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The Fruit of the Spirit Is Patience

July 15, 2012


Sermon:  The Fruit of the Spirit is Patience
Text:  Galatians 5:22-23


We continue our series The Fruit of the Spirit today by focusing on the virtue of patience.  Remember that the word fruit, as used here in Galatians 5:22-23, is in its singular form.  This one fruit has nine different manifestations:  love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, patience, and self-control.

I remember that when I was preaching a series on the Ten Commandments, a member of Morningside stopped me at the back door and said, “I’ve really enjoyed this series.”

I inquired, “How are you doing with following the Commandments?”

He laughed, “Well, nine out of ten isn’t too bad.”

My guess is that some of you feel that we have been addressing the nine fruits of the Spirit.  You might say, “These are great.  I’ve got five or six of the virtues.”

We do not have a choice.  As Christian people, we are to embody the fruit of the Spirit, which includes every single one of these nine traits.

All of my life I have struggled with the topic we are addressing this morning:  patience.  My mother worked and worked and worked, trying to develop patience in me.  She did a pretty good job, but my impatience is never far below the surface.

From Psalm 37:7 we read, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”  I was thinking about this passage and realized that it is difficult to preach a sermon in which you know absolutely nothing about the topic.  Then I realized that you know nothing about patience, either.  When it comes to patience, we are all pretty much in the same boat.

Most physicians are impatient.  I know a physician who is about as impatient as anybody could be. Learning that he grew orchids, I asked, “What made you decide to start this particular hobby?”

He explained, “Kirk, I just needed some activity that would make me slow down.”  Growing orchids did just that for him.

Two words in the Greek New Testament – makrothumia and hupomone – are both pretty much translated as patience.  In this Scripture from Galatians 5:22-23 makrothumia, reallyan expression of love,is sometimes rendered as long-suffering or forbearance in respect to a person.  Hupomone, an expression of hope,means endurance or perseverance with respect to circumstances.  Both words are translated as patience when they appear in the New Testament.  Taken together, makrothumia and hupomone give us a more complete understanding of what it means to be patient.  Patience is tolerance.  It is a quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation.  It is the willingness, as good carpenters say, to measure twice, saw once.  Having patience allows us to slow down, stop, and think.  Considering the antonyms of these two Greek words helps us to understand their meaning better.  The antonym for makrothumia is anger or revenge, while the antonym for hupomone is apathy or despair.

We are told that God is long-suffering, that God is slow to anger.  It should not surprise us that, as the children of God, we should also have this quality.  Jesus addresses this desirable trait in his parable titled The Unmerciful Servant.  In that story Jesus tells of a compassionate master who forgives a servant of a debt.  Though granted mercy, this same servant very impatiently demands that someone who owes him money pay the debt immediately.

The quality of patience exercised in our lives sometimes comes off as a kind of stoic acceptance.  We are told to bite our tongue, to refrain from speaking harshly, to hold back a negative response.  We come to think of patience in that way because we all know people who become easily irritated and just blast away, inevitably letting others know of their disapproval.  We tend to avoid impatient individuals, who are given to grumbling, griping, and whining.  We know they are a hand grenade waiting to explode.

Most of us are probably somewhere between the two extremes of stoic acceptance and very adamant rejection.  We may feel great agitation but do not allow others to see it.  We may seethe on the inside but appear calm on the outside.  We want to be patient, so we hold in our emotions, and keep our irritation to ourselves.  The Bible is not speaking of that scenario when it refers to this fruit of the Spirit.

In I Peter 2:22 Peter writes that we have been called to be like Christ Jesus who “committed no sin, and no deceit was in his mouth.”  Peter calls us to remember that Christ suffered for us, leaving us with an example we should follow.  When insults were hurled at Jesus, he sought no retaliation.  When he experienced physical suffering, he made no threats.  Instead he entrusted himself to God, the righteous Judge.  Christ, in the face of suffering on the cross, is a true example of patience.  We are told clearly that patience must be a part of our calling, a part of our lives, because we are to follow in the steps of Jesus.

We can incorporate patience into the fabric of our lives in seven ways.

First, we are to demonstrate patience in the context of our relationships within our family and friends.  Paul writes about love in I Corinthians 13:4, saying, “Love is patient.”  A parent generally has more difficulty in dealing with children than a grandparent does, yet that characteristic must be a part of family living.  Paul emphasizes the need for patience in Ephesians 4:32:  “Be completely humble and gentle.  Be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Those of you who are school teachers will return to school in a month.  Teachers of all types must have patience.  Paul writes to Timothy, charging him to, “Preach the word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, encourage with great patience and careful instruction” (II Timothy 4:2).  Teachers cannot lead effectively unless we follow one truth:  We must be the calm when others are the storm.  Once we become the storm, we completely lose control of the situation.

That advice also applies to every member of the church.  Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:14, “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”  Being “patient with everyone” is truly difficult, yet God expects us to relate to this church family, to this body of Christ, with tolerance.

Waiting is an integral part of patience.  It is very important to make a distinction between the two kinds of waiting.  First, consider an example of passive waiting.  In the play “Waiting for Godot,” two wags are waiting for somebody named Godot to come along and make their lives better.  They aimlessly wait and wait and wait and wait for Godot who never appears.

Contrast that example of passive waiting to an example of active waiting.

Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to the Inland China Mission, was on a voyage back to China.  The ship sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, located at the tip of South America, and entered the area of the ocean called the doldrums.  The ship sat there motionless, not having even the slightest breeze.

Once the ship had remained in one spot for quite some time, the anxious captain came to Taylor and said, “I need you to pray for favorable winds.”

Taylor responded, “I’ll be glad to pray for wind, but first you must hoist the sails.”

The captain balked, “My crew would think I was crazy if I hoisted the sails without wind.”

Taylor reiterated, “If you want me to pray for wind, you must first hoist the sails.”

Once the captain did as he was instructed, Taylor prayed for wind.  The wind came, allowing the ship to sail and continue its journey.

We are to actively wait for God.  That statement sounds like a contradiction, but it is not.  We are to be engaged in active waiting when we wait on God.  The great passage of Isaiah 40:31 says, “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”  Active waiting, one of the disciplines of the Christian life, renews our strength.

Third, great wisdom can result in patience.

One of our deacons, a patient confined in the hospital several days this week, sent me an e-mail that said, “I see that you’re preaching about patience Sunday.  I can’t attend the service, but I learned long ago that at times we just need to let our motor idle.  Usually those times are when we feel like stripping our gears.”

That analogy shows great wisdom. At times we do need to let our motor idle, and that type of waiting often happens when we feel like stripping our gears.

Consider some verses in the book of Proverbs that connect patience with wisdom.  Proverbs 19:11:  “A man’s wisdom produces patience.”  Proverbs 14:29:  “A patient man has great understanding, but the quick-tempered displays folly.”  Proverbs 15:18:  “a hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.”

You have heard the saying “All good things come to those who wait.”  I suppose I learned the truth of that proverb by fishing with my grandfather than by any other way.  Fishing demands patience.  Now that does not mean that a fisherman is to be passive.  A fisherman can try different baits and move to other locations.

I thought I would try to teach the virtue of patience to my grandson, Michael, when we went fishing several weeks ago.  The concept of patience was about impossible to teach because he caught a fish on his very first cast.  He could have easily said, “Why talk about waiting?  Look what I can do!”  Sometimes the elements work against us when we are trying to teach an important lesson.

Patience is often connected with endurance.  Some of you will be surprised to hear, maybe for the first time, that I was a runner in high school and college.  Honestly!  I ran the mile and the two-mile in high school and added cross-country when I attended Furman.  I know from experience that a long-distance runner may experience a kind of loneliness.  Many times these particular runners feel like quitting.  Running a long distance requires patience; it requires endurance.

During the Olympics, we will see many amazing runners.  All of them, at some point in their lives, feel as if they have hit a wall.  They just want to stop.  Life, as in running, requires patience and endurance.  The writer of Hebrews says in Chapter 12:1-2,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance – patience – the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Four times in the book of Revelation, John makes the connection between patient endurance and our suffering for the kingdom.  He talks about patience in terms of those facing trial for their faith, those being held in captivity, those experiencing peril by the sword, and those being persecuted because they have obeyed God and remained faithful.

Paul prays for Christians in his letter to the Colossians, telling them, “…we pray that you will be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Colossians 1:11).  Running the race of life takes a lot of gumption.  Life is hard, and every person feels like quitting at times.  Do not quit.  Remember that this fruit of the Spirit, this patience, keeps us moving, putting one foot in front of the other.

Fifth, patience has a connection with grief and sorrow.  Have you ever been a patient in the hospital?  There is good reason that a person in the hospital is called a patient.  When we are physically suffering and when we are experiencing sorrow, patience is required.  God can use the down turns in our lives such as a hospitalization, an illness, and a death, for good.  God is always working on us.  Romans 8:28 says that God works all things together, using these occurrences to mold and shape us.  Think of God as a sculptor, chiseling away on a piece of marble.  He is constantly forming and contouring us, trying to shape us into the person He wants us to be.

I reflect on my life and see many marble chips scattered on the floor where God was really chiseling on me.  He was molding me during the period I lay in traction from April until August with a broken neck.  He was molding me during the loss of our son.  Were those times painful?  Yes.  Were they productive? Yes.

Paul writes to the Philippians, “I know that God who began a good work in you will see it through to completion” (Philippians 1:6).  God is not finished with us.  He continues to work on us.  God has to be patient, but so do we.  Patience, suffering, and sorrow are an integral part of life.

Paul clearly links patience and hope.  In Romans 8:24-25 he says, “Hope that is seen is not hope.  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  Patiently waiting is not a matter of despondency; it is a matter of hope.  That association expresses itself in prayer.  The psalms repeatedly address praying to the Lord and then waiting on Him.  We offer a prayer to God and then wait for Him to respond.

God always answers our prayers in pretty much the way that we answer our children’s requests.

A child asks, “Dad, will you give me such-and-such?”

We might answer, “Well, let’s just wait and see.”

God may respond the same way, making us wait until a better time, a more appropriate time.

On another occasion a child may ask for something, and we respond, “No, you’re not quite ready for that yet.  The time will come later.”

Yet again they ask, and we grant their request.

God answers our prayers in the same way.  Many times God wants us to wait.  The anticipation of waiting gives to us, not only a deeper appreciation when the prayer is answered but also adequate time to really engage God, to allow Him to be at work in our lives.  He may not grant our requests in the way we desire, but He is always faithful in answering our prayers.

What does it mean when a Baptist minister loosens his watch, removes it, and places it on the pulpit?  It means absolutely nothing.  Most of us organize our lives with a watch, a calendar, and a day-timer.

This week my secretary received a call from a business, telling her that I had left my calendar at their office.

She told me, “You have to get your calendar today.”

I drove back to the business, but I must say that it was really nice not having it for just a few hours.

When I go to the beach for vacation, I immediately remove my watch.  Next I take off my shoes.

Patience is connected to hope in our view of time.  The Greek word chronos means measured time.  We live by measured time and actually become slaves to it.  We might look to the white rabbit in Alice through the Looking Glass who sings, “I’m late!  I’m late!  I’m late for a very important date! No time to say ‘Hello.’ Goodbye!  I’m late!  I’m late!  I’m late!”

The Greek word kiros, however, offers another meaning of time.  Those of you who grow tomatoes understand this term.  A time comes when tomatoes are ripe, ripe for the picking.  If we learn to emphasize this meaning of kiros, we come to appreciate the fact that some events happen only when it is a right time.  We cannot stand over a tomato plant and say, “Ripen, ripen, ripen.”  We just have to wait for the tomato to ripen in its own time.  We cannot push a child to walk.  We might offer encouragement, but a child will get up and walk when the time is right for the child.  Christians need to concentrate on learning to live by this sense of time.

Because I have many responsibilities on Sundays, I try to avoid a lot of busyness in my life on Saturday nights.  Last night, however, I attended the birthday party for our two-year-old granddaughter.  I would not have missed that event for the world.  She turns two only one time in her life, and her grandfather needed to celebrate this birthday with her.  It is one of those non-repetitive events that we dare not miss.

The novel Zorba, the Greek contains an excellent example of kiros.  Zorba, an impatient fellow, was walking through a field when he saw a chrysalis, a cocoon.  He removed it from the branch of a tree to see if a butterfly was inside.   He cracked open the cocoon with his thumbnail and watched as the butterfly emerged.  Zorba was disappointed when the butterfly was unable to fly.

Part of God’s plan in creation is for butterflies to struggle as they come out of their cocoon.  The great effort exerted strengthens their wings, enabling them to fly.  Zorba’s assistance in releasing the butterfly prematurely from its cocoon prevented its ability to develop the strength needed to fly.

We spend much time, trying to push events, trying to make them happen before their time.  We invent all types of gadgets to assist us in decreasing the amount of time needed for our efforts.  The microwave oven, which heats food more quickly than a conventional oven, comes to mind.  The appliance also does a number on cell phones, as I know from experience.

Finally, we need to consider the connection between patience and God.  Do you realize that God is patient with you?  He is certainly patient with me.  Paul wrote to Timothy, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (I Timothy 1:16).  Peter conveys the same message in 2 Peter 3:15, “Keep in mind that the patience of the Lord means salvation…”

Why is God patient with us?  God’s purpose is to bring us to the point of salvation.  He wants to save us.  We, too, must be patient in response to God.  We must wait upon him.  Some of that waiting, as we have said before, is in the life of prayer; but some of that waiting is also in the process of simply living by faith, faith that is not seen.  “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

We live by patience because we await the return of Christ.  Some seem to have given up on that hope though.  I still believe that Christ will return though it may not happen in my lifetime.  The truth is that no one knows when our Lord will return.  Regardless, we are supposed to live with a sense of expectancy.  It may be that, as the Apostle Paul learned, we will leave this life before Christ comes back.  He asserts in Philippians 1:21, “I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ whether I live or whether I die.  For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Though I do not know the time of Christ’s return, I do know that Christ is waiting for you.  He is waiting for you to make a decision to accept him, if you have never done that.  Perhaps you know the chorus, “The Savior is waiting to enter your heart.  Why don’t you let him come in?”  The Savior is waiting very patiently for you.


Kirk H. Neely
© July 2012

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