In a 2004 article for Touchstone magazine entitled “The Bookish Virtues,” Perry Glanzer wrote of the efforts of some schools to teach their students certain virtues. He wrote:
Should state legislatures tell us what kind of character our children should acquire? Actually, many states already do. Seven states recently passed a law requiring public schools to teach students “courage.” Texas and Virginia mandate that students learn to be “reliable,” and Arizona insists that they learn “orderliness,” while five states (Florida, Georgia, Iowa, South Carolina, and Texas) now require that children acquire “patience.”
I am not sure what it says about Florida, Georgia, Iowa, South Carolina, and Texas that they “now require that children acquire ‘patience’” but probably most of us can resonate with the hope behind such an effort. Patience is hard to come by! Growing up, there was a little plaque on the window sill of our kitchen above the kitchen sink overlooking the backyard. It read, “Patience is a virtue, practice if you can, it’s found seldom in a woman and never in a man.” As I think back on that I wonder why my mother had to put such a little statement there. I can only assume it had to do with my two brothers. But I digress.
We have built patience into our church covenant. Whenever we recite it together, we are covenanted to be patient with one another and we are covenanted to help one another in that effort. Our covenant reads:
As a body of born again believers,
We covenant to become an authentic family by
loving one another as Christ loves us,
praying for one another,
speaking truth to one another in love,
being patient with one another
Once again we must ask ourselves the crucial questions: Is such a statement biblical? Should it be included? Why should we covenant to be patient with one another? Why does this matter?
I would like to argue that it matters a great deal. I would further like to argue that although you may have never heard a sermon on patience, it is a deeply and profoundly biblical idea. So let us approach the scriptures in an effort to answer our questions. Why should we covenant to be patient with one another?
God is patient with you.
Yes, the Bible is filled with evidences of the patience of God! In fact, you might say that the Bible is the long story of God’s patience with lost humanity. I say this even in light of the fact that God has, at times, poured out judgment on the world. God’s judgment is never an example of a loss of patience. It is always perfect and just. No, even in the light of God’s judgment, we see His patience, for had God poured out the judgment that the world deserved the world would not exist and we would not be here today.
Paul, in Romans 2, writes that God’s patience is displayed to rebellious man so that man might be led to repentance.
3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 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?
When you stop and think about your life, your sins, and the ways that you have turned against God, is it not the case that God has been manifestly patient toward you? And when you consider that amazing fact, does it not move you to repentance? Do you not think, “My goodness! I have rebelled against Him in countless ways, but He has been patient with me! I am still here! I am still alive! God forgive me my rebellion in the face of your patient love!”
In 1 Timothy 1 Paul speaks of the patience of Jesus.
16 But 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.
Paul saw himself as the recipient of the “perfect patience” of Jesus Christ. In fact, he writes that God clearly intended to reveal the grandeur of his patience through the grace He extended to Paul. In other words, if Jesus Christ could save even Paul (Paul seems to say) then He must be patient indeed! I would like to put my own name there beside Paul! Perhaps we all should! If God could save scoundrels like us, He must be a patient God indeed!
Peter, likewise, in 2 Peter 3, speaks of God’s patience as mercy to lost humanity.
9 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.
15And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him
Do you see? God is patient toward you because He does not wish you to perish! Therefore, you should “count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” Marvel before this amazing thought: the Lord God of heaven and earth would be right to pour out the full measure of His wrath on the world, but He has not done so. Why? Because He wishes for all people to call on the name of His Son, Jesus, for salvation! He is patient because He does not wish for us to experience His wrath!
Yes, God is a patient God. He has been patient to us!
Therefore we must be patient with one another.
As a result of the patience of God in Christ, we, the church, the body of Christ, should exhibit the same towards one another.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, the great love chapter, gives a long list of the attributes of love. Guess what the first attribute is.
4Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant
Being patient with another is a sign that you love each other. Likewise, in Galatians 5, Paul lists patience third in his list of attributes of those who have the Holy Spirit within them.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
People who have the Holy Spirit within them, people who have accepted Jesus, should be patient people, for patience is the fruit of the Spirit of God. The spirit of God is within you seeking to manifest Himself outwardly in patience. As a result, the quality of our love for one another and relationship with one another should be one of patience, as Paul writes in Ephesians 4:
1I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
And this does not mean we are to be patient only with those people we naturally click with in their moments of weakness. Instead, 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul writes that our patience is to be extended to all.
14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
Notice that patience is an umbrella virtue. Some virtues are necessarily applicable to people with this or that shortcoming, but patience is to be shown to all.
- the idle: admonish
- the fainthearted: encourage
- the weak: help
- ALL: show patience
So let me ask you: are you growing in patience or is your patience diminishing? Or you becoming more or less patient? If you are a Christian and are becoming less patient that means you are actually fighting against the Holy Spirit’s efforts for you to be more patient! The Christian, in other words, must cultivate impatience against the Holy Spirit’s desire for you to be more and more patient.
Be patient with one another!
To be the recipient of patience but not a giver of patience is to be a greedy consumer of the goodness of God.
There is more at stake here, however. In point of fact, for a Christian to be impatient means that the Christian has become a greedy consumer of the goodness of God. Why? Because if you are a Christian and are increasingly impatient that means that you are happy to be the recipient of patience but not the giver of it. In Matthew 18 Jesus addressed sinfulness of this very idea.
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Consider the scandal of refusing to show patience when patience has been shown to you! Consider the absurdity of such a thing. Jesus’ story beautifully illustrates this absurdity. In the story the servant is shown patience and forgiven a great debt. That is us. God has forgiven us the debt that our sin has created. However, that servant then refuses to show patience to another who owes him a lesser amount! This is true of us. Whatever patience you will be called upon to extend will never and could never equal the amount of patience you have been shown! You will never be wronged by another to the degree that you (and all of us!) have wronged God!
God has every right to call us to patience. He is the giver of patience. Our very lives, now and hereafter, can be attributed to the mercy of His patience toward us! How can we not be patient, then, with one another.
Church, we must show patience to each other. We must grow in patience toward one another. And the patience we show should be cross-shaped, for the patience of God is cross-shaped!
Refuse to give up on one another! Refuse to slam the door that the devil wants you to slam! Keep the cross of Jesus Christ and the thought of His patience toward you ever before your minds and you will find that you can be patient with others.