We have considering the ways that we can practice godliness to be more fitting to the character of God. Humility, contentment, self-control, and peace are all important characteristics that we must add to our faith and way of living. This morning I would like for us to consider another important part of the fruit of the spirit that is easy for us to neglect.
Patience is another needed trait in our lives. James 1:4 says, “Let your patience show itself perfectly in what you do. Then you will be perfect and complete and will have everything you need.” If we are going to mold our character to God’s character, patience cannot be left out. In fact, we are called to show patience in everything we do. I think there are five areas where the scriptures call for us to show patience.
I. Suffering Mistreatment
One aspect of patience is the ability to endure mistreatment. The scriptures often refer to this patience as “longsuffering.” Longsuffering describes the ability to suffer a long time under the mistreatment of others without growing bitter or vengeful. Paul said, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering…” (Ephesians 4:1-2).
The occasions where longsuffering is necessary are numerous. There are times when we must suffer through ridicule, scorn, insults, and undeserved rebukes. Sometimes we must suffer at work because of the “nice guys finish last” problem. By not being cut throat or because we refuse to work the long hours that a boss demands, we can be overlooked for promotion and raises. How many times our helpful acts of kindness are forgotten, turned into our face, or even used against us. It is a great challenge to suffer under the mistreatment from others.
Yet Paul repeatedly admonished the people of God to suffer long. Paul told the Corinthians that love suffers long. The Galatians were told the fruit of the spirit consists of longsuffering. The Ephesians were told that a worthy walk with God required longsuffering. The Colossians were told to clothe themselves with longsuffering. How can we practicing longsuffering under the heavy hand of other people’s mistreatment?
B. Rely on the justice of God
When we talk about suffering mistreatment, no one knows better than Jesus. He was declared innocent of all the charges laid against him, yet still suffered mockery, beatings, scourging, and death. How did Jesus deal with mistreatment? What did he do and then we can follow in his steps?
Peter tells us how Jesus handled mistreatment. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). The opposite of retaliation is to entrust ourselves to God. God’s justice is absolute and will be carried out perfectly. God has promised in Romans 12:19, “I will repay.”
It seems the reason we have a hard time practicing longsuffering is our fear that our tormentor will escape justice. We want them to get what they deserve and we take it upon ourselves to be the executer of that justice. We fear that the person will not receive the punishment deserved and so instead of practicing patience, we practice retaliation and vengeance. But God says he will judge justly. This is something we can rely on. Justice will be served.
“It is a clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also are suffering, since it is righteous for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to reward with rest you who are afflicted, along with us. This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels, taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction, away from the Lord’s presence and from His glorious strength, in that day when He comes to be glorified by His saints and to be admired by all those who have believed, because our testimony among you was believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). Paul says the Lord will take vengeance with flaming fire upon those who afflicted us and give rest to the afflicted. We can suffer long because of God’s promise to bring justice.
C. Rely on the faithfulness of God
We also see the scriptures call for us to rely on God’s faithfulness toward us when we are maligned and mistreated. Peter says, “those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:19). God will remain faithful in his promises toward us. But we must continue to do good and not retaliate evil for evil.
Joseph is an amazing example of this faithfulness toward God in the face of suffering mistreatment. After being abused by his brothers and sold into slavery, Joseph was able to confront his brothers in Egypt. What would we do if we had been in Joseph’s shoes? Would we have made our brothers suffer, send them away with no food, or put them in prison, taking half of their lifespan away as they had done to him? Joseph said to the brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). God can take the harmful acts of others and use them for His own purposes. God can turn the malicious acts of others and turn them into acts of good in our lives and in the lives of others. When suffering, we entrust our circumstances into God’s hands who will bring justice and can turn such evil to good for us.
II. Responding to Provocation
A. Acts that tend to arouse our anger
Another area where we must exercise patience is when certain events or circumstances arise that arouse our anger. There are things that happen in life on a daily basis that has the tendency to cause us to lose our temper. People at work frustrate us to anger. Our family relationships with our spouses, parents, and children can arouse our wrath. Most of the time we are dealing with verbal provocation, but there are certainly times when those close to us act in such a way to provoke us.
Whatever it is that takes place against us, it sets us off. We yell, we slam, we shout, we stomp, or we even give the silent treatment as our way of venting anger at those who have deliberately done something that we do not like.
But exercising patience while under provocation is emulating the character of God. God describes himself as “slow to anger…forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). Every day, God exercises great patience with us as we provoke him to anger through our rebellion and contempt for his law. Despite our provocation, God continues to show his love and patience toward us. Therefore, we have been given a high standard and a great example to emulate. We must put into our hearts the need to become slow to anger (James 1:19). Paul tells us that love is not easily angered (1 Corinthians 13:5).
B. Always remember God’s patience
The first thing we must do to become slow to anger is to always remember that God has been slow to anger toward us. If God reacted toward us the way we react with anger toward others, God’s wrath would have consumed us many years ago. We get so upset at others because we forget how much we have been forgiven by God.
Jesus taught us this lesson in Matthew 18:21-35. The master has forgiven us an immense debt that could never be repaid. We must be just as patient toward others who have done wrong toward us. However, in the parable we see the servant had no patience for the person who had accumulated the debt. Because of this the master put the servant in prison for life because of his lack of patience and mercy. Remembering God’s patience will help us respond in a godly manner. We are not just ignoring the provocations against us, but we are responding properly.
C. Do not excuse our quick temper
Another way to become slow to anger is to stop making excuses for our quick temper and flashes of anger. Instead of saying to ourselves and to others that our quick temper is just the way we are, we need to acknowledge the sinfulness of what we are doing.
There is no doubt that our bad habits are not easily broken. If we have been quick tempered for our whole lives, it will be difficult to stop. If we have lacked the ability to be slow to anger because of what our parents taught us because they also were quick tempered, it will be a great challenge to change. But it is possible to change.
We must recognize when we have these moments of quick temper and apologize. Realize what we have done is wrong, do not make excuses, and simply tell those affected at that moment that we are sorry. We have that kind of control if we will hold ourselves responsible for our emotions.
III. Tolerating Shortcomings
A. Dealing with others’ faults and failures
We also must show patience towards others’ faults and failures. We have inconsiderate neighbors, people driving too slowly, or other annoying behaviors that challenge our patience. Even more so, we must deal with the faults and failures of our family members and of other Christians. Too overlook the faults of our brethren is a great difficulty and challenge that each of us face.
Our impatience with others’ faults and failures is usually the result of our own pride. We think we are smarter or more capable than another person so we make snide comments and rude remarks about the actions of others.
But the scriptures call us to patience in these circumstances also. The scriptures use the word “forbearance.” Literally, the word means to put up with, tolerate, or bear with another person. We usually speak of putting up with someone in a negative sense, but that is not how Paul meant the word to be used. We are bearing with the shortcomings of others kindly. Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” Love for the other person causes us to overlook or tolerate his or her shortcomings.
B. Realize our arrogance
Why do we feel like we are superior such that we are allowed to pass such crude judgments upon others? Do we really know what is going on with the other person? Are we the only ones who have had a bad day and will not tolerate if others have a bad day?
We are full of pride. We think that we can do everything better and that things ought to be done our way. Do you have faults? Then quit acting like you are the only one who does not have faults? Have you failed before? Then stop acting like you have been successful at every venture you have tried.
How rarely do we try to understand the other person? Instead we quickly pass judgments based upon our perceptions and limited knowledge and look down on others based on those poor judgments. We need to remember that we have shortcomings and have likely done the same thing that another person has done.
We must also quit thinking that every shortcoming is a personal assault on us. We take too many actions personally, as if the person was thinking about harming you. Like the guy not looking at the light was trying to make you late to the doctor. People do things. People do stupid things. But we need to quit thinking the world revolves around us and that people are trying to work evil against us in such situations.
IV. Waiting On God
A. Patience for God to work
We also must exercise patience in prayer. There may be things that we have been praying about for many years to take place and we have not seen the result yet. Perhaps we have prayed for the resolution to some problem, the fulfillment of a long awaited desire, or the salvation of others. It is hard to patient as we desire a certain outcome that is solely in God’s hands.
Abraham is a great example of this. How embarrassing it must have been for people to ask his name and him tell them his name is “father of many,” yet he had no children for decades. God had changed Abram’s name to Abraham and promised him a child. But Abraham and Sarah could not wait any longer and took matters into their own hands. How hard it is to wait for God’s promises!
In our study of the Psalms, we have seen David’s ability and call to others to wait for the Lord. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:1-2). So how can we have this kind of patience.
B. Remember God knows best
We do not what is truly going on. We have a very limited perspective of the workings of this world. We see this truth brought out to us in the book of Job. Job had offered his prayers to the Lord, but the circumstances in his life did not change. From Job’s perspective, God was ignoring him, refusing to hear him, and essentially torturing him. But Job did not know what we are able to read about in the first two chapters of Job. Satan had offered a test that Job would reject God when everything was taken away from him. God believed Job would remain faithful. So Job had to endure the test to determine his faithfulness.
Job did not know this. God knew what was going on, Job did not. We must remember that our view is limited to the physical realm and we do not know what is going on in the unseen spiritual realm. God is all-knowing and all-powerful and it is up to us to trust these trials to God’s hands.
C. Patience is required to inherit the promises
We must also know that the promises of God do not happen instantaneously. We want to receive all of God’s blessings right here, right now. But the scriptures tell us that our faith is tested by waiting. Hebrews 6:12 says, “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” We must know that this is our calling.
We are not to act like selfish children who need their demands met on a whim. We are called to exercise self-control and wait. Abraham did not realize most of the promises granted to him. It would be his descendants that would reap the benefits of his faith. Abraham did not receive the fullness of the land promise, the fullness of the nation promise, or the fullness of the seed promise. He was given a son and a small piece of land and through faith a great nation was formed and the Messiah was sent. Waiting for God is our test.
V. Persevering Through Adversity
A. The need for endurance
If longsuffering is showing patience toward people who mistreat us, then endurance is showing patience toward our circumstances that try us. Endurance describes the ability to stand up in the middle of the trial that we face. Perseverance describes the ability to progress in life in spite of the trial. We are called to have a godly response to adversity.
We all have our adversities in life. We all have varying degrees of trials that have been placed along our walk with God. Tribulations and trials have come against every person of God and we know that we will experience the same. What can we do to have endurance?
B. Know the outcome
Perhaps the most difficult part of the trial is not knowing the outcome. We cannot see how these things will turn out. We do not know what to do and do not know when the trial when end.
This is why James’ words are so important, “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseveranceof Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). Blessings come to those who endure. But James tells us to remember the end the Lord intended with Job. God did not want Job destroyed. God was looking for Job to pass the test. We often forget Job 42 but this chapter is just as important as the first two chapters of the book. In the end, God returned the blessings upon Job. In the end, the mercy and compassion of the Lord became evident to Job and everyone around him.
These things were written so we too could have endurance. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). We need encouragement and hope and the examples from the scriptures are to give us such hope. These examples encourage us to remember that God is in control.
Trials change our relationship with God. Either we move closer to God or we move away from God. We can be weakened by our circumstances or show a stronger, genuine faith in the Lord through our adversity. God will help us through, even though we do not understand what may be happening to us. God has not abandoned us but we are being refined to be more useful in God’s kingdom.
Patience is a critical aspect of our walk with God. Without patience we are lacking a key ingredient in our Christian character and have not become what God wants us to be. Let us think about exercising patience when we suffer mistreatment from others. Let us be slow to anger when provoked by others. Let us work to be tolerant of other people’s failures and shortcomings. Let us show our faith in God by being patient in prayer and waiting on the Lord’s timetable. Let us show endurance through the trials of life so that we can be more fit for service in God’s kingdom.