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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 13: Clarity About the Fruit: Patience

Don’t you get weary of people and their problems? Especially when they are the problem? How do you endure the unfathomable things people do? Do you respond by wishing God’s judgment on them? Or do you long for a better outcome for them than the one they seem to have chosen?

How you think while you wait is what patience is all about. It’s not just about hanging in there during bad times or putting up with tough customers. The word for that is perseverance.

Patience is about the self-restraint which is demonstrated when a person does not hastily retaliate against a wrong. The patience that the Spirit produces in you is the kind that looks at people as damaged by sin and cultivates a desire in you to see them made whole. This desire stays the hand of revenge. It’s not for the cowardly, but for those who keep in step with the Spirit.

Paul, in a reflective moment, confesses to Timothy that, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man . . . for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1Timothy 1:13,16)

Paul was hardly the guy you would have voted for as someone who was to be an integral part of expanding the gospel, least of all to the Gentiles. Fierce in his Jewish beliefs, he was the perfect kamikaze (i.e. divine wind), to attack anyone stupid enough to follow Jesus. Hatred was his compass. Death was his objective.

And his changed life was so unexpected that even Ananias, who Jesus sent to explain things to him, probably took out extra insurance before timidly following through Jesus’ orders. He and all the rest of the earliest believers had low expectations that Paul could change.

Since Jesus is our example, what does Jesus displaying patience reveal to us about this spiritual fruit of patience?

Well, the first thing is that when we are keeping in step with the Spirit, we should not let the worst of people get in the way of expecting God to be able to change them. Often we react to uncalled-for behavior like James and John in their ‘sons of thunder’ days, ready to call down lightning from heaven on them.

Patience teaches us to see people from God’s perspective. They are lost or they are broken or they are mixed up. No matter what bad things they are engaged in, even if it is against us, patience lets us comprehend that, in God’s time, on earth or at the judgement seat, He will accomplish His purposes in them.

I have a friend who was as toxic as they come. I heard of his reputation long before I met him through those who had been the target of his spleen. I knew that God could change him and offered to guide him towards intimacy with God. Others were glad I was concerned but weren’t sure he should be allowed to stay in the group.

But God had a different perspective and gave me patience to see the day—and it was not a long wait—when this man was broken before God and healed. God displayed His glory and we got to see it.

This brings me to the second lesson about Jesus’ patience. If you have patience, you get to be part of the amazing thing God is doing to change people from the inside out. Maybe you will even be the person He uses in the process.

It is the immature, the impatient believer, who ends up missing out on what God would do through them if they would just wait, hold their tongues, withhold their condemnation. In our rush to judge, to play the role of the prophet—even when this is not our gifting by God—we find that the targets of our wrath are not being drawn to Jesus and the good news. They are being repelled by our ungodly attitudes. We need to pay attention to this.

God values people we would consider throwaways. Jesus died for them too. So keep in step with the Spirit and allow his work to change your exasperation into forbearance and mercy. Not for your own sake, but for the sake of the One who is continuing to have patience with you.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith