The word, or derivations of it, are found in the following Scriptures. It will repay us to look them up and consider them. Romans 2:4; 9:22; 2 Corinthians 6:6; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 1:11; 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Hebrews 6:12 (patience); 1 Timothy 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:10; 4:2; James 5:7,8 (patient); 5:10 (patience); 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:9.
The same characteristic of God is seen in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18) and represents the restraint of His anger in the face of provocation. It is usually in association with His gracious and merciful character towards sinful and rebellious man. In the New Testament it is usually (though not always) used of restraint in the face of human provocation. As an exception see James 5:7 where the believer is encouraged to emulate the husbandman who waits for the fruit of the earth. Vine defines it as “that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish; it is the opposite of anger and is associated with mercy”. It has a slightly different shade of meaning from the word patience.
Before trying to find it exemplified in the life of the Lord Jesus, let us examine a few of its uses in the epistles.
1. “Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering?” (Romans 2:4). Here it shows that it is a deliberate withholding on God’s part of His undeniable power to avenge Himself if He chooses to. It is that spirit which could wipe out the man who hurts and insults but which, in patient mercy, stays its hand. The passage really means, “Do not think that the fact that God does not punish you is a sign that He is powerless to do so. The fact that God’s punishment does not immediately follow sin is not a sign of the powerlessness of God; it is a proof of the longsuffering of God”.
2. “Strengthened with all power, according to the might of His glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy” (Colossians 1:11). Here it represents again “that quality of mind and heart which enables a person so to bear with people that their unpleasantness and maliciousness and cruelty will never drive him to bitterness; that their unteachableness and foolishness will never drive him to irritation, and that their unloveliness will never alter his love”.
3. “Love suffereth long” (1 Corinthians 13:4). An American statesman named Stanton, a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln, made no secret of his contempt for the President. He publicly mocked him. Lincoln did not retaliate, in fact he made Stanton his war minister considering him to be the best man for the job. For many years he treated Stanton with courtesy. When Lincoln’s body lay in a small side room of the theatre in which he had been assassinated, Stanton stood over him and said, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen”. The patience of love and non-retaliation had conquered in the end.
We see longsuffering at its finest in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Roman centurion who directed the crucifixion of the Lord was deeply impressed by the final hours of this despised Man. He would have heard that cry of forgiveness as his soldiers nailed the King to the cross. He would have noted His silent suffering as abuse and scorn rained down on Him from practically every quarter. He watched His quiet dignity and His refusal to be drawn into retaliatory word or deed. Finally as He spoke His last words the light broke in upon this hardened solider and he exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). Love suffereth long and by it Christ triumphed.
Read again the account of His trial, note His silence when a word would have been enough to annihilate His accusers. “When He was reviled He reviled not again; when He suffered He threatened not.” The injured, insulted One is He to whom all authority had been given in heaven and on earth. He gave to these accusers the very breath that they breathed. One of the officers struck Jesus. What was the Lord’s reaction? Jesus answered him. He answered a blow with a word “Why smitest thou Me?” At the Lord’s own confession more than twelve legions of angels were awaiting His command. In Hezekiah’s day one angel destroyed 185,000 soldiers in one night! Twelve legions now on hand but not summoned. Longsuffering!
One day He is coming back, seated on a white horse and bearing the title King of kings and Lord of lords and as He rides from heaven followed by His armies also on white horses, “Out of His mouth proceedeth a sharp sword that with it He should smite the nations”. The vast armies assembled against Him, armed to the hilt, will not strike a blow. He will smite them with His words. No doubting His power. Then why at His trial and crucifixion did He not wield that power for His own release? To fulfil the will of God He bore it all and the malicious cruelty hurled at Him did not move Him to retaliate. Man’s hatred drew only the response of patient love.
While we may profitably search for illustrations of the Lord’s longsuffering, it is perhaps only once specifically referred to in Scripture. “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all His longsuffering” says Paul (1 Timothy 1:16). As this proud Pharisee watched with pleasure the stoning of Stephen; as, like a wild animal, he tore the Church in Jerusalem to pieces; as He scattered the Christians like sheep fleeing from an incensed wolf; as he journeyed to Damascus empowered to repeat the massacre there, why did the Lord allow him to go on? Why did He not wipe him out at a stroke? Paul himself gives us the answer the longsuffering of Jesus Christ!
“Put on therefore as God’s elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12).
“If God had been a man He would have taken His hand long ago and, with a gesture, would have wiped out the world, but in His longsuffering He bears with the sins and follies and disobedience of men. The great obligation which rests on the Christian is just this he must be as longsuffering with his fellow men as God has been with him”.