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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Personal Attributes of God

Don Stewart :: In What Sense Is God Patient?

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In What Sense Is God Patient?

The Personal Attributes of God – Question 15

The Bible speaks of “patience” as one of the attributes of God. While human beings can and do show patience with one another, our patience is always imperfect while the patience of God is perfect. Therefore, it is important to discover what the word patience means from God’s perspective? In what sense, is He patient?

The Bible Says God Is Patient

Patience has the idea of waiting without speaking or acting. Paul calls God the “God of endurance.” He wrote,

Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you agreement with one another, according to Christ Jesus... (Romans 15:5 HCSB)

We find the patience of God exercised in both testaments. The following observations about God’s patience should be made.

1. The Patience of God in the Old Testament

We have a number of examples of God’s patience that are recorded in the Old Testament. Specifically, He was patient with the people before the flood, He was also patient with the nation Israel while they were in Egyptian bondage, and He showed patience with Israel while they wandered in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. A number of lessons can be learned from each of these examples.

A. God Was Patient before He Sent the Flood

The Bible says the wickedness on the earth got to such a place that God wanted to destroy all humanity. We read the following in the Book of Genesis.

The LORD saw how bad the people on earth were and that everything they thought and planned was evil. He was very sorry that he had made them, and he said, “I’ll destroy every living creature on earth! I’ll wipe out people, animals, birds, and reptiles. I’m sorry I ever made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7 CEV)

Therefore, He decided to send a flood to destroy life on earth. Before God sent the flood He decided to save one family from the coming judgment; the family of Noah. The Bible says,

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Genesis 6:8 RSV)

Though God decided to destroy the world with a flood, He did not send it immediately. In fact, He waited some one hundred and twenty years.

Scripture speaks of the Lord’s patience before the Flood in this manner.

They had disobeyed God while Noah was building the boat, but God had been patient with them. Eight people went into that boat and were brought safely through the flood. (1 Peter 3:20 CEV).

Judgment was certain, but God was in no hurry to bring it about. As Noah built the boat, and preached the message of God’s coming judgment to those upon the earth, people still had the chance to turn from their sins and ask God for forgiveness. Unfortunately, the message of Noah was not believed except by members of his own family.

B. God Patiently Waited Four Hundred Years before Israel Went on Their Way to the Promised Land

In another example of God’s patience, we find that He promised Abraham that his descendants would enter the Land of Promise. Yet, it would be four hundred years before this was to be fulfilled. The Bible says,

Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.” (Genesis 15:13 NIV)

Again, the plan of God was set, but there was no rush to complete it. The people would have to spend a number of years as slaves in Egypt before they would see the Promised Land. Indeed, some four hundred years.

C. God Patiently Let the People Wander for Forty Years before Entering the Land

Even when the people were set free from the bondage of Egypt, they did not immediately enter into the Promised Land. The generation that had left Egypt wandered in the wilderness for some forty years. They did not believe that the God who set them free from Egyptian bondage would help them defeat the people they saw in the land of Canaan.

Because of their unbelief Scripture tells us that all of them over the age of twenty, except for Joshua and Caleb, died in the desert. The New Testament explains it this way.

And who were those people who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Weren’t they the ones Moses led out of Egypt? And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom was God speaking when he vowed that they would never enter his place of rest? He was speaking to those who disobeyed him. So we see that they were not allowed to enter his rest because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:16-19 NLT)

Their unbelief kept an entire generation from entering the Promised Land. Again, God was in no hurry to fulfill His promises.

From these three Old Testament episodes we discover that God has a plan for humanity and that plan will be carried out. However, the plan will be carried out according to God’s timetable, not ours. God is a patient God who is in no hurry to accomplish His purposes.

2. The Patience of God in the New Testament

We also find the patience of God also expressed in the New Testament. In particular, we this occurred in the life and ministry of Jesus and of Saul of Tarsus.

A. Jesus Waited Thirty Years before Beginning His Public Ministry

Jesus, as God the Son, came into our world according to the perfect timing of God the Father. We know that at the age of twelve, He recognized His calling. However, the Bible says it was not until Jesus was about the age of thirty before He began His ministry to the world. Luke records His appearance to the world in the following manner.

When Jesus began to preach, he was about thirty years old. (Luke 3:23a CEV)

From the age of twelve to the age of thirty, Jesus, fully knowing who He was, and what He was supposed to do, continued to wait patiently for the proper time to begin His public ministry. His patience teaches us a great lesson.

B. God Was Patient with Saul before His Conversion

The Bible says that God was patient with Saul of Tarsus while he jailed and killed Christians. Upon his conversion, Saul became the Apostle Paul. Later, Paul wrote of the patience and mercy that God had showed him.

I used to say terrible and insulting things about him [Jesus], and I was cruel. But he had mercy on me because I didn’t know what I was doing, and I had not yet put my faith in him. (1 Timothy 1:13 CEV)

Again, we find that God takes His time to complete His plan. He was in no hurry to complete what He had started in the life of Saul.

3. God Is Presently Showing His Patience in a Number of Ways

There are a number of different ways in which God is presently patient with humanity. They are as follows.

A. God Is Patient with Injustice in the World

God hates the injustice that is presently found in our world. Yet it seems that He is doing nothing about it. However, this is not the case. We find that when the martyrs in the Book of Revelation cry out to God to right the injustice they are told to be patient for a short while. The Book of Revelation records this event as follows.

When the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of everyone who had been killed for speaking God’s message and telling about their faith. They shouted, “Master, you are holy and faithful! How long will it be before you judge and punish the people of this earth who killed us?” Then each of those who had been killed was given a white robe and told to rest for a little while. They had to wait until the complete number of the Lord’s other servants and followers would be killed. (Revelation 6:9-11 CEV)

The martyrs will be avenged in God’s time. We are in a hurry but the Lord is not.

B. God Is Patient for His Name to Be Vindicated

God is waiting for His character, or name, to be vindicated. People deny that God exists, reject the idea that Jesus Christ is the one way to the one God, and ridicule the idea that Christ will come again. However, when Jesus Christ returns, judgment will come upon those who have rejected Him as their Savior. Paul wrote,

But God will use this persecution to show his justice. For he will make you worthy of his Kingdom, for which you are suffering, and in his justice he will punish those who persecute you. And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-9 NLT)

Someday, He will vindicate Himself. Until that time, He is patient with humanity. Again, this is a great lesson for each of us.

C. God Is Patient, Waiting for Humans to Repent

God is patient with human beings who are presently in sin. For those who are practicing sin, God wants them to turn away from their sin and to Him. The Bible says that God is patient because He wants people to repent. Peter wrote,

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9 NLT)

The reason as to why God does not judge these people is that He is waiting for them to repent.

Peter also wrote about the Lord’s patience a few verses later. He said,

Think of our Lord’s patience as an opportunity for us to be saved... (2 Peter 3:15a God’s Word)

While it may seem that the Lord is delaying the time of His return, His delay is actually a sign of His loving patience with sinful humanity. He keeps giving them chance after chance to repent of their sin.

Conclusion: As God Has Been Patient with Humanity, We Should Be Patient with Others

There are lessons to be learned from the patience of God. As He has been patient with the human race, we should be patient with others. We are to reflect God’s patience in our lives.

Summary – Question 15
In What Sense Is God Patient?

The Bible says that one of the attributes of the God of Scripture is His patience. This consists of God waiting before actually acting. Scripture is full of examples of the patience of the Lord.

The Bible says that God exercised His patience in the Old Testament period. We have the example with Noah and the people before the flood. God waited some one hundred and twenty years to send the flood while Noah was preaching about the coming judgment.

There is also the example of the children of Israel in bondage in Egypt. They had to wait four hundred years for their deliverance. However, as always, the promises of the Lord came true and they were set free from the bondage of slavery. Yet, once they left the land they still had to wander some forty years in the desert before the promise was finally realized. In all of this, God was patient with His people.

There are also examples of God’s patience recorded in the New Testament.

For example, Jesus waited patiently until age thirty before He began His public ministry. We know that He was conscious of His identity at age twelve. However, He waited another eighteen years before unveiling Himself to the world.

Saul of Tarsus persecuted those who believed in Jesus. In doing so, he believed that he was doing God’s will. God was patient with him and eventually Saul was converted to Christ. This enemy of Christianity became the Apostle Paul; the greatest champion of the faith.

God is presently showing His patience in a number of ways. First, He is waiting to right the wrongs that His people are suffering. All wrongs will be righted. There will indeed come a time when they will be revenged.

Also, the Lord will vindicate His own name when He returns. Those who have denied Him will discover that He is indeed the only God who exists. While there are scoffers and doubters now there will not be any when He returns.

Finally, we are told that the Lord is patient with sinners because He desires them to come to repentance. As God has been patient with humanity, we, in turn, are to be patient with others. In doing so, we will reflect one of His attributes.

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