James P. Needham
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).
"Longsuffering" is one of the fruits the Spirit creates in our lives as we live by His divine directions received through the written word.
Vine: "MAKROTHUMIA, "Forbearance, patience, longsuffering. MAKROS, 'long,' THUMOS, 'temper,' is usually rendered 'longsuffering,' Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 2 Cor. 6:6; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:2; Col. 1:1; 3:12; 1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Tim. 3:10; 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 3:15; 'patience' in Heb. 6;12, and Jas. 5:10."
Vine's notes: "Longsuffering is that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish, it is the opposite of anger, and is associated with mercy 1 Pet. 3:20. Patience is the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial; it is the opposite of despondency, and is associated with hope, 1 Thes, 1:3..."
In defining "longsuffering," the following words are used, "forbearance," "patience," "self-restraint," "not hastily retaliate or promptly punish," "opposite of anger," "does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under pressure," "opposite of despondency," "long tempered."
Longsuffering is said to be a fruit of the Spirit, that is, it is the result of having the teaching of the Spirit in one's heart. In this context Paul admonishes, (Galatians 5:25), "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." That is, live the life dictated by the Spirit, absorbing His qualities.
(Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Psalms 86:15; Jeremiah 15:15;
Romans 2:4; 9:22; 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:15).
No greater demonstration of longsuffering can be found than that shown by God toward man. But we must understand that His longsuffering has a limit. Consider the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Jews' rebellion in the wilderness, the Babylonian captivity. It is difficult to understand how God has tolerated the foolishness and the utter nonsense of the human race since the beginning of time: rebellion, idolatry, immorality, cruelty, etc. For an example consider what God put up with from the Jews in the wilderness (Acts 13:18; Hebrews 3:9,16-19), and after they became a nation. Truly, Solomon said, "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions" (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
It is to be exercised toward each other. (Ephesians 4:2), "With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love." (Colossians 1:11), "Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness." (Colossians 3:12), "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering."
Short-temperedness is a common trait of some persons. It is the opposite of longsuffering. Controlling it will stand one in good stead in all areas of life: in the home, in the neighborhood, in the work place, on the streets, and certainly in the church. While all Christians are to be longsuffering, it develops to higher degrees as one matures in age and knowledge. Longsuffering would prevent all-night business meetings, many church splits, and words that never should have been spoken. It would prevent harsh judgments of actions that spring from immaturity and/or a lack of knowledge of all the facts. A lack of longsuffeing is manifested by ascribing to others bad motives when we may have misinterpreted actions or words. A lack of longsuffering is shown when we have a short fuse that causes us to say and do things in retaliation to others. The Hebrew writer says, "For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise"(Hebrews 10:36). This implies that we can lose the promise by impatience.
Every local church is a "mixed bag" of people from various backgrounds and cultures. It also contains people who are on different rungs of the maturity ladder. Longsuffering is necessary to be able to get along where there are differences on many subjects. It is easy for those who are mature to be impatient toward those who are less mature. It may have taken them years to come to their present level of knowledge, but the mature often are not willing to give the immature the same amount of time and study to reach their level of knowledge and understanding. This manifestly is unfair, and lacking in longsuffering. Paul said, (Romans 14:1), "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." and (Romans 15:1), "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." While Paul in this context discusses matters which were indifferent to God, eating meat, keeping days, etc., it remains a fact that there often are doctrinal differences within a congregation. How to handle these involves the scriptures, conscience, attitude, and a willingness to be longsuffering while the issues are studied. It may be necessary, eventually, to break fellowship over certain issues, but that should be the last resort, and should never happen until the matters have been thoroughly studied and truth rejected.
Fellowship is always a difficult subject. It involves many things like: the truth, attitude, individual conscience, and personal perception of the truth. We must never say that differences don't matter, so we will just practice unity in diversity; live and let live. Where there are doctrinal differences, both can't be right. Both may be wrong, but both can't be right. Since false doctrine does not lead to heaven, it behooves us to study each issue with diligence and sincerity; to challenge false doctrine wherever we find it. A crisis occurs when the person in error says he has the truth and closes his mind and bars the door of his heart and ceases to be longsuffering toward those with whom he differs. He may try to build a faction around his ideas, threatening the unity of the church. When he reaches that point, he usually will take care of the fellowship problem. It often takes the wisdom of Solomon to know just what to do and when to do it. However, there is one thing that we must never do, and that's compromise the truth, or endorse error. We must never go along to get along where error is concerned.
The longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah while the ark was preparing (1 Peter 3:20), but the time came when the obstinance of the people exhausted the longsuffering of God and He destroyed the earth by the flood. God had warned that His Spirit would not always strive with man (Genesis 6:3). God is said to be longsuffering to usward, but it is not inexhaustible. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), but His longsuffering does not outreach man's obstinance, wickedness and stubbornness.
the apostle Paul as a pattern for us.
(1 Timothy 1:16), "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting."
Christ's forgiveness of and use of Paul could well be one of the greatest demonstrations of longsuffering in history. Paul was one who thought putting Christians to death was doing God service (John 16:2). Paul said,"Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them"(Acts 26:10). He never ceased to thank God for His longsuffering toward him. Of himself he said, "Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting"(1 Timothy 1:13-16).
and made it an integral part of his own life.
While Paul in 2 Corinthians 11 is replying to those who misrepresented him, it demonstrates the true meaning of longsuffering, he says: (2 Corinthians 11:23-30), "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities." This gives me a chill every time I read it, and when Paul called these indignities "light afflictions" (2 Corinthians 4:17). It sends my admiration for him and his devotion to Christ far beyond description.
To Timothy Paul said, "But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience"(2 Timothy 3:10). In Paul we see an individual who abundantly gave what he received. The longsuffering Christ had shown him was appreciated and thoroughly manifested throughout his own life. He endured the harshest kinds of persecution, but never gave up or gave in. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."
reprove, rebuke, exhort and teach.
(2 Timothy 4:2) "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine."
This is one of the most difficult areas in which to exercise longsuffering. Most of us are too impatient with people who don't know the truth. In a world full of false doctrine and prejudice against the truth, we must be longsuffering with people as we seek to lead them to Christ. It is easy to say, "Why don't they understand; the truth is so plain." The truth always is plain to the person who is not looking at it through glasses tinted by false doctrine, tradition, family and religious pressures. We must be longsuffering as we seek to open their minds, and seek to untie the tentacles of prejudice and false teaching that bind them to error and tradition. One of our most difficult tasks is the "unteaching" of people, but it must be done before implanting the seeds of truth. Back on the farm we had to clear away the brambles and briars, saplings and trees before planting the seed. This was back-breaking work, and it required extreme patience and longsuffering. This is no less necessary or difficult in the field of religion.
This shows that longsuffering or patience is essential in gaining a proper knowledge of the way of the Lord. All serious Bible students realize that a working knowledge of God's word requires much patience and longsuffering. There always are things that we need to know that we don't know. Serious Bible students learn something new about the scriptures almost every day. Solomon said, "... much study is a weariness of the flesh" (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Thus, the study of God's word requires much longsuffering and patience, and is always an on-going process. There is much ignorance of God's word in and out of the church simply because people, including some preachers and many brethren, do not have the longsuffering necessary to gain the knowledge needed. I once made the statement in a Bible class that not many brethren are Bible scholars. A brother replied, "Not many brethren are Bible students, much less scholars." How true! How true!
A preacher friend told of how the went to great lengths to introduce the book of 1 Corinthians before studying in a class. He said when he finished, one of the elders said, "Brother.....was this book written before or after Pentecost?" A church with a long history was having trouble with false teaching on the Holy Spirit. In discussing the problem with a person who had served as an elder for 40 years, he said, "I am glad somebody understands the Holy Spirit better than I do." Yet, Paul says elders are to, (Titus 1:9), "Hold(ing) fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers." Another elder said, "I don't think we have to be able to convict the gainsayers, but we are to provide someone who can." I don't believe that is what Paul said. A gospel preacher once said, "Isaac was one of the best Old Testament Christians." N. B. Hardeman used to tell of a preacher he invited to appear on the Freed-Hardeman College lectures. Before his time to speak, he went into brother Hardeman's office and said, "Brother Hardeman, I don't believe I can get up there and speak before all those preachers." To which Brother Hardeman replied, "You go right ahead; It's impossible to over estimate the ignorance of your audience."
One may flippantly say, "What do I need with patience, I'm not a doctor," but the fact remains that it is an essential quality if we would be pleasing to God. (Hebrews 10:36) "For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." The question is, "How does one acquire it?" I will here make a few suggestions:
Longsuffering is a fruit of the Spirit, the opposite of it is a work of the flesh. As we contrast the two, it is easy to decide which we want in our lives. Not only is longsuffering essential to living a God-pleasing life, it is also essential to living a happy life. So we can say that it has great promise in the life that now is, and in that which is to come.