Some people picture God as akin to a miserly dictator Who is eager to find a cause to crush the vile human race He created. Is that the way the Bible portrays God? Romans 2:4 reads: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” Romans 15:5 emphasizes God’s patience: “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be likeminded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus.” Peter wrote: “the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2 Peter 3:15).
God is patient because He does not want anyone to be eternally lost. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). One meaning of “patience,” according to the Illustrated Oxford Dictionary, is “the capacity for calm, self-possessed waiting.” God has promised that there will be a day when sinners will receive their final condemnation (2 Peter 2:9; 3:7), but God is waiting in order that more sinners might accept and obey the Gospel. Wayne Jackson noted biblical examples of this patience:
The Lord’s wrath is not inflicted impulsively. Rather, history repeatedly has demonstrated that God exercises “much long-suffering” toward those deserving of punishment (Romans 9:22). His patience was demonstrated to the generation of Noah’s day (Genesis 6:3). He longed to spare corrupt Sodom (Genesis 18:26ff). Jehovah revealed himself to Moses as a God who is “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6; cf. Psalms 103:8). The Lord was even long-suffering with a wretch as vile as Ahab (1 Kings 21:29). For centuries He was tolerant with the arrogant and stiff-necked nation of Israel (Nehemiah 9:17) .
We desperately need God’s patience, just as the apostle Paul did. Paul was given the opportunity to be saved, despite the fact that he was “the chief ” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15-16; see Nicks, 1981, p. 190). Potential for salvation rests in God’s patience. Rather than instantly destroying people when they sin, He providentially gives people opportunities and encouragement that should lead to repentance (Titus 2:11). God expects us to request His continued patience as we make mistakes (1 John 1:9; Luke 11:4), and He shows His patience by continually forgiving us of our sins when we do (based on the sacrifice of Christ’s blood and our sincere obedience to His will; see 1 John 1:7).
We should emulate the patience of God. Romans 2:6-7 emphasizes the necessity of patience in the lives of Christians: “[God] will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (emp. added). Paul instructed Christians to be patient: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, emp. added; cf. Christ’s parable of the impatient servant in Matthew 18:23-35). People cannot be saved unless they have patience, because without patience, the Christian’s work is impossible (see Ecclesiastes 7:8; Ephesians 4:2; 2 Timothy 2:24; James 1:4). Patience also is necessary because other essential Christian virtues, including faith, hope, and joy, are dependent on it (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3; 15:4; Colossians 1:11; see Nicks, 1981, pp. 191-192). William Barclay observed:
If God had been a man, He would have taken His hand and wiped out this world long ago; but God has that patience which bears with all our sinning and which will not cast us off. In our lives, in our attitude to and dealings with our fellow men, we must reproduce this loving, forbearing, forgiving, patient attitude of God toward ourselves (1958, p. 56).
God’s patience is balanced by His perfect justice. Unforgiven sin will be punished, but God’s patience allows time for repentance (Matthew 25:41; 2 Peter 2:9; see Colley, 2004). Isaiah 30:18 makes it clear: “Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is God of justice; blessed are those who wait for Him.” God’s generous patience should motivate us to obey Him.
Barclay, William (1958), The Daily Study Bible: Letters to Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster).
Colley, Caleb (2004), “God’s Mercy and Justice,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/1860.
Illustrated Oxford Dictionary (2003), (New York: Oxford), revised edition.
Jackson, Wayne (2000), “The Righteousness of God Revealed,” [On-line], URL: http://www.christiancourier.com/feature/february2000.htm.
Nicks, Bill (1981), “Patience,” Continuing in the Doctrine, ed. Bill Nicks, M.H. Tucker, John Waddey (Knoxville, TN: East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions).