Everybody who has received eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, has the Holy Spirit: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9). “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). Being a Christian means living by the Spirit, and this should show in our daily lives. If the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, this should become visible in the “fruit” we bear. Living by faith is not just believing certain theological truths, it includes being transformed by the Spirit and living according to God’s will.
Paul mentions nine elements of “the fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22). Let’s have a closer look at patience. What does this mean, how does it reflect God’s character, and how does it work out in the life of a Christian?
Personally, I can be pretty impatient. If somebody doesn’t immediately do what he or she ought to do, or if something takes more time than I expected, this annoys me. I find it really hard to remain patient and friendly in such circumstances.
And I know I am not the only one struggling here. For many people, patience doesn’t come naturally. Besides being impatient with people around us, or even with ourselves, we are sometimes impatient with God. We might have prayed for something that is important to us, and be discouraged when God doesn’t immediately answer our requests. We might be longing for the Day of the Lord, when God will finally deal with all evil and sorrow. That is a good thing, but it can easily be mixed up with impatience. We tend to think God is “slow to fulfill his promise”.
God is patient
Peter corrects this view by explaining: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Throughout the Bible, God is depicted as patient. In Exodus 34:6, He identifies Himself as “the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. In other words, God will surely punish sin, but He does not punish quickly. He gives people time to repent and to change their lives.
The same is explained by the apostle Paul, when he admonishes his readers: “Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
Paul as an example of God’s patience
Paul himself was a living example of God’s patience. Looking back at his own life, he is astonished that God didn’t condemn him. He would have had every right to do so: Paul had rejected Jesus for years, and even persecuted Christians. But instead of condemnation, Paul received grace. “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).
Waiting patiently for the Lord
Life as a Christian is not always easy. You might face opposition, toil, and fatigue. In order to persevere in such circumstances, you need patience. We are called to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Patience shows that you have put aside your own ideas about “how the world should be”, and follow God’s time plan instead. Trust Him; His wisdom and goodness are infinitely greater than yours.
Being patient in difficult circumstances is possible if we keep God’s glorious future in view. “Be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8). We know that this earthly life will not go on forever. The Lord will return and set everything straight.
Abraham as an example of patience
The Old Testament provides an example of someone who had to wait almost a lifetime before God’s promises became true. That was Abraham. God had promised to bless him and multiply him (Genesis 12:1-3, Hebrews 6:13-15).
But Abraham didn’t even have one single child! Only when he was 100 years old, was the promised heir born. The book of Genesis tells us about Abraham’s struggles and periods of unbelief and doubt. It wasn’t easy for him to wait for God’s timing. And yet, we read in Hebrews 6:15 that “Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise”. Besides Abraham, we could take “the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord […] as an example of suffering and patience” (James 5:10).
These people show that, although patience isn’t a natural human characteristic, it is possible to be patient if the Holy Spirit dwells in your heart.
Being patient with others
Our God is patient with us and with other people. We too should love our fellow believers and “be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
That is not an easy task, for those other people aren’t always nice towards us. Some people are just… sinful, fallible humans as we are. True patience requires faith and humility. It is a dying to selfishness. It is counting others more significant than ourselves – just as Jesus did.
Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit
Being patient is not a requirement for being saved. Nor is it something we can achieve ourselves. We are dependent on the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Whoever is led by the Spirit, will be “strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience…” (Colossians 1:11).
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