Up next in our Marks of a Christian series is: patience. Now, when we think of patience, a lot of us will surely think of being told to wait for something. I tell my daughter all the time to wait; wait for me to finish sending an email before playing soccer ball with her, wait for her food to cool down before eating, wait for mommy to get home, and the list goes on. I also spend a lot of my time having to wait for things: wait for my Amazon package to get here, wait for my new grass to grow, wait for my paycheck to arrive, and my list also goes on. I’m sure you can easily think of specific things that you have to wait for without much effort. The point is that we all spend time waiting for things. No matter how fast Amazon gets, I will always be waiting for my package for some time. And while being a Christian, I should be able to wait patiently for packages and paychecks and other fun things, that’s not fully the picture of what patience should look like for believers. There is something more to patience than just waiting to receive something we want without pitching a fit.
Patient with each other
Ephesians 4:1-3 - 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Paul here is addressing how believers should treat others, specifically their fellow believers. The Bible teaches us that those who follow Jesus belong to the family of God. Like any family, the family of God operates best when all members are looking out for the interests and caring for others. This is where patience comes in. Paul says that we are supposed to live our lives with patience for others, bearing with them in love.
Now, if you’re like me, I am a very impatient person. It is a problem that I have. Not just in waiting for a package to arrive, but for me it also means that I struggle to be patient with people who just aren’t getting it. At college, I would get super annoyed with my classmates for asking questions when I felt that if they had just paid attention they would already have the answer. I would get frustrated anytime I felt my time was being wasted because I already understood the assignment and just wanted to get on with it. Imagine with me what it would feel like to be the person on the other side of my impatience. If I make you feel dumb or stupid for asking that question, we certainly will not get along well, nor will you get the answers that you need to grow and learn. This is the exact opposite of what Paul is saying should characterize believers.
We have talked about how the Holy Spirit is the one who helps us to live out these characteristics, and the same is true with patience and unity in the family of God. If we are believers, we belong to the same family, have the same Spirit indwelling us, and have the same responsibility to patiently bear with each other.
You will notice that none of these characteristics are popular things being taught in our world today. It is entirely possible that the world has never been more impatient than it is today. Between all that we have access to at our fingertips with our amazing phones, to the speed at which we receive packages, to even our methods of cooking food, we do not spend much time waiting at all. Nor do we spend any effort or put any value in putting up with people who will not advance our goals. It is incredibly counter-cultural for you to put up with, much more, to show love to someone who you struggle to get along with or who annoys you.
Yet, this is not what we see from Jesus when He comes to earth. He seeks out those who are less desirable, spends the bulk of His time with disciples who largely seemed clueless to what He was doing most of the time, and loved people who nailed Him to the cross. As followers of Jesus, we are called to and enabled by the Holy Spirit to show this same patience toward others, to bear with them in love. 1 Thess. 5:14 says that we are to admonish (correct) the idle (lazy), encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and be patient with them all. This is what Jesus did and does, and this is what we as followers of Him are called to do.
Patient in waiting for the Lord
James 5:7-11 - 7 Be patient, therefore, brothers,[a] until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
Not only are we to display patience with others, but we are also called to be patient in waiting for Jesus to return and set all things right. James uses the picture of waiting for fruit to come as a farmer. If you have ever been apple picking in the fall, you know it is a fun experience that you often will do with family or friends. You get some pictures, you eat some apples, maybe get some apple cider or donuts, and you enjoy the fruit. But someone had to plant that fruit from the seeds. Someone had to water it, defend it from pests and animals, and keep it growing until it was ready for you to come along. It is a process that cannot be rushed and must run its course for you to enjoy the sweet taste of those apples.
The same is true for waiting for Jesus to return. James encourages the followers of Jesus that he is writing to, to remember the example of the prophets in the Old Testament. These prophets did not know when the Lord would return, but they faithfully and patiently waited and did what God told them to do. James specifically mentions the example of Job. If you don’t know much about Job, basically God allowed him to go through a terribly hard set of circumstances and trials. Job lost his family, his finances, and even ended up finding out that his friends weren’t very good friends after all. Job’s health even was affected as he got these terrible boils and sores all over his body and was just miserable. Despite all of this, Job would not curse God. Job was unbelievably patient and faithful and in the end was rewarded for that. James wants his listeners, and us today, to hold fast to the promise of God, to remember that Jesus is coming back, and to remember the compassionate, merciful heart of God. Sometimes, when we are going through challenging times, we can’t always see what God is doing. So, it can be helpful to look back either at your life or at the life of someone else and remember what God has done in the past. This is why James gives the example of Job. If God provided for a situation as bad as Job’s, certainly He can provide for you.
Life as a Christian is not easy. It is worth it, yes. It is better than anything else, yes. But it is not easy. Patience does not happen on its own. It is only through relying on God that patience is forged through the fires of people who get on your nerves, situations that threaten to destroy you, and sins that seem like they will never get punished or stopped. No matter your stage of life, if you are a true Christian, you will face situations that challenge you to grow in your patience. It might be a classmate at school, a sibling at home, a coworker at a job, or a situation God is allowing you to go through. I don’t know what those situations are like for you, but I do know that God calls us to patience, equips us with the Holy Spirit to be patient with others, and is so incredibly patient toward us who constantly mess up and need forgiveness and grace.