The Fruit of the Spirit (7): Longsuffering

Previous article in thes series: November 15, 2008, p. 82.

Longsuffering is first in the second main group of what is called, in Galatians 5:22, “the fruit of the Spirit.” While the first group of three virtues (love, joy, and peace) seems to emphasize inner virtues, the second group of three virtues (longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness) seems to highlight virtues that are evident in our outward dealings and communication, especially with those of our church families and covenant homes.

Longsuffering begins the second set of aspects concerning the fruit of the Spirit because it is basic to gentleness and goodness. If one is not longsuffering, he will be harsh and unjust, rather than gentle; and he will be motivated by carnal and self-centered evil, rather than goodness. However, in the way of longsuffering, one is characterized by true gentleness and his actions will be governed by a spiritual and salvation-oriented goodness.

Longsuffering is a very honorable virtue. This aspect of the fruit of the Spirit was highly honored by the church father Chrysostom. He exercised it by the grace of God through unjust treatment and persecution. He spoke of it highly when, it is reported, he said that he regarded longsuffering as the queen of virtues. While love is the king of virtues among the nine virtues of the fruit of the Spirit, longsuffering certainly must be the queen.

According to this church father’s example and testimony, we should desire and pray that the Lord by His Spirit and grace give us the royal privilege to honor the queen of virtues by our conduct and speech with the members of our church families and covenant families.

In Colossians 1:11, we are taught that we need both the gift of patience and the gift of longsuffering. The apostle Paul writes, “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.”

In our common, daily conversation, these words seem to be interchangeable, so that sometimes we talk about the need for patience with another person or our children; and, yet, it is possible that we might mean longsuffering. Although they may seem to be almost identical terms, yet according to Colossians 1:11 patience and longsuffering are shown to be both closely related and yet distinct virtues.

Patience may be described as the virtue of spiritual endurance through life. It is the spiritual strength to endure trials and afflictions in our God-given place and circumstances in life. Although there are many hardships that God bestows on His saints, the patience of the saints is the gift of God to receive those hardships willingly from the hand of God and to remain content in them.

Have you heard of the patience of Job?

Scripture calls us to consider the patience of that Old Testament saint. The patience of Job was his God-given spiritual endurance in the midst of his grievous hardships of the loss of his earthly possessions and his ten children in one day. In patience, Job endured the affliction in faithfulness to God. This was evident when he acknowledged willingly in his grief that his sharp calamity came from the hand of his God (Job 19:21b). While acknowledging that his calamity came from God, he confessed that God was good.

Listen to his patience:

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly,

Job 1:21-22.

What a remarkable virtue to receive in the time, not only of great calamity, but also in the everyday challenges, hardships, troubles, and duty of daily cross-bearing.

Interestingly, the Bible does not use the word “patience” with respect to God. The Bible does not tell us that God is patient. The reason for this is that God does not suffer afflictions and calamities, as Job did or we do. Of course, Jesus did because He came into our flesh and was like us in all things, except for sin. Nevertheless, the Bible does not say that the triune God is patient. Patience is the spiritual virtue that our heavenly Father works in His saints so that they might sojourn faithfully in the pathway through which He is pleased to lead them. In the God-given gift of patience, we endure through the grievous pains and numbing griefs of this life, similar to our fellow saint Job.

In addition to patience for a faithful earthly sojourn, we need the gift of longsuffering. While patience is a virtue of the child of God with respect to his God-determined and providentially-governed circumstances in life, longsuffering is the virtue that applies to the persons whom God providentially places upon his divinely determined pathway and, as a result, with whom he cannot avoid communication and dealings.

Now, the Bible does speak of God’s longsuffering, in which He is longsuffering to all of His elect in Christ Jesus, not willing that any of the objects of His electing love should perish (II Pet. 3:9). This is God’s virtue whereby He, in His mercy and goodness, wills our eternal salvation and glory through the wilderness of this life. In His longsuffering, God wills our final perfection with Him in glory; but before we reach that inheritance, we must be prepared for that glory in the best possible way. Tailored to each of us according to His good pleasure, our pathways include the suffering of afflictions, the suffering of temptations, and the suffering of the results of sin, corruption, unbelief, or weaknesses of others. In that way, God is pleased to demonstrate the power of His mercy to preserve us and to sustain us unto our glorious inheritance.

Colossians 1:11 reminds us that this attribute of God is reflected in His regenerated and sanctified people. That God’s saints are longsuffering means that they bear with the weaknesses of others. Believing husbands and wives learn to be longsuffering towards each other. Brothers and sisters in the home learn to be longsuffering towards one another in order to prepare them for a life of longsuffering to others later in life. For peace in the home, parents and children learn to be longsuffering towards one another, especially so for children when bearing with the weaknesses of their parents, whom the Lord has set over them in authority. Fellow believers learn the necessity of longsuffering toward one another for the maintenance of the fragile peace and unity of their church family.

Being longsuffering, we will not retaliate in kind to those who sin against us, oppress us, or even inflict some obvious injustice upon us. The longsuffering that the saints demonstrate in their earthly life indeed reflects God’s longsuffering towards us. Just as God does not in His mercy destroy us and deal with us according to our iniquities, but, instead, deals with us according to His mercy and virtue of longsuffering, so we learn to deal with others not according to their sin, in order to reward them double for the pain they have inflicted upon us, but, rather, to deal with them according to the mercy of the Father shown toward us. Being longsuffering, we will be ready to forgive and to express that forgiveness to the sorrowful and repentant.

We may, then, describe the gift of longsuffering as that ability to be slow to anger and wrath. Longsuffering is wise on how to answer an offender. Longsuffering expresses itself as self-restraint, in which one does not break out towards an offender in an unrighteous and rash fit of rage. It keeps in check a flaming temper and controls the tongue from speaking evil. Longsuffering demonstrates its sweetness in forgiving seventy times seven.

To be longsuffering includes believing that God is Judge, who judges righteously the hearts of others, which we cannot do. Longsuffering leaves in the Lord’s hands judgment that belongs with Him. We may want to take justice into our own hands, especially regarding the weaknesses and sins of someone over us in authority, and justify our rebellion against that sinful authority figure because of his or her sins and offenses, but such a response is still rebellion. We must be longsuffering even in such cases, and leave in the Lord’s hands the righteous judgment that He will dispense to those who walk in sin. We must also be confident that in His righteousness and mercy He will surely bring His people, also when they sin against us, to repentance.

The exercise of the virtue of longsuffering towards others does not include tolerance of the sin and unbelief of others. Longsuffering does not mean that we allow others to think that we approve of or will tolerate their false teachings or wicked way of life against God. Longsuffering remains holy as God is holy. Longsuffering does not ignore our duty to uphold courageously and outspokenly the honor and glory of God’s name when His name is taken in vain. However, when our name and reputation is at stake, longsuffering is willing to let our reputation and name get shredded unjustly by the rumor and gossip shredder and to be reproached or oppressed unjustly.

There are two examples of longsuffering worth our consideration and instruction. First, in Numbers 12:3 we learn that the Lord regarded Moses, one of the holiest of God’s saints, as the meekest man in the earth. The convergence of that holiness and meekness came to expression in his longsuffering towards Miriam, his sister. In the event recorded in Numbers 12, she rebelled against Moses and instigated a serious insurrection against him, the God-appointed leader of the children of Israel through the wilderness. In longsuffering, Moses let God judge Miriam’s personal attack upon Moses. Then, when God did strike Miriam with leprosy, the righteous chastisement for her rebellion and schism, Moses did not rejoice in her leprosy and her great public shame. Instead, Moses cried unto Jehovah, saying, “Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee!” And Miriam was healed— through the means of the significant longsuffering and earnest supplication of Moses. Christ is the supreme example of longsuffering. When Christ “was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (I Pet. 2:23). He endured suffering at the hands of sinners, including His own, submitting to our heavenly Father’s way. He suffered long with His people, who sinned against Him. Although He was forsaken and denied by His own disciples, He did not retaliate in kind. He did not deny His unfaithful disciples before His heavenly Father. He confessed their names before the throne of His heavenly Father in His longsuffering and prayer, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What applied to His disciples applies to His church. Though we are sinners against Him, yet He suffered long with us, even to His atoning and redeeming death of the cross for the purpose of bearing forth this fruit of the Spirit, being ourselves longsuffering one towards another in the household of faith.

According to Colossians 3:11, longsuffering, in addition to patience, is a spiritual gift intended to be exercised by the believer in “all” things. Of course, it may seem rather easy to be longsuffering in most things with someone whom we like or when his personality fits very well with our own. When the weaknesses of another do not require much self-denial and the swallowing of our own pride and of our self-justification, we may find it very easy to suffer long with the fellow church member, spouse, parent, or child.

However, when longsuffering is applied in all things, then it applies even in those circumstances in life where we would judge that longsuffering no longer is the appropriate attribute to show the fellow church member, spouse, parent, or child whose weaknesses have found the end of our mercy and our willingness to forgive. In exactly those situations where we would conclude that it would be unfair of God to require us to be longsuffering, then also we must be longsuffering.

Hence, in every circumstance, and to our fellow believers, our parents, our spouses, and our children, we must bear with their weaknesses and sins, even when those sins, from which they may have repented and been delivered by the grace of God, have caused serious and lasting scars.

Who can be longsuffering in all things, or truly longsuffering at all? Christ certainly is. He is longsuffering as God to will our salvation through this wilderness of sin, death, and troubles. He is also the man who is longsuffering toward us in bearing long with us in His mercy and grace. He does not retaliate when we have sinned against Him. He does not reward us double punishment for all our sin against Him. He forgives our iniquities and has washed us in His blood from our sin. Even though our sins hurt as deeply as the great depths of suffering on the cross, yet He loved us and was longsuffering toward us. Likewise, by His Spirit, we are taught to be longsuffering toward fellow church members, spouses, parents, and children.

Undoubtedly, to be longsuffering requires the miracle work of the Spirit of mercy and truth in us. Only by and according to His glorious power and mercy may we bear long, longer, and longer yet, if necessary, with the weaknesses of others.

May we regard highly this sweet fruit of being longsuffering, and may we resolve in our hearts to be longsuffering in our daily lives, homes, and church life. There is no joy in despising or minimizing this fruit. In the way of evil speaking, harsh retaliation, jealousy, rebellion, hatred, and whatever else may be the enemy of longsuffering, there will be only bitter, rotten, and miserable results. Over against that, may our heavenly King, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His good and sovereign mercy, work in us the will, ability, and life of His queen of virtues.