In the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, known as the "Chapter of Love," Saint Paul the Apostle presents to us the attributes of love or the virtues that a loving person should adorn himself with. Amongst these virtues is patience or longsuffering, "Love suffers long" (I Cor.13:4).
What it the meaning of longsuffering?
Longsuffering means having a spirit that is patient and slow to anger. A person who loves another should not get angry quickly, but should be patient with him. He should internally calm himself, enduring the mistakes and weaknesses of that other individual, while trying to deal with them quietly and with tolerance. On the other hand, when a person closes his heart towards another human being, he will not tolerate him or be patient with him. On the contrary, he will take into account the smallest mistakes and will pay attention to the most insignificant matters. Saint Peter the Apostle advises us saying, "And above all things have fervent love for one another for love will cover a multitude of sins" (I Peter 4:8). No one can have patience and longsuffering towards others, unless his heart is full of love for them.
Patience and longsuffering require divine intervention. By nature, man becomes angry quickly and condemns others, especially when their mistakes are obvious. Therefore, Saint Paul the Apostle describes longsuffering as one of the fruits of the Spirit, "but the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Gal. 5:22).
May the Holy Spirit work within us and help us to bring forth the fruit of longsuffering. However, this requires our prayers and supplications so that God may grant us this fruit.
As mentioned previously, patience and longsuffering are amongst the qualities of love. The foundation of God’s relationship with us, our relationship with God, and our relationship with one another are all based on love. Let us reflect on God’s patience with us and the importance of longsuffering in our relationship with God and in dealing with one another.
A. God’s Patience With Us
Patience and longsuffering are divine qualities. Saint Paul the Apostle experienced God’s longsuffering and patience, thus he said, "… sinner, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show about longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe in Him" (I Tim 1:15-16). We can see that Saint Paul defines the goal of God’s longsuffering as leading sinners to repentance. Yet, he warns us against disdaining it, by saying, "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that God leads you to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4).
As for Saint Peter, who denied Christ, but later repented, we see how the Lord accepted him with kindness and patience. Thus he talks about God’s longsuffering saying, "…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9).
Also David the Prophet chants in the Psalms about how God is longsuffering, how He is slow to anger and is merciful by saying, "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy towards those who fear Him; as far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust" (Ps. 103:8-14). David sinned; nevertheless, despite his sins, God accepted him. Undoubtedly, this led David to experience the profoundness of God’s longsuffering and patience.
In dealing with humans, God has patience with them and tolerates them in order to lead them to repentance. There are countless examples that illustrate God’s patience with humans. It is impossible to enumerate them all, but we will mention a few.
1. God’s Treatment of the Israelites:
They were stiff-necked, always grumbling, sinning, worshipping idols, and deviating from God’s commandments. Yet God dealt with them with enormous patience and longsuffering. Moses the Prophet said, "The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression" (Num. 14:18). Also Nehemiah the Prophet said, "but they and our fathers acted proudly, hardened their necks, and did not heed Your commandments… But You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness and did not forsake them" (Neh. 9:16-17).
2. God’s dealing with Pharaoh:
God was very patient with Pharaoh. After every time the Egyptians were struck by a plague, Pharaoh would promise to let the Israelites go. But as soon as God lifted the plague, Pharaoh’s heart hardened and he broke his promise.
3. God’s Patience with Jonah the Prophet:
God prepared the big fish to swallow Jonah. When Jonah repented, God accepted his repentance and saved him. Later, when God did not let the Ninevites perish, Jonah grumbled. Again, God treated him patiently and prepared for him the plant by which he tried to explain to him the essence of the matter.
4. God’s Patience with the Gentiles:
The gentiles deviated, were corrupt, and worshipped idols. Yet, God was patient with them, as in the case of Nineveh, which was a gentile city. God sent them Jonah the Prophet, and when they repented, God accepted their repentance and did not destroy the city.
5. Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Patience with His disciples:
Our Lord Jesus Christ dealt with His disciples patiently and treated their weaknesses, which were manifested in such things as their inability to stay awake with Him, their escape at the time of the Crucifixion, Peter’s denial of Christ, their doubts about the Resurrection, their inability to understand the meaning of His teachings, and their rivalry over which one of them was the greatest. With patience and longsuffering, Our Lord Jesus Christ changed the hearts and nature of His disciples, turning them into a strong and courageous group able to preach the Gospel and the Resurrection to the whole world.
6. Examples of God’s Patience in the New Testament:
Our Lord Jesus Christ was patient with the Samaritan woman, with Zacchaeus, with Simon the Pharisee, with the rich young man, and many others.
7. Examples of God’s Patience with Other Sinners:
There are many examples of sinners who were led to repentance by God’s longsuffering and kindness such as Saint Augustine, Saint Moses the Black, Saint Mary of Egypt, and many others.
In the parable about the fig tree, we are reminded of God’s longsuffering which leads to repentance. The tree was about to be cut down, but it was said of it, "…let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if it does not, after that you can cut it down" (Luke 13:8-9).
We pray that God may have patience with us and not treat us according to our sins and iniquities.
B. Our Patience in Our Relationship with God
In our relationship with God, it is required that we have patience and longsuffering, since He manages wisely all aspects of our lives and grants us our needs before we even ask. But all is granted in due time, i.e. "in the fullness of time." We neither know nor comprehend God’s wisdom in how He manages our affairs, especially when it comes to timing. Therefore we should say with David the Prophet, "I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined to me and heard my cry" (Ps. 40:1). Also he said, "wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait I say, on the Lord" (Ps. 27:14). Our Lord Jesus Christ advises us saying, "By your patience possess your souls" (Luke 21:9).
Joseph the Righteous waited for God and endured slavery, as well as false accusations in Egypt. Through all that, he remained true to God, Who fulfilled his dreams, and he became a master to his brothers who had previously conspired against him. David, who was anointed king by Samuel the Prophet, waited for God and refused to resort to human methods, such as killing Saul to obtain the throne. Although he had two opportunities to kill Saul, who was chasing him, he refused and said, "The Lord forbid that I should stretch my hand against the Lord’s anointed" (I Sam. 26:11). At the right time, God gave him the kingdom and the throne.
On the other hand, Abraham the Patriarch did not wait for the Lord. Instead, he resorted to human means and listened to Sarah’s advice on how to beget a son. Eventually, this led him and his family to many problems.
Also, Mary and Martha did not wait for the Lord and thought that Christ came late. Each of them told Christ, "Lord if You had been here, my brother would not have died" (Jn.11:21,32). Christ asked them to be patient, and He raised Lazarus from the dead after four days.