In what way is patience a fruit of the Holy Spirit?
The Greek word for "patience" used in Galatians 5:22 is makrothumia, which means "forbearance" or "longsuffering." The Greek word is a compound of two words meaning "long" and "temper." Makrothumia is the equivalent of our English idiom "having a long fuse"; a patient person can take a lot of provocation before reacting. Patience is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. As the phrase "fruit of the Spirit" implies, we can only have patience when the Holy Spirit works through us.
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Job is often put forward as the personification of patience, and rightly so. He endured the loss of his possessions, his children, his health, and his wife's support, but he took it patiently. When Job's wife told him to "Curse God and die" Job responded, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:9-10). Job knew God had control over his situation and his suffering. He had the patience to wait for the unfolding of God's plan, going so far as to say, "Though he slay me, I will hope in him" (Job 13:15).
Jeremiah is another great example of patience. He prophesied to the nation of Judah for forty years, and no one listened. Instead of giving up, he wept over the foolish people who refused to turn from their sin. God forbade Jeremiah to marry (Jeremiah 16:2), Jeremiah's friends abandoned him, and his message so riled the people that they threw him into a cistern (Jeremiah 38:1-13).
Then there's Moses. He had the job of gathering several million slaves, teaching them a new religion, and forming them into a great nation. At every turn, the Israelites did their best to frustrate Moses, complaining about the food, threatening to return to Egypt, and challenging Moses' authority. It reached the point that God offered Moses a deal: He would destroy the rebellious Israelites and make Moses the father of a great nation. But Moses interceded for the unruly rebels. He replied, "O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people" (Exodus 32:11-12). Talk about patience! Moses had it. Moses had his lapses, of course (Exodus 32:19; Numbers 20:8-11), but for forty years he led an obstinate people and delivered them safely to the border of the Promised Land. And he did it all for no earthly reward.
The greatest example of patience, however, is God Himself.
God's patience leads us to repentance: "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).
God's patience saves us from judgment: "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?" (Romans 9:22).
God's patience completely changes lives: "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 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" (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
God's patience gives us salvation: "And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him" (2 Peter 3:15).
Without God's patience, none of us would live long enough to come to a saving relationship with Jesus. His patience has a purpose; it is to delay judgment so that we can seek Him and escape judgment. The prophets reflected this patience, and we should, too. Judgment is coming, but even now "The Lord is . . . patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Through the Spirit's power, we can display the same patience to others.
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