“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
John Cameron Swayze crowned a long career in news and television work with a series of commercials he did for Timex watches. After subjecting a wristwatch to brutal treatment, he would retrieve it (from the hole in which it had been buried, the building they had just blown up, whatever), hold it up to the camera, and observe, “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
That’s you. That’s me. That’s the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When we do it right.
The Lord told His followers that as a result of their identification with Him they were most definitely going to “take a licking.” In one passage, for instance, where we are commanded to love our enemies, Jesus said we can expect to be hated, cursed, threatened, and spitefully used. If we are struck on the cheek–that sounds like a licking to me!–we are to turn the other to our assailant. If someone steals our cloak, we are to offer our tunic also. (Luke 6:27-30)
In order to love the person who hits me, hates me, curses me, and forcibly takes what is mine, I am going to be needing one resource that does not come as standard equipment with the human animal: restraint.
The Greek word “makrothumia” is literally “long-tempered.” (makros = long; thumos = temper) Various translations call it longsuffering, as well as forbearance and patience.
Let’s stick with “longsuffering.” That word says it as well as any.
Longsuffering is self-restraint. When being provoked, one does not lose control and dish out the same kind of treatment he/she has received.
Perhaps a good way to emphasize what the word means is by thinking of its opposites. Here is my short list of the reverse image of longsuffering.
The opposite of longsuffering is to lose one’s temper.
We were in seminary, in the third year of our marriage. I have no idea what we were discussing or arguing about, only that tempers were flaring. In a rage, I put my fist through the wall.
The fact that we were living in seminary housing brought me to my senses quickly. We would have to report the (ahem) accident in order for someone to repair it. We did, they did, and nothing was ever said. Later, I wondered if this sort of thing happened with enough regularity that the maintenance office had learned not to inquire further.
That was a wakeup call for me. Suddenly I became fully aware of the danger of my uncontrolled temper.
In praying about this, the Lord impressed on me that the remedy is the fruit of the Spirit. To get control of one’s temper, it is not necessary to take courses in self-control, only to grow in the Lord and let His Spirit bear His fruit in my life.
The opposite of longsuffering is to retaliate.
The driver on the interstate treated you like you were invisible. He pulled right in front of you, then slowed down. Then, if that wasn’t enough, when you changed lanes, he changed too. You can’t get rid of this guy. Boy, would you like to give him a piece of your mind! Don’t. He’s not a good candidate for a brain transplant, you’re no surgeon, and the highway is no operating room.
Another time, the driver in front of you stops at the red light. You seriously think about getting out and walking up and informing her that she just breezed through a school zone at 35 mph. Or, that the speed limit in your neighborhood–where she just emerged from–is 20 mph and she was doing twice that.
Longsuffering means a lot of things, including not trying to teach foolish drivers lessons in law. They need to be taught, it’s true. But you are not the one to do it.
We all get angry at wrong-doers. What we do with our anger says volumes about us. Repay no one evil for evil…. Do not avenge yourselves…. Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord (Romans 12:17-19).
The opposite of longsuffering is impatience under hardship.
You have an irritating mother-in-law? a next-door neighbor who is driving you nuts? a church member who is constantly making demands upon you?
Welcome to the human race.
Everyone has someone who does that. It’s life. If you deal with one trouble-maker in your life, turn around and it’s someone else.
Better to learn how to deal with them.
How to deal with troublesome situations and people. In other words, the essence of longsuffering.
1. Welcome the troublemaker.
You might as well. They’re coming on in, whether you let them or not. So, change your attitude. See them as potential blessings God sends your way.
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad….” (Matthew 5:11-12)
2. Offer it to the Lord. See what He can make of it.
In the rest of the passage cited just above, Jesus said, “…for great is your reward in Heaven.”
Any temporary difficulty we can endure here that will result in eternal reward there must be considered a blessing. Remember the promise: For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (II Corinthians 4:17).
No wonder we read about the early disciples: So (the apostles) departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts 5:41).
3. Endure. Stay on the job. Do not quit.
Twice in II Corinthians 4, the Apostle Paul gives us reasons for not quitting. In verse 1, Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. Here are two great motivations for hanging tough: MINISTRY–we have a great work to do. And MERCY–we have been forgiven and dealt with in a merciful way.
In verse 16: Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. We do not walk away from the place where the Lord has assigned us because He is at work within us, making us stronger and stronger on the inside.
4. Learn to wait quietly.
No one likes to hear a whiner, particularly in the Kingdom of God. Anyone who has served the Lord for a generation or longer has heard his full quota of church members who call attention to how faithfully they served the Lord under adverse conditions and how the Lord did nothing to alleviate things and how they know their reward in heaven will be something special.
I have long enjoyed David’s testimony: I waited patiently for the Lord and He… heard my cry. He brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps (Psalm 40:1-2) David was waiting, he says, but he was crying at the same time.
Okay, we understand it. Sometimes we wait and cry. No one who endured Hitler’s or Stalin’s concentration camps for years on end can be faulted for crying to the Lord during their long wait.
But don’t brag about it. And don’t complain to others about the long wait and your wonderful record of persevering.
The Lord sees. He will reward. And that will be enough for you.
Let us not leave this subject without reminding ourselves that God Himself is longsuffering.
According to Exodus 34:6, it’s His nature to be that way. We can give thanks. I Peter 3:20 speaks of His longsuffering in the days of Noah.
Best of all is II Peter 3:9. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
John MacArthur writes on this passage: “God has an immense capacity for patience before He breaks forth in judgment (cf.v.15; Joel 2:13; Luke 15:20; Rom. 9:22; I Pet. 3:15). God endures endless blasphemies against His name, along with rebellion, murders, and the ongoing breaking of His law, waiting patiently while He is callling and redeeming His own. It is not impotence or slackness that delays final judgment; it is patience.”
No wonder Peter writes that we should consider the longsuffering of the Lord as our salvation (II Peter 3:15).
To summarize, then, the longsuffering disciple simply believes in Jesus Christ and is willing to leave ultimate matters to God.
What could be simpler?
Oh, that it were easy.