“And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.”
Peter is ending his letter to some new Christians with an appeal that they stand fast and endure. He does not want to see them despair and give up. There is evidence that some of them had already become faint and had not endured (16). The danger is that they would be “led away” and “fall from [their] own steadfastness” (17).
The key to practicing the virtue of patient endurance (strength and stability) is the knowledge of God’s Word generally—so Peter speaks of the Scriptures as they came through his spiritual brother Paul (15b, 16). Specifically the ability to be steadfast in the face of many temptations is to know God and to know what His Word says about His virtue of “longsuffering.”
Hence the admonition of our text: account (reckon) the longsuffering of God to be our salvation.
Why is the admonition to be steadfast necessary and important? Just how are we to understand God’s attribute of longsuffering? What does it mean that God’s longsuffering is salvation? And what kind of persons ought we to be so we reflect this virtue of God?
There are several reasons for the admonition to consider God’s longsuffering to be salvation. First, it is necessary because there always seems to be a delay in the fulfillment of God’s promise that the Lord Jesus will return. Many early Christians, after hearing that Jesus would return, concluded that He would come back very soon. Then, when He did not come back at the time that they anticipated, they began to question the promise of God that Jesus would return. And then they wondered whether God was keeping any of His promises. Whenever we doubt God, we will be afraid. This is what it means to fall from steadfastness. We become unstable.
Through the whole of this epistle, Peter has been assuring the Christians that they are in the right. He has shown them the importance of remembering what they knew and had learned from the apostles (II Pet. 1:12-21; II Pet. 3:1, 2). Further, Peter spent a great deal of time demonstrating from history that God knows how to deliver the godly and how to reserve the unjust for punishment (II Pet. 2:1-9).
Second, the admonition to remain steadfast arises because of the persistent and always irritating work of the false teachers and scoffers. The “error of the wicked” (II Pet. 3:17) discourages believers. The wicked constantly tempt us to despair, to give in, and to give up. This is why we always need the reminder to endure, to hang on.
Thirdly, the need for the admonition to be steadfast arises from our natural instability. By nature we are pessimistic about our enduring or about our children and grandchildren being able to withstand the fiery darts of the evil one. By nature we see the power of temptations and the sweetness of the allurements of this world. By nature we focus on the present and on the earthly. It is so easy for us to be diligent when it comes to material things, but to be quite lazy with regard to the spiritual. We can get very excited about watching college football games or about deer hunting, but when it comes to reading a chapter of the Bible or an article in the Standard Bearer, we do it out of a sense of obligation, without any of the enthusiasm we have when we do something that satisfies our earthly life. We are easily distracted from setting our hope on the things above and on the inheritance to come. It is natural to focus on the things that are here and now.
How do we resist these temptations and these natural tendencies? How can we remain steadfast? Be careful that we do not answer these questions by depending on our will-power or on our strength. Rather, the way to steadfastness is to “account the longsuffering of our Lord” to be salvation!
Scripture shows that longsuffering is an attribute of God. When God’s glory passed before Moses as he was hid in the cleft of the rock, then Moses heard God say, “Jehovah, Jehovah God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth” (Ex. 34:6). Moses quoted this statement of God when he made intercession for Israel: “And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, the Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy…” (Num. 14:17, 18). David pleaded with God on the basis of His being longsuffering in Psalm 86:15: “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.”
Longsuffering is an attitude of God’s love and mercy toward His people. First, longsuffering is God in His mercy willing constantly and unchangeably the final perfection of His people in the fullness of heavenly glory in Christ. Further, longsuffering is God willing that this glorious end be reached only in the way of suffering. We “must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). This suffering is a necessary means God’s love has determined for us to reach our final perfection in all its fullness. In order to enter glory we must fill God’s appointed measure of suffering. In fact, the suffering is said to “work” glory (II Cor. 4:17). Our present chastening may be grievous, but it yields the fruit of righteousness in them that are exercised by the chastening (Heb. 12:11).
The young Christians to whom Peter was writing had the promise of final salvation. It was for the fulfillment of that promise that they eagerly awaited. While waiting they were suffering. This suffering made stronger their fervent longing for the final perfection in Christ. But as these young Christians (and we) wait, it is easy to become impatient at what we think is God’s delay in sending the Lord Jesus. By nature we would despair. Peter calls Christians to reckon God’s tarrying, not as a delay, but as His longsuffering. Realize that the sufferings of this present time fit us for glory!
Further, realize that some of the elect of God are not yet conceived and born. They were elected into the body of Christ, but if Jesus would return right now (bringing relief to our suffering), then the whole of the body of Christ would not be present. God waits so that none might perish, but that all the elect will be born and converted.
God’s longsuffering does save!
In light of God’s longsuffering working our salvation, we ought to be patient. In patience let us trust His infinite wisdom and eternal love to know what is best for each member of Christ’s body and for the whole of Christ’s body.
And in our patience let us more and more practice the virtue of longsuffering. This is an attribute of God that He enables His children to reflect. It is part of the nine fold fruit of the Spirit given to every believer (Gal. 5:22).
Realize that we must be longsuffering. God commands us to be so. “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth [is longsuffering] for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, . . . be ye also patient [longsuffering]; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” ( James 5:7, 8). We are commanded to “put on” longsuffering (Col. 3:12).
The key to developing longsuffering is prayer. Paul prays God to give it to the saints (Col. 1:9-11). Pray for the ability to be assured of God’s promise to give us an inheritance in eternal glory. Pray to trust God’s loving and wise hand in all the crosses He puts in our path. Pray for the ability to subject our desires and self-interest to His perfect will.
Exercise longsuffering in your attitude toward afflictions and griefs. The natural reaction to griefs and disappointments is despair. Longsuffering enables us to bear long and well the crosses God gives. We learn that each cross is determined by our loving and wise God to be necessary, and we learn that His grace is sufficient, that is, that His undeserved favor for us is the power that strengthens us to bear or take up the cross.
Follow the example of our Savior and Master, who was aware that His Father’s longsuffering was for our salvation. He is now our Lord at God’s right hand, ruling over all things in heaven and in earth. It is our Lord who is exercising longsuffering in order to accomplish salvation for each one and for all of His people.
Divine longsuffering is salvation!