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Listed fourth among the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 is a wonderful quality translated as "longsuffering" in some Bible versions and "patience" in others.
In Galatians 5:19-21, the Apostle Paul refers to our human nature as "the flesh" and lists the "works of the flesh" as including "hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy and murders."
He then goes on to contrast these tendencies with the fruits of God's Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
The word ‘longsuffering’ consists of two words merged together, with the meaning of the combined word closely associated with endurance. The translation of the two corresponding Greek words in the New Testament add additional insight to characteristics of this manifestation of God’s Holy Spirit..
One of the Greek words—humpomonee—is translated "patience" in almost all Bible versions and implies patient endurance. The other Greek word is makrothumia, translated "patience" in some Bible versions but more accurately as "longsuffering" in others.The Greek word makro (which gives us the English prefix macro) means "large" or "long." The root word thumos means "temper." Therefore makrothumia literally means long-tempered, the opposite of short-tempered or having a short fuse.
This article focuses primarily on makrothumia since it is the word used in Galatians 5:22.
Longsuffering is virtually the opposite of anger, especially of "outbursts of wrath" (2 Corinthians 12:20). Some of us may tend to overreact, with the slightest provocation, by going on the defensive, interpreting remarks as attacks and then striking back.
Often these outbursts of anger involve a spiteful attitude of retaliation and revenge, but God forbids this: "Bless those who persecute you . . . Repay no one evil for evil . . . do not avenge yourselves" (Romans 12:14, 17 and 19). The Bible teaches mercy and forgiveness. Many tend to excuse their anger, but most human anger is self-centered and sinful. "The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:20).
In contrast Paul describes the attributes of love: "Love suffers long and is kind…does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil" (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). The New International Version renders his words this way: "Love is patient, love is kind…It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs."
When combating anger our thoughts and attitudes are important, because they are the source of our actions and words: "For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45).
We should ask ourselves: Am I motivated by love, respect, patience and compassion, or am I motivated by resentment, contempt, intolerance and hardness of heart?
The Bible contains many admonitions to be slow to anger and quick to forgive. "He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly" (Proverbs 14:29). "A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention" (Proverbs 15:18). "The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression" (Proverbs 19:11). James wrote, "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (James 1:19).
The first step to develop longsuffering is to exercise restraint and do nothing. We must ask, what does God want me to say or do? If your feelings are hurt and you feel the need to say something, remember "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). Our goal should be to react lovingly.
But these good intentions and good habits are not nearly as powerful as God's supernatural gift of longsuffering. We are pitifully incomplete without God's Spirit. In Acts 2:38 we are told how to obtain the Holy Spirit: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
To truly be "sons of God" we must be "led by the Spirit of God" (Romans 8:14), and in Colossians 3:12-13 Paul describes the nature of someone led by God's Spirit: "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do."
The Bible also has much to say about our need to wait on God. He often tests our patience and perseverance before answering our prayers.When the Bible mentions waiting, patience, perseverance or longsuffering, it is often in connection with trusting in God to intervene for us in our need, as He assuredly will (Isaiah 40:31).
This patient waiting is ultimately focused on the second coming of Jesus Christ. After warning about end-time persecution of Christians, Jesus said, "But he who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22), instructing us to continue to be led by God's Spirit until the end of our life or the second coming of Christ, whichever comes first.
The Good News magazine (Nov-Dec 2008)