A couple of weeks ago, I lost my cool. Someone did something that caused me a minor inconvenience, so I hastily picked up the phone, called the person, and abruptly asked, “Why did you do that?” Realizing my impetuousness a few moments later, I apologized for becoming frustrated too quickly.
We all get impatient at times. There are irritations and inconveniences all around us that grate at us at tempt us to lash out. But in spite of this, Scripture calls us to be patient.
What is patience? I like dictionary.com’s definition: “bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain, etc., with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger, or the like.” Patience is the ability to endure frustrations and difficulties while maintaining a calm, rational, and collected composure and state of mind. It is no easy task!
God is Patient
God’s character is our starting point for understanding patience. God says: “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:16) His perfect character is our example and goal. To aspire to be patient is to aspire to imitate our patient God.
Several times in Scripture, we are told that God is patient with sinners. 2 Peter 3:9 says: “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.” Because He is holy, God would be just to judge sinners at any moment. That we are alive is an act of His grace. But his justice is tempered by his patience. He does not judge the world immediately because He would rather see people saved than judged. Therefore, He patiently waits and bears with rebellious humans who were created to worship Him. Every Christian is a testimony to God’s patience (see Rom. 2:4 and 1 Tim. 1:16).
Our Call To Be Patient
Given the centrality of patience to God’s character, it is not surprising that Scripture repeatedly calls for Christians to display patience in their interactions with others. Understanding that every Christian is a testimony to God’s patience compels us to recognize that the annoyances and frustrations that others cause us are minor in comparison with how much God has put up with from us! Here are several areas in which Scripture exhorts us to be patient.
1. Bear with one another patiently. (Ephesians 4:2)
Everybody has blind spots because we are all in process and continually being conformed to the image of Christ. Christian love recognizes that nobody has reached a point where their words and actions never affect others negatively. This recognition compels us to bear with the limitations and blind spots of others. Patience also allows us to realize that people may inadvertently cause us frustration, but it is improper to hastily impute negative motives to them. A patient demeanor makes room for the inevitable imperfections of others and creates a climate of grace in our relationships. Bearing with others and tolerating their weaknesses means sometimes choosing to bite our tongues and not be unnecessarily confrontational or divisive because of another’s blind spots.
2. Correct others patiently. (2 Timothy 4:2)
This is the complement to the above principle. Sometimes it is an act of charity and gentleness to overlook another’s shortcoming. But other times, it is a disservice. God has given the body of Christ to us as a means of sanctification, so we have a responsibility to help each other mature. This is why Scripture commands us to help others see their sin (Matt. 18:15-20). But if correcting somebody becomes necessary, doing so with a harsh, fed-up, and frustrated tone will be counter-productive and divisive. Gentle words of correction should be offered to others with a desire to see them mature, not to one-up them spiritually or guilt trip them. Our goal should be to exemplify God’s patience and mercy in His dealings with sinners.
How do we decide when to correct someone’s fault and when to overlook it? Ray Ortlund offers some helpful guidance.
3. Settle disagreements patiently. (Proverbs 15:18)
The surest way to escalate an argument is to be accusatory, defensive, and self-justifying. All these qualities are inconsistent with patience. A patient person approaches a disagreement intending to listen to and understand the other’s point of view so that the feelings and concerns shared can be acknowledged. Patience allows people to sympathetically place themselves in another’s shoes and listen to their experience. Perhaps another person was hurt by something you did or said; patience acknowledges this and seeks to learn from the mistake. Conversely, if someone has hurt you, a patient attitude allows you to calmly explain how you felt without being accusatory or demanding. A patient, gentle demeanor on both sides prevents the disagreement from escalating to a shouting match.
4. Endure persecution patiently. (Revelation 14:12)
Suffering for one’s faith is not an uncommon occurrence for a Christian; Jesus promised it (John 15:20). While we see minimal amounts of persecution in the United States, especially in comparison with the global church, we should endure with patience whatever persecution we do face. It is tempting to become bitter, angry, and vengeful at those who mistreat us because of our faith. Patience allows us to love our enemies (Mattthew 5:44) and exemplify the grace of Christ. Responding with gentle love rather than retaliatory spite is a reflection of God’s patience.
5. Wait for the Lord patiently. (James 5:7-8)
A Christian’s great hope is the return of Christ. Until then, we live in a fallen and broken world. While we should be eager to see the new heavens and the new earth, our eagerness must be a patient eagerness. Impatience toward the present world will inhibit us from permeating it as salt and light and being redemptive agents of God’s kingdom. Our patience with world as it is should compel us to enter into it and redemptively serve others as we await the return of Christ. After all, the kingdom of heaven has already arrived, not with a cosmic bang, but with the slow growth of a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). God’s redemptive activity is slow, steady, and patient. Let our involvement in our communities be the same.
In sum, patience should be a defining character trait that saturates all of our affairs and dealings with people. How do we develop patience? Fundamentally, it is a gift of God: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” (Col. 1:11, emphasis mine) Of course, we cannot be completely passive; we must actively seek to be patient by the power God works in us (cf. Col. 1:29). Let us ask God to grant us patience, and let us actively study Scripture and come to a fuller understanding of God’s patience with us. God’s patience toward us is fuel for our patience toward others.