Someone noted that “longsuffering” is the ability to “suffer long” with people and circumstances; to put up for long periods of time with disagreeable relationships and situations. It is relatively synonymous with our use of the word “patience.”
It is the word that describes God’s patience with a world of sinners. God, he has told us, hates sin and he is prepared by his very righteous nature to punish it. But though he hates sin, God loves sinners and in His longsuffering is putting off the day of judgment to provide transgressors time to turn from their iniquity. The apostle Peter tells us: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).
As disciples seek to imitate the love of God Paul teaches them that love “suffers long, and is kind.” In the apostle’s descriptive portrayal of God’s greatest commandment, he also notes that love “is not provoked,” or as another version says, “is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor 13:5, ESV). All brethren appreciate the longsuffering and patience of God, but, as the brethren at Corinth, are often short of it when relating to one another (1 Cor 3:1-3).
We sometimes struggle with it when relating to newborn babes in Christ. We too often expect them in the early weeks and months of their lives in Christ to have all the character of a mature saint. But in longsuffering we must patiently work with them to nurse them, to spoon-feed them, and to speak daily words of encouragement over a considerable span of time. As long as we see in them signs of belief, indications of effort, openness to reproof, and elements of spiritual life—there is always hope that with longsuffering and nurturing these babes will mature unto the measure of the stature of Christ. That is the goal of every local church in its work of edification (Eph 4:11-13).
I recall when I was first selected and appointed to the eldership, I was easily discouraged by the response of some to my visits and words of encouragement. And it was important to keep reminding myself that these things take time and that there were other avenues I needed to explore in trying to reach these brethren. I remembered the words of Peter and Paul and counseled myself to be “patient” and to be “gentle” in seeking to reach the hearts of weak brethren and implant within them the seeds of faith and hope and love that bear the fruit of faithfulness and devotion to God.
What is so easy to forget is that many folks have spent years messing up their thinking, perverting God’s design for their lives, and digging themselves into a deep pit of self-centered and worldly behavior. Let us not think that a few home studies, baptism into Christ, and a couple of exhortations are going to set everything right in a newborn’s life in Christ. It is easy when sinners obey the gospel to forget about the demands and difficulties of repentance.
Repentance demands an entirely different way of thinking, calls for a completely new lifestyle, and requires a commitment and devotion to One I must permit to control me totally. Bringing forth fruit worthy of repentance is no small task and if God sees the need to be “longsuffering” with sinners, who am I to take this quality of life lightly.
And so it is with all of us brethren. We must keep trying to teach our erring brethren. We need to call on them, send them cards of encouragement, and pray for God’s help in reaching them. Elders cannot accomplish the work of restoration alone. We have recently received the help of many members and have seen signs of encouragement in some of our weak members. Longsuffering is good, but is not just sitting and waiting for brethren to repent. It calls for patient effort to bring them to repentance.