Patient in Suffering
"Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times." Romans 12:12 (GNB)
Patience is an interesting quality because of the various ways in which we express it. Some people find it easy to be patient in doing a job of work but would find it difficult to show patience towards people. Others are just the reverse: they find it easy to be patient with troublesome people but readily become upset with mundane objects that appear to be difficult to handle. Perhaps it is as well that we are not all the same but in the end both types of ‘patience’ are necessary in the development of character if we are to follow the pattern of Jesus.
Interestingly, the old Authorised Version (King James Version) brings out the meaning of the well‑known passage in 1 Cor.13 more accurately than most modern translations. The AV uses the word ‘longsuffering’, Weymouth translates "Love is patient": many other translations give "Love is Patient". The same kind of thing has occurred in translating the "fruit of the spirit" in Galatians 5 but Moffatt and Rotherham show the distinction noted in the AV. Schonfield too shows the difference in the Greek from which the words are translated.
The two words occur in Col.1:11 where the AV translates "Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness". Longsuffering is a characteristic of love or a fruit of the spirit and concerns an attitude towards people. It is apparent when someone refrains from reprisal although hurt or offended. In a sense it is the opposite of retaliation and therefore is that perfection of character taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5:38‑48) when He told His disciples to be like their Father in Heaven. It was a characteristic of His whole life and in particular on Calvary. It is the fruitage of our life when lived with Jesus, when filled with the Holy Spirit and after much prayer and devotion. It is not part of our human nature for we naturally want to ‘hit back’ whether in words or actions. The attitude of revenge is observable in every walk of human life and in every field of human activity. We do not like someone else to ‘do us down’, to get the better of us, to take unfair advantage and to appear to ‘win’. So, human nature will employ whatever fair or unfair tricks it can adopt to restore its wounded pride. Not only is revenge ungodly, it is illogical and counterproductive to all goodness, as is all sin.
William Barclay shows, in his book about Greek words, that this quality ran counter to moral thinking in the ancient world. The Greeks believed that it was wrong ‘to tolerate any insult or injury’. Honour had to be satisfied. Not so with the Christian who must express patience with all people. He must learn to accept suffering and trouble from other people, even fellow Christians, without even wanting any kind of requital, but this is fruit of the spirit and it takes time to grow. This is an aspect of the kind of love described by Paul in 1 Cor.13 and by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is also the attitude of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son but not that of the older brother. We need to beware in pronouncing ‘judgment’ for we hurt ourselves more than we hurt the one we judge.
Jesus warned His disciples about persecution. After His death and resurrection they experienced it because the world is opposed to the Gospel of love. It was in suffering and cruelty which Jesus and the early Church endured that longsuffering matured but not in the fashionable church of later centuries except by the afflicted ‘heretics’. Today, the temptation is sometimes more subtle. Human immoral influences seek to destroy Bible standards of behaviour. While it is right to witness in defence of Christian principles, the bitter attacks against Christians must be taken with ‘longsuffering’. It is never right to try to defeat Satan’s kingdom with Satan’s methods. Violence in word or action is always wrong.
There is another kind of patience which is more directed towards things, events and happenings, rather than towards people. It has rather the sense of ‘endurance’ when things go wrong or take a long time to reach the results we so much want. It has been illustrated in scripture by the continuous effort of a long‑distance runner. This is certainly not a ‘sit down and do nothing’ attitude which accepts difficulty with insensitive submission hardly seeming to care. This is a waiting in hope, joyful hope, knowing that however long it takes for God’s purposes to develop we must wait with unwavering trust, without complaint knowing that He does everything well—albeit slowly. Barclay writes of George Matheson who "stricken in blindness, disappointed in love, wrote a prayer in which he pleads that he might accept God’s will ‘not with dumb resignation, but with holy joy; not only with the absence of murmur, but with a song of praise’."
God waits to see these qualities of character mature in His people by the power of the Holy Spirit. The world doesn’t understand them yet but its very attitude is helping the followers of Christ to become prepared for their work of restoring the image of the Creator in all humanity. We grow spiritually by imitating our Lord and avoiding the ways of the world. By this alone can we be ready to heal the nations.
New Testament use of the words described above are found in the following references.
Long suffering (Gr. Makrothumia)
Rom.2:4; 9:22; 2 Cor.6:6; Eph.4:2; Col.1:11; 3:12; 1 Tim.1:16; 2 Tim.3:10; Heb.6:12; Jas.5:10; 1 Pet.3:20.
Patience (Gr. Hupomone)
Luke 8:15; 21:19; Rom.2:7; 5:3,4; 8:25; 15:4; 2 Cor.1:6; 6:4; 12:12; Col.1:11; 1 Thess.1:3; 2 Thess.1:4; 3:5; 1 Tim.6:11; 2 Tim.3:10; Tit.2:2; Heb.10:36; 12:1; Jas.1:3,4; 5:11; 2 Pet.1:6; Rev.1:9; Rev.2:2,3,19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12.
Eph.4:1‑3 I...beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
1 Tim.1:16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
Luke 8:15 But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
Rom.8:25 If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
Rev.14:12 Here is the patience of the saints…they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.