Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Forbearance and Patience. . .

"Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, no knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" Romans 2:4

Patience is hard enough to explain; forbearance is near impossible.  Patience is perhaps best described as anexikakos --  a "holding up" under duress, evil, test, trial, etc...  To be patient is not to give up hope nor to despair when experience is at odds with the promise of God.  We are patient, refusing to give up when we find rejection, when we are persecuted, or when we suffer for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.  Forbearance is anoche -- a  "holding back" and  a refusal to judge or cry out in complaint because we have encounter such suffering, trial, or trouble.  We forbear by biting the tongue when our sinful hearts would rush to judge or condemn others, even God, because of what we see and experience.  For us, these words have their source in our faith.  We trust despite what we see or suffer.  We believe not when things are going as we desire but even when the bottom is falling out of our lives.

While these nuances of definition might help us when patience and forbearance are used of us, these do not quite help when it is God who is patient with us and forbears us.  God forbears those whom He loves.  He does not rush to judge and condemn us but in mercy "passes over" such judgment and wrath for the sake of Christ.  It is God's gracious disposition that He does not react to every one of our sins and retaliate as we might do on earth.  He holds back His righteous judgment and acts in mercy "to lead [us] to repentance." 

The patience of God is often seen as His indifference but it is in reality His gentleness.  He is kind, merciful, compassionate, gentle, etc... not of our worth or merit but always out of His mercy.  Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His steadfast love and mercy endures forever.  He is slow to judge and quick to forgive (even though we often mistake His slowness for indifference).  His slowness is always driven by mercy.  God does not desire the death of the sinner and so the Lord is patient, long suffering, and has pity upon the sinner.  All is designed to bring us to repentance.  Yet even while He works with us and waits for us to repent, His discipline accompanies His mercy (the Lord chastens those whom He loves) -- again all designed to bring us to repentance.

As we bask in the glow of Christmas, we are reminded that God's patience and forbearance is not endless.  Those who refuse Him will suffer, the guilty will face His justice, and the evil will feel the full force of His wrath.  James says, "Let patience have its perfect result" and for God, patience has no more perfect result than the Spirit awakened repentance and faith that rejoices in His gracious favor.  Those who rejoice in this mercy and who know God's patience and forbearance cannot exploit this while living in judgment and rushing to condemn their brothers and sisters (the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:23-35).  We who have seen the face of God's mercy in His Son, bear the face of that mercy one to another in the hopes that the whole world will kneel at the manger and stand in awe of the cross, believing in the Father and the Son whom He has sent.

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