“Keep in mind that the patience of our Lord means salvation” (2 Peter 3:15, MEV).
The word patience, as it is used in the New Testament, really has no equivalent in the English language. Patience is the powerful capacity of selfless love to suffer long under adversity. It is the ability to bear with difficult people or adverse circumstances without breaking down. It allows people to remain steadfast under strain, not just standing still, but pressing on. Christ is our picture of patience as He endured adversity and the abuse of evil men for our salvation.
Patience or long-suffering is a characteristic of God, both in the New Testament and in the Old Testament. The purpose of divine long-suffering is our salvation: “Keep in mind that the patience of our Lord means salvation” (2 Peter 3:15, MEV). The most common Greek word used for patience is ‘hypomone,’ pointing to bearing up under suffering or despair. The second word used frequently, ‘makrothymia,’ suggests self-restraint in the face of unsatisfied desire. Since the two words are synonyms, they function much as synonyms function in English—when both words are used in the same passage, the idea is being emphasized.
One of the most difficult lessons for the maturing Christian is how to react to unjust treatment. Misunderstanding and mistreatment will follow the believer just as they followed Jesus on earth. So because we can count on not being treated rightly, the issue is how we will react when we are treated wrongly. God has promised to be the protector of individual Christians: “‘Vengeance is Mine. I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19, MEV).
Trouble affects people in one of two opposite ways: it can either make them bitter or make them tender. Job and Joseph are the two great examples of tribulation working patience—of men who became tender because they endured patiently. Joseph spent ten years in jail unjustly, yet he emerged free from bitterness. Some of us are willing to suffer for God, but we want to suffer for a short time—why do we have to suffer long? Suffering brings patience. Patience is not an instantaneous gift—it is developed over time and with suffering: “knowing that the trying of your faith develops patience” (Jam.1: 3, MEV).
Not all suffering is the kind of suffering to develop patience however. If the suffering comes as a result of our mistakes and faults, there is no fruit of the Spirit in it—it is simply the just consequences of our actions and choices. But if we do well and still suffer, then we can develop patience, the fruit of the Spirit: “But if when doing good and suffering for it, you patiently endure, this is favorable before God” (I Pet. 2: 20, MEV).
Without patience we are incomplete as Spirit-filled Christians. The receiving of God’s promises depends on patience. Patience, the fruit of the Spirit, can transform the hardest trial into glory as the believer sees the purpose beyond the present suffering. The purpose of the long-suffering of God is to bring men to repentance (Rom 2:4). It is patience with a purpose. God’s long-suffering is very strong and purposeful, not mere passive endurance with no end in view. Because of this, it follows that true long-suffering is an essentially voluntary thing. God does not have to suffer long with offenders. He does it because “Love is patient, love is kind” (I Cor. 13:4, NIV). The followers of Christ who show long-suffering or patience do so with the strong purpose of kindness.
Long-suffering means long-mindedness. It is bearing with the frailties of and provocations of others, just as Christ bore with ours. It is bearing up through all the troubles and difficulties of life without murmuring or complaining. It is submitting cheerfully to every dispensation of God’s providence and deriving benefit from every occurrence.
The benefits of patience are many. Patience produces within our characters tremendous strength and endurance, even toughness. This kind of toughness will allow us to endure hard people and hard situations with serenity and stability. When we are patient under adversity we discover the great faithfulness of our God in every situation. When the actual awareness of Christ Himself comes into our spirits, we become aware that His Spirit can convey to us the peace of God in adversity and the patience of God in tough situations. When we realize that He is with us in our extremities, we can be patient.