1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
When the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5 the nine qualities we call the fruit of the Spirit, he neatly divided them into three general groups. The first group, love, joy and peace has its focus mainly on our relationship with God, and how those qualities are to be displayed in our lives as a result of the love, joy and peace we have in and through Jesus. The next group (patience, kindness and goodness) which we begin today, addresses social virtues, and more specifically how we are to interact with others.
When we think of the word patience (other translations also use long-suffering), we tend to think automatically of the opposite, when we see people’s patience reaching an end.
We all know people who are easily irritated. They invariably let others know it too, either by a steady stream of grumbling accompanied by a face etched in the pain of having to suffer the fools surrounding them, or they simply blow up in red-faced fury, letting anyone within earshot know that they’ve just had enough.
Of course, we’d never do such a thing, would we? We might like to think that we don’t show the slightest trace of irritation on the outside, while inwardly we are churning with varying degrees of stress, wishing that people would just get on with it so we can do our thing.
This is an area where we all fail. Sometimes trivial things just annoy us, while in extreme cases we can become so wound up and so furious that our judgment is clouded and we do and say things that we deeply regret. How often have we exploded in anger, only for people we love who are not the reason for our anger, to be caught in the crossfire?
We also justify our anger and short tempers by fooling ourselves into believing that more often than not, we have every right to be angry.
It is no coincidence that patience is a fruit of the Spirit. During the past few weeks we have been reminded of the love of God, and how His love for us fills us with joy and peace, but patience, (or to put it more accurately) the absence thereof in our lives directly challenges our pride. Human pride is a dreadful thing.
Proverbs 16:5 says, “The Lord detests all the proud of heart.”
We also justify getting angry by saying that Jesus was also angry at times. His run-ins with the Pharisees are well documented, and there is also the time when He overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple.
The difference between His anger and ours though, is pride.
I quoted from Philippians 2 last week: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
Do nothing out of selfish ambition. In other words, there is no room for personal pride in how we treat others. And if our attitude is the same as that of Christ Jesus, by default our pride is set aside.
That is the fundamental difference between holy anger and pride-filled anger.
Jesus certainly became justifiably angry on occasion, but the Bible never illustrates Him even remotely losing control - even while under intense pressure from blinded and stubborn fools, some of whom were intentionally baiting Him. Nor does the Bible ever indicate He fell into a self-pitying sulk to draw attention to His irritation.
God clearly holds Jesus up to us as the example we must strive to follow.
1 Peter 2:20-24 says, “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.”
What would have happened if Jesus had reacted the way that we would in His situation? How lost would we still be if He’d used the power He had at His disposal and been so furious that He destroyed them all on the spot?
This is an important point for us to consider, because had Jesus not been patient and long-suffering with His enemies, things would be very different for each of us today.
There is a direct connection between Godly patience and our salvation. Can patience possibly be that important? The call to be patient and to actively display it as a fruit of the Spirit in response to Jesus’ suffering for us is crucial.
He suffered in order for us to receive His righteousness. We, too, are called to suffer for the sake of righteousness.
Psalm 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous,” and Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” and 1 Peter 3:14, “Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” So persecution is not only a certainty for the Christian, but it is also part of our calling. We are called to suffer for the cause of Christ.
Persecution may take many forms, and it is more than someone merely presenting counter-arguments to the Christian’s convictions.
Persecution can be towards our feelings, our family, reputation, property or freedom. Persecution can be used to prejudice against a Christian in the workplace – some of you will have experienced that yourselves. In my profession, being a Christian is a distinct advantage, but in many careers and organisations, being a disciple of Jesus can count against you. And of course, in extreme cases persecution of God’s elect can lead to Christians being fined, imprisoned, deported, tortured or even executed.
What all of this means is that as Christians, we must be prepared for persecution. It goes with the territory, and we are to bear it patiently as Jesus did.
The Bible reveals God’s patience as a quality of His character. And it’s a quality we are extremely grateful for because His patience and long-suffering is what stops Him from retaliating against those who sin against Him.
In Exodus 32 is the story of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf shortly after entering into the Old Covenant with God, and how does God react to this blasphemy and betrayal? The answer is in what He said to Moses in 34:6-7, “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.”
Patience is a major characteristic of our God, and that should fill us with gratitude.
His patience delays His wrath.
The prophet Jonah was called to tell the people of Nineveh about the mercy of God, but he wanted God to destroy them instead, and there is a remarkable conversation between Jonah and the Lord in chapter 4.
Just listen to Jonah and how he behaves like a spoilt brat, but how he still receives the mercy and grace of a loving, patient and long-suffering God:
“Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ But the Lord replied, ‘Have you any right to be angry?’ Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?’ ‘I do,’ he said. ‘I am angry enough to die.’ But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?’”
If God lashed out at people just as short-fused human beings frequently do, no one would be alive today. Jonah, in a typically human reaction, wanted God to wipe the sinners of Nineveh, Israel’s enemy, off the face of the earth, but we can thank God that He doesn’t treat us the way we deserve.
We know the words of 2 Peter 3:9 very well: “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.”
So how does all of this apply to us? If patience is a Fruit of the Spirit, how are we to bear that fruit? Firstly, remember the example of God’s infinite patience towards us, and secondly, put it into practice.
We expect others - especially God - to be patient and forgiving toward us in our faults, but do we practice the same attitude and conduct toward those whose faults offend us? Patience is a two-way street, and God clearly demands us to show patience to others, whether they deserve it or not.
He expects us to pass His patience and forgiveness toward us on to others.
This is how Paul understood this lesson in 1 Timothy 1:12-16. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to His service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.”
Paul uses himself to show us just how patient God was with him.
As His life was turned around by Jesus, Paul was able to exercise tremendous patience in his dealings with the Church and all of the problems associated with it.
Paul made a direct link between the long-suffering of God and his salvation. Why should we be patient with each other? The answer is, because we are saved!
In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul says to his young protégé, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction.”
It’s interesting to see that when Paul talks about what life is like outside of Christ, he describes it as an angry life. In our reading in Colossians 3, He says that outside of Christ what you find is “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language.”
I have to confess that very often I get so angry, and I know I’m not alone. But then I read passages of Scripture like Colossians 3, and I’m filled with shame. Living an angry life is a life outside of Christ, and I don’t want to be there.
Someone described the angry life like this: “It’s confrontational politics and toxic talk shows. It’s aggressive Little League parents and out-of-control sports fans. It’s vengeful movies and violent music. It’s accusatory e-mails that appear to have been sent from a flamethrower.”
Paul says in Colossians 3:8 that we should rid ourselves of such things, and instead clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
We are the recipients of God’s endless patience and grace. What gives us the right then, to refuse to pass those virtues on to each other?
One commentator said that patience is not the ability to wait. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit that manifests itself while we are waiting. If patience doesn’t manifest in times of waiting, then we see the rotten fruit of impatience instead. We all have patience inside of us. What prevents it from coming out is being impatient and our own pride.
It doesn’t matter why you are impatient. What matters is how you deal with it. Impatience is a counterfeit fruit. It can look like it is productive, because you just want to get things done in a hurry, but in reality, it only produces stress and turmoil for you and others. Impatience is very selfish, because it only cares about itself.
I’m not going to point my finger at any of you today, because I know that there will be three pointing straight back at me. We are fellow strugglers in this whole issue of pride and impatience, but our prayer needs to be that God would help us to clothe ourselves with patience. Jesus has set us the ultimate example, and we are duty and honour bound to bear that same fruit in our lives.
As the Church, and as His people, are the words of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 true for us? “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Colossians 3:12-17
How important is it to show patience and tolerance towards one another?
Discuss the direct link between our salvation, and displaying the fruit of patience in our lives.
We are all guilty of losing our tempers occasionally.
How does this dishonour God?
People will often say that Jesus displayed anger at times in an attempt to justify their own anger.
Discuss the differences between holy anger and prideful, sinful anger.
What are some of your struggles in the areas of impatience and intolerance of others?
Read Exodus 34:1-7
How have you personally experienced the long-suffering and patience of God?
What changes need to be made in a) your own life, and b) in the life of the Church to better display patience as a Fruit of the Spirit?
Close by praying for each other. Pray particularly for aspects of impatience that you have discussed in your time together.
Next week: The Fruit of the Spirit is kindness.