Be Patient With Everyone
By Rich Carmicheal
"The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you…" (2 Pet. 3:9).
"…be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else" (1 Thess. 5:14-15).
Patience is a virtue of great worth in the Lord’s eyes. The Lord Himself is patient, and patience is one of the characteristics of the person who lives a life that is worthy of Him and pleasing to Him (Col. 1:10-11). As His chosen people, we are to clothe ourselves with patience (Col. 3:12). It is noteworthy that patience is highlighted as the very first attribute in the Apostle Paul’s beautiful description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 – "Love is patient…." In light of the significance of patience, I invite you to consider the Lord’s patience and what He has in mind when He calls us to be patient.
The Lord’s Patience
The best place to start in understanding patience (or any godly attribute) is to look at the Person and ways of the Lord. One of the passages in the Old Testament that provides a good picture of the Lord’s patience is Nehemiah 9:29-31 – "You [the Lord] warned them [God’s people] to return to Your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed Your commands. They sinned against Your ordinances, by which a man will live if he obeys them. Stubbornly they turned their backs on You, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. For many years You were patient with them. By Your Spirit You admonished them through Your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so You handed them over to the neighboring peoples. But in Your great mercy You did not put an end to them or abandon them, for You are a gracious and merciful God." Because the Lord was patient with His people, He did not treat them the way their sins deserved. Though He allowed them to go through periods of discipline, He did not destroy them or abandon them. He continued to love them, share His word with them, forgive them and deliver them.
Notice the reason why the Lord shows such patience: "…for You are a gracious and merciful God" (Neh. 9:31). The Lord’s patience springs out of His overall character, including His grace and mercy. Thus, His patience, which is also referred to with such phrases such as "slow to anger," "longsuffering" and "forbearance," is often mentioned in the context of a number of His other attributes. For example, the Lord revealed Himself to Moses by proclaiming, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…" (Ex. 34:6-7). Likewise, David writes, "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:8-11). The reason why the Lord is so patient, so slow to anger and so willing to forgive us is because His love, grace and mercy are so great.
Jesus Teaches Us to be Patient
This truth is also depicted in Jesus’ teaching on patience and forgiveness including His parable of the unmerciful servant recorded in Matthew 18:23-35. Jesus shares this parable in response to Peter’s question, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" (Matt. 18:21). Jesus answers by saying, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:22). He then tells of a king who began to settle an account with a servant who owed him ten thousand talents (millions of dollars), an incredible sum of money far greater than the servant could possibly repay. Since he was unable to pay the amount, the king ordered that he, his wife, his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant, however, begged the king, "Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything." The master "took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go."
The servant, however, found a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii (a few dollars) and grabbed him and began to choke him and demanded that he pay back the amount. When the fellow servant begged him, "Be patient with me, and I will pay you back," the servant refused and had the man thrown into prison. Other servants reported this to the master, and he became greatly angered that his servant had not extended the same mercy that the master had shown to him: "Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" In his anger he turned his servant over to the jailers until he should pay back all he owed. Jesus closes the parable with this sobering truth: "This is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
Jesus teaches us in this parable that God, in His patience and mercy, has forgiven us our sins, a debt far beyond anything we could have ever repaid. In response to His great mercy, God expects that we will forgive others who sin against us. In other words, as He is patient and merciful toward us, so are we to be patient and merciful toward others. We are not to hold their sin against them or treat them the way their sins deserve.
More Encouragement to be Patient
The Apostle Paul emphasizes these same truths in his writings. For example, in his letter to the Colossians, he writes, "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col. 3:12-13; cf. Eph. 4:2). Paul had himself been the recipient of the "unlimited patience" of Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 1:16), and became a man whose life was marked by patience toward others (2 Tim. 3:10; 2 Cor. 6:6).
James encourages patience toward others as he writes that "…Everyone should be...slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (James 1:19). He goes on to write, "You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged…" (James 5:8-9).
The Lord’s Patience Means Salvation
One particularly significant passage regarding the Lord’s patience is 2 Peter 3:3-15. The Apostle Peter exhorts us that even though some people scoff at the idea of the Lord’s return, the Day of the Lord is definitely coming. For some it will be a day of judgment: "By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Pet. 3:7). For others it will be a day of salvation: "…You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:11-13). Regarding the timing of that Day, the Apostle Peter writes, "…With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 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 Pet. 3:8-9).
The Lord’s patience toward us is a wonderful gift. Just think of this: If there is something in your life that isn’t right in the Lord’s eyes, if there is something that you need to make amends for in your relationship with Him or in your relationship with others, you have the opportunity this very day, because of His patience, to come to repentance. This is the very heart of God for you. He desires that you embrace the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, for His kindness leads you toward repentance (Rom. 2:4). Today you can turn from any sin in your life and turn toward the Lord. Today you can confess your sin before the Lord. Today you can ask the Lord’s forgiveness or the forgiveness of someone with whom you are out of sorts. The Lord’s patience makes such opportunities possible. This is the time to "make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him" (2 Pet. 3:14) and to "bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation" (2 Pet. 3:15).
We also have the opportunity because of the Lord’s patience toward us to extend patience toward others. Is there someone who has wronged you? The Lord’s desire is that you forgive them as He has forgiven you. He wants you to treat them with patience and mercy instead of treating them as their sins deserve. This is not to say that their sins are not in violation of God’s will – they will still need to make amends with Him for their sins. But it is to say that you will not hold their sins against them. Instead, you will show kindness, tolerance and patience toward them, even as the Lord has shown you. Sometimes this may seem impossible, and from the human perspective it may very well be impossible. But from the Lord’s perspective all things are possible, and He is very willing and able to produce His patience in our lives so that we might have His patience to share with others. After all, the fruit of the Spirit includes patience (Gal. 5:22).