What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24 ESV).
God is patient. “Far less has been written upon this than the other excellencies of the Divine character. Not a few of those who have expatiated at length upon the Divine attributes have passed over the patience of God without any comment. It is not easy to suggest a reason for this, for surely the longsuffering of God is as much one of the Divine perfections as His wisdom, power, or holiness, and as much to be admired and revered by us. True, the actual term will not be found in a concordance so frequently as the others, but the glory of this grace itself shines forth on almost every page of Scripture. Certain it is that we lose much if we do not frequently meditate upon the patience of God and earnestly pray that our hearts and ways may be more completely conformed thereto” (Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 70).
What is God’s patience, or as we could also call this attribute, his longsuffering or forbearance? Stephen Charnock answered this way. “It is a part of the Divine goodness and mercy, yet differs from both. God being the greatest goodness, hath the greatest mildness; mildness is always the companion of true goodness, and the greater the goodness, the greater the mildness. Who so holy as Christ, and who so meek? God’s slowness to anger is a branch of His mercy: ‘the Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger’ (Psalm 145:8). It differs from mercy in the formal consideration of the subject: mercy respects the creature as miserable, patience respects the creature as criminal; mercy pities him in his misery, patience bears with the sin which engendered the misery, and giving birth to more” (Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 2, pp. 478-479). With this in mind, we should understand that God’s patience involves a sort of meeting point of God’s holiness and his love. A number of times God reveals himself as slow to anger (Nahum 1:3), and often this characteristic is linked with his compassion, love and grace (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8).
God’s patience is very great; for example, the apostle speaks of the riches of his patience (Romans 2:4). As the psalmist teaches, God is patient with his people continually, as the Holy One interacts with sinful people (Psalm 78:32-39). Patience shows God’s self-control in the face of provocation that is not only high-handed in the case of the wicked, but which comes from less than totally committed people who speak of our love for him. In human relationships we know the pain that comes when one party is less than faithful. Though we cannot frustrate the God, as we would be frustrated, because God is self-satisfied; nevertheless that does not excuse our lack of faithful love and trying God’s patience (Isaiah 7:13).
The patience of God is an integral part of God’s plan. Having decided to make known to his chosen people the riches of his mercy, it was necessary for the Lord to act with patience toward those he passed by (Romans 9:22-24), in order that he could call us out from that people. Clearly, if God had judged our pagan ancestors immediately, they would not have existed to be part of the line of human reproduction leading to us. For this reason, God acted with patience in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20), and afterward, letting the nations go their own way, while still providing for them (Acts 14:16-17; 17:30). God was patient with Israel after the Exodus, enduring their conduct in the wilderness (Jeremiah 11:7; Acts 13:18), in order that Christ might eventually come from Israel (Romans 9:5). And even more directly, God’s patience is directly active in preserving our lives prior to our regeneration and conversion, in order that we might come to salvation (2 Peter 3:9, 15). God’s patience is also evident in his forbearing to punish those who lived before Christ’s sacrifice. He forgave them and justified them through what Christ would do on the cross, and so in his forbearance he left their sins unpunished until Calvary (Romans 3:25-26).
When God is patient, it is an omniscient patience. He sees our sin and abhors it, yet he wills to look on us with pity. God’s patience does not come from his weakness, but from his strength. He has the ability to judge at any time, but chooses to restrain his anger to make known his grace.
God expects us to imitate his patience by being patient and forbearing (Colossians 3:12-13) in our interaction with other people. And we are to be patient in the face of suffering (James 5:7-11). We require patience to finish the course God has marked out for us (2 Timothy 4:7). In fact, patience is a key quality of true love (1 Corinthians 13:4).
Grace and peace, David