How patient are you? I have known some Christians who appeared to be proud of their IM-patience – their lack of patience. That has always surprised me, because I’ve never considered impatience to be a good thing. But I have to admit, I can’t find a scripture which clearly condemns it. The words “impatience” and “impatient” cannot be found in the Bible.
But then, on the other hand, there are dozens of scriptures which clearly encourage patience. We found it four times in the scripture which we read from James a few minutes ago. One of the things for which Christ praised some of the churches in Revelation was their patience. “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy PATIENCE, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil…” “(Thou) hast borne, and hast PATIENCE, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.” “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy PATIENCE, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.” “Because thou hast kept the word of my PATIENCE, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” Christ praised patience, and so did Paul.
Paul also exhorted and encouraged us in it. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through PATIENCE and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” “Thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, PATIENCE, meekness.” “Be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and PATIENCE inherit the promises.” “Ye have need of PATIENCE, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with PATIENCE the race that is set before us.”
Another strange thing is that the word “patience” can’t be found in the Old Testament either. There are examples, and Psalm 40 speaks about “waiting patiently,” but other than that, the word is missing in the first half of the Bible. In the New Testament the Greek word implies “suffering through” something – “enduring” or “waiting.” Most of the time, it is used in a context of tribulation or difficulties. And as we saw in James 5, it is also used in the context of the return of Christ. “Be PATIENT therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.” “Be ye also PATIENT; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.”
There is a need for messages on Christian patience, but that is not my subject this morning. Once again, I am returning to the person of Jehovah – the Lord is patient. Near the conclusion of his Epistle to the Romans Paul exhorts the saints toward unity and service, saying, “Now the God of PATIENCE and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How is the Lord the “God of patience?” It is not merely that He is the source of patience, He is Himself patient – it is a part of His nature.
Consider the examples we find in the books of Jonah and Nahum.
As we just read, Nahum prophesied against the Assyrian capital of Ninevah, and the words were severe. He spoke of Jehovah’s “revenge” and “wrath;” he used words like “furious” and “vengeance.” Later he will say that God “dasheth in pieces” the wicked Assyrians, and “woe to the bloody city.” Verse 2 says that the LORD Jehovah “will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” And later in same context, “Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.”
However – the first words of verse 2 tell us “The Lord is slow to anger” while remaining great in power. Notice the connection between God’s almighty power and His almighty patience. Jehovah’s power over Himself is the reason that Ninevah has not yet been razed into the dust. And that is also the reason that we and our nation today have not been destroyed. We need to praise and thank God that He is patient in nature.
If you will remember, Jonah was another of God’s prophets to speak out against Ninevah and Assyria. The Book of Jonah is a study of patience and impatience – in man and in the Lord. Jonah rejoiced to be told that God’s judgment was soon to fall on those wicked enemies of Israel, but, because of his commission, he reluctantly preached repentance among them. Then having completed his commission, Jonah took up an observatory position to watch what God would do. Would it be fire from Heaven? Would a great chasm – a sink hole – open up under the city and swallow it? Apparently for forty days, self-centered Jonah impatiently awaited the destruction of those he hated, but it didn’t come. Rather, God granted repentance to the sinners, and the backslidden prophet was profoundly disappointed. God was patient toward Ninevah, but the man of God was just the opposite. Isn’t that the way it often is? But sometimes it is not about judgment: God waits years before saving a lost loved one of yours, while your impatience makes you almost as disgusting as Jonah.
Let’s consider the nature of patience as it is found in God.
In some respects, divine patience is distinct from His goodness and His mercy. Of course, patience is good, and there is mercy in the Lord’s longsuffering and forbearance. But they aren’t exactly the same thing. As we saw last week, God’s goodness extends to every corner of His creation – all His creatures. Paul told the Lystrans, just before they tried to murder him, God “left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” In other words, the goodness of God is one of His many witnesses. And earlier, while in prayer, the Psalmist described several strange creatures and then said, “These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.” The GOODNESS of God is expressed universally throughout Creation – towards man and beast alike. But divine MERCY is given to the sinner explicitly. There would never have been a need for mercy if there had never been sin, but the goodness of God is a constant need. And mercy is given room and time to work, because God is slow to anger and great in patience. Quite often patience is a temporary delay of judgment, giving the sinner time to bow in repentance. Ninevah is a perfect example.
Obviously, God’s patience is not grounded on any weakness or limit in Himself. As I say, the New Testament word “patience” involves enduring suffering – but God does not suffer. And we use the word in regard to the passing of time, but time doesn’t exist with the eternal God. And sometimes WE are patient because we have no choice, but Elohim is sovereign – He always has a choice. At times men give the appearance of patience, when it is nothing more than an inability to exact revenge. But God is never incapable of wrath or anger, and He is not ignorant of man’s sinful provocations. In Psalm 50 we read – “Unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee. When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers. Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son. These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.”
The God who created all things out of nothing, could instantly return that creation to nothing. No, the Lord’s patience has nothing to do with any limitation in Himself.
Rather than a lack of power over the world, over Ninevah or us, God’s patience reveals a fullness of power over HIMSELF. The weaker someone is, the less control he has over his passions – any and all of his passions. If a man is known to instantly loose his temper, he might be pictured as strong, but it’s an illusion. Actually, he is a weakling. And that is why Solomon said in Proverbs 16 – “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” But the Lord doesn’t have human-like passions – He is God. Some theologians see God’s patience as a greater argument for His omnipotence than the creation of the universe. “God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” – Romans 9:22.
Now you might have to think about this for a while. Isn’t the exercise of God’s patience rooted in the sacrifice which Christ made on the cross? Consider the difference between God’s treatment of fallen angels and human sinners. We are told that Lucifer lead a rebellion against the Lord, drawing away about a third of all the angels. Despite all which we don’t know, we do know that God has never showed any patience toward those fallen angels. There isn’t a single hint anywhere in the Bible suggesting that any of those fallen creatures will be redeemed or converted to Christ. Instantly, and without a moment’s patience, God bound them over for punishment.
On the other hand, there have been millions of sinners towards whom the Lord has shown great patience. Some of those sinners God has chosen to redeem, but billions of others have simply enjoyed their three score and ten, eventually passing on into eternity and judgment. There are a number of differences between the fallen angels and the fallen sons of Adam. But one major difference lays in the fact that Christ did not shed a drop of blood for any of those angels. But “this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
Paul spends most of Romans 5 discussing Adam’s sin and how it brought death upon his descendants. In the midst of it he says, “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Who were those ungodly? Sinful men – human beings. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The fact that God, in patience, has permitted your friend, Joe, to reached his 54th birthday, is due to the grace of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary may not ever be applied to Joe’s soul, but that he still walks this planet is due to Christ. In fact, the coming of Christ was even the source of God’s patience in the days of the Old Testament. The gathering of His elect is still the reason for the Lord’s forbearance, and it is shed on both the called and the condemned.
As we know, there are several important attributes displayed in the Person of Jehovah. The Lord is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and a dozen other marvelous things. But not one of them in any way hinders the exercise of His patience. God’s truthfulness in threatening judgment is not violated in His longsuffering in carrying out the treat. When Jonah pronounced judgment on Ninevah and gave forty days notice of termination, the implied message was that upon the condition of their repentance, the city would be spared. Was the death sentence given to Adam completely carried out the day that he sinned? Part of it was – the spirit of the man instantly died before God. But although dying, his body was spared for another 930 years. “The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.”
God’s patience doesn’t disagree with His justice or His righteousness. Do we find fault with a judge who postpones the sentencing of a criminal when there is good reason? Let none of us think that God has no good reason for His patience. He is not willing that any of His people should perish. God is free to choose the time which pleases Him best for the punishment of the wicked. Instead of its violation, justice is made more obvious by God’s patience. Every objection against divine judgment will be more than removed because of the great patience God has shown toward sinners.
We could roll through each of God’s great attributes comparing them to His patience. Not only would they not suffer, but each of them would be enhanced. “I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
In His patience God shows Himself to be gracious. He proves that He is not implacable, intractable, unforgiving or selfishly stubborn. His patience lets men know that if they would turn to Him in repentance, they would find Him merciful. Yes, I know that they will not repent, because it is contrary to their natures, but the lesson is there. The fact that God didn’t destroy Adam and Eve immediately upon their sin, demonstrated patience and gave us all hope for something better. And that is precisely the lesson learned by the Ninevites. God wasn’t pretending to be a friend towards those Assyrians, but He was displaying friendliness.
And this leads toward our last point – why does God exercise such patience and restraint?
Through patience, the Lord is giving men time to repent. The Holy Spirit spoke of this in Revelation 2 – “I gave her space to repent.” And Peter wrote that the “longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” – II Peter 3:15. God’s patience is an unspoken plea – perhaps even to you – respond to the message of the gospel. Sound reasoning suggests that God’s forbearance and patience will eventually come to an end. So – “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
And reaching back to our message from last week, God’s goodness and God’s patience leave sinners without an excuse. “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” The word “forbearance” speaks of divine “self-restraint” and “longsuffering” is another word for “patience.” Don’t you understand that you have “gotten away” with your wickedness only because God has been gracious and good toward you. But, as the next verse in Romans says, “after thy hardness and impenitent heart (thou) treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds.”
Judgment for your sins, beginning with your unbelief and lack of love toward Christ, is guaranteed. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” and “the wages of sin is death.” But for ten years now, sixteen years, thirty years, sixty years, God has been superbly patient with you. You have had ample opportunity to kneel before the Lord, but you have not. You have been treasuring up – hoarding – unto thyself the wrath of God.
Observe the Lord’s patience this morning and submit yourself to Him. Acknowledge your sinful condition in the eyes of God and repent before Him – turn in agreement to Him. And put your trust for deliverance from your sin squarely upon the Lord Jesus Christ. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”