Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 6, 1958
NUMBER 43, PAGE 5a-14b


George T. Jones, San Antonio, Texas

"Fruit" in the vegetable world describes a matured product. It is frequently used in the New Testament to denote a product that is pleasant and profitable. In describing the character of the "children of light," Paul writes of "the fruit of light" saying it is "goodness," "righteousness" and "truth" (Eph. 5:9). In the passage treated in this issue, "the fruit of the Spirit" is set forth in contrast with "the works of the flesh." The fruit of the Spirit is the product of the Spirit's indwelling. True Christian character evinces the fruit of the Spirit.

One indispensible ingredient of this beautiful fruit is longsuffering. Just as with the other characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, it behooves every Christian to learn from the Scriptures what longsuffering is and make it a part of his character. In this paper, we have three objectives: (1) Set forth what longsuffering is; (2) give some scriptural demonstrations of it; and (3) make some practical application of it.

In the Old Testament, longsuffering is the translation of two Hebrew words which literally mean "long of nose" or "breathing." Since anger was manifested by rapid and violent breathing through the nostrils, the term came to mean "long of anger" or "slow to wrath." God is said to have this characteristic in Ex. 34:6: "The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." The word is translated "slow to anger" in the ASV. It is used a number of times in the Old Testament to indicate this same characteristic of God. Notwithstanding this definition, it is fitting that we take this precaution while examining longsuffering in the Old Testament. Many persons, upon beholding this definition, erroneously conclude that it means tolerance. While that such is not the meaning of this attribute of the fruit of the Spirit will be demonstrated more fully later, we want to show that tolerance is not attributed to Jehovah in the Old Testament by His being ascribed the trait of longsuffering. In Nahum 1:2,3: "Jehovah is a jealous God and avengeth; Jehovah avengeth and is full of wrath; Jehovah taketh vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies. Jehovah is slow to anger . . . and will by no means clear the guilty." It will be evident to every reader of this passage that while Jehovah is "slow to anger," He does not tolerate error or sin.

In the New Testament, longsuffering means "to be of a long spirit, not to lose heart." Further, "to be patient in bearing the offences and injuries of others; to be mild and slow in avenging." It carries the idea of not giving up quickly as opposed to shortness of mind, irascibility and impatience. It is likewise attributed to God in the New Testament, indicative of His bearing long with sinners and being slow to execute judgment upon them. In his rebuke of the Jews for having sinned in the light of the law, Paul asked, "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4.) God's longsuffering nature kept Him from giving up quickly on the Jews and turning His wrath upon them at once. Again, it does not mean that God approves, condones or tolerates sin or sinful people. In the first chapter of the Roman letter, Paul declared of the Gentiles, "God gave them up." Ultimately, God gives up on sinful men when their determination not to repent becomes a foregone conclusion. He finally gave up on the Jews as a nation.

As to demonstrations of longsuffering, two passages in the two epistles of Peter give as clear portrayals of it in action as can be found. "That aforetime were disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing." (I Pet. 3:20.) The apostle writes of the disobedience of the antediluvians in Noah's day. Genesis 6 informs us: "And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Seeing this wicked condition of man, what did God do? Did He at once destroy man for his wickedness? The Bible says not. He commanded Noah to build an ark. During the time the ark was in preparation, Noah was preaching. (2 Pet. 2:5.) God waited for a period of over one hundred years. Peter declares this was the longsuffering of God. This certainly does not mean God tolerated the wickedness then prevalent. It does mean He gave them ample opportunity to repent but finally destroyed them all because they would not.

A second vivid demonstration of longsuffering is in second Peter, chapter 3. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is long-suffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." This is a part of Peter's inspired answer to the mockers who would mockingly say of the judgment, "Where is the promise of his coming?" Peter first answers the mockers by saying the continuation of all things in the natural realm as they had been from the beginning was no proof that judgment would not come. Then he accounts for the so-called "delay." First, he says the Lord does not reckon time as we do. Second, he declares God wants none to perish but all to repent. Hence, what seems to be delay is longsuffering on God's part. The earth continues to stand and the gospel continues to be preached. Why? Because God is longsuffering. Further evidence of this is seen in verse 15, in which Peter says "And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation." But there is not a syllable of God's truth hinting Jehovah has a tolerant attitude toward any sin of which men may now be guilty.

Longsuffering exhibits itself in the character of the Christian just as it does in God. Longsuffering is not one thing in the Lord and another in the Christian. Since it is not tolerance of sin on God's part, it cannot be correctly construed as tolerance of sin on man's part. Its application to Christians is set forth in a number of New Testament passages.

In I Cor. 13:4, Paul wrote: "Love suffereth long." Since Christians are commanded to love their brethren (I Pet. 1:22.), we have the proper setting among brethren for the exercise of patience in bearing the offences and injuries of our brethren. We must not be hasty to write them off. Again, this does not mean we are to condone our brother's error or sin; or, that we should fail to preach against it. We should patiently reason with him from the Scriptures to show him his wrong.

In Eph. 4, Paul declares this longsuffering disposition essential to keeping the unity of the Spirit. How essential it is under the pressure and strain of present conditions not to be hasty in cutting off these brethren who disagree. It is not the spirit of longsuffering that demands ostracism for those who will not wear the brass collar of orthodoxy.

Even so, those who are longsuffering should know that all for whom patience is extended will not properly repent. The Lord who was longsuffering said of the false prophetess Jezebel: "And I gave her time that she should repent; and she willeth not to repent of her fornication." (Rev. 2:21.) Blessed is the child of God who possesses the spiritual maturity to know when he has extended the full measure of longsuffering.