Having addressed love, joy, and peace in this series, we come to patience or “forbearance.”
“The fruit of the Spirit is forbearance.”
The Spirit’s fruit of forbearance or patience given to believers is a “state of emotional calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation” Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains
- The Spirit’s forbearance enables us to wait patiently for promises fulfilled. We are called to “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” just as “God made his promise to Abraham” who “after waiting patiently…received what was promised” (Heb 6:12-15). Being content with God’s timing is mark of a mature faith (see also Rom. 4:20; 2 Cor. 1:6).
- The Spirit’s patience is to be evident of believers toward everyone. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with…patience” (Col 3:12). Just as our clothing is a predominant feature of our physical presence, so too must patience be evident of our spiritual presence (cf., Eph. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:14).
- The Spirit’s patience endures difficulty over time, but is not eternally tolerant. While “love is patient” (1 Cor 13:4) and God patiently waits for the salvation of unbelievers, his patience (and ours) must not be confused with unending tolerance. In fact, if God were eternally tolerant, then the flood of Gen. 6-9 makes little sense, evil would be tolerated, and Hell would be empty. All judgements, including those rendered positively would be vacuous. It is true “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Yet it is equally true that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare” (2 Pet 3:9–10; see also Rom. 2:4-6; 9:22-23; 2 Pet. 3:15).
- The Spirit’s forbearance respects the limitations God sets over our circumstances. Just as a farmer recognizes he has no control over the growth of his crop, so we must patiently persevere waiting for God to bring blessing in his time. Too often we seek change in our circumstances instead of patiently enduring them. Consequently, by moving ahead of God we forfeit the blessing of growth in patience that God seeks to bring about in our lives. Believers endowed with God’s Spirit can have the “patience of Job” (James 5:7-11)! Where we have no control over our negative circumstances (and often we do not), the only biblical response is forbearance, perseverance, and patience (see also Rom 12:12).