But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
It is of great interest to note that when speaking of love in, the famous, I Cor. 13 passage, Paul puts longsuffering at the top of the list of its characteristics.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
I Cor. 13:4-7
In fact as one looks at this list one can see an overlap of some, if not all of the qualities with the fruit of the Spirit. It can not be doubted that everything in God stems from the pure agape love – God’s own love. And since faith works by love (Gal.5:6), it is no wonder that Paul says in I Cor.13, that without it we are nothing. It has been suggested by some that the fruit of the Spirit is just love and all the other qualities are expression of love.
So we move to longsuffering, if we walk in the Spirit this quality will be present. What does it mean to be longsuffering and how does it work out in practice?
C5.1 The Lord is Longsuffering
On two occasions, in the OT, Israel sinned so grievously that the Lord threatened to destroy the whole nation, and start afresh with Moses. The first time was when Moses was in the mountain receiving the law, and Israel below made and worshipped a golden calf; the second was when they failed to enter the promised land after the report of the twelve spies. On both occasions we read of the Lord’s longsuffering and this gives us an insight into this quality.
Firstly we will look at the incidence with the ‘Golden Calf’. After Moses had returned to the camp, and had destroyed the calf and challenged the nation, asking: who is on the Lord’s side? Ex. 32:17-31, he went back to the Lord and there interceded for the nation. For our purpose these are the relevant passages.
Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.
And Moses said unto the LORD, See, Thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and Thou hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me. Yet Thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, shew me now Thy way, that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight: and consider that this nation is Thy people. And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. And he said unto him, If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that Thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth. And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name. And he said, I beseech thee, shew me Thy glory. And He said, I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift [ =cleft] of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
After having interceded Moses asks God to show him His way in order to know God; and then Moses asked God to show him His glory, and was given the reply that God would have His goodness pass by. So the Lord place Moses in a cleft of a rock and God passed by. Now it is often wondered what God’s glory was that Moses saw, but we are left in no doubt.
And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.
God’s glory is seen not as much by any outward visible sign but rather more by His character. Those qualities include mercy, grace and longsuffering. Clearly God’s character includes more than those listed, but in the circumstance Israel found itself then these qualities are the ones which are relevant. Included is longsuffering, and this is the first time it is mentioned in scripture.
Again on the second occasion when Israel sinned so grievously, that God threatened to destroy the whole nation Moses interceded and reminded the Lord of His own words here in Ex. 34.
And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they. And Moses said unto the LORD, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for Thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;) And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that Thou LORD art among this people, that Thou LORD art seen face to face, and that Thy cloud standeth over them, and that Thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if Thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of Thee will speak, saying, Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore He hath slain them in the wilderness. And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as Thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now. And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word: But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD. Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:
On this occasion, whilst God pardoned Israel, and although He didn’t destroy the nation, He punished them by saying that that generation would not enter the promised land. Instead they would die out and it would be the next generation, including Joshua and Caleb (who had been faithful and had not been a part of the rebellion) that would enter the promise land.
The point for our purposes is God’s longsuffering. Ten times Israel as a nation, had rebelled against God, and this was only in a relatively short time since leaving Egypt. Time again God forgave and continued with them. Even in these two events, which were serious enough to have the whole nation wiped out, God suffered them. Not that He allowed them to go unpunished, but none the less He stepped back from what Israel truly deserved.
From these passages, seeing God’s longsuffering in action, we can conclude that longsuffering can be summed up as slowness in revenging wrongness. This then is the quality of the fruit of the Spirit under consideration. For our purposes we will turn to the 18th chapter of Matthew.
C5.2 Do thou likewise
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience [=longsuffering] with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience [=longsuffering] with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
This is a well known parable and there are several remarkable points we need to note.
C5.2a How many times?
Firstly this parable was given in response to Peter’s question: how many times should I forgive my brother? Jesus’ answer was 490! Now then what does this tell us? The only other time that can be found where this number is given in Scripture is the famous Messianic prophecy of Dan. Ch.9; the number 490 is referred to as the actual time table for Christ’s coming and sacrificial death at Calvary.
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.
Seventy weeks is 490 days, and in context it is ‘prophetic days’. But the details of how the time scale panned out is not our concern here. Rather it is what the prophecy is all about. The purpose of Christ’s coming is laid out in the terms of the prophecy: to finish the transgression (Heb.9:15); make an end of sins (Heb.1:3); to make reconciliation (II Cor.5:18); and bring everlasting righteousness in (Heb.1:8); to seal up the vision and prophecy (Heb.9:25-26); and to anoint the most Holy (Lk.4:16-21). All of which was what Christ did by His life, death, resurrection and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
Now relating it to the parable in question we can conclude that Jesus’ statement of 490 was not a a legalistic count, so that on the 491st occasion we don’t forgive! Rather it means that we are to forgive and forgive and keep on forgiving with the view of the brother/sister in question coming to repentance. After all that is what God’s forbearance does.
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance……and account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
C5.2b Two debts
In the parable that followed two debts are mentioned: the first servant owed the master ten thousand talents, and the fellow servant owed the first servant a hundred pence. Let us consider these two debts. To try and put them in modern day equivalence is not easy, but estimates of the 10 000 talents range from a few million to a few billion pounds, depending on whether silver or gold is meant! Others have suggested that 10 000 was the largest number that was used in those days.
Whatever the actual number and value it is clear what was Jesus’ meaning. The first servant owed a debt that he could no possibly pay off, whereas the second servant was owing a matter of pence, a trifling amount compared to the first debt.
C5.2c Forgiven or throttled?
Both servants pleaded for patience. Now the word here can be translated as longsuffering. In the NT patience and longsuffering are two distinct words and ideas. The former is mainly to do with circumstances, the later to do with people.
The servant with the impossible debt pleaded with the master, whilst the servant with the trivial amount pleaded with the first servant. The first servant received forgiveness from the master, he being moved with compassion at the servant’s plight. Just reread what the servant said: Lord, have patience [=longsuffering] with me, and I will pay thee all. Now think about it, this man promised to pay off a debt he couldn’t even begin to reduce, let alone make good. How desperate he was! He was left to rely on the compassion and longsuffering of his lord.
Yet when a fellow servant came and asked for the same compassion with his small and trivial amount, how differently was his received! Instead of forgiveness he was throttled! The servant demanded every penny, or as we would say: his pound of flesh. Although free from his own debt, the first servant was not willing to show the same compassion to a fellow servant, one who had the same lord and master.
The lord’s response was quick and unmistaken: he made it clear that the servant in question should had the same compassion on his fellows servant as was shown to him, he then cast him to the tormentors. At the end Jesus adds the warning that God will do the same to us if we do not forgive our brothers from the heart.
Of the teaching of the parable there can be no doubt: we owe God a debt that we can never pay, because of our sin and rebellion towards Him. There being only one possible punishment, eternal damnation, God provided the plan of salvation in Christ so that we could have forgiveness. So then the debt we could not pay is wiped from our account with God. Any ‘debts’ of wrongness from our brothers and sisters towards us are nothing in comparison, and we are to show the same compassion to them as God does to us. There are no conditions, exemptions or get out clauses here, we are commanded to do so likewise.
C5.3 Gain Thy brother!
Earlier in the 18th chapter we have the Lord giving us instruction on how we are to deal with a brother if he has trespassed against us. It is a lesson in longsuffering in itself!
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
The natural response when people do wrong to us is to be angry and seek revenge in some form whatever the consequences. Such is the way of the flesh. But the Lord is different. In scriptures, such as these, the emphasis is always on reconciliation. If the parable mentioned above was to do with forgiveness of wrongs, then here we are dealing with reconciliation, and not revenge. We are to take all possible steps to gain our brother. It is not that we condone sin or any sort of wrong doing, rather it is for us to do all that we can in order to bring about reconciliation.
Notice that Jesus says that if your brother trespasses against you go… We are not to leave it to him and wait for him to recognise his error, but we are to go and make the effort, take the first step. The remaining steps are straightforward enough. However as an aside, note that the final step is, if he refuses to hear, to bring the matter to the whole church. Nothing is said of leaders at all! It is the whole assembly that is to be gathered for this.
Most churches have the mind set of the world and flesh and take problems to the elders. Jesus’ command is quite clear – tell it to the CHURCH. That is everyone when assembled. Remember this is the same command that Paul gave to the Corinthians when dealing with a sinful brother ( I Cor. 5) But then as now, it was with a view to bring him to repentance, and then they were to received him once more (II Cor.2:5-10)
This is a command of the Head of the Church, ought we not, therefore obey Him rather than the fleshly ways of men. Remember that Galatians is all about walking in the Spirit as opposed to the flesh. If we choose the flesh is it any wonder that problems arise and remain in our assemblies?
C5.4 Despise not the little ones
The final thought on this topic is right at the beginning of this eighteenth when dealing with new converts.
At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend [=stumble]one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
All of us have to come as little children in order to enter the kingdom. We have be been humble and child -like ( note: not childish). We have to receive His Spirit and be born from above, and we are then new born babes in Christ ( eg I Pet. 2:1-3). From then we have to grow in the Lord. And it is important for those who are mature in the things of God to take care of the new born babes.
Jesus uses some very strong language at those who stumble (offend) children (and the context seems to include both children in years as well as new born Christians). The passage ends with the parable of the shepherd seeking the lost sheep. In the Middle East the Shepherd would bring his fold into an enclosure at night and as they entered he would count them. If one were missing he would immediately leave the fold in the company of others (usually there would be several flocks together in these enclosures) and despite his own condition would go looking for it. Maybe it would take all night, traversing some very difficult terrain but find it he must. Is this not a beautiful picture of Jesus who is the GOOD Shepherd? What forbearance and longsuffering!
So too are we to take care of the little ones in our midst, whether children in the flesh or young coverts. They are particularly vulnerable and need the love and support of the mature ones. Whatever mistakes they may make we need to forebear and be longsuffering. We can not expect young believers to have the understanding and maturity of older believers, let us not put burdens on people they can not possibly bear. Let us beware of not incurring the Lord’s anger by offending a little one.
C5.5 Final exhortations
With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
The sobering question we need to ask ourselves is: where would we be if God showed us the same longsuffering that we showed others?