1 Cor. 13:4-5; James 1:19-20; Psalm 86:15
So now we get to patience, the fourth aspect of the nine-sided Fruit of the Spirit. This is one that just about everyone acknowledges that we need, and most of us are missing it when we really need it. I remember this story (who knows if it’s true or not) about a time that a woman in a congregation went up to her pastor and made a pretty big claim. She actually claimed that she was without sin, that she had matured in her faith to the point that she was perfectly like Christ. The pastor considered her for a moment, then spat right in her face. The next words out of her mouth pretty much disproved her claim to be just like Jesus!
Webster’s defines “patient” as “bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint; manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain.” That’s the key: It’s easy to be “patient” when things are going your way, but most of us lose our patience pretty quickly when we’re provoked. Let’s look at what Scripture has to say.
First off, did you notice the connection between love and patience? In Paul’s classic description of love (which we read just a couple of days ago), the first word he uses to link to it is “patient.” If we love someone, we’ll be patient with them. We won’t be easily angered or provoked by them. We won’t count records of wrongs done to us, and we’ll be quick to forgive.
Although the word's not in the verse itself, I think that the James passage is a great description: quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. I don’t know about you, but I get so impatient in conversations, waiting for that other guy to finally shut up because what I have to say is soooooo important. I find myself thinking about how I’m going to respond while the other person is talking. I don’t believe that qualifies under what James is talking about. We’re to be quick to listen to other peoples’ hurts and thoughts and ideas, and not so quick to foist our own upon others. And finally we’re supposed to be slow to become angry, which I think is crucial. Why? Because human anger doesn’t bring about what God wants for our lives. It doesn’t produce righteousness. In fact, human anger produces the exact opposite.
Of course this doesn’t mean that all anger is wrong. Just about 90% of it, by my guesstimate. Notice that he’s careful to call it human anger, as opposed to God’s. If the Holy Spirit produces within us a holy, righteous anger against injustice or sin, then that’s fine. It’s just that most of the time we have a really hard time distinguishing between God's anger and our own selfish version.
But one clue that helps us tell the difference? Is it easily provoked, especially when one’s own honor is concerned? Then that’s not God’s anger. That’s not how God gets angry. The Psalmist (along with several other O.T. writers) tells us that he’s “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” He proved that in the O.T., with the multiple times he was patient with the knuckleheads that he had to shepherd. He demonstrated that in the Person of Christ during his earthly ministry. And he certainly showed that in my life, by giving me enough time to receive Christ before I left this earth.
But we need to be careful in our thinking here about God. His love has no end, and his mercy has no limits. But his patience does. If he doesn’t give someone what they deserve right now, that doesn’t mean that everything is fine. Let me remind you of my favorite quote from Matthew Henry: God’s reprieves are not pardons. If I’m not forgiven, then the punishment for my sin will eventually fall upon either me or upon Christ.
And even as a believer, his patience comes into play every day. I’m still his child, but it seems like some days I’m as deaf as a post to what he’s trying to tell me. But he’s patient with me, not giving me what I deserve: “All right child, let’s go over this one more time.” Aren’t you glad he doesn’t treat us like we treat each other?
Father, you truly are the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. You proved that in Scripture, and you’ve proved that in my life, over and over and over. Please let that Spirit flow out of me into my personal relationships. I will never be called upon to be as patient with anyone else as much as you’ve been with me.