The Fruit of the Spirit - Patience
July 14, 2020
Not many of the virtues listed in the fruits of the Spirit are ones that we want to admit we don’t excel in. Who wants to own that they are not loving, or faithful, or have no self-control? Who will say they are unkind, not gentle, not good? But patience is one we often joke about. We don’t seem to mind being known for impatient, and even find ways to make it look reasonable and commendable. We say such things as, “Oh, patience is a virtue that I surely don’t have!” Or
“Sorry—my standards and expectations are high. That’s just who I am.” Perhaps, “Impatience is my middle name!”
Impatience is almost seen as a virtue in places like New York City. To be successful you may have to “run over” people on the way to the top. We’re all familiar with the fast lane and the slow lane—and we want to make it happen quickly. We create a lot of damage by our individual and collective impatience. Relationships and compassion require patience.
Let’s look at patience in a bit more detail. Tim Keller’s definitions have been helping us think through the heart of the fruits of the Spirit. (Speaking of Tim Keller, a theologian who is a gift to the church, he is undergoing cancer treatment right now. He would appreciate our prayers, I am sure.) He tells us this:
The Definition of Patience– Ability to take trouble (from others or life) without blowing up.
The Opposite of Patience – Resentment toward God and others.
The Counterfeit of Patience– Cynicism. Self-righteousness. “This is too small to be bothered about.”
Think about that. It is the ability to take trouble from others or from life without blowing up, losing our cool, or becoming critical and resentful. Wow! That raises its significance, doesn’t it? Patience and lack of it is the telling story in most of our life situations. Our entire culture is in a very difficult situation with a virus that we know little about and as yet have few ways to treat and no vaccine. The lack of patience is causing much chaos. We want certainty and we want solutions and we want them now. In fact, we idolize certainty. So, in our lack of patience and rush to get there, we tear up our relationships and any kind of peace in our surroundings.
The opposite of patience is resentment toward God and others. Now there’s a new thought. When we are impatient, often the root of our impatience is our attitude toward God, and it flows back to our behavior with people. Or, if we start with impatience with people, eventually it affects our attitude to God because He should fix them. Resentment erodes all those relationships.
The counterfeit of patience? There are a couple Greek words that are used for the word "patience." One of those words is the Greek word makrothumia, which means to suffer long before giving up.
Therefore, the counterfeit to patience means to really harden your heart toward them, and summon up so much moral superiority and condescension that you don't care what they've said or done. We think we are being patient, but actually our pride secretly (or not so secretly) belittles the person in our hearts and we are actually paying them back. We look on the outside like we are remarkably patient, but in this case we actually are in denial about our bitterness.
Like it or not, we all have issues with patience. This is one way that the work of the Spirit is produced in the life of the believer. Stanley Gale reminds us, “Patience is not merely a social grace. It is a driving force for us growing in the character of the Vine.” He is referring to Jesus' teaching in John 15 where Jesus calls Himself the vine. The New King James Version translations patience as "long suffering." The patience that is the fruit of the Spirit is not just a patience with one another, but patience with God's timetable. There are places in the Bible that tell us to wait for the Lord:
Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14
Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! Psalm 31:24
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Psalm 37:1
God promises to take care of us no matter what, yet we are to wait for Him. That is hard. We look around and see other situations that seem to be greener grass, and we see people who don’t seem as deserving. Eight different times in the Old Testament we are told that God is slow to anger. That means He is patient with us even when we are not patient with Him. You may be in a situation right now where you feel God is not listening. God is listening, He is working in you to be conformed to the image of Jesus. God is working patience in you.
You may feel, “Oh, I have to work on being patient!” That’s not the way it happens. A gardener doesn’t make the seeds grow. The gardener just creates the conditions in which the power of the seeds is released. For you and me, we can’t produce patience. But we can stick very close to Jesus. We can become more and more intentional in our life with Jesus. This creates the conditions for the seeds God has planted within us to grow, and we become more and more like Jesus. And as we walk with Jesus consistently, patience grows and brings us a harvest of more closeness with God and people. That’s fulfillment.