Patient & Longsuffering
What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?
Bear in mind, the Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him.
II Peter 3:15
Be patient then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.
‘Love’, says the Apostle Paul ‘is patient’, and so it should come as no surprise to us that the God who is love is portrayed as a patient and longsuffering God. This was a theme close to Paul’s heart, and the cause of much rejoicing by the Apostle in His God, ‘…I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him…’ (I Tim.1:16). He put himself forward as a monument to the patience of the Son God.
The patience and longsuffering of God repeatedly focusses our attention on His holding back the Day of Judgement so that people have time to repent, and to flee to the cross. Nine times throughout the Old Testament we are specifically told that He is ‘slow to anger’. But the theme of God’s patience is one that runs through every page of the Scripture from Gen.3. His stay of execution (Gen.2:17) is not born of moral weakness, but of His desire to save His people. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (II Peter 3:9).
In a future study we will consider the power of God. It is because He is great in power that He is able to restrain the fury of His wrath and to hold it back, sustaining great injury without immediately avenging Himself (Nahum 1:2-3). In His longsuffering, He chooses to live for generations with the agonising reality of unpunished sin, and bearing with unrepentant sinners.
Although this is a glorious truth, and one that is found again and again to evoke worship, it is not straightforward for the Church to believe in a patient and longsuffering God. We often struggle with the question of why a loving God allows bad things to happen to good people. Of course, this question is patent nonsense. In the Bible, the question that hits much closer to the mark is, ‘Why does a just God allow good things to happen to bad people?’ The apparent failure of God to come in judgement left the impression that He was unjust, and provokes a crisis of faith for the Church. Famously, Asaph in Psalm 73 almost loses his faith when he saw the prosperity of the wicked (v.2, though see also Eccl.8:14; Jer.12:1). It wasn’t until he looked far into the future, to the Day when God’s patience would finally draw to an end, that he understood that he understood their final destiny (vv.17-19 & 27). And the Lord is not idle in His patience. Neh.9:30, ‘For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets.’
And it isn’t just the Church who run the risk of misinterpreting the Lord’s patience. ‘When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong’ (Eccl.8:11). Paul expressed similar concerns: do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Rom.2:4). And the Church to whom Peter wrote his second epistle seems to be plagued by the same notions (see 3:3-10). Such is the depravity of human sinfulness that they would turn even God’s costly patience into a justification for their ongoing rejection of Christ. This is not universally the case however. One notable example is King Ahab, who after a lifetime of idolatry and oppression, repented (I Kings 21:27). Nevertheless, both Peter (II Pet.3:6 & 10) and Paul (Rom.2:5-6) underline the inevitability of judgement. The holding back of the Day is not the cancelling of it. Rather, as one ancient put it: the longer He pulls back to bow, the deeper the arrow will plunge when it is finally released.
Nevertheless, God in His wisdom and in His desire to save lives with perceived injustice, and the recognition that His patience will be abused. Still He defers His wrath; still He is wondrously patient with the world today. The Church must wait patiently also (Hab.3:16). Perhaps at a personal level we should be glad about that. After all, where would I be without His patience?
Is it not unjust that the Lord does in fact judge some immediately while others enjoy a period of amnesty under His patience? Why does God’s justice not take more immediate effect (Jer.12:1)? Do you wish more of God’s justice was executed here and now?
Read Rom.3:25-26. How does the cross protect God’s integrity?
Read II Peter 3:3-14. What is the contemporary equivalent of v.4?
Why is Peter so concerned that we don’t allow our experience of God’s patience to undermine our certainty in the reality of God’s eventual judgement?
In the light of God’s patience, and the delay that entails, how can we recapture a sense of the reality of the Day of Judgement? …and an anticipation of a New Heaven and a New Earth, where righteousness dwells? What impact would that have on us?
Given Peter’s emphasis on the focus God’s restraining His wrath in this way in order to facilitate salvation (3:9), how should our meditating on the Patience of God fire our involvement in evangelism? How does MIE need to change to reflect that priority more fully at a corporate level?
Are you struggling with the emphasis on evangelism we are developing? Can you identify why that might be? How does this study help or hinder?
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
For further reflection:
While we have engaged very directly with the demonstration of the Lord’s patience, we haven’t really focussed on the ‘communicable’ elements of this attribute. There should be no surprise by now to realise that we are called to be a people of longsuffering patience. Paul recognises this is no mean feat, and at one point prays that we would be ‘strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that [we] may have great endurance and patience…’ (Col.1:11). We might think it is a relatively straight forward to be like God – Paul knows it takes a divine power! But the consistent call is for us to grow in this area of our character. We too should be ‘slow to become angry’ (Jas.1:19); bear the fruit of the Spirit, including ‘forbearance / patience’ and ‘self-control’ (Gal.5:22-23); we ought to be ‘clothed with … patience, bearing with each other…’ (Col.3:12-13).
More poignantly, is the call to follow the example of Christ as we endure patiently in the midst of suffering – specifically persecution. The Lord’s holding back the Day of judgement is not just a cause of suffering within the life of God, but also within the life of the Church (I Peter 2:20-23). This requires a moment-by-moment trust in God to fulfil His purposes and promises in our lives in His time. Our confidence in the character of God is what enables our patience. How patient are you? How like God?