4 Fruit the Spirit: Forbearance or Patience

It is also translated as “patience.” Do we have enough of it? Do you dare pray for it?

Forbearance is a fruit or produce or result of living in the Spirit. It should be growing naturally-supernaturally out of your heart and soul and mind. Here’s what the reality behind the word means in your life.

Here are the key verses and the nine-fold fruit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23, NIV).

“Fruit” is singular, which means each fruit grows together and feeds from the same life-source. They are united, one collective. But it is okay to enumerate them one at a time, as nine fruits (plural). Just don’t separate them by highlighting one and ignoring another one in your life. They all grow equally strong together, as a unit, by the indwelling and power of the Spirit.

Now let’s define the term and then see how it looks in the New Covenant Scriptures in context.

Basic definitions

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the noun translated as “forbearance” in Gal. 5:22 is makrothumia (pronounced mah-kroh-thoo-mee-ah, and it is used 14 times in the NT). One can see the word makro (or macro) in it. In Greek it means “long,” as in a long distance or far away or a long time. For example, makrobios means “long lived” (a word in early Christian literature, not the NT), and makrochronios means “long time” or also “long-lived” (Eph. 6:3). The King James Version has the right idea when it translates the noun in v. 22 as “longsuffering,” which means long allowance or putting up with annoyance for a long time.

So now what does the other half mean? In the Greek language long before the NT was written, thumos meant “the soul, breath, life … heart”; it could mean a “strong desire for food or drink”; to wish with “all one’s heart”; “mind, temper, will”; “the seat of anger … hence anger, wrath” (Liddell and Scott). A Homeric warrior was said to have heart when he fought bravely. It is the lively spirit in a man.

In the LXX (3rd to 1st century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek and is pronounced sep-too-ah-gent), says it is mainly an attribute of the LORD. He is slow to anger (e.g. Num. 14:18; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; Joel 2:13; Nah. 1:3). It denotes restrained wrath (DNTT, p. 353).

In NT Greek thumos retained the latter definition: “An intense expression of the inner self, frequently expressed as strong desire, passionate, longing” (Rev. 14:8; cf. 18:3; 16:19 cf. 19:15). It can also mean “a state of intense displeasure, anger, wrath, rage, indignation” (Rom. 2:8; Heb. 11:27; Eph. 4:31; Luke 4:28; Acts 19:282 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20 (BDAG). It is now easy to see why we need makrothumia. The passionate-anger side of us needs taming and self-control, the last fruit (Gal. 5:23).

So now let’s put the two words together. BDAG is the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it defines makrothumia thus: “state of remaining tranquil while awaiting an outcome, patience, steadfastness, endurance”; and “a state of being able to bear up under provocation, forbearance, patience.”

The verb makrothumeō (pronounced mah-kroh-thoo-meh-oh and used 10 times) can be translated as “delay” You delay your flying off the handle. It is usually translated in the NIV as “be patient” or variations on patient.

What the New Testament Says

Paul writes a verse that many hellfire preachers need to learn. We should not show contempt for the kindness, forbearance and patience of God, because his kindness is intended to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Markrothumia in this verse is translated as “patience.” The other word forbearance comes from the interesting Greek word anochē (pronounced ah-noh-khay and used only here and 3:26), which means “forbearance and clemency.” Its cognate enochos can mean “liable, answerable, guilty (of a sin against). So anochē means “to hold back” the guilt. God offers a sinner clemency, if he is willing to receive it. Regardless of these words, the main thrust here is that God is waiting patiently, for a long time, so that people will repent of their sins.

Paul writes of the same idea in a later verse (Rom. 9:22). God, out of his “great patience,” withholds his wrathful power reserved for the disobedient and stubborn at judgment. God is waiting for people to repent. He is patient.

Paul recounts that he went through great hardships, troubles, distresses, including beatings, imprisonment, and riots. He worked hard, had sleepless nights, and got hungry (2 Cor. 6:5). Then he adds the positive virtues that he showed during his tough times: purity, understanding, patience and kindness in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love, in truthful speech and the power of God (vv. 6-7, NIV’s word choices). His contrasting the two sides of his life is remarkable. Distress on one side, Christian virtues in the power of the Spirit on the other.

Paul commands us to be completely humble and gentle, to “be patient,” bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2). He combines patience and forbearing. This is life in a Christian community. Conflicts arise, and we must be willing to take the path of humility and unity. Let’s be patient with each other.

Col. 1:11 says that we must be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that we may have great endurance and “patience.” Only the power of God can sustain you so that you have endurance and patience.

Col. 3:12 says that we are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved. That is now our new identity, so how are we to act? We are to “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” This is another virtue list, which Paul is fond of compiling. We are holy and dearly loved. Only when we understand our new identity can we let those virtues grow by the indwelling and power of the Spirit in our lives (Gal. 5:22).

Christ came into the world to save sinner, and Paul admitted he was the worst. But he was shown mercy so that Christ Jesus might display his immense “patience” as an example for those who would believe and receive eternal life (1 Tim. 1:15-16). Paul believed that God’s makrothumia was so great towards him that it could be an example for those who believed and get saved.

The next list is difficult because of the persecutions and sufferings: Paul tells Timothy to know his entire teaching and his way of life, his purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings (2 Tim. 3:10). Are we willing to go through persecutions and sufferings? If we do, we need those other virtues, particularly patience and endurance. Yes, love is important too, because we need to show love during tough times.

Paul calls on his mentee Timothy in light of the appearing of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, that Timothy must preach the Word and be prepared in season and out of season, to correct, rebuke, and encourage—with “great patience” and careful instruction (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Leadership, particularly the kind that requires correction and rebuking, indeed takes great patience.

In an interesting verse, the author of Hebrews says we are not to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what had been promised (Heb. 6:12, NIV). Is it possible that we can get sluggish or torpid and not inherit everything that God promised to us? Apparently so. We must pray for faith and makrothumia (patience) so we can inherit it.

The prophets should inspire us because they suffered persecution and suffering when they preached their message in the name of the Lord. They are examples of the patience or makrothumia we are to have.

Peter reminds us that God waited with great patience for people to repent, while the ark of Noah was being built (1 Pet. 3:20). This repeats Paul’s theme in Rom. 2:4 and 9:22. God has great patience while he waits for us. Are we patient to wait for people to get saved?

Peter again reminds that God’s patience means our salvation (2 Pet. 3:15). He notes that Paul wrote about this, so no doubt Peter had in mind those verses discussed above, particularly Rom. 2:4 and 9:22. The main thrust in this verse is, once again, God is patient, as he waits for us to repent. That is the deeper heart of God—patience over judgment.

So how does this knowledge help me grow in Christ?

Maybe we can define makrothumia as “long-spirited.” We wait patiently and actively for God to come through for us, whether in heaven or down here on earth. Are we willing to wait for God to save people, or do we box them up and say they will never be saved? Are we willing to show makrothumia, or will we take matters into our own hands? We need the grace of God to wait for him to act in accomplishing their salvation and our goals.

As noted in the other posts in this series, the fruit of the Spirit should flow out of you, like grapes grow from the branches that are connected to the vine (John 15:1-8). Some teachers say that fruit comes from the vine without effort, and that’s true, but Jesus also said that every branch that does not bear fruit gets pruned, so that it may bear more (and better) fruit. The Father must prune you, or else your fruit will be substandard, sour maybe. Pruning can be painful, but it has to be done. The fruit of the Spirit needs his tending and divine management. Accept it from your loving Father; he knows what you need.

There are two sides of makrothumia: God’s and ours. God is patient with a purpose, our salvation. We are called to have patience or forbearance during tough times and to inherit everything in heaven and on earth. Life is a process. We must work our way through it with great patience. Please be willing to do this. If not, you will lose your reward. If you do, you will win your reward. It’s that simple.

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