The King James Version of the Bible lists longsuffering as an aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit. The English Standard version calls it forbearance; whereas, several other versions of the Bible call it patience. Regardless of which version of the Bible you read, it is clear that those walking in the Spirit are to forbear one another in love (Ephesians 4:1-3), to show patience to those in the world as well as to the body of Christ.
What does longsuffering (i.e., patience) really look like? The word “longsuffering” in the Greek is makrothumia, meaning “forbearance” or “fortitude.” This same word shows up again when Paul writes in Colossians 1:11 to the church at Colosse, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” (ESV) Christ’s desire for His church is that we be strengthened by Him to joyfully endure life’s journey with patience. Makrothumia is also used in Colossians 3:12-13 and Hebrews 6:11-12. “Longsuffering” appears to be used throughout the New Testament, for the most part, in describing how the life of a believer should look, and is usually paired with other spiritual fruit (e.g., kindness, meekness, etc.).
Longsuffering also involves waiting. When suffering is involved, it usually means that relief is not in sight. If God’s Word told us to have patience for a few minutes before doling out our wrath toward someone, we could likely handle that; however, longsuffering expects us to remain patient even with people who bring out the worst in us. That is not to say that we should not confront their sin; yet, as our brothers and sisters are growing and changing, we are expected to be patient with them. Someone who shows frustration and pettiness towards others quickly is not displaying longsuffering and may not appear to be abiding in the Vine. After all, our perfect God shows patience towards us continually – and we will never be perfect. As imperfect, yet redeemed, people, we are to show the same patience to others that Christ shows towards us. (I Timothy 1:16)
One thing to note is that patience is not the same thing as tolerance. Tolerance, as has been recently redefined by the American culture, states that people are supposed to not only tolerate (i.e., to put up with something), but to accept the issue as agreeable and good – even if the person disagrees or if those things are clearly prohibited against in God’s law (i.e., the Bible). We are told that we must tolerate abortion, gay marriage, and destructive governmental policy; however, God has told Christians to stand against these things. So, where does patience enter into that equation? Christians are also called to patiently love individuals; yet, that does not mean we must accept the practice of sin as good (or, even his or her “own truth”) – patience is not a condoning of sin.
If anything is necessary in marriage, it’s longsuffering. When the traditional wedding vows are spoken, the couple vows to be together “for better or for worse.” In that moment of wedded bliss, it is easy to only focus on the better. However, when we do think of the “worse,” we often think of something beyond our control like sickness, death of a family member, difficult issues with children, etc. However, “worse” also includes: when your spouse is angry and shuts down emotionally… when your spouse loses a job and shows no motivation to find a new one… when depression sets in and your spouse is not who he or she was on your wedding day. “Worse” can be, and often are, issues that your future spouse will bring into the marriage.
It seems so noble to exercise longsuffering as you wipe the brow of your sick spouse, and it is; however, does it seem just as noble, or only infuriating, to think of suffering long, and forbearing your spouse in love, when he or she purposefully plans time with friends on your anniversary… or decides to quit his or her job without discussing it with you?
Regardless of how incredible this man or woman you are dating happens to be, if you get married, there will be periods of time and/or seasons that you will suffer (this can be attributed to the consequences of sin). It may be something he or she purposefully does or something he or she cannot control; but, in marriage, there will be plenty of opportunities for longsuffering. Those who are unwilling to suffer long for the one they love should never marry.
Marriage, as joyful as it can – and should – be, will have definite seasons of suffering for both parties. God did not promise us that life would be easy. In fact, He said we would have tribulation (John 16:33); and, in marriage, you go through those trials and tribulations with your spouse. Their trials become your trials because you will be one flesh. Thankfully, we’re also told in John 16:33 to take heart because Christ has already overcome the world.
Have you observed your boyfriend or girlfriend with regard to patience and longsuffering? Have you witnessed them suffer long for someone? Does he possess patience for you or others? How long does it take her to give up on someone in her life? If you have not already, begin to study this area in your potential spouse and write down areas where you have observed this deep patience displayed. If he or she shuts down at the first sign of struggle or cuts someone off as a friend after the first offense, this needs to be addressed and discussed promptly. When you hear him or her repeat, “for better or worse” in the wedding vows to you on the day of your wedding, you need to know that they don’t have a secret standard of “for better or best.” Marriage is about the long-haul, about being in covenant with another person, and glorifying God together – and in that time, a good deal of patience will be required.
Are you patient? When is the most recent period of time, if any, where you have suffered long for another person?