A Tempered Temper – The Art of Suffering Long9 min read
When was the last time you appreciated it when an acquaintance angrily snapped at you simply because of a misunderstanding of your words? When have you rejoiced over someone’s folding under the pressure of a trial? On the other hand, how can we not have joy in our hearts when we see a faithful believer endure until the end of his life, despite the difficulties he experienced? We as believers appreciate long-suffering. It is that which allows us to bear pressures with faithfulness. It is that which lengthens our fuse as it were so that we might be mild in our reaction rather than unreasonable. The sign of a godly believer is one who controls his emotions and temper, for the God Who works in us is One Who never overreacts but exercises Himself in perfect consistency.
God as the Example
Romans 2:4 “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” 1 Peter 3:20 “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” 2 Peter 3:9,15 “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance… And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation….”
For a moment, aside from all the difficulty in bearing with circumstances and difficult people, are you not thankful as a believer that God was long-suffering with you? Are you not thankful that God is long-suffering with your unsaved contacts and family? Though we long to see our Lord return, we are also thankful for the measure of grace He gives in that He awaits precious souls and their salvation. These men that scoff at the Lord’s coming should take a step back and consider that He is waiting for them to be saved. Such is the mercy God has on rebels. Now we need to ask ourselves, if it is the power of this God working long-suffering within is, should not our standard be the same as His?
Long-suffering with People
Ephesians 4:2 – “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This verse presents a general attitude toward long-suffering and brings a comprehensive overview of it before us. Notice:
- The Example of long-suffering: Paul the prisoner, who still was concerned about others in spite of his chains. He endured them for a higher goal.
- The Necessity of long-suffering: it is consistent with our call.
- The Associates of Long-suffing: lowliness and meekness. One cannot endure unless he sees a purpose outside of and higher than himself.
- The Means of long-suffering: forbearing one another in love.
- The Motivation of long-suffering: a keeping of proper unity and peace.
This Ephesian passage is a general description of what it is to be long-spirited. Yet we see a more specific aspect of it in 2 Timothy 4 – what it means to be long-suffering in the spiritual progress of others. Verse 2 says “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering [endurance] and doctrine.” The reason is given after: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” Teaching is a long-term thing. With a long-term view in mind – which includes the general preservation of the assembly – teachers amongst God’s people must be consistent, appropriate, and properly paced in their teaching. To be flippant and expecting immediate results will yield undue grief. But whether with an individual to pray for and teach, a child to train, or with an entire assembly, God demands patience. Teaching will bear its fruit: in time. Are we willing to invest time into eternal souls? This is one very essential aspect to long-suffering as pertaining to people.
But now we come to the harder question: “Are we willing to invest time into eternal souls that resist us? Are we willing to labor for a right relationship with that person?” Colossians 3 says “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Before, we saw God as our model of long-suffering in His grace toward sinners. Now we see another model: “even as Christ forgave you.” It points out the extent of our forbearance and forgiveness: how long did Christ bear with our sin before He retaliated? At what point did our sin become so great that He said “I can’t forgive this”? These are questions we need to answer in our own hearts. But not only is the extent of forbearance shown: we are shown to be without excuse as to this subject. Why? Because we were once in the same place as those we are obligated to bear with, except worse. “Christ forgave you.” Should any more be said?
Long-suffering with Circumstances
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter…. 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; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh….Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. – James 5:5-11
At this point, one could wonder if this is not the most difficult aspect of long-suffering that we could consider. After all, we can run from people, but not from circumstances. Certain things cannot just unhappen, and we know that. What we do find ourselves ignorant of is usually how we are going to deal with those certain things.
Notice what James says not to do, which is actually a consequence of failing to endure. “Don’t live for pleasure.” Times of struggle in our minds are perfect for becoming more loose in our convictions, less active in the assembly, more enticed by what the world offers, etc. “Since God has not been good to me,” by our reasoning “I don’t have to be good to God.” Really? That is actually a form of mild atheism and contradicts everything we claim to believe. While we may not verbalize such thoughts, do we not find ourselves living as if we did? Actions speak louder than words. Obviously with this case we want to avoid both the words and the actions. What does God have to say? Notice what He points us to
- The Ultimate Prospect: “The Coming of the Lord.” There is a sense in which we need to live day-by-day, concentrating on one thing at a time so we do not become insane as we struggle to solve all the world’s problems at once. But in another sense, God calls us to look as far forward as we can, that is, to the coming of the Lord. Why? It reminds us of our solid foundation. While circumstances change, an anchor on this truth will establish our hearts. Such an outlook keeps us on our toes as it were; thus we will not see it an option to loosen our grip on spiritual things, because there will not be enough time for that. The Lord is coming! We can’t afford anything less than to work like we mean it.
- The Ultimate Purpose: “Precious fruits.” We live in a world that wants quantity, quality, and quickness all at the same time. We’ve learned, however, that all three cannot be had simultaneously. One must sacrifice speed and quantity for quality. Or one must sacrifice quality for speed and quantity. For us, we are promised “precious fruits” – both rich in value and in amount. But such can only come by endurance. If we think that somehow we can bypass the natural course of things in terms of seeing results, we are sadly mistaken. God promises abundance. But He also promises that we only reap what we sow. And adding to that, He promises that reaping will take time. So then, dear believer, think it to be a normal thing that waiting is part of your life: that is exactly how “precious fruits” are reaped. Anything else will yield useless, mutilated fruit. We must endure.
- The Ultimate Product: “We count them happy.” Even though endurance is long-term, it does not mean we cannot rejoice at the present. Endurance isn’t about “hanging on by our fingernails.” It’s about understanding that our circumstances are part of a bigger picture and finding joy in that we have a part in it. James doesn’t say “We count them happy which have made it.” Not at all: “We count them who are enduring” Are you enduring? Are you happy?
- The Ultimate Pattern: “Take, my brethren, the prophets… Ye have heard of the patience of Job.” Obviously we aren’t the only ones who have experienced the need for long-suffering. But for some reason we think that while we are not the only ones going through trial, we are the only ones who will not benefit from it. History says otherwise. The prophets, for example, have been referred to. What did they have to endure? Perhaps the term “Captivity” rings a bell. Lamentations is Jeremiah’s expression of grief in the midst of it, and after reading it one cannot but say “He was the weeping prophet.” Of all people he would have thought that hope was completely gone. Yet in chapter 3 he says “Thy mercies are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.” In glory he now sees the full implications of that statement and in no way regrets saying that. What about Job? He had long-term grief. Was it worth it for Him? At the end of it all he said “I have heard thee with the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee.” In Heaven he will tell you that he was happy to endure. That then leave us with this question to ourselves: “Has God forgotten to be gracious?” We know the answer. Perhaps it is worth it to endure after all.