The Patience of God
Note: This is the LAST post in the current series of posts related to the attributes of God (a total of 12 posts, including this one). Here are the links to the previous posts (Why Study the Attributes of God, The Holiness of God, The Power of God, The Presence of God, The Knowledge of God, The Fatherhood of God, The Love of God, The Wisdom of God, The Wrath of God, The Sovereignty of God).
When God revealed himself to Moses, he proclaimed his attributes in this way, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” [Ex 34:6]. Did you notice that phrase, “slow to anger?” That is the definition of God’s patience. It is that attribute of God whereby he does not punish people right away but often withholds his judgment, even for an extended period of time.
A. W. Pink, in his book titled, “Attributes of God,” quotes Stephen Charnock’s words on God’s patience in this manner: “It is a part of the Divine goodness and mercy, yet differs from both. God being the greatest goodness, hath the greatest mildness; mildness is always the companion of true goodness, and the greater the goodness, the greater the mildness. Who so holy as Christ, and who so meek? God’s slowness to anger is a branch of His mercy: “the Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger” (Ps. 145:8)” [Kindle Edition, Locations 838-843].
References to God’s Patience in the Old Testament.
Numbers 14:18 “The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.”
Psalm 86:15 “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
Psalm 103:8 “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”
Psalm 145:8 “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”
Even Jonah, while explaining why he ran away from God’s command to preach to the Ninevites, highlights God’s patience as the reason for his disobedience. “He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” [Jon 4:2].
In other words, Jonah, a prophet, knew about God’s patience and that he would forgive even the wicked Ninevites if they would repent. He did not want them to be forgiven. So, he refused to preach the gospel to them—until God made him obey his command! This clearly shows that God’s patience, coupled with his love for sinners, caused him to forgive the wicked Ninevites. The prophet Nahum also, while preaching to the Ninevites many years later, wrote about God’s patience as he called them to repentance, “The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished” [Nah 1:3]!
To those who say the God of the Old Testament is only a punishing God and rarely shows love, these verses mentioned above stand as a rebuke. What patience God showed to people who sinned over long periods!
References to God’s Patience in the New Testament.
When we come to the New Testament, we find several references that highlight God’s patience.
Romans 2:4 “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
1 Timothy 1:16 “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”
Paul, after stating, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” [1 Tim 1:15], went on to say that even though he was the worst of sinners, “for that very reason I was shown mercy.” Why? This way, Jesus would be able to “display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” In other words, if God was so patient with Paul, who fought so much against Christ and yet saved him, will he not also save other sinners—if they by faith accept his offer of eternal life?
Peter also refers to God’s patience in the past during the time when the ark was being built, “God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water” [1 Pet 3:20]. In his immense patience, God waited for over 100 years for people to repent and thus avoid his judgment. He could have killed them all right away for their wickedness. Yet, it was his patience that held back the judgment for such a long time—even though he knew they would not repent [Gen 6:13, 18]!
Paul says something very similar in Romans 9:22, where he mentions, “God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction.” He is patient even with people who will ultimately face his wrath and face destruction for failing to turn to him in repentance. It is incredible when we pause and think about God’s patience toward those who will, in the final analysis, still reject him!
So, what, then, are the implications of this attribute of God in our lives?
For the Christian:
We are to exhibit patience in our relationships with one another. That is the main implication.
Often, we are so quick to get angry with people. Such an attitude, at times, leads to retaliation in hurtful ways because we feel hurt. Yet, the Bible repeatedly calls us to pursue patience [being slow to get angry] in our relationships with one another.
Proverbs 19:11 “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
1 Corinthians 13:4 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”
Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Ephesians 4:2 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
1 Thessalonians 5:14 “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
Peter reminds believers of God’s patience toward his own as he waits for them to come to repentance through these words, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” [2 Pet 3:9].
By constantly reflecting on how patient God was with us before we came to him and is still patient with us—who fail him so often after becoming his children, we too can develop a spirit of patience when dealing with people—even the most difficult ones when they sin against us! We don’t need to seek revenge even if we are repeatedly insulted or overlooked. As Solomon wisely advised, “it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” [Prov 19:11]!
Chrysostom, a church leader from the past, said that “a patient man is one who, having the resources and opportunity to avenge himself, chooses to refrain from the exercise of these.”
No one treated Lincoln with more contempt than Edwin Stanton, who denounced Lincoln’s policies and called him a “low cunning clown.” Stanton had nicknamed him “the original gorilla.” He said that explorer Paul Du Chaillu was a fool to wander about in Africa trying to capture a gorilla when he could have found one easily in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln said nothing in reply. In fact, he made Stanton his war minister because Stanton was the best man for the job. He treated him with every courtesy. The years wore on.
The night came when an assassin’s bullet struck down Lincoln in a theatre. In a room off to the side where Lincoln’s body was taken stood Stanton that night. As he looked down on the silent, rugged face of the President, Stanton said through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.”
The patience of love had conquered in the end, as Romans 12:21 reminds us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God is so patient even with the wicked who continually mock him. Should we not imitate him by being patient with those who hurt us? Like Father, like children! That’s the goal!
How can we develop patience?
It is important to remember that we cannot produce this patience on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to work this attribute of patience in our lives. One of the characteristics of the “fruit of the Spirit is…forbearance [patience]“ [Gal 5:22-23]. When we live a life of submission to the Holy Spirit [which is basically living a life of obedience to the Scriptures], he [i.e., the Holy Spirit] produces the fruit of patience in us. That’s the path to keep developing and displaying a spirit of patience in our relationships with one another.
For the Non-Christian:
God’s patience in dealing with sinners is seen in that he waited nearly a century for people to repent. He gave them multiple opportunities to repent as he used Noah, “a preacher of righteousness” [2 Pet 2:5], to repeatedly call them to turn from their sins and turn to him in faith.
Yet, when they failed to repent, God did judge them. In the same way, as God displays his patience toward you, his intention is for you to repent, as Paul reminds us in Romans 2:4, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
Just because you are not judged today, do not be deceived into thinking you will never be judged in the future. If you have such a thought, here is a warning from Ecclesiastes 8:11-14, “11 When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong. 12 Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him. 13 Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.”
Friend, just because all is well today, don’t assume all will be well tomorrow as well! If you don’t turn to God and trust in his Son Jesus Christ, “it will not go well” for you, as Ecclesiastes 8:13 teaches. Eternal judgment awaits you. I say this with a broken heart. But these are true words. You need to take them seriously.
The same patient God who is long-suffering and slow to anger is also a God of wrath [see this post titled The Wrath of God]. He will judge all who reject his Son. His patience has limits. If you continue to harden your heart and spurn his patience toward you, this is what is in store for you, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed” [Rom 2:5].
Please don’t mistake God’s patience as God’s pleasure towards you. As long as you live a life of rebellion to his commands, he is not pleased with you. So, please turn from your sins and turn to Christ today!
NOTE: Click HERE for the related audio sermon that goes into greater detail concerning this attribute.