Longsuffering is an intriguing word. Anyone hearing this word for the first time may wonder, “why would I want to suffer” and more importantly, “why would I want to suffer for a long time?” “Why would God want me to suffer? The word suffering conjures up visions of extended illnesses, cruel treatment by others, extended emotional distress, intense physical pain, losses, and many other visions of hurt, pain, or sorrow.
I recently heard about a man who has faced many struggles in his life. He has suffered from the trials of alcoholism and depression, resulting in the loss of both his marriage and his job. Thereafter he suffered from serious liver disease and had to have a liver transplant. A short time later, he faced more surgery followed by chemotherapy as he battled cancer. After winning that battle, he was once again struck with a serious illness that left him totally incapacitated and near death for 6-8 months followed by an extra 10-12 months of rehabilitation as he now seeks to regain his physical strength.
This individual certainly has endured “long” “suffering” as he faced the challenges of one life battle after another. Yet, is this the type of suffering that is referred to when Scripture speaks of “longsuffering”? Possibly, however, I believe “longsuffering” really speaks to our attitude during periods of physical, emotional or mental struggles.
The Greek word for longsuffering, makrothurnia, is most often used to describe God. The Greek root word really means “put fury far off while suffering wrong or injustice”. Today’s definition for longsuffering in the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary is very similar. It reads, “patiently enduring lasting offense or hardship”; “accepting pain or hardships calmly or without complaint”; or “the capacity to endure what is difficult or disagreeable without complaining”.
Patience, endurance, forbearance, leniency, are all a part of “longsuffering”, as we are asked to actively respond to opposition and difficulties in our lives, not simply to exhibit a passive resignation to what may seem to be the inevitable. Paul prays for his friends “for all patience and longsuffering with joy” in Colossians 1:11. In Romans 5:3-5, Paul tells us that “…tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope.” Paul continues to tell us in 1 Corinthians 13, that patience is a characteristic of true love.
Only God can be truly longsuffering, slow to anger, without complaint. God shows His longsuffering toward us each day as He is patient with each of us as we fall short of His plans in our life. Peter tells us to “consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation”.1 We can know then that God is also patient with non-Christians until they come to know and accept Him as their Lord and Savior. He waits, with loving arms, on us and withholds from us His frustration at our slowness in accepting Him or our failed attempts to walk in His way.
Therefore, as Christian we are asked to be patient with others, especially during difficult times or in times of adversity. So if only God is truly longsuffering, how can we be patience or longsuffering? As Christians, we are able to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit. It is by walking in the Spirit that we are able to develop a longsuffering attitude that cannot be destroyed regardless of our circumstances and it is solely by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to have patience in our lives that no one can defeat.
The man I discussed above has definitely endured human suffering on many fronts and over many years of his life. Without knowing the state of his soul or knowing him personally, it is difficult to know how he has handled these difficult times. Was he able to find joy, hope during these times or did he simply resign himself to his circumstances? It is my prayer that he has felt God’s patience and the patience of Christian family and friends as he has walked this painful walk.
The decision to turn suffering into patience and hope in our lives is a personal decision that we must each make. It begins by accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and it continues by embracing the power of the Holy Spirit to develop in us the Godly attitude of longsuffering and patience as we face the trials and hardships in our lives and in the lives of our family and friends.
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3
1 2 Peter 3:15 NKJV