The first three fruits of the Spirit Paul lists in Galatians 5 are mental qualities oriented at our relationship with God. The next three are interpersonal qualities oriented at our relationships with others: patience, kindness, goodness.
While some translations use the word patience, it is helpful that others use the word forbearance. Vocabulary.com explains: “Patience is a person’s ability to wait something out or endure something tedious, without getting riled up.” While forbearance is listed as a synonym for patience, it’s definition also states: “a delay in enforcing rights or claims or privileges; refraining from acting.” Paul’s word choice communicates that it isn’t just about waiting but rather how we act while we wait. Specifically, how do we act in the face of difficult people? How do we act when provoked?
When someone has wronged us (or we perceive a wrong), it can feel like we are justified to retaliate, judge, or write off that person altogether. Society constantly reinforces the idea that tolerating a wrong makes us weak and cowardly. Characters in our movies and TV shows must have the courage to fight back and take action when wronged. However, we are not called to conform to the patterns of this world but rather we are called to be holy as the Lord our God is holy (1 Peter 1:16, Leviticus 11:44-45).
What does our holy, righteous God do when His beloved people fail to treat Him as he deserves to be treated? Our entire Bible is one case after another of this exact situation, but let’s take a closer look at the Israelites who had just seen the Lord perform miracle after miracle as He delivered them out of slavery in Egypt. God speaks to the Israelites and makes clear His covenant relationship with them. If they obey, there will be blessings. If they disobey, there will be curses. The Israelites respond, “We will do everything the Lord has said” (Exodus 19:8, 24:3, 24:7) However, it takes no time at all for the Israelites to become impatient and break the first commandment. They demand that Aaron make them a god to worship and they bow down to a golden calf. The Israelites deserve God’s wrath, but he ultimately refrains from wiping out the entire nation.
Right after this sinful betrayal by his people, God self describes himself to Moses as “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6). The Lord our God in his righteousness cannot tolerate sin and evil; there were consequences in the Israelite camp and there will be consequences for all at the final judgment. However, an important characteristic of our loving God is his ability to forbear, not dishing out immediately what is deserved but allowing his people space to repent and build character. Paul in Romans emphasizes that God’s forbearance and kindness is not meant to be taken for granted but “meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4)
Paul continues in Romans 3:21-26 to explain that the reason God can forbear is because he gave his son Jesus Christ as a payment for what the law and justice requires. If we, in faith, repent and ask for forgiveness, Christ’s blood covers our sin. If we don’t repent, we die and the penalty is also paid. Christ, being in very nature God, could have easily stopped the physical, emotional, and verbal abuse that he suffered, but instead in forbearance, he chose to stay and shed his blood on the cross that we might be reconciled to God. He served as a propitiation that allows our righteous God to turn his wrath away from his beloved people.
If my life is to reflect God’s character, I must not be quick to retaliate when someone has insulted or offended. Satan would love nothing more than for me to hold a grudge or have a resentful attitude toward someone who has wronged me, but I am called to forbear and act kindly in mercy. Forbearance allows for unity which pleases God, but it doesn’t come naturally in our flesh. It is only if I shift my attention from what someone else has done to what God has done for me that I have a chance to respond to difficult people in a God-honoring way. It is only the power of the Holy Spirit at work within me that can produce the fruit of forbearance in my life.
– Amanda R.