Covenant Reformed News
March 2017 • Volume XVI, Issue 11
Our Calling to Be Longsuffering
As God’s elect, redeemed and regenerated people, we are called to reflect our heavenly Father’s communicable attributes, including His longsuffering to us. By His grace, we do this! Longsuffering is included as the fourth virtue in the ninefold fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (22-23).
In I Corinthians 13, the greatest biblical chapter on Christian love, it is the quality mentioned first: “Charity suffereth long [i.e., is longsuffering], and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up” (4).
Colossians 1:11 contains part of Paul’s desire and prayer for believers, that we may be “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” The Apostle’s petition here is that God would grant us spiritual strength so that we are able to be longsuffering towards others, able to control our own spirits (without getting sinfully angry), tongues (without speaking hastily or bitterly) and bodies (without striking people).
The book of Proverbs contains three texts which praise the blessed virtue of longsuffering, here translated “slow to anger” or “slow to wrath.” First, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (16:32). Here longsuffering flows from inner power so that we are able to control our spirits, as in Colossians 1:11. Second, “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly” (Prov. 14:29). Here longsuffering is proof of our spiritual understanding in Christ (cf. Isa. 11:2). Third, “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife” (Prov. 15:18). Here the believer, possessed of the Holy Spirit’s peace, exercises longsuffering so that strife does not result.
I Thessalonians 5:14 applies to our behaviour towards everybody, head for head, but especially, in its context, towards our brothers and sisters in the church: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient [i.e., longsuffering] toward all men.” How necessary in the congregation is this grace of longsuffering, lest foolish words and rude behaviour mar the communion of the saints and grieve the Holy Spirit of God.
Here are a couple of other New Testament passages that connect longsuffering and church unity. First, Ephesians 4 exhorts us to be diligent “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (3), for the church is “one body,” created by “one [internal] baptism,” animated by “one Spirit,” believing “one faith,” possessed of “one hope,” serving “one Lord,” and worshipping “one God and Father of all” (4-6). But how? “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (2).
Second, in Colossians 3 also, longsuffering (12) serves the fellowship of believers (13) and “peace” in the “one body” of Christ’s church (15). Let us heed the apostolic exhortation: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (12). The command to the individual child of God to “put on” various spiritual graces, including longsuffering, shows how our ongoing sanctification and growth in the image of God (10), including longsuffering, serves the unity of the church.
As well as the calling of all Christians to be longsuffering and the role it plays in congregational peace, Scripture also speaks in three places of the importance of longsuffering in the work of the Apostle Paul and Evangelist Timothy. These passages of God’s Word especially apply, in our day, to ministers of the gospel.
Paul wrote II Corinthians with Timothy (1:1). In chapter 6, the Apostle explains how we give “no offence in any thing” (3) and so manifest ourselves “as the ministers of God” (4), even in the midst of slander, persecution, poverty and distress (4-10): “By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned” (6)!
In his last canonical epistle, Paul reminds Timothy of his apostolic persecutions during his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14) at Antioch, Iconium and Lystra (II Tim. 3:11). Paul also speaks of the battle with false teachers (1-9, 13). In the midst of these references to persecutors and heretics, and in sharp contrast to them, the Apostle tells Timothy, “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience” (10). One needs grace to suffer long when one is being cruelly persecuted by wicked men and vehemently opposed by false teachers!
We end this article, and thus the series of nine articles on longsuffering, with II Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” The visible church includes weak believers and even some hypocrites. Not all the physical children of believers are elect; there are also among them a carnal seed who will, in due time, reveal themselves as such (Rom. 9:6). It has been well said that “God has a billy goat in the congregation to make the minister humble!” From all this, it is evident that faithfulness to Christ will include admonition and the exercise of church discipline regarding the impenitent. How necessary it is, therefore, that the pastor “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all … doctrine,” bringing the full teaching of the objective Word of God to those who err. Subjectively, the minister must also “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering”!
Rev. A.Stewart, pastor of Covenant PRC, Ballymena, N. Ireland
- Volume: 16
- Issue: 11
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851