The Incorruptible Patience of God
Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus (Romans 15:5 NKJV)
I want to demonstrate from Scripture a monumental truth that I believe can utterly deliver myriads of sincere believers from either momentary or protracted periods of discouragement, despondency and despair. Of all the categories of peoples on the face of the earth, Christians above all should be walking in overcoming joy and faith. And yet we have all experienced those instances and periods in our lives wherein we have fallen into some aspect of discouragement. This is not to say that Christians won’t experience their share of trials and tribulations. The Bible clearly teaches that our relationship with Christ doesn’t exempt us from worldly troubles and woes. On the contrary, we are told that we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God.
I am speaking here more of those occasions when we find ourselves seemingly not measuring up to what we believe God’s expectations really are for us. We sincerely want and intend to follow the teachings of Christ but find ourselves somehow missing the mark once again. Paul shares this point of view in Romans 7:15,19 NLT
I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate…I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.
Paul answers the questions he raised in Romans 7 in the following chapter beginning with verse one.
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Paul is reminding us that as born again followers of Jesus our spiritual position before the Father is that of being “in Christ Jesus.” In this spiritual position we can no more be condemned than Christ. The exception to this would be if we knowingly, willfully chose to walk in the flesh rather than have as our normal intention and manner to walk according to the Spirit.
Let’s look for a minute at our opening passage from Romans 5. Herein lies a truth regarding the very character of God that not only can lift us out of our discouragements, but can also sustain us in our walk of joyful faith in Christ. When Scripture says that our heavenly Father is a God of patience, it is fervently declaring something of the immutable nature of God himself. Those characteristics which define God are never whimsical but are always and forever unalterable and the same yesterday, today and forever. The word “patience” in our text is translated from the Greek “upomohn” It carries the following meaning:
The characteristic of one who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings
This is telling us that God will never be diverted or swerved from his eternal purpose for our redemption and that his loyalty and faithfulness toward us is irrevocable. God does not become upset, disgusted or weary with our shortcomings and failures. When we falter in our faith, He is never dissuaded from his design for us from eternity past. If this be true, and Scripture confirms it is, then whence comes the periodic discouragements and despondency in our lives? The obvious answer to this is Satan, also known as “the accuser of the brethren.” However, the deceptive tactic he uses is to get us to do his dastardly work for him. Satan entices us into the destructive activity of self-abasement and self-condemnation. This in turn carries with it debilitating feelings of shame and guilt. When we fall prey to this unscriptural behavior, we are literally in denial of biblical truth and in essence repudiating something of the authentic character of God. Learning to successfully counter Satan’s debilitating tactic is what we can discover in observing Jesus’ relationship with his disciples.
When Jesus chose his original twelve disciples, he didn’t go shopping among the learned or elite of Judah. Jesus was a man of the people and he selected an array of characters from everyday life. Of the occupations we have knowledge of, four were fishermen, one was a thief, another was a hated tax collector who extorted money from his own people, and another was known as a Zealot who advocated anarchy and sought to overthrow Roman tyranny. Jesus didn’t choose men who were refined, educated and socially adept. Rather he chose those who would trainable, shapeable, entreatable and able to be molded into his image. He didn’t select these men because they would mostly get things right and therefore make the ministry flow more smoothly. He picked them because they would inculcate the lessons he offered based on their failures.
In looking at some of the failures of the disciples, it is Jesus’ response to them that is our key in understanding the incorruptible patience of Father God. Where others would doubtless be exasperated given their behavior, Jesus used the occasions as teaching, shaping moments. We find in Luke 9 one of the several occasions when Jesus attempted to convey to his disciples the circumstances of his impending death through betrayal. This particular sharing took place following Peter, James and John’s experience of Jesus’ transfiguration and the subsequent miraculous deliverance of the demon possessed boy. His message to them is accentuated with the prologue, “Let these sayings sink down into your ears.” I think it is safe to say that Jesus was asking them to grasp the significance of what he was about to tell them.
He then proceeds to tell them that he will be delivered into the hands of men. It is understandable why Jesus’ death was presently on his heart as his coming death in Jerusalem was the topic of discussion with Moses and Elijah on the mount. However, Scripture relates that the disciples completely failed to comprehend Jesus’ meaning and lacked courage to question him further about it. Then comes the kicker. Out of this context the disciples began to “reason” among themselves as to who would be the greatest of them. The word translated as “reason” in this passage covers everything from inward considerations to actually disputing with others regarding the particular subject. With hindsight our sensitivities can easily be offended as we see what was really exercising the hearts of the disciples given what they had just been told. It would be easy to judge their behavior as insensitive and even crass from our point of view.
In this account, it is written that Jesus perceived the thoughts of their hearts. This would suggest that on this particular occasion the disciples had not yet come to that place of outwardly disputing their relative positions with Christ. Our account doesn’t tell us whether or not Jesus was at least tempted to berate them for their incredible insensitivity and self-promoting interests, but what it does relate is how he countered their lurid response with a didactic moment illustrating the essence of constituted greatness in the kingdom of God. I am personally awed by the very extent of Jesus’ selflessness in this situation as he left off with any consideration of himself and chose to offer a life giving lesson to his disciples.
There are multiple similar and illustrative examples that could be recalled here but for the sake of brevity I will highlight only a few more. In Matthew 20 we have the account of the mother of James and John beseeching Jesus for special positions of honor in his kingdom. Only your imagination can answer for you why it was that their mother was the one to approach Jesus with respect to their request. But once again, there was no adverse response from Jesus. He used the opportunity to advance their understanding of what they were really buying into and to bring their focus to a kingdom level. The fact that the other disciples were “moved with indignation” demonstrates that their hearts were literally in the same place although still unprofessed.
While sharing a meal with his disciples in the home of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster box of precious ointment and poured it on Jesus’ head. The response of the disciples was to utterly miss the significance of her generous and worshipful act toward Jesus ostensibly having a greater concern for the possible good done for the poor. Scripture says the disciples had indignation and called it a waste. To be indignant means to have anger over something that is unjust or unworthy. Once again as we examine this story with hindsight, it is so easy for our sense of propriety to be offended over the insensitivity and behavior of the disciples. In essence they were judging her motive in this gracious act as evil. They literally considered her act of devotion a “waste.” We want to loudly protest, can anything offered to Jesus be considered a waste? As of before, Jesus, rather than having any concern for himself, redeems the situation by commending her thoughtfulness and rendering an understanding of its meaning.
Lastly we go to the Passover meal Jesus shares with his disciples prior to his arrest in the garden. On this occasion Jesus shares how one of them will betray him into the hands of wicked men. The disciples were very sorrowful in hearing this and began inquiring among themselves which of them could do such a thing. And then once again, in the context of this awful prospect of Jesus’ impending crucifixion and death, arises the self-promoting, self-aggrandizing issue of the disciples’ relative positions of importance and authority in the kingdom. Luke 22 relates that there was “a strife among them.” There was literally contention among the disciples over their personal importance and stature.
In one of those moments representing tremendous personal need for reassurance and support from his very closest and most trusted associates, Jesus once again forsakes his own concerns and chooses to nurture his companions. He plies them with a kingdom teaching that will be resurrected in them post-ascension and serve them throughout their coming ministries.
Jesus, who is the “express image” of the person of God, has shown us the incorruptible patience of the Father. He has demonstrated over and over again the very nature of Him who will never give up on you. He knows of our frailties and that we are not yet perfected. He is not caught off guard when we falter and miss the mark. He stands ever ready to redeem every failing with life altering counsel, support and encouragement. When we miss the mark, if we will simply fall before the Lord with godly sorrow and repentance, he will lift us up and restore us with even greater spiritual vitality than we had before.
In a world where the natural bent of man was to make sure those who faltered were made well aware of their failures, Jesus always chose to take those failures and bring something redemptive from them. He was always able to deflect the personal offence and redeem the situations because he was utterly grounded in the love and acceptance of his Father, “The God of patience and comfort.” Now we are also being asked to emulate Jesus’ life and do likewise. We start from that same position that Jesus experienced at his baptism. We must hear the voice of God to our hearts that we are the son/daughter he loves and with whom he is well pleased. As the beloved of God we are free to forsake judgmental and critical responses and offer encouragement and hope to one another.
In James 5 we are enjoined to look to the farmer as an example of exercising patience. The context here relates to the second coming of Christ. However, the principle highlighted is both instructive and universal; as the farmer waits patiently for the early and later rains, we also should be patient in all our dealings. If this is what we are called to, it has to perfectly reflect the very nature and character of our heavenly Father in his dealings with us.
They refused to obey, and they were not mindful of Your wonders
that You did among them…But You are God, ready to pardon,
gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness,
and did not forsake them.
Nehemiah 9:17 NKJV