by Ronny H. Graham
CGG Weekly, February 21, 2020
"Teach us, O Lord, the discipline of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work."
A while ago, while driving in Charlotte, I was stopped at a red light. Someone behind me started blowing his horn, and I immediately thought, "What's his problem?" In my rearview mirror, I could see someone trying to squeeze his car between my trailer and the curb to make a right-hand turn. I had already eased forward to give him as much room as I could without bumping the car in front of me. He managed to squeeze through and speed by—but not without giving me an angry scowl. His disdain for me and my trailer was apparent. When I proceeded through the intersection, I could see him on the street he had turned on, sitting in another line of traffic. His impatience and lousy attitude had gotten him nowhere.
On another occasion at a construction site, I witnessed a man trip on the cord of his circular saw and fly into a rage. He beat that saw all to pieces with his hammer! The saw had done nothing wrong, and of course, it did not react. And now he had to buy a new one!
When I was a boy, I spent a summer at my grandmother's house, and one day one of my uncles started working on a farm tractor that would not start. He made several attempts to get it running, and before long, a string of expletives turned the air blue. I ran to where my uncle was working, arriving just in time to see him rear back and throw his pliers at it with all his might! If anything can try a person's patience, it has to be machinery, but the tractor had done nothing wrong. I cannot remember if he ever got it started, but I never forgot his fit of rage.
My father, a mechanic, stood at the opposite end of the spectrum from my uncle. He never took out his frustrations on the cars he repaired. Not once did I ever see him lose his temper like these others. I never heard him use any choice words, and I never saw him throw any tools. He was probably the one who had to fix my grandmother's tractor! He was one of the most patient men that I have ever known, and I wish I had inherited more of his calm demeanor. While I have never beaten anything to pieces, I sure have thought about it a time or two.
The tractor, the saw, and the everyday stopped traffic at a red light had done nothing to warrant the outbursts of anger and impatience that I witnessed. But we live in an impatient world. Each person wants his or her way right now, and everyone else needs to get out of the way! In this essay, we will consider patience, one of the fruits of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. It is a sometimes-misunderstood virtue. Many think that it is just sitting and waiting, but exercising patience takes work and sometimes a great deal of self-control.
Just before Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit, he provides another list of the works of the flesh. The vice opposite of patience appears as "outbursts of wrath" (Galatians 5:20). The Amplified Bible translates it as "anger (ill temper)." We have all known people that we learned to tiptoe around for fear we might suffer an outburst of their anger—and perhaps have had to duck a pair of pliers once or twice!
How many people have lost their lives for this very reason? Road rage is becoming an increasing problem. "Outbursts of wrath" is no small sin, for Paul says that those who practice such things "will not inherit the kingdom of God." God will not allow these works of the flesh in His Kingdom! Thus, we have all been tested in this area of patience. We know we should be patient, but many of us find that this knowledge is not easy to apply.
Romans 15:5 suggests that our patience ultimately comes as a gift from God, who is "the God of patience." If we had to choose the greatest attribute of God, what would we say? Most people would probably choose His love. Since God is love (I John 4:8, 16), we will exclude that one. So, would we choose His power, holiness, grace, mercy? How about His sovereignty or justice?
What about His patience? Since God is perfect and complete in all His ways, we certainly would have a hard time choosing one attribute over another, but the Bible contains very few pages in which we do not find acts of His patience. It begins at the beginning. Have we ever wondered why God did not just destroy Satan when he rebelled against Him? Why did He not kill Adam and Eve when they rejected Him in the Garden of Eden? He had instructed them that they would die in the day they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17), but God allowed Adam to live another nine centuries (Genesis 5:5)!
Ten generations later, God in His patience allowed Noah to warn the wicked people of his day for 120 years of the upcoming destruction, and not one of them repented! God would have been justified in destroying those who built the tower of Babel, but instead, He allowed them to live, merely scattering them. Abraham pleaded with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah—and perhaps the patriarch was on the verge of testing His patience—but God assured him that He would spare the cities if He could find just ten righteous people. How about the Israelites? Have a people ever tested God's patience more? He gave them nearly a thousand years!
God says through Hosea, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. . . . [Now] My people are bent on backsliding from Me. . . . How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? . . . My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred" (Hosea 11:1, 7-8). God's heart breaks because His own special people have rejected Him, and it grieves Him to think that He will lose them. God is not willing that any should perish (II Peter 3:9), but He knows that a time will come when His patience will end, and His judgment must fall on those who will not repent. Our great God is slow to anger, longsuffering, and patient beyond our comprehension, but these must give way to His wrath when He comes to judge.
As teenagers, we often think we know more than our parents. One day when I had been arguing with my parents—I do not remember what about—I pushed my dad's patience to the breaking point. He became furious and grabbed me by the collar, made a fist, and drew back to hit me. But when he looked me in the eye, he turned away and began to cry. I had tested his patience—maybe even broken his heart—but he could not hit me. He just turned away.
Is this similar to what happened between God and Israel? How often did they force God to turn away? How often do we force God to turn away?
Stephen Charnock, a seventeenth-century Puritan who wrote considerably on God's attributes, makes an interesting observation about God's patience by suggesting that the greatest expression of God's power is His patience. We might think His power exists in a lightning bolt or in a hurricane, an earthquake, or a tornado. While those things are indeed powerful, for God they are nothing. He could destroy the earth with the snap of His fingers. How much patience and self-control does it take to rein in such power?
We, too, must learn patience and self-control because, one day, God will give us His power to rule over the nations (Revelation 2:26-27). The apostle James tells us that our trials are designed to produce patience (James 1:3), and he goes on to say, "Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:4). If we want to be perfect as God is perfect (Matthew 5:48), we would do well to work on our patience.