The Apostle Paul remained greatly worried about how the Galatian Christians so suddenly were being tempted to pursue a different “gospel,” one based on the works of the Law and not in faith in Christ (Galatians 1:6-5:16). Paul also maintained concern for the practice of the Galatian Christians, exhorting them to avoid the “works of the flesh” and to manifest the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17-24). Paul spoke of the “fruit of the Spirit” in
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.
According to the Greek grammar and the witness of Scripture, the fruit of the Spirit can be understood as “love.” Joy and peace both feature decisions regardless of momentary circumstance which go well beyond the way the world understands them. Paul now spoke of what we today consider patience, or longsuffering: the Greek word makrothumia. Makrothumia can be understood in a very literal way as “long of thumos“: thumos originally referred to the powerful life energy that would enervate conduct. Thumos can easily be expressed as wrath, and is thus condemned in Galatians 5:19-21. To be “long of thumos,” then, is the ability to internalize, and hold onto for a long time, that enervating life energy without expressing it as frustration, wrath, anger, and/or violence. To this end Thayer defines makrothumia as “patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance; patience, forbearance, longsuffering, slowness in avenging wrongs.”
We do well, therefore, to understand such “patience” and “longsuffering” as holding on and firm for a long time, and thus endurance and forbearance. We learn patience and longsuffering either through experience or by considering the examples of those who came before us. The Apostles provided such an example, having suffered much for the faith for some time (2 Timothy 3:10). Early Christians endured much for the faith (Hebrews 6:12). We also have the examples of Job and the prophets: they endured great difficulty but remained faithful (James 5:10). Paul expected Christians to display such longsuffering toward one another in Ephesians 4:1-3 and Colossians 3:12-13; an important aspect of Timothy’s ministry would involve proving longsuffering in his preaching, teaching, and conduct in 2 Timothy 4:1-2.
Paul and Peter both thus emphasize God’s patience and longsuffering toward people as the reason things remain as they are with the hope that people will come to faith in Him (Romans 2:4, Romans 9:22, 1 Peter 3:20, 2 Peter 3:15). People were proving impatient regarding the Lord’s return, wondering when it would be, asking why it had not yet happened (2 Peter 3:1-4). Peter wished to reorient their thinking: time is irrelevant to God: a day is as a thousand years to Him, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8; cf. Psalm 90:4). He has not yet returned because He is patient/longsuffering toward us and wants all to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Peter 3:9). Whenever the end comes, it will come quickly (2 Peter 3:10): in the meantime, we are to consider ourselves. What if the Lord had returned the day before we had repented and responded to Him in faith? Today might well be that day for another! Who are we, therefore, to get impatient with the Lord, when the Lord has proven so patient and longsuffering toward us? Thus we must consider the patience and longsuffering of the Lord as salvation (2 Peter 3:15), and not begrudge God’s patience and kindness toward others.
The challenge of patience and longsuffering is also in the endurance demanded. Everyone has some level of patience; we thus speak of some as having “short fuses” and others as having “long fuses.” The Christian, however, is called to endure beyond what they might imagine. The parable of the ten virgins is a reminder of how the Lord might well take a lot longer than we expected, and we need to be prepared to endure for longer than we thought (Matthew 25:1-13). Paul and the Hebrews author exhort us to run the race so that we might win (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1-3): we should not imagine they spoke of a 100 meter dash, but more like a marathon or even an ultramarathon. On our own we will grow weary and fail; such is why we must put our trust and confidence in the strength of the Lord and the power of His might, and submit to His will and ask to be strengthened through His Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-21, 6:10-18).
Of all the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit longsuffering/patience seems the most demanded yet least expressed in our modern age. Everyone appreciates when others are patient toward them, yet our patience tends to wear thin very quickly and easily. We get restless if a website takes a few seconds to load; we quickly gravitate to checking our smartphones if we find ourselves having to wait in a line. We feel as if we should already be at our destination; any kind of traffic, road construction, or other hindrance quickly frustrates us. This environment does not well facilitate the growth of healthy relationships: we all too easily expect more out of others than we do ourselves, and more quickly, and look to disqualify on account of faults and failings.
In such an impatient age it proves all the more important for the people of God to manifest patience/longsuffering. In many respects Christians are prepared to suffer long: Christians might be prepared for certain kinds of persecution, difficulty, and distress. Yet Christians may find themselves in uncomfortable or unfamiliar conditions in which patience might be demanded but not easily reflected. Longsuffering is never easy, and we need to maintain it all the more when we are most tempted to give up. Longsuffering leads to salvation: God’s longsuffering has allowed us the opportunity to be saved, and it is only by displaying endurance in the faith that we will be saved (Matthew 10:22). May we prove willing to suffer long, glorify God in Christ, and obtain life in Him!
Ethan R. Longhenry