Patience is a much needed commodity in the fast paced world in which we now live.  Our world has sped up.  Thanks to tremendous developments in technology we now have the world at our finger tips.  There has been research done over the past decade that indicates technology might actually be changing our brains! Nicholas Carr, in his 2011 book The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, makes the case that our use of the Internet has impaired our ability to think deeply about anything or to focus on any one subject for any amount length of time.  In other words, we don’t have the patience even to think anymore.  (And think how much the world has changed in the 7 years since he wrote that book!)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  Galatians 5:22-23

The fourth characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit is patience.  Some older translations of the Bible, most notably the King James Version, uses the word long-suffering here instead of patience.  It’s understandable that our modern versions of the Bible refer to patience rather than long-suffering since long-suffering is more or less foreign to our modern ears.  However, long-suffering is a bit more vivid description of what we are doing when we exercise patience.  We are enduring some bit of suffering, whether real or imagined, over a long period of time.  This might mean the “suffering” we face while waiting in traffic or the suffering enduring harsh words from a spouse.  As we consider patience this week I want to focus our attention not on a particular kind of patience.  I want to consider the patience we are to exhibit in our relationships with others.  In other words, how can we exercise patience (long-suffering) when we have been hurt by others?

The apostle Peter wrote quite a bit on this topic of enduring suffering at the hands of others.  The First Epistle of Peter is written to the scattered Christians throughout the early church who were enduring some awful trials.  In 1 Peter 2:18-25 he specifically addresses servants who are being treated unfairly by their masters:

18Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  1 Peter 2:18-25

Peter calls these servants who are suffering in significant ways to patiently endure their trials.  But he doesn’t just tell them to be patient, he points to the resources that will produce the patience that is needed.

#1 We must develop a mindfulness of God.

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly (v.19).”  Grammatically this sentence could stand on it’s own if this clause “mindful of God” was removed.  Take the clause out and we come away thinking that patiently enduring unfair suffering is a good thing.  But we would be scratching our heads.  Why should I endure unfair suffering?  This little clause “mindful of God” provides the reason.  Why should I endure?  How can I endure?  Because I am mindful fo God.  That is, I understand that God sees and that God cares about my suffering.  This is a profound truth that will carry me through even the darkest trials.  We need to know that we are not alone.  We need to know that his sovereignty extends even to my suffering.  This truth held before myself and trusted in will produce patience.

Consider the example of Joseph.  Remember him?  His brothers first tried to murder him but as a compromise they sold him into slavery in Egypt instead.  Do you think Joseph had cause to be angry?  Reason to pursue revenge?  Once he finds himself in Egypt, he makes progress, and then is unfairly accused and thrown into prison, though he had done nothing wrong.  Reason to be bitter?  Do you think he had cause to be angry at God?  Angry at the world?  But remember the words he spoke to his brothers at the end of Genesis?  “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).”  This is what developing a mindfulness of God looks like!  It’s knowing that our Heavenly Father is the righteous judge who is seated firmly on his throne and that he is capable of working for good anything that happens to us.  He can take evil and make it work for good.

Margaret Thatcher was quipped “I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.”  This is funny because it’s true. We all want our own way.  We want our will to be done.  And of course this is not possible.  But here is the good news:  we might now get our way but God always gets his way.  I can be patient through anything because I know in the end God will get his way — and his way is the best way.  So we can have patience knowing God’s way will prevail.

#2 We must have the right expectations.

“I can’t believe this!”  “This isn’t supposed to happen!”  “This is not what I pictured!”  Have you ever said words like this?  Maybe because of something silly, like you chose the wrong line at the grocery store.  Or something more serious like hearing hurtful words from someone you thought was a friend.  Often our first reaction to suffering, whether real or imagined, is to be surprised.  We weren’t expecting it.  It isn’t supposed to be this way!  But Peter says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps (v.21).”  What is it that we have been called to?  To suffer for doing good!  We need to have the right expectations.  The Bible actually says that we should expect to suffer.  And not just to suffer because of the stupid things we’ve made but to expect suffering even when we’ve done good.

Now this does not mean we all become a bunch of Eeyores with a depressed and gloomy outlook on the world as cry “woe is me.”  But what it does mean is that we have a sober attitude about the world.  It means we are not surprised by what we encounter in the world.  Peter says that the suffering of Jesus is an example for us to follow.  Because he suffered for doing good, we should expect to suffer for doing good as well.

In this book Future Grace, John Piper shares a powerful story of patience from a dark period in the history of God’s people (p.171-172):

In the late Seventeenth Century in ….southern France, a girl named Marie Durant was brought before the authorities, charged with the Huguenot heresy.  She was fourteen years old, bright, attractive, marriageable.  She was asked to abjure the Huguenot faith.  She was not asked to commit an immoral act, to become a criminal, or even to change the day-to-day quality of her behavior.  She was only asked to say, “J’abjure”.  No more, no less.  She did not comply.  Together with thirty other Huguenot women she was put into a tower by the sea… For thirty-eight years she continued… And instead of the hated word J’abjure she, together with  her fellow martyrs, scratched on the wall of the prison tower the single word Resistez, resist!

The word is still seen and gaped at by tourists on the stone wall at the Aigues-Mortes… We do not understand the terrifying simplicity of a religious commitment which asks nothing of time and gets nothing from time.  We can understand a religion which enhances time… But we cannot understand a faith which is not nourished by the temporal hope that tomorrow things will be better.  To sit in a prison room with thirty others and to see the day change into night and summer into autumn, to feel the slow systemic changes within one’s flesh; the drying and wrinkling of the skin, the loss of muscle tone, the stiffening of the joints, the slow stupefaction of the senses — to feel all this and still to persevere seems almost idiotic to a generation which has no capacity to wait and to endure.

What a powerful witness to those of us who need to increase our capacity to wait and endure!

#3 Remember that no offense committed against you is as great as your offense against God.

We must get perspective.  We become so outraged at the personal attacks committed against us.  Maybe it’s an intentional attack from a family member.  Maybe it’s someone who has cut you off in traffic.  We are outraged!  We can’t believe they would have the audacity to do this. We look for an opportunity to fight back directly or indirectly.  We’ll make them pay.  Or maybe we take the path of moral superiority.  We write them off in our minds as “little people” and try to move on with our more enlightened self.  Peter puts these offenses committed against us in the right perspective: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (v.24).”  Jesus bore our sins–sins which we committed against him!  Our offense committed against God is infinitely more serious than any offense committed against us.  Even the world understands this.  Insulting a colleague at work is a bad thing but it is much worse to insult the CEO.  And God isn’t just a CEO — he is God!  And Jesus not only bears our sin, he suffered the wrath of God for us that Peter can write “by his wounds you have been healed.”  Let this truth steep in your soul.  Once we come to grasp the patience of God toward us, how can we not be patient with others.  Often our failure to be patient with others is  a direct result of not knowing the patience that God exercises toward us!

Discussion Questions

  1. How does impatience manifest itself in your life?
  2. What do you think is the root of your impatience?  In other words, what is the underlying idol in your heart?
  3. How can you develop a greater mindfulness of God?  What does this look like?
  4. In what way is impatience a form of unbelief?  (What does impatience indicate about our trust in God and his purposes?)
  5. From our passage this week in what ways does Jesus model patience for us?  How can we follow his example?
  6. How should God’s patience toward us motivate us to be patient toward others?
  7. What is one thing you want to be sure to remember from this passage?


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