“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Patience, or as the version I quoted above puts it, forbearance. In other versions of the Bible you’ll find the word longsuffering. But I rather like how the Amplified puts it. There we find patience clarified as “not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting.”
There are several words in Greek that are translated “patience” in our New Testament, but the one used in this verse is macrothumia, defined as “patience, forbearance, internal and external control in a difficult circumstance” (NIV Exhaustive Concordance Dictionary).
This is the kind of patience God displayed toward Israel in the face of her constant rebellion. This is the patience God displayed toward the people of Noah’s day, giving them many, many years to repent before He sent the flood. And God is demonstrating macrothumia toward our world today as He delays His coming, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
So what does this word mean for us in our day-to-day lives? It means we need to remain calm, not quickly losing our temper at someone or something that provokes us. It means putting up with people who just get on our very last nerve—those EGRs (Extra Grace Required people) who just rub you the wrong way by their attitude, their actions, even sometimes their tone of voice.
It is, as J.I. Packer puts it, “the Christlike reaction to all that is maddening.”
Let’s take a look at some of the verses where the word macrothumia appears:
- Romans 2:4 – Or 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?
- Romans 9:22 – 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?
- 2 Corinthians 6:4, 6 – Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:… in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love.
- Ephesians 4:2 – Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
- Colossians 1:11 – being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.
- Colossians 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
- 2 Timothy 3:10 – You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance,…
- 2 Timothy 4:2 – Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
- Hebrews 6:12 – We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
- James 5:10 – Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
- 1 Peter 3:20 – to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water.
- 2 Peter 3:15 – Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.
I suppose it goes without saying that this type of patience, the patience that allows us to endure some very unpleasant circumstances, hardly comes from our own power. This type of patience, this type of longsuffering, this type of forbearance, can only become part of our lives as we live connected to the True Vine, filled by the Holy Spirit, and acting in His power.
In the words of Lloyd Ogilvie, “Patience must be rooted in an overarching confidence that there is someone in control of the universe, or world, and our life. We need to know that God does work things together for good for those who love Him. A patient person knows the shortness of time and the length of eternity. Patience is really faith in action” (emphasis added).
Just a note: You will notice I have not mentioned patience in the face of persecution. That oversight is deliberate because the word used in those contexts is hypomene, and has the idea of endurance. It would be a great study to do on your own if you so choose. I just didn’t want to muddy the waters unnecessarily!