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How Is Longsuffering a Fruit of the Spirit?

Longsuffering is a character trait of God, a trait that God wants His children to develop as they become more like the image of His Son. It is one of the nine characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit.

Jul 14, 2022
How Is Longsuffering a Fruit of the Spirit?

Longsuffering is sometimes translated as “patience,” but the actual meaning of the word goes far beyond just being patient. Used as an adjective (a word or phrase that expresses quality or condition as belonging to something), longsuffering involves patiently enduring wrongs or difficulties, enduring mental and/or physical difficulties without complaint from which the cause is people.

Patience, as a noun, is having the quality of bearing provocation, annoyance, or pain without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like, from which the cause is circumstance or events.

When we are waiting on God, we are to be patient (Psalm 37:7; James 5:7-8), to wait on God with anticipation (Luke 12:35-40; Psalm 5:3; Psalm 130:5), to perform what He will in His time (Titus 2:13).

We look to Him with the hope (confidence) of what He has promised. Such patience develops strength (Isaiah 40:31) to endure and persevere, looking forward to the Day of Redemption (Philippians 1:6; James 1:4).

When we are ministers of His gospel, building up believers in the faith to being a witness of what God has done in us so we can minister to others with the ministry of reconciliation — we are called to exercise longsuffering.

Waiting on the Lord

Patience, then, is about waiting, enduring, persevering, and being hopeful of God’s goodness, graciousness, and love for His children. 

Longsuffering, then, is about enduring for a while those people who mean to do harm, to cause us to suffer for Christ’s sake, and to demonstrate God’s love to those who do not yet know it.

As a characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit, the act of being patient is implied (as patience is in the definition of longsuffering), while the active role of longsuffering — putting up with (enduring) others who wrongfully act against you — is the Christ-like character a believer is to develop and grow.

Another way to view longsuffering is to have self-restraint when one is stirred to anger. In other words, the Bible describes God as “slow to anger” (Numbers 14:18; Psalm 86:15).

Believers are instructed to be slow to anger (Proverbs 19:11; James 1:19), demonstrating love, patience, kindness, and gentleness — more fruit of the Spirit characteristics.

When the disciples asked Jesus how many times they were to forgive someone who wronged them, Jesus replied, 70 times 7 (Matthew 18:21-22). Forgiveness, however, happens when the person asking for forgiveness does more than just show remorse or just verbalizes, “I’m sorry.”

Forgiveness occurs when the person asking for forgiveness demonstrates repentance — turning away from the wrong or evil done — and demonstrates a heart-felt change. That doesn’t mean the person will never sin again (hence, the 70 times 7), but it cannot be a continued lifestyle of sinning to which he can then simply ask for forgiveness.

At some point, sin must be addressed beyond “forgiveness.” The misinterpretation that we are to continually forgive others without there being an act of repentance or without a level of consequence is wrong!

Clearly, God says that vengeance belongs to Him (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:17). Taking revenge against someone is a sin. Laying consequences or judgment against someone is not only allowed but expected.

The teaching on church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13) is clear, addressing the open sin lifestyle of those professing to be Christians.

If such open sin is in a church, it is to be dealt with quickly, not left to fester or be in danger of having it spread throughout the members.

Paul also addresses the false teaching propagated by the Gnostics that it was “acceptable” for a Christian to continue sinning in the flesh because his spirit was sealed and secured by God.

Paul asks the Romans if it is ok to continue in sin so that more of God’s grace is available to forgive them, to which he replies, “God forbid!” (Romans 6:1-2).

What Is the Purpose of Longsuffering?

Believers are to be longsuffering with other believers. We all know each person is created uniquely with differing personalities, character traits, and emotions.

God uses each unique person for ministry through providing a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit and by planting the fruit of the Spirit in each believer’s life.

Focusing on those differences can lead to all sorts of problems — jealousy, envy, irritation, and anger. But believers are instructed to concentrate on our commonalities — we are all part of one body with Christ as the Head (1 Corinthians 12:20).

We have different gifts that are provided by the same Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4), but those gifts are to be used together to edify and build up each other in the faith (1 Corinthians 12:7), to use in ministry with the saints (Ephesians 4:12-13) and in the community (1 Peter 4:10) to reconcile others to Him, and to come together for worship and praise (1 Peter 4:11).

As believers grow in the fruit of the Spirit, we should see each other growing in Jesus’ characteristics and help each other succeed in maturing that fruit. That process builds the church, builds each other’s faith, and glorifies God as we become more like the image or reflection of Jesus.

For unbelievers and non-Christians, we are to demonstrate longsuffering as God does. A person who does not have the Spirit of God living inside is already dead in sin. It is the believer’s role to reconcile them back to God (2 Corinthians 5:18), not judge them or condemn them.

It is necessary, then, for the believer to exercise longsuffering — to endure the irritation, the wrongs, the mental and physical difficulties caused by our relationships with non-believers.

As mentioned in a previous article, believers are to do everything possible to live peaceably among all people.

Exercising longsuffering and being slow to anger provides the opportunity to live peaceably with those who find all things related to God as foolishness (2 Corinthians 1:18; 2:14).

It is God who will avenge the evil in the world (Romans 12:19). Paul writes in Romans 1 that man is without excuse, having seen the wrath of God through nature and knowing it is God who will judge the unjust (Romans 1:18-32).

Just as in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20) and at the end times (Revelation 6:10), God’s longsuffering for those He wants to be saved will turn to judgment (Romans 2:5).

God’s character does not simply allude to longsuffering, but His character is longsuffering. It is described as tolerant to a point, patient, and full of kindness to bring people to Himself (Romans 2:4; Joel 2:13). When appearing to Moses, God describes His character (Exodus 34:6).

God demonstrates His longsuffering to those who are against Him as well as to believers who need correction.

The purpose of God’s longsuffering is to provide mankind with all the opportunities to accept Jesus and be saved (2 Peter 3:15). Over and over, God demonstrated His longsuffering with His chosen people, the nation of Israel (Ezekiel 20:17; Isaiah 48:9) and with His children (Romans 2:4).

When God is longsuffering toward us, we may eventually reach a point in which God acts to chastise us (Nehemiah 9:30). God is longsuffering in that He doesn’t want anyone to perish.

But there is a point where God’s holiness, righteousness, and judgment against sin and those who have refused Him will turn to His wrath (Jeremiah 44:22).

When a person becomes so bad that God draws the line on His longsuffering, with all that is left is His wrath and judgment, the person ultimately gets the outcome deserved.

God’s grace, mercy, and longsuffering come to a point of no return, where it is not offered unconditionally forever, but only up to the point where He has had enough.

Revelation provides the outcome for those who openly defy God, reject Him and His love, and at the precise time in God’s timeline, face His wrath.

While there is yet time, find His love and accept His offer to live with Him for eternity rather than being separated from Him in an eternal lake of fire (Matthew 25:46; Revelation 21:8).

What Does This Mean?

Longsuffering is a character trait of God, a trait that God wants His children to develop as they become more like the image of His Son. It is one of the nine characteristics listed in the fruit of the Spirit.

God limited His innumerable traits to these nine for us to develop, so they must have significance to God Himself as He works to perfect or complete us as His children.

Longsuffering requires enduring patiently, without complaint, those who can irritate or work evil against us or simply to slow our anger so we can work together to bring glory to God and fulfill His calling. It brings us closer to Jesus as it brings us more into His image.

For further reading:

How Is Love a Fruit of the Spirit?

How Is Joy a Fruit of the Spirit?

How Is Peace a Fruit of the Spirit?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/cegli

C.com authorRandy DeVaul serves as a community/crisis response chaplain with a national Christian response team and as a deacon, missions coordinator, and small groups leader in his home church in Central Florida. Published regularly since February 2000, Randy is a regular contributor to international, regional, and local trade, lifestyle, and news publications and author of three workplace safety books. You can follow him here and here.

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