The Patience of God

The patience of God in light of His goodness is something that I have never appreciated until I took the time to perform a deeper study on this particular attribute of God in which we are able to reflect to certain degrees. There are many passages that give us a deeper understanding of  God’s patience that I’d like to take some time to unpack.  I also want to focus some of our on God’s patience in saving His people from suffering here on earth in specific. Ultimately, my desire is to highlight God’s patience with sinful man and to encourage the application of modeling God’s patience in our lives, and hopefully lead you into a deeper worship of our great God.

Genesis 3 is a great passage to start off with. In this passage we get a picture of God’s patience with mankind from the beginning. When Adam and Eve rebelled, God didn’t have to pursue them and offer them redemption for their sin, but He did. God patiently dialogued with them in the garden and covered up their shame that they brought upon themselves by their disobedience. In this chapter, we get our first glimpse of God’s ‘erek’ aph (long suffering) towards mankind.

But this passage has something hidden in here that is often brushed over. In Genesis 3:15 we read this: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God, as a great and patient God, immediately after mankind rebels from His Word, not only remains patient by not smiting Adam and Eve and starting over, but He also prophesies to Satan and tells him that he will soon be crushed by an offspring of Eve (Jesus); you may bruise His heel (body), but He will ultimately crush you and you will be defeated. This great and patient God just became infinitely greater and seemingly very patient.

Moving on, the book of Judges is filled with great pictures of God’s patience with Israel in sending deliverers to people who keep getting it wrong (Jg 2:16). Time and time again God delivered Israel from their oppressor; and when Israel’s deliverer whom God appointed to deliver Israel dies, they would go back to their evil God-neglecting ways, then wail again in despair when their enemies are camped around them (Jg 3:9, 15; 4:3; 6:7-8; 10:10). God delivered them every time they cried out to Him for help. This is a tremendous display of patience. Millard Erickson says in his book Christian Theology, regarding God’s long-suffering, “God is pictured as withholding judgement and continuing to offer salvation and grace over long periods of time” (322).

Stephen’s story of the Old Testament (OT) summary in Acts 7 gives yet another view of God’s patience with greedy, disobedient, rebellious people. Stephen preaches to the religious leaders who delivered Christ up to be crucified, and in essence, is modeling God’s patience to them as he is offering them a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel. In the same way that God was patient with Abraham, Joseph’s brothers, Moses and the children of Israel, He is and will be patient with us. God heard their cries and delivered them. We need to know that He will hear our cries and deliver us in the same way today because of the gospel of Jesus.

Although, as one reads the entire passage of Acts 7, you will see that there is an end to God’s patience as Stephen pens verse 42, when God turned away and gave them (various unfaithful Israelites) up to the lust of their hearts to the worship of demonic gods. This is an aspect of God’s patience that is not gladly received and is sometimes said to not be true of God. There are liberal (not politically!) Christians who would believe that God is always patient and we will never see an end to this attribute of His. We know that the Bible does not portray a God who will always have patience for unfaithfulness.

We see in the passages of Genesis 6:5-7, Exodus 10:1-2 and Number 16:31-33, just to name a few, that God’s patience has ended for those we read about in these passages. This is definitely not a popular topic for pastors to preach about to their congregation, but this is an aspect of God’s patience that must not be overlooked because of the severity of the consequence of God’s patience ending, and the ability to repent is over.

In Matthew 18:26-27, Jesus gives us a glimpse into the kingdom of God  in  regards to God’s patience. The picture we get is of a servant who is begging for grace so that the payments that he owes towards his debt would be extended, and the master has pity on him and releases him completely from the debt he owed the master. God’s patience with us is revealed in this passage, and it touches on the core of the gospel, in that God is patient with humans who have nothing to offer him. He also causes them to be made free having no record of the debt that was owed to Him.

Peter says something of the same accord in 2 Peter 3:15 when he tells believers to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation”. We are saved in part, because God is able to be patient with foolish, rebellious, uncommitted and unworthy people. When God shows patience to us in our weak frame, we should be reminded of our salvation and respond to His patience in praise and worship of His awesome grace and mercy. God’s patience is also holding back the judgement of God for unbelievers to be saved and for believers to be working out their sanctification. God’s delay in coming back is, in part, due to his patience.

In Hebrews 6:12, we are reminded that faith and patience are the tract that God has laid out before believers as they wait for their inheritance. God wants His children to imitate His patience as we live our lives here on earth. He desires for us to imitate His patience so that an unbelieving world will see a reflection of His love and goodness that was manifested to us in and through Jesus, for the glory of God.

What about God’s patience in the midst of our suffering? God’s patience in regards to saving His people in the midst of suffering is clearly expressed in Scripture. In Jeremiah 15:15 it seems as if Jeremiah is content being in suffering as long as God is patient with him. God’s patience often means that He is not quick to rescue us from suffering. God’s patience is perfect and his timing to rescue is perfect as well. In James 1:2-4, we are told to be joyful, or to consider it a good thing when we encounter suffering because it produces steadfastness, or patience, that will allow us to stand firm in the worst of situations. That steadfastness, over time, will sanctify us so that we will lack nothing in James’ words. If God hastily rescues us from every trouble, this discipline we read about in James may never mature in us and we would miss many blessings that God desires for us to receive. Instead, God patiently (not always) waits to relieve us of certain suffering, thus causing His will to be perfected in us.

Paul says in Romans 12:12: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” With the promise from God that He will be with us in tribulation, this godly patience is able to be manifested in us and we can experience the truth of that promise. In the Institutes of Religion, John Calvin says this regarding the patience of saints:

“I wished to make these observations to keep pious minds from despair, lest, from feeling it impossible to divest themselves of the natural feeling of grief, they might altogether abandon the study of patience. This must necessarily be the result with those who convert patience into stupor, and a brave and firm man into a block. Scripture gives saints the praise of endurance when, though afflicted by the hardships they endure, they are not crushed; though they feel bitterly, they are at the same time filled with spiritual joy; though pressed with anxiety, breathe exhilarated by the consolation of God” (Logos, Book 3, Chapter 8, Paragraph 10).

God grants us the patience we need in the midst of suffering so that we may endure faithfully for His name’s sake, and so that we are not crushed under the weight of the afflictions of this world. Patiently enduring suffering will lead us to find our comfort in God, instead of finding our comfort from things of this world.

It seems that another one of God’s reasons for being patient to rescue us from suffering is that when he does rescue us from our tribulations, many times from ourselves, it is his kindness in the midst of that rescue that leads us to repentance and times of refreshing (Ro 2:4; Acts 3:20). Paul goes on to say later in chapter 2 of Romans, “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life (Ro 2:7). So conversely, we see the reward of being patient in doing good. In the same way as God’s patience is weaved through His whole character, so it should be for us as we mature in the Lord, through suffering and through doing good.

We could say to one extent, that the Bible is one big book that tells us of God’s patience with sinful man who just cannot get it right. This attribute is humbling to me because of the amount of times I come to God, confessing the same sin, and yet He is slow to get angry with me and deals patiently with me. It is overwhelming to think of the amount of patience God has for us, and that in all His patience, He never wipes me out or speaks ill of me because of the work of His Son, Jesus. This is worthy of our remembrance and talking of, often. This is reason enough for us to offer Christ everything He so desires of us, even unto death.

As I close, I am left with one overarching thought for an application to God’s patience: How can we imitate God’s patience in every circumstance of our daily lives? What does it look like to model God’s patience in our marriages, ministries, parenting, and other various relationships? Unless we can take the head knowledge of what it means to be patient, and apply it to our daily lives and live it out, this blog is just what it looks like, great information (I hope)! I am convinced that we cannot live a life of patience unless we get the gospel at its core, are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and activate the power of the Holy Spirit through spending time in prayer and reading the word of God. We do not accidentally become patient. Unlike God, we do not inherently have this attribute within us. Patience is a discipline that we must make a conscious effort to mature in as we spend time with the Lord, so it is that we must labor over this discipline as we grow in our knowledge and love of God and His glorious gospel. Soli Deo Gloria!

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