So recently, we have been on a series which I’ve entitled “Imitators of Love” where we are learning the true nature of Love Himself. In it, we are looking at the way God instructs us to treat one another being the way He treats each of us. Therefore, we can look at the things He tells us to do and learn more about His loving nature because He wouldn’t instruct us to do something that He is not willing to do.
We are basing this teaching on Ephesians 5:1-2 where the bullseye of Christianity is us imitating God as His dear children. Yes, being imitators of God would encompass everything else we could ever aspire to be in Him and for Him.
We learned that this word “imitators” describes someone who “mimics, copies, or follows after” someone else. We saw how in the original King James Version, this word is used seven times and is always translated as “follower(s).” So what we are doing is mimicking, copying, and following after God’s example when we love others, do good, show mercy, forgive, etc.
We see how in verse 2, the apostle Paul used Jesus as the example of following after God—as He is the perfect example of God’s true nature. And we looked at how Jesus, the original “dear child” of God, was certainly all about His Father’s business in that He went about doing good and reflecting our Heavenly Father in both word & deed. In other words, as Jesus’ life reveals how God desires to do things, He is the best example we have for imitating God.
So what we have been doing over the past few weeks is we’ve been looking back at the last several verses in Ephesians chapter 4 and saw how Paul got to this point of summarizing with this exhortation to imitate God.
LOVE IS THIS!
Now this week, like we have been doing with these verses in Ephesians chapter 4, I would like us to begin looking at another section of Scriptures that has been traditionally used to teach us how we are to love one another – the great love chapter, First Corinthians chapter 13. Let’s look at these verses …
First Corinthians 13:4-8 teaches us how “love suffers long and is kind. (how) love does not envy; (how) love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; (how it) does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; (how it) does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; (yes, how love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Unfortunately, most of us have mainly only heard these verses expounded on at marriage ceremonies. I for one love how these verses are used in weddings because, how many of you know, a newly married couple needs to know that these are the things that love does and they will have every opportunity to practice all of these various characteristics of love in their marriage? But the sad thing is that these descriptions & characteristics of love are not just for a married couple. No, they are applicable to every Christian for any & all relationships.
But again, I want us to turn this around and teach these verses from the same perspective that we have been, in order to teach us the very characteristics of God Himself.
Again, do the Scriptures not say that God is love (See First John 4:8)? This means that in all of these characteristics where we are told love is this and love is that, we could actually substitute God for the word love. So I encourage you that as we go through these verses, read them as so: “God suffers long and is kind, He does not envy, God does not parade Himself, He is not puffed up; God does not behave rudely, He does not seek His own, He is not provoked, He thinks no evil; God does not rejoice in iniquity, but He rejoices in the truth; God bears all things, He believes all things, He hopes all things, He endures all things; God never fails …”
Yes, these verses give us a clear description of the Lord’s character and reveal to us who He truly is. So let’s go through these characteristics one by one and learn about the loving and caring nature of our heavenly Father and what it is that we are imitating …
WHAT IS LONGSUFFERING?
Now the very first thing that we see love Himself being described as is the One who “suffers long.” So, at the forefront of all of Love’s characteristics, we see that God is “longsuffering” (you might also say, “patient.”)
Now I see “suffering long” with others as one of the most telling signs of where our love is. In other words, if we want to “take our temperature” to see what level of love we are at, then we need look no further than our patience and longsuffering with others. I understand that this might be hard to swallow because for so many of us, our fuse might be very short when it comes to dealing with people who test every ounce of our patience, but the fact is, “love suffers long.” Yes, love is patient and will continue to be patient with others.
Now this certainly does not mean that if we are truly walking in love, we will have to endure any and every circumstance or people indefinitely. No, sometimes wisdom will dictate the time to remove ourselves from situations and to get out of certain relationships. So I say this to say, don’t think that you’re not walking in love because you do not continue to suffer through the situation & remove yourself from it. Sometimes that is necessary, and wisdom will show you when that time is. But what I would do is I’d suggest asking yourself in those times, am I looking to get out of this because I’m just tired of going through it or because the Lord is actually leading me to move on? Just objectively look for the love, and you won’t be led astray.
But the fact is one of the major reasons that most people don’t “suffer long” with others is because they love themselves more than they love others. Therefore, we don’t allow ourselves to suffer very long because the “me” part of me doesn’t like suffering and certainly isn’t willing to suffer very long. Amen or Oh me?
Now the phrase “suffers long” here in First Corinthians 13:4 comes from the same Greek word that is used for the fruit of the Spirit called “longsuffering.” You might be more familiar with some translations that use the word “patience” to describe this fruit, but I personally like “longsuffering” better and let me explain why …
For one, the Greek word Paul used here in Galatians 5:22 (Greek makrothumia) is translated “longsuffering” many more times than it is patience. But the main reason I like the translation “longsuffering” better as it pertains to this fruit of the Spirit is because when you do a word study of “patience” and “longsuffering,” what you find is interesting …
You see, most of the time that this word for “longsuffering” is used, it is used in connection with someone being patient with another person. However, with the word for “patience” (oftentimes the translation of the word hupomeno), it is often used in connection with being patient in circumstances. Therefore, I believe that the difference between these two Greek terms is that one (the one that is listed as a fruit of the Spirit, mind you) is patience in regard to people (i.e., makrothumia) and the other (i.e., hupomeno) is enduring circumstances. In other words, I think it is safe to assume that there is a patience that is used with people and that is called “longsuffering” and there is a patience that is used with circumstances and that is called “endurance.”
However, while longsuffering is certainly similar in nature to patience, the primary difference between these two virtues is that longsuffering keeps one from anger, wrath, etc. and patience keeps one from moving when the pressure is put on (Greek hupomeno— “staying under power”). So, longsuffering is not moved by negative emotions while patience is not moved by negative circumstances.
Now is it incorrect to say that we can be patient with people? Certainly not! But since there are different words that were used in those days to describe how one patiently endures both people and things, I believe it is important for us to have different terms in order to make a distinction. However, based on the verbiage we use in our culture today, a better translation might be “patience” because the term “longsuffering” is not a commonly used word today.
But this is where it gets interesting: As I stated already, both the fruit of the Spirit which we call “longsuffering” and this phrase from First Corinthians 13:4 (“suffers long”) come from the Greek word makrothumia and comes from two words. The prefix is makros, which simply means “long”, and the other word is thumos, which describes “passionate anger or wrath.” So, when you combine these two words together, you see a person described that takes a “long” time to get “mad,” or you could say they are slow to anger.
When it comes to makrothumia, I like to use the analogy of a stick of dynamite. But not just any ordinary stick of dynamite, but one that has a tremendously long fuse (i.e., that string that one lights on fire to ignite the dynamite). So, because its fuse is so long, you can “burn” it for a long time before it will ever “explode” on you. Therefore, the believer who is producing this virtue in his or her life is extremely “patient & forbearing” with others.
We see this described in Ephesians 4:2 when Paul says, “with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” In other words, it is with longsuffering that we bear with one another in love. So, the fruit of longsuffering enables one to bear with others because of their love for them. You see, the lack of being able to “bear” it, is a lack of longsuffering. But again, it is not bearing with them with gritted teeth; it is bearing with them in love.
Now as we look at longsuffering, it’s important that we realize that in our flesh, we are limited in how long our fuse will be. But since it is a fruit of love and of His Spirit, then that means that it comes from God and enables us to do what we never could have done on our own. No, it, like all of the fruit of the Spirit, comes from the fruit of a spiritually alive and Spirit-empowered life.
While there are certainly some things that we can do to help us become more patient with others, such as a changed perspective and a renewed focus, the fact is that if we are going to produce the fruit of God’s longsuffering, we are going to need the Lord’s help to do it.
In fact, in Colossians chapter one, Paul was praying for this church and said that he desired that they be “strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy.” (Colossians 1:11). In other words, this prayer was for the supernatural strength and power of God to be poured into a believer’s life which would enable them “for all patience and longsuffering with joy.” So, if you and I are going to produce all of the patience (for every difficult circumstance) and all of the longsuffering (for every difficult person), then we are going to need God’s strength to do it—particularly, in order to be joyful while enduring.
So, yes, it is going to take the Holy Spirit’s help in us producing this fruit to the degree that we ought. However, like I said, there is still a part we have to play in producing this fruit. Yes, in order to wear the fruit of longsuffering in my life, it is going to take a certain attitude and mentality. So, let me give you something that will help one to have the proper mindset to wearing this particular fruit:
In Matthew chapter 18, we see in Jesus’ Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, how the servant goes from asking his master to be longsuffering with him to then hearing his brother pleading the same from him and showing no patience with him (See Matthew 18:26&29).
What we can gather from this is that one of the reasons we don’t “suffer long” with others is because we are not being mindful to how “longsuffering” God has been with us. Therefore, it helps me to cultivate the ground of my heart for this fruit by consciously remembering how patient the Lord has been with me and the great debt He has dismissed in my own personal life.
The apostle Paul understood this well: In First Timothy 1:16, he described his life & ministry as showing all of God’s longsuffering in order to teach all who would turn to Christ after him how longsuffering God will be with them. In other words, God’s own longsuffering in his life propelled Paul into a state of being longsuffering himself (Compare Second Timothy 3:10).
So, both being the receiver of God’s patience and living in the awareness of how much He has suffered long with us is a key to cultivating the ground of our heart. Which leads me to the main point of what the Holy Spirit wants us to see today …
So we are not just talking about how we to imitate God’s longsuffering ourselves, but how He Himself is the epitome of longsuffering …
We see this mention of God’s longsuffering a lot in Peter’s letters. And why do you suppose that might be? I bet it was because Peter was a man who was in desperate need of this longsuffering nature of God, and he knew he had received a lot of God’s patience. Amen? How many other “Peters” do we have out there?
In First Peter 3:20, he describes how it was “divine longsuffering” (i.e., God’s patience) that had Him wait in the days of Noah before bringing the flood on the earth.
Now I think sometimes we make the mistake of seeing God as quickly judging the world during the days of Noah, but I want you to understand that while we might read about this event in one chapter of the Bible, the entire timetable that led up to this was much longer than it seems by just reading Moses’ account of it.
You see, we do not know how long it had taken to get this bad on the earth before God even called Noah to build the ark. I’d assume it was hundreds of years of wickedness before the Lord made the final decision to flood the earth. Not only that, but the Lord even gave them an additional 120 years (the amount of time that most believe it took Noah to build the ark) before judging the world. In this “long” period of time, we are also told that Noah was preaching the truth.
So, in the flood, where God judged the world for the wickedness in it, God certainly waited for hundreds of years, showing great longsuffering in doing what needed to be done.
And in Second Peter 3:9, the apostle of hope talked about how this same longsuffering is on display with us today: He said, “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.”
The apostle Peter goes on, in this chapter, to describe this “longsuffering” of God as the grace & mercy He gives us until His Second Coming. So, like it was in the days of Noah, the human race is still here, and the Judgment has been staved off because our God suffers long!
We are familiar with a lot of this in our nation, aren’t we? It is clear that we are living in a world that is getting more perverse and twisted than we’ve seen it in our lifetime. And I’ve even heard many Christians question why this world continues to exist, and desire to leave this lost & perverse generation. But do you know things continue in this direction with God seemingly doing nothing to stop it? It’s because as Peter teaches us here, God is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
You see, those who are ready for the end to come are missing a very important point. And that is, that there are currently billions of lost people on this planet that Jesus came to die for. So, if Jesus were to return today, then all of those lost people will be condemned. Therefore, if we love people more than we hate the way the world is going, we too will pray for God’s longsuffering and patience on this world.
Isn’t the Lord described in the Scriptures as being “slow to anger”? In fact, I counted that, in the Old Testament alone, there are at least nine times that He is described this way. That’s a lot, church!
And this is not our version of doing something slowly either. For instance, in the Book of Revelation, Jesus said, “Behold I am coming quickly!” right? Now He said that how long ago? Around 2,000 years, right? So, if 2,000-plus years is God doing something “quickly,” what is Him doing something “slowly”? Selah.
Yes, God in His longsuffering has given each of us much more grace & mercy than we can comprehend. The fact is, if it were not for this “divine longsuffering,” many of us would not even still be here. The very fact that you and I are able to gather together today is proof of God’s patience. He has certainly suffered long with each and every one of us. Amen? He is incredibly slow to anger!
Finally, Romans 2:4 also describes this “divine longsuffering” when Paul said, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”
We see in this verse that things like God’s kindness, forbearance & longsuffering are the fruit of His goodness. And the point Paul was making right here was that when we bear this fruit, it leads others to change. Thus, the importance of bearing the fruit of longsuffering: it helps others change.
For example, Peter talked about how this is one of the ways a wife can win her husband to the Lord (see First Peter 3:1-2)—by the fruit she’s producing in her life. So, do you suppose if I bear the fruit of longsuffering in my life, it might help convert someone? I guarantee you it can—for it’s the manifestation of God’s goodness (in us and through us) that leads man to repentance.
But what about God’s longsuffering with us? What do you think happens if we behold it? I guarantee you that it too will change us—and to a much greater degree.
This is why I believe Paul was encouraging us not to “despise” the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering. It’s because if we don’t value things like God’s longsuffering, it won’t change us. Let’s let His longsuffering change us, church! Let’s behold the beauty of His patience with us and learn to “suffer long” with others ourselves!