, planning to talk about the rest later, we lead the young and the weak to believe it's all okay? Don't you see that gives the devil an opportunity to destroy the innocent while waiting for you to move? The only one helped by our not opposing error from the onset is the devil! The Lord God did not leave us such an example in His longsuffering toward us. The Holy Spirit taught no such thing through Paul.

Indeed, the longsuffering of the Lord is a longsuffering that leads people to repentance, and a longsuffering that helps us persevere in doing good. It is a means by which He guards us and saves us, and we must not undo it, lest we die.

2 Peter 3:14-17, "Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the longsuffering of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and the unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness."


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