If you have ever been stuck in a traffic jam or waited in line to get your driver’s license renewed or been within ten feet of a two year old having a temper tantrum, you might have noticed that patience is in short supply these days – maybe even your own.
How do we become more patient? Do we just try not to care anymore if that old lady wants to double-check her count as she pays for her senior coffee in pennies? Do I look the other way when the guy with the giant pickup truck tries to cut me off for the third time?
Thankfully, patience is not just a result of our efforts. No matter how hard I try to convince myself that I need to be patient, I usually end up feeling even more frustrated and angry. Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit working in me and you. Breathing exercises, counting backwards, exercise, talking it through, and hugging it out can be helpful, but without God’s help, our efforts will prove fruitless.
In Galatians 5, patience stands in contrast to “fits of rage,” one of the deeds of the flesh listed in 5:20. Since jealousy, quarrels, dissensions, envy, and strife are also listed before and after, “fits of rage” describes someone who loses his/her temper often, causing relationships with others to be destroyed because of its frequency, intensity, and incongruency with what triggered it. Nobody wants to be friends with a hothead.
Patience, then, is the opposite of fits of rage. If someone purposely tries to hurt you or disrespect you, it is perfectly natural to get angry. But that doesn’t give you the right to scream at them or act upon your anger by doing the same thing back to them. And it doesn’t give me the right to judge them and say that the guy that cut me off is overcompensating by buying an impractically oversized vehicle that he will never use for anything other than bullying other vehicles. Patience “refers to a long-suffering attitude towards other people, deferring one’s anger under provocation, and refusing to retaliate for wrong done to oneself” (Fung, NICNT, p. 267).
Patience means “literally ‘long in nostrils’ [from which anger is vented]” (F.F. Bruce, NIGTC, p.253). That doesn’t mean that people with big noses are the most patient, but people tend to flare their nostrils when they are angry so it makes sense that ancient wisdom would associate patience with having a big nose.
Think about it this way. When I first started cooking, I made some rookie mistakes. When I wanted pizza, I piled the cheese high and topped it with pepperoni and put it in the oven with nothing underneath it because the instructions said to do that for crispier crust. As the cheese melted, it started to drip down to the bottom of the oven. And since the box said it would be done in 20 minutes, I didn’t notice anything was wrong until I smelled smoke. There is nothing worse than the smell of burnt pizza. I opened all the windows, turned the fan on, and used a broom to fan the smoke detector so it didn’t go off, all in an effort to get rid of the smoke quickly. In other words, I had to vent it out or else the smoke would consume me. And the bigger the vent, the better.
It is the same way with anger. If you just try to contain it without any vents, your anger will consume you, raging within you until it explodes and ruins your relationships with others. But if you have good ventilation, you won’t get angry about little things and you will be able to control your anger.
Patience is rare because we are quick to be offended by others and quick to judge them for what we perceive as a personal attack on us. With the Holy Spirit’s help, perhaps we can become more patient if we remember these truths.
1. If we truly love our neighbors and even our enemies, then we can give them the benefit of the doubt and not be so quick to anger. Remember, the first description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient.” Love is also first among the fruits of the Spirit. If we love one another, we will be patient with them just as God is patient with us.
2. If we keep in mind that God is our judge and He is coming soon, we won’t be so quick to judge others and get angry at their sins against us. James 5:7-9 says, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” Just like the farmer cannot control when the rain comes, we cannot control when the Son will come. With this in mind, we can be patient with others without judging them because it won’t be long until God judges us. “Awareness of His nearness quenches all angry feelings against opponents and all overhasty sighings and murmurings against brothers.” (Kittel, TDNT, p.385)
So next time you are in a drive thru and the guy in the car in front of you asks for extra napkins then ketchup then honey mustard then extra straws and then wants to talk to the manager to complain because his water is too wet, let the Holy Spirit remind you to love him and you are not his judge. May we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us so we can be patient with everyone.