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Posted by George Crowder, 14 Jun 2021

George Crowder considers the Christian virtue of patience.

I confess that I all too often overlook that patience is a Christian virtue.  I am eager to be faithful to Jesus as Lord.  I want to see his mission advance.  I want to stay true to the way of life revealed in his word.  I fail regularly, but I am renewed in spiritual enthusiasm when I am reminded of the doctrine of grace.  I want people to know that Jesus brings joy and peace.  I am concerned for the church to show Christian love, with kindness, gentleness and compassion, and though I see my great shortcomings in these areas I am committed to their necessity.  But patience?  I don’t give that much thought.  I am, typically, far too impatient to contemplate the place of patience in the Christian life.

We live in an impatient society, an instantaneous culture, a non-stop economy of fast results.  As one day is overtaken by the relentless advance of another, it is hard not to be drawn into a constant demand for the next thing to happen.

Yet patience is truly central to the Christian life, as borne out by its presence in the various lists of virtues in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 6:6, Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12).  We are, after all, a waiting people.  As Paul surmises in Romans 8:25, “we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” 

It may come as a surprise that the fulfilment of Christian hope is first an exercise of God’s patience and not ours.  Peter reveals this when he draws back the curtain on God’s will.  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Not only is the delay in Christ’s return an exercise of God’s patience, but also the gift of salvation.  After proclaiming that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom he is the foremost, Paul elucidates further.  “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1Timothy 1:16)

Patience is something we have received in our spiritual birth as Christians, and also received in the delay of Christ’s return to enable this to happen.  Our salvation and future hope are an outpouring of God’s patience, and the requirement of patience in response is a reflection of the patience we have received.  Indeed, by gratefully reflecting God’s patient approach to salvation, our exercise of patience is an act of worship.

To inspire us, the writer to the Hebrews invokes the example of the saints who have gone before, “so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Hebrews 6:12)

Patience challenges us to surrender the self-serving outcomes and indulgent rewards we crave for ourselves and submit to a greater salvation agenda set by God.  In the work of the gospel, Paul commands Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

In daily Christian life patience means, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive,” (Colossians 3:13).  Patience is not passive, however, as Paul urges us to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all,” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). 
Patience must characterise our response to those who oppose us.  Paul advises Timothy that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness,” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). 

Patience does not give up on pursuing gospel goals and biblical faithfulness, but identifies Christians as servants of Christ rather than personal ambition. 

This article was first published in the Church of England Newspaper and is reproduced here with permission.

George Crowder is one of Church Society's Regional Directors and vicar of St John's Church, Over.

Photo by Photo by KoolShooters from Pexels

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