Another Look at Patience

photo courtesy of Ekaterina Bolovtsova

“Lord, give me patience – and give it to me NOW.” The last of the Five Virtues that Paul encourages the Colossians to put on is patience:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

I think the apostle knew how much we struggle with this virtue, so he explains in the next verse that patience means: “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).

Paul could have chosen from several Greek words for patience. My favorite is hypomone which describes “patience that endures.” In the Apocalypse, the Philadelphian Christians were commended for displaying this virtue: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10).

Paul told the Romans: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3 – 5).

The author of Hebrews encourages us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1 – 3)

James wrote: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2 – 4).

However, this form of patience, hypomone, is never attributed to God. The Lord doesn’t need to endure because He is not tested, as are we. God’s patience is called makrothumia. The old translations call this virtue “long-suffering.” God bears with us. For example, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Lord could have struck them down immediately (think poisoned apples). Instead, he patiently waited. He gave them another chance. Makrothumia is the type of patience Paul told the Colossians to put on in the Five Virtues.

Once in a sermon, I declared our God is a God of “second chances.” After services, a white-haired sister took me aside and told me I was wrong! But before I could defend myself, she explained. “Our God is a God of second, and third, and fourth, and fifth chances.” She was right, and if our Lord is like that, so should we be!

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