The Patience of the Saints
Are you patient enough to read this article? Many people today would not be. There are usually too many things to do, too many places to go, too many people to see . . . and the list goes on. Hopefully, you will choose to press on and patiently persevere.
We all often fail to realize how essential the quality of patience is in the Christian life. Many assume that if a person is not quick-tempered—if he or she does not become fretful or yell or otherwise lose control when under stress—that patience is therefore a complete virtue in that person’s life. It is falsely assumed that the quiet person who is relatively easy to get along with must surely have mastered patience in its fullness. But there is much more depth to patience than is normally seen on the surface!
Abraham had been promised that he would be the father of a great nation (). Yet, following that promise, 25 years passed and no child arrived. That’s a long time when you’re going through it! His wife had already passed the age of childbearing, so it was then humanly impossible to have a child. Surely they had been patient after waiting for so long, had they not? Yet most of us are familiar with the experience that occurred in Genesis chapter 16. Violating a principle of God’s law (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”) produced a child who eventually was to trigger turmoil in the household and needed to be sent far away ( , ; ). This was all due to a lack of patience.
What would we do under similar circumstances? In our current spiritual state, might we easily have fallen into the same trap after waiting for so many years? When seeking to accomplish a goal, beware of improvising any method that is contrary to God’s express commands. This may seem like an obvious statement to the Christian, but even Abraham, the father of the faithful, forgot about it—evidently during a weak moment. We may think we have waited long enough for something, but usually that is really not for us to decide. Beware!
Jacob was “a plain man, dwelling in tents” (). Surely he and his mother, Rebekah, appeared to be patient people, waiting for the birthright to be bestowed upon him as promised. Before the birth of her twins, Rebekah was given a message from God: “The elder shall serve the younger” ( ). From childhood Jacob, the younger twin, was much more devoted to religious matters, the one who yearned for that spiritual blessing.
In contrast, Esau, the firstborn “had no love for devotion, no inclination to a religious life. The requirements that accompanied the spiritual birthright were an unwelcome and even hateful restraint to him. The law of God, which was the condition of the divine covenant with Abraham, was regarded by Esau as a yoke of bondage. Bent on self-indulgence, he desired nothing so much as liberty to do as he pleased. To him power and riches, feasting and reveling, were happiness. He gloried in the unrestrained freedom of his wild, roving life.”1
So, the attitude of God-fearing Jacob was a refreshing opposite. Yet, surprisingly, after many years of waiting, it was Jacob and his mother that became the impulsive ones. They rushed to seize the birthright by fraud and deception. The history of the incident recorded in Genesis chapter 27 is well familiar.
“God had declared that Jacob should receive the birthright, and His word would have been fulfilled in His own time had they waited in faith for Him to work for them. But like many who now profess to be children of God, they were unwilling to leave the matter in His hands. . . . In one short hour [Jacob] had made work for a lifelong repentance. This scene was vivid before him in afteryears.”2
Such bitter regrets! Regrets that had to be borne by a man whose life had always been quiet and religious! After all, it was the impulsive twin Esau who in his youth had sold the birthright for a mess of pottage to satisfy his appetite—not Jacob. Surely, one would think, Jacob was the patient brother. But the stolen birthright reveals that—in his heart’s inmost recesses—Jacob was not really as patient as he should have been. Nor was his mother, even though she wanted the best for him.
What would we do under similar circumstances? After decades of waiting, and with Isaac seemingly on his deathbed, might we have rushed into taking matters into our own hands? Amazingly, Isaac did not end up dying until many years later! There was actually plenty of time in which he would have come around to recognizing that Jacob should receive the birthright. Inspiration reveals:
“Rebekah and Jacob should have waited for God to bring about His own purposes, in His own way, and in His own time, instead of trying to bring about the foretold events by the aid of deception. If Esau had received the blessing of his father, which was bestowed upon the firstborn, his prosperity could have come from God alone; and he would have blessed him with prosperity; or brought upon him adversity, according to his course of action. If he should love and reverence God, like righteous Abel, he would be accepted and blessed of God. If like the wicked Cain he had no respect for God, nor for His commandments, but followed his own corrupt course, he would not receive a blessing from God but would be rejected of God as was Cain. If Jacob’s course should be righteous; if he should love and fear God, he would be blessed of God, and the prospering hand of God would be with him, even if he did not obtain the blessings and privileges generally bestowed upon the firstborn.
“Rebekah repented in bitterness for the wrong counsel which she gave to Jacob. . . . Isaac lived many years after he gave Jacob the blessing, and was convinced, by the course of Esau and Jacob, that the blessing rightly belonged to Jacob.”3
Jacob and his mother miscalculated God’s timing through their lack of patience. They could not read the future, for no mere mortal can. That is understandable. But right at the crucial moment of temptation, after waiting what they felt was long enough, they failed to ask God first about what to do. Disaster.
The question of patience flows naturally into the subject of guidance. How often do we ask God to guide us, yet, like Pilate in the judgment hall, we are too impatient to receive the answer? The Bible has plenty of promises assuring us that God will guide the life of those who seek Him. Yet too often we fail to obtain that guidance in its fullness because we are too impatient to receive the answer. We rely on chance methods or rush through our prayers and rush through our life without pausing sufficiently to think through everything. (Remember, surprisingly, it was religious Jacob—not impulsive Esau—who impatiently stole that birthright. Yes, Esau had once bartered it away as a rash youth, but Jacob stooped to fraud to obtain it at a more mature age, when he was already a seasoned Christian young man.)
1. Go by principle.
In virtually every decision we have to make in life, there is normally a principle involved, based on the light that God has already entrusted to us. What is the principle relative to this case? Where is it? Find it. Don’t hide from it; don’t try to escape it. It may even be as basic as one of the Ten Commandments. Make your decision on that principle, whichever of the commandments and/or appropriate inspired Testimonies may be involved.
2. What am I supposed to learn from this?
In virtually every difficulty one has to face, there is something to be learned. Something I need to learn, you need to learn. Something needs to be learned. What is it? Find it. Patiently persevere for that proverbial needle in the haystack. It’s no mystery—the Bible tells why this trial is happening. It is to develop faith—your faith. (Perhaps somebody else’s as well, but also yours personally. Otherwise God would not allow circumstances to go in such a way as for you to be involved in it.) So view it as a special assignment bestowed in love by your Master Teacher who is entrusting you with a custom-designed treasure. This is why we are to “glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience experience; and experience, hope,” “knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (, ; ).
We are told to “let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (). Patience is essential in perfecting Christian character. Jesus says, “In your patience possess ye your souls” ( ). In what context does our Lord give this important injunction? The verses leading up to it all speak of persecution from rulers and betrayal by family members—the type of thing that tends to be extremely perplexing to a person.
In preparing this article, the thought came to design it for our periodical for the young, the Youth Messenger. Surely the youth all need patience—we all know that. . . . But they’re not the only ones! Abraham revealed a lack of patience while in his mid 80s at the birth of Ishmael (Genesis 16). The aged Moses lost his patience in the desert of Zin just before the Israelites were to enter the Promised Land (). Doesn’t even greater patience need to be exercised after many long years than after just a few short minutes or months? Sometimes the greatest test of a lifetime comes only after many decades. Patience is just as much needed by those who can already handle “strong meat,” those with many years in the three angels’ messages, as it ever was. Perhaps we have not truly mastered patience yet—otherwise we would all be perfect, and Jesus would have been able to come already.
We often think of patience as merely a passive virtue of pacific people. Yet, interestingly enough, patience is a very active quality as well. Why? It is noteworthy that the word “patience” is usually coupled with “exercise,” as in “exercising patience.” For the young, exercise comes more naturally. With brand new muscles, they begin wiggling at birth and continue from there. As time rolls on, however, exercise tends to take a little more effort. Patience brings experience (), but the “exercise” of patience takes a bit more effort, just as the exercise of the muscles do. This explains why sick or elderly people too often become disgruntled and ornery. They are understandably frustrated by their sudden or gradual inability to do some of what they used to be able to do. But is frustration an excuse for impatience? We do not condone it in the young, so how much less should we tolerate it in ourselves when our character maturity should already be ripening for the harvest? Jesus is coming again soon, and now is no time to be impatient—even in well-intentioned zeal.
1. Successful family life—and even in understanding difficult, challenging doctrines, such as no remarriage after divorce.
“[Jesus said:] Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” ().
A person who truly loves his or her spouse with Christlike love will believe in God’s power to work in that person’s behalf—manifested by willingness to wait for that person to repent of wrong as long as he or she lives, just like Christ does for the human soul. Where there’s life, there’s hope. Don’t rule out the possibility of repentance as long as the breath of life remains. The life that God has given is a very powerful, meaningful thing. Jacob snatched the birthright because he thought Isaac was about to die. But Isaac did not die until a long, long time afterwards. And don’t jump prematurely the way Abraham did. God specializes in the impossible. “Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son” (). (And don’t laugh, like Sarah did.)
2. Striving to be sealed with the 144,000.
“Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation, emphasis added).
3. Successful missionary effort in a hostile world.
“Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (4). “The people must be given the truth, straightforward, positive truth. But this truth is to be presented in the spirit of Christ. We are to be as sheep in the midst of wolves. Those who will not, for Christ’s sake, observe the cautions He has given, who will not exercise patience and self-control, will lose precious opportunities of working for the Master.”
“We must imitate the long-suffering of God toward us. The Lord requires of us the same treatment toward His followers that we receive of Him. We are to exercise patience and to be kind, even though they do not meet our expectations in every particular. The Lord expects us to be pitiful and loving, to have sympathetic hearts. The fruits of the grace of God will be shown in our deportment to one another. . . . Christ did not say, You may tolerate your neighbor, but, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (5). This means a great deal more than professing Christians carry out in their daily life.”
The apostle Paul reveals to us the secret of his successful walk with Christ: “I die daily” ().
“Patience under trials will keep us from saying and doing those things which will injure our own souls and injure those with whom we associate. Let your trials be what they will, nothing can seriously injure you if you exercise patience, if you are calm and unexcited when in trying positions. . . .
“There is a moral grandeur in being patient under trials and provocations. ‘He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city’ (). It requires discipline and firmness of purpose not to give expression to passion but at all times to take care that words shall escape the lips that will dishonor the Christian character. Self-control will be a valuable acquisition to the graces of the Spirit, and parents should teach their children, by precept and example, this precious lesson of patience and self-control.
“Patience implies that we have difficulties to encounter, annoyances to meet. . . .
“We can see the wisdom of Peter in placing temperance to be added to knowledge before patience. This is one strong reason for overcoming the appetite for all stimulants, for as the nerves become excited under the influence of these irritating substances, how many and grievous are the evils that are done! But the healthful use of the unstimulating articles of food will not excite the nerves by irritating the stomach and debilitating brain nerve power. There is necessity for the Christian adding patience to temperance. . . . There must be a rising above the customs of the world in order to bear reproach, disappointment, losses, and crosses, without one murmur, but with uncomplaining dignity.
“It is easier to act the part of a martyr than to be patient under provocation and to control a bad temper. Sound religious principles must be brought into the life to repress anger rather than inflame it by giving vent to it. We feel very angry, but if we control that anger and are not betrayed into expressions of hasty feeling, we will not lose the respect of our brethren or respect for ourselves. The Pattern, Christ Jesus, is our example. Patience is a heavenly attribute, and Christians must cultivate it.”6
“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door” (, emphasis added).