By Harry R. Osborne
Patience is one of those grand virtues which we as human beings universally admire, but scarcely practice. In our daily lives, the priority of patience is often forgotten in our quest for instant gratification. The rush of the moment and the desire for instant response make patience to be forgotten.
Even in the search to acquire patience we too often resemble the frantic child. The story is told of the child who repeatedly demanded his supper before his mother could complete its preparation. Finally the mother turned to the child and said, “What you need is a big helping of patience!” The child replied, “Okay, but I want it right now!” Patience can only be acquired by patience.
The word translated “patience” in our Bible is an interesting word in the original language. It is a combination of the Greek word meaning “under” and the word meaning “to abide.” Of course, words are formed by people in order to convey or picture an intended idea. Therefore, the Greek idea of patience was to abide under a matter or situation.
Please notice that the idea conveyed is not pictured as a “pause” under or a “momentarily delay” under, but “to abide” under. From the very word itself, we should understand that patience demands time to develop. It is not a virtue which is fully matured the day after we decide such is needed in our character. Let’s spend a few moments in our Bibles to study what God says about the matter of developing patience.
Before we go any further, it should be clear that patience is a necessary part of the Christian’s character. In 2 Peter 1:5-11, the apostle lists patience among those essential components of the one who is to make his “calling and election sure.” It is not, therefore, an optional attribute. As Christians, we must be characterized by patience – our soul’s destiny depends upon it!
Peter begins by noting that all of the listed attributes are to be sought with “diligence.” A diligent pursuit demands that one press on through the difficulties to accomplish the task. Furthermore, diligence requires a concentration upon the goal sought and the road to that goal. No language could more aptly describe how one attains patience. If we are to enlist patience into our character as it ought to be, we must do so in a means which parallels the nature of the virtue itself.
Various passages in the Scriptures relate patience to the tribulations around us. In Romans 12:12, Paul uses the term “patient in tribulation.” James writes of this saying, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations, knowing that the proving of your faith works patience. And let patience have its perfect work that you may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4).
Difficulties of every kind will come our way as children of God. We must learn to “abide under” them and let them bring about good in our character. If it is physical hardship which confronts us, we must learn the priority of the “inward man which is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). The most handicapped person in the word can through patience be joyful in recognizing the glory he has as a new man in Christ waiting for a spiritual body “conformed to the body of his glory” (Phil. 3:21; 2 Cor. 5:17).
If it is emotional turmoil that confronts us, we must learn to cast all of our anxiety upon the Lord in prayer recognizing that he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7; Phil. 4:6). The most heart-burdened Christian ever can through patience be joyful in recognizing that “God will take care of you.” If it is spiritual trial that confronts us, we must learn to look for the way of escape as temptations occur (1 Cor. 10:13). As Satan’s darts are hurled around us, we can be joyful, knowing that overcoming evil now helps us overcome it in the future.
Jesus is our perfect example in patience and all other things. The Hebrew letter says that he was “in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Imagine that! Satan used all of his weapons on Jesus, but none was successful. We sometimes think of Jesus as being isolated from the effects of temptation since he never sinned. Actually, the opposite is true. You and I have never felt the full effect of temptation in the points where we sinned. Satan did not have to keep intensifying the pressure because we gave in early. Jesus is the only one ever in human history to feel the full effect of temptation. He is the perfect example of patience! He “abided under” the burden, let it have “its perfect work,” and he was “perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.”
To this point, we have discussed patience in its passive sense. In other words, we have considered how patience causes us to deal with things happening to us. But patience also has an active side. It is the persistence or perseverance in well doing (Rom. 2:7), in bearing fruit (Lk. 8:15), or in running the appointed race (Heb. 12:1). (See W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of N. T. Words 3:168.) Patience demands of us that we understand the constant nature of our service to God. It is not a sprint, but a marathon. We cannot decide to declare an intermission in our service to the Lord’s cause. Sometimes, we find our zeal on the wane and our strength at a low, but patience causes us to press on to the task. No human battle was ever won by an army full of soldiers without any fatigue, but by armies full of men bone-tired and weary who fought on to win the victory. Our service to Christ in the war for the soul is the same.
A wonderful picture of patience is painted in the words of James 5:7:
Be patient therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord, Behold the husbandman (farmer) waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receive the early and latter rain.
The illustration is of the farmer who realizes that even after he has done all he can, he has to wait for the rain over which he has no control. He waits, not just for the early rain which would prepare the ground and provide for sprouting, but also for the latter rain which made possible the maturing of the crop. That crop could not grow and mature in a day no matter how hard the farmer worked.
Patience will cause us to see that the fruit of spiritual service is not an overnight matter either. That farmer has a great deal invested in the crop that impetuousness could ruin. Brethren, how much more is at stake in the cause which we serve? How terribly tragic it would be for impatience to squander what Christ shed his blood to achieve. We must “abide under” both the tribulations which come our way and the work we must do.
In a very real sense, we need to see that patience depends on the trials and problems before us. Without them, we could not “abide under” anything. If not for the trials, we would have no need to “give diligence” to our life and service to God. If patience could not so be learned, we would never realize the joy that God prepared for his children in serving him. Our lives would be dependent on self and our surroundings for pleasure instead of God and his grace. Indeed, “count it all joy, my brethren, when you fall into manifold temptations, knowing that the proving of your faith works patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.”
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 10, pp. 291-292
May 16, 1991