Patience

Original Date: 
Sunday, May 20, 2018

1 Corinthians 13:4-5 and other scriptures The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

A World of Impatience
Some of you might remember the comedian Yakov Smirnoff. He was an immigrant from Russia during the Cold War who did stand-up with a heavy Russian accent and a lot of jokes about the difference between the United States and the communist Soviet Union.

He did a bit about the first time he went into an American grocery store and was overwhelmed by the variety of instant products available on the shelves. He said: “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk -- you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice -- you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to my self: ‘What a country!’”

We live in an instant world. We drive fast cars. We eat fast food. We live in the fast lane. We want it now. When our computers or phones take more than 2 or 3 seconds to load a webpage, we complain about slow wi-fi. When we have to wait in line behind more than one person at the grocery store check-out, we complain about there not being enough checkers on duty. When we finish streaming a season of our favorite TV show, we complain that we have to wait so long for the next season to be available.

One old story tells of a judge who was in a benevolent mood as he questioned a prisoner. “What are you charged with?” he asked. “Doing my Christmas shopping early," replied the defendant. “That's no offense,” said the judge. “How early were you doing this shopping?” “Before the store opened,” countered the prisoner.

Few of us will go to those extremes to satisfy our desire to “get it now,” but we know what we want and we wish we could have it yesterday. We don't like to wait. We live in a world of impatience.

If Apple Trees Produce Apples, what do Christians Produce?
If you haven’t been here the last couple of weeks, let me catch you up on what we’re doing. We’re in a series of messages on the Fruit of the Spirit. This is based on a passage in Galatians 5 that goes like this:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Basically, the Bible is saying that if the Spirit is present in your life, then these characteristics will become increasingly evident. Apple trees produce apples. Orange trees produce oranges. And Christian trees produce love, joy, peace, forbearance, and so on.

And today, we’re talking about the fourth item on that list: “forbearance.” Or, “patience.”

Now, let me say a little bit about word choice. The verses that I am putting on the screen come from the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, 2011 edition. That is the only edition of the NIV that you can find online. The Bibles that are in your pews are the NIV, 1984 edition. The differences between them are not that significant, essentially the 2011 edition was an effort to update our English usage and use more gender-neutral pronouns when possible.

But here, we see what I find to be an unusual change. The 1984 edition uses the word “patience.” That’s the same as the daily prayer card we are using to pray for the fruits of the spirit to ripen in our lives. But the 2011 edition, which is supposed to use more up-to-date English, uses the word “forbearance”, which I consider to be a more old-fashioned word.
Both are good translations of what Paul is talking about here, and I’ll talk more about the word forbearance in a bit; but I am going to use what I believe is the more common word—“patience” through most of this sermon.

So what is the fruit of patience?

What is Patience?
Most of us, I think, when we hear the word “patience” think of someone trying to wait calmly for something they wish would hurry up and get there. Like a fisherman hunched motionless over a line in the water, waiting for a big strike. Or a hunter in a tree stand, waiting for the perfect buck to wander into range. Or kids in the backseat of the van trying not to ask “Are we there yet?” as their family heads for an amusement park.

That’s one way we think of the word patience: trying to wait calmly for something we are eager to experience. It can be a picture of barely contained enthusiasm.

But there’s another side to patience, a tougher grittier side. The word “patience” also describes how we hang in there when we’re waiting for something difficult to change. Patience is a willingness to stick around even when things aren’t going our way.

A theological dictionary I looked in this week defines patience as the prolonged restraint of anger or agitation. Patience implies that you have the right to be angry or upset, but that you choose to restrain yourself.

We live in a fallen world. Things don’t work the way they should, machines break down, lines form where they aren’t necessary, it rains on the day of our picnic, and more.
Living in a fallen, broken world requires patience. Things don’t always go our way.

Living in relationships also requires patience.

Because not only is our world broken, so are we. We are not as we should be. We sin against each other.

And that means people will disappoint us. They will offend us. They will rub us the wrong way. They will hurt us. They will injure us.

And when that happens, how will we react? What does a Christ-follower do when sinned against?

1 Corinthians 13 is the Bible’s famous love chapter. It talks how important it is for us to love others, and it gives a list of behaviors that exhibit love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 is a part of that list, and the first thing you’ll notice is that it starts with patience:

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

The Bible says, “Love is patient.” Love will continue to care for a person in spite of the pain he or she may be causing.

A little later, in verse 5, the list says that love “is not easily angered.” And I think that makes a pretty good definition of patience, as well. People who are patient are not short tempered. They do not give in easily to feelings of annoyance or aggravation.

Love is not touchy. Love is not waiting for an offense, real or imagined, at which to blow up. Love suffers injuries without the need for retaliation. When you are practicing patient love you give up the need to express anger at every slight that comes your way.

Here's where we can talk about that word: “forbearance.” Forbearance means you forfeit your right to be angry. You bear the burden of your annoyance quietly. You put up with things that are off-putting. You bear with people’s flaws and faults and failures.

As I said earlier, forbearance is a rather old-fashioned word, but it is a good word. It is one we should use more often. We should make the effort to forbear one another’s sins.
Another old-fashioned word is “long-suffering”. That’s what the King James Version uses in the Fruit of the Spirit passage. It means that you are willing to suffer something you would rather not experience. It means sticking with it for a long time. It means having the inner strength to choose to stay with someone or something when it would be much easier to leave.

That’s patience: the prolonged restraint of irritation or anger. It is not easily angered. It forbears. It is long-suffering.

More than just holding your enthusiasm while waiting for the roller-coasters, patience is restraining yourself even when you have the right to be upset. It is choosing to live indefinitely with circumstances we hate.

What Patience Is Not
As I said earlier, there is a toughness and a grittiness to patience. For us to display this fruit of the Spirit in our lives, then, we must continue to put up with the pain caused by the actions of those we love. We must practice forbearance toward people when they are difficult to live with. We must ignore little wrongs and forgive big ones. We must show prolonged restraint.

Living like this doesn’t come easy. In fact, in a way, it doesn’t even sound healthy. The way the Bible describes patience makes it sound like it could be downright dangerous.

And so, I need to point out that there is a limit to love’s patience. The call to love patiently doesn’t mean we turn into doormats who allow people to walk all over us.

One preacher writes: “Patience means suffering with and for those whom we love. It means enduring many things, even enduring all things without giving up, but it does not mean enduring all things for all time.” (David Bast, What Love is Like, p. 30)

I think a key word in 1 Corinthians 13 is the word “easily.” As in, “love is not easily angered.” The Bible does not say that love never gets angry. In some times and some places, anger is called for. Righteous anger. Anger that stands up when people are being cruelly and wrongfully hurt. Including yourself.

Sometimes, the only loving thing to do is to become angry. To stand up for justice and truth and to draw boundaries to prevent further hurt. Suffering long is not the same as suffering endlessly. There come moments when suffering must stop.

But, for the most part, and in most cases, Christians should practice patience first. For most of us, in most of our relationships, what we need is less easy-anger and more forbearance.

Where Patience Comes from
The question will arise: Why be patient at all? Even if we are not willing to suffer forever, why should we be willing to suffer at all? Our natural instinct is not patience. It’s having things our way, right now. Margaret Thatcher once said: “I’m an extraordinarily patient person, provided I get my own way in the end.” A lot of us feel that way. So why be patient?
The answer is: because this is the way God loves us.

Do you realize how patient God is? The Psalms say that the Lord is “slow to anger” (Psalm 103:8), and that word in the Greek Old Testament is the same word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians for patience. God has the right to be angry and agitated with us, and yet He chooses restraint.

The question is often asked, Why doesn’t God just do away with all the evil in the world? He could just strike the terrorists dead before they get their bombs or guns anywhere close to anyone else. He could wipe out the murderers and the rapists. A lot of atheists say this is the reason they don’t believe in God—because, they say, if God really existed and was really good, then He’d get rid of all the evil and this world would be a better place.

But there’s a flaw in that argument, and the flaw is this: doing away with all the suffering in the world would involve doing away with every person who helps to contribute to it. And that includes the atheist, and that includes you and that includes me. The Christian writer Dorothy Sayers wrote:

The next time you’re tempted to ask, ‘Why didn’t God stop this tragedy from happening?’ you might just as well ask, ‘Why didn’t God strike me dead last week before I did that hurtful thing?’ (Quoted by Bast, 31)

The reason He doesn’t do away with all evil is that He is longsuffering toward his wayward creatures.

And He is this way for a specific reason. The Bible says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

God is patient with a purpose. He is not simply putting up with everything indefinitely. There will be a limit to his patience. Some day he too will say, “That’s enough!” Only perfect love knows when, but that day is coming.

But until that time, God’s patience is the time love gives for us to change, to repent, to believe, and to become new creatures in Christ.

That’s the toughness, the grittiness of God’s patience. It’s a patience that comes with hope. That bears with us so that we can become new.

And that’s the way we are called to treat each other: a patient love that believes that—even if I’m angry or agitated now—things can and will get better. A tenacious patience that holds on to the hope that we can, indeed, get along again.

Cultivating Patience
Now, I want to talk about how to cultivate patience. If this is a fruit of the Spirit, then we ought to be working on growing more of it in our lives. We can’t create patience within us, it’s a gift from God. But we can cultivate the conditions in which patience can flourish.

There’s an old joke that says you should never pray for patience, because God will respond by sending you trial. But what I have particularly in mind is how we can cultivate patience with those we love. So I have 5 suggestions for developing loving patience.

  1. First, don’t be surprised. Don’t be surprised that people will sometimes do things to hurt you.

I think it is comical the way we will sometimes react when somebody does something to hurt us. It’s like: “I can’t believe she did something like that.” We act shocked that sinful people sometimes sin against us.

But the Bible is pretty clear: everybody sins. Ecclesiastes 7:20:

“There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”

Everybody sins. And that means, sometimes people are going to sin against us.

We are, for the most part, pretty understanding of our own flaws. We’ll let somebody down or say something cruel, and then we’ll excuse it by saying: “Well…nobody’s perfect.” What about extending the same understanding to others?

Even Prince Charming and Snow White will occasionally annoy each other. “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” Don’t be surprised that people will sometimes hurt you. The person who loves sees himself as imperfect and extends the same consideration to others.

  1. Second, don’t go looking for trouble. Don’t go looking for trouble, or you’ll probably find it.

Proverbs 11:27 says:

“He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it.”

And Ecclesiastes 7:21 says:

“Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you—for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others.”

The point is: if you want to be offended, you won’t have to look far before it happens. If you’re overly sensitive, you’ll read a slight into every casual remark and every strange look. You’ll find yourself convinced the guy who changed lanes without his blinker was really trying to wreck you; or the gal who forgot your ketchup packet at the fast food drive-thru is really trying to ruin your day.

But, if you stop looking for trouble, you might just find that those things really didn’t mean anything at all.

  1. Third, don’t rush to judgment. Don’t allow yourself to be easily angered.

Put a safety on your hair trigger temper. Practice self-control.

Proverbs 29:11 says:

“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”

And James 1:19 advises:

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

How many times have we gotten angry fast, only to find out that we were wrong about what was happening? I’m embarrassed to think about how many times my voice has started to rise with Beth or my kids before I knew the whole story.

Snap judgments are usually wrong judgments.

We have to discipline ourselves to wait before getting angry. The old trick is to count to 10 before saying anything. Some of us would probably do better to count to 1000.

Keep your anger under control. Get all the facts. Put your anger in perspective before you allow it out. If you do, you might find that you aren’t all that angry anymore.

  1. Fourth, shrug it off. Sometimes, even when an offense against us is real, it is better to simply shrug it off.

Proverbs 19:11:

“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”

We need to learn to distinguish between intentional and unintentional hurts, between consequential and inconsequential slights. Because, the truth of the matter is, though people will often sin against us, it isn’t always that big of a deal. In a lot of cases, the relationship can continue unhindered if we just shrug it off.

Again, not that I’m advocating people becoming doormats who passively accept every evil thrown their way. That’s not what I’m saying.

But I am saying that sometimes we need to count the cost of addressing a wrong that has been done to us.

Another Proverb:

“Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” (17:14)

We have to ask: “Is it worth it for me to suffer a quarrel right now? Do I want to deal with the flood of problems a dispute is bound to bring my way? Sometimes, confronting a wrong done to us leads to more problems than simply letting it go.

If you can go on without the relationship truly being hindered, then you can learn to overlook a lot of offenses.

  1. My fifth and final suggestion for increasing patience then, is this: Stock up on Jesus. Stock up on Jesus and you’ll find it much easier to be a patient person.

The closer we are to Jesus, the more slow to anger we will be. The more we follow His example and the more we let His Spirit dwell in us, the more we’ll be filled with patience towards others.
When we are walking in fellowship with Him, we remember that God has been slow to anger with us. We remember that we need grace and we are prepared to extend that grace to others. When we are close to Jesus we lose the insecurity that sees an insult behind every word spoken to us. When we are close to Jesus we find it easier to let things go.

A Final Picture
Jesus tells a story that illustrates the patience God shows to us, and also challenges us to be patient with each other. It’s a story we sometimes call the “Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” and it’s found in Matthew 18.

The story is about a man who owes the king an enormous amount of money. He is unable to pay, and so the king orders that he and his wife and his children and all that he has be sold to repay the debt. But the man pleads with the king. He falls on his knees and he says: “Be patient with me.”

That’s the word Jesus uses, patient. The man pleads for patience, and the king—though he has the right to be angry and agitated—chooses restraint. Not only is he patient, the king forgives the man’s entire debt.

But then the servant goes out and looks up a fellow servant who owes him a very small amount of money. This second servant also finds himself unable to pay, and so he too falls on his knees and begs “Be patient with me.” Once again, our word.

But now, the servant who has been shown so much patience refuses to show any patience himself. He has his fellow servant thrown into prison until he can pay off the debt.
And you, of course, know how the story ends. The king finds out about all this and he changes his mind. He has this ungrateful servant thrown into jail and tortured until he is able to pay back all that he owes.

And, of course, you know the point: we have received a great deal of patience from the hand of God. In His selfless love our Heavenly Father has restrained Himself a great deal where we are concerned. And so, it follows that we who are bearing the fruit of His Spirit will show such restraint to those around us.

That’s our challenge today: to be patient with each other the way God has been patient with us. Let’s have our hearts so stocked up with Jesus that we are patient and long-suffering and forbearing and slow to anger with everyone we meet.