Intro: What tries your patience the most? The bad behavior of others? Waiting in line? Traffic? The incompetence or inability of others? A preacher who does not know when to stop talking? A cough that won’t go away? Fear of what the future holds? It is not hard to make a relevant list. Impatience is one of the most natural responses to the world around us. We are inclined to react to anything that confronts our selfish sense of time or comfort. What does God expect? As we have been noticing, He expects us to walk with a different attitude.
- Ephesians 4:1-2– I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love (NKJV)
I. Walking with Longsuffering: An essential attitude of our worthy walk is longsuffering. What is Longsuffering?
- The KJV, NKJV translate with longsuffering; Most other popular translations (NIV, RSV, ESV) use the word patience(be patient).
A. The Greek word is makrothumia– Literally, it means being long (makro) – tempered (thumos – anger)” (the opposite of short-tempered).
• It is defined as “patience, forbearance, longsuffering, slowness in avenging wrongs” (THAYER)
• “Self-restraint before proceeding to action. The quality of a person who is able to avenge himself yet refrains from doing so” (COMPLETE WORD STUDY DICTIONARY)
• “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, and is used of God.” (VINE)
• Patience is also translated from the Greek word Hupomone ((hoop-om-on-ay’) – Literally, “To abide under”; thus, steadfastness, perseverance, endurance. W.E. Vine defines this word as “That quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial; opposite of despondency and is associated with hope. (1Thess. 1:3).” This word is usually connected with trials and tribulations.
• Longsuffering may differ from patience (hupomone) in that longsuffering is enduring bad people; patience is enduring bad circumstances.
II. Longsuffering and the Calling: It is noteworthy that the apostle would include longsuffering in his description of the Christian walk. As we mentioned, there are many divine characteristics that define the gospel call. (truth, love, lowliness, gentleness, power, etc.) But none is more evident in the redemptive story than longsuffering.
A. The Longevity of God’s Longsuffering: I think we would all be willing to acknowledge that God is patient. The fact that the planet is still spinning is evidence. (His sparing of Noah) But what does it mean that God is longsuffering. What does that say about Him and His dealings with us?
1. When Moses went up on Sinai to receive the law, the people grew afraid and rebelled. God saw their sin, and sent Moses back down. When he came back, he threw the tablets of the ground and broke them (symbolic of the people’s regard for God’s law). God executed punishment upon the rebels and thousands died for their sin. Moses pleaded with God for mercy, and God provided for a restoration of the people through their penitence and obedience. God even allowed Moses to witness His veiled glory before returning to the mountain to receive the 2nd set of tablets.
a. God self-description here is enlightening: Ex 33:19 – “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. He declares His sovereignty in regards to compassion and mercy. God’s longsuffering and mercy are not obligatory or mere sentimentality. There is purpose here. He seeks to accomplish His will.
b. Read Exodus 34:5-7 – 5 Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, 7 keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” It is quite interesting how the Lord proclaims His longsuffering and graciousness in this text. He is giving Israel another chance – a whole new set of tablets – He promises to go with them into the land. He is certainly being longsuffering. But He places his declaration of His compassion in the same sentence as His holy retribution against the sinner – He by no means clears the guilty – He does not just overlook sin. His holiness demands punishment that transcends generations. His longsuffering is not tolerance or compromise. How can God be both Holy (just) and longsuffering? We will see that as we study through…
2. The tension between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of His people continue through the generations of the nation of Israel. The longsuffering and holiness of God were continually on display. The Psalmist describes this repeating scene in Ps 78:34-41 – When He slew them, then they sought Him; And they returned and sought earnestly for God. 35 Then they remembered that God was their rock, And the Most High God their Redeemer. 36 Nevertheless they flattered Him with their mouth, And they lied to Him with their tongue; 37 For their heart was not steadfast with Him, Nor were they faithful in His covenant. 38 But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, And did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, And did not stir up all His wrath; 39 For He remembered that they were but flesh, A breath that passes away and does not come again. 40 How often they provoked Him in the wilderness, And grieved Him in the desert! 41 Yes, again and again they tempted God, And limited the Holy One of Israel.
a. Throughout the long period of the rule of judges and the kings, Israel continued the same oscillation —rebelling and returning. God spoke this through Jeremiah, the prophet: “If you will return, O Israel, says the Lord, Return to Me; and if you will put away your abominations out of My sight, then you shall not be moved. And you shall swear, ‘The Lord lives,’ in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; the nations shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him they shall glory. For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings’” (Jer. 4:1-4). God gave them fair warning that his longsuffering was running out. But, still they remained disobedient. And, after the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah said, “So the Lord could no longer bear it, because of the evil of your doings and because of the abominations which you committed. Therefore your land is a desolation, an astonishment, a curse, and without an inhabitant, as it is this day” (Jer. 44:22).
b. Even so, God did not utterly destroy the people. In Isaiah 48:9, he declared through the prophet: “For My name’s sake I will defer My anger, And for My praise I will restrain it from you, so that I do not cut you off.” He had promised to save a remnant of the people to bring them back into the land for he had a future purpose to accomplish.
c. Years later, the Levites of the remnant of Israel who returned to Jerusalem remembered God’s patience and the limit of his longsuffering. While remembering their father’s sinful ways, they exclaimed, “Yet for many years You had patience with them, and testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen; Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands” (Neh. 9:30).
3. Now when you consider, as the Levites did in Nehemiah, how patient God had been with His people, you might ask… why? Is it because God just wanted to display how nice He was? Was it because He was not really all that offended by the sins of His people? Or is God just too loving to cut people completely off? Well God is love, and He is kind. We also realize that He is a Holy God. So how should we view longsuffering of God?
B. The Goal of God’s Longsuffering: The apostle Paul in Romans 9:22-24 refers to this purpose. He says, “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”
1. The reason that Paul gives for God’s extreme patience with Israel was so that He, through the lineage of David, might bring forth the Messiah to be the Savior of all — both Jew and Gentile. He was committed to His purpose of salvation for all, not just the Jews, but us as well. In Romans Paul describes the work of Jesus in connection with the patience of God:
a. Romans 3:25-26 – “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”God had, through his love and forbearance, offered mankind the very thing which he needed, but couldn’t provide for himself — redemption from sin. He was longsuffering all that time so that He could demonstrate His justice.
b. This explains how God’s longsuffering and justice are reconciled. God provided a way for the moral guilt of every person’s sin (those committed before and those that will be committed in the future) to be remitted. Jesus’ paid the price with His own blood. When a person trusts in the blood of Christ, and obeys the gospel through repentance and baptism, his sins are forgiven. He that believes and is baptized will be saved. He that does not believe will be condemned. (Mk 16:16)
c. Yet, despite God’s patience and even with the clear confirmed testimony of the apostles to the purposes of God, the majority of the Israelites in Paul’s day rejected Christ and his teaching. Even Jesus himself, during his last days on the earth had this to say about his chosen people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37). It is sad to look back on all the chances that they had to make peace with God, but squandered. We would never do that today, would we?
2. Later Peter reveals the goal of God’s longsuffering: 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” God has always been thinking of us. He has always desired reconciliation. Ezek. 33:11 – “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?”
3. So the calling of God in the gospel is in itself a continuing work of God’s longsuffering. The gospel call exists today because He has been willing to suffer long. Those who respond to the gospel are reacting properly to, and acknowledging the true purpose and blessing of God’s longsuffering. What do you suppose that says about those who refuse to obey the gospel call? Romans 2:4 – “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). Paul brings the patience of God to bear upon those who refuse to repent…
a. Romans 2:5-9 – 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek;
b. We notice the same comprehensive view of God’s longsuffering that we saw in Ex. 34 – God is patient and full of mercy – but if you refuse to repent and answer the calling – He will by no means clear the guilty – because you are rejecting the only means by which your sins can be cleared. You will experience the wrath of God’s holiness, and you will have wasted the longsuffering of God.
Conclusion: We will consider the personal implications of the longsuffering call of God in a future lesson – We must walk with longsuffering toward others. But now, what about you? Have you responded to the longsuffering of God? Have you obeyed the gospel call? God is waiting. But there is coming a day when His patience will finish its work and HE will return to judge the world in righteousness. He is waiting for you to come to Him. What are you waiting for?