Leading Question: How can we become more patient?
1. Becoming more patient. Is patience genetically determined? Or is it possible for even the most high-strung person to become more patient? Would memorizing key “patience” passages be likely to help?
2. In a chaotic imperfect world, why wouldn’t impatience be a fruit of the Spirit? If one simply looks at specific incidents, one could make a case for impatience being a divine attribute worthy of emulation by those who care deeply for God’s honor and glory. The official study guide uses the heading for Wednesday, “Patience has its limits” with Genesis 6:3 as the key text. Here is a list of “impatient” responses that one might use to teach that impatience is a virtue in the face of sin:
- The flood: Genesis 6-9
- Sodom and Gomorrah: Genesis 18-19
- Achan: Joshua 7
- Saul and the Amalekites: 1 Samuel 15
- Uzzah and the ark: 2 Samuel 6:6-11
- Elisha and the two she-bears: 2 Kings 2:23-24
- Temple cleansing: Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; John 2:13-16
- Ananias and Sapphira: Acts 5
3. Making the case for patience. But both from Scripture and from the writings of Ellen White, a strong argument can be made in favor of patience. Patience may have its limits, but Scripture suggests that human beings are too inclined to invoke those limits sooner, rather than later. Is that why “anger,” (though affirmed as a godly act in Ephesians 4:25-27), is listed among the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:20) and not among the traits that make up the fruit of the Spirit? Here are some key elements from both Testaments, from Ellen White and C. S. Lewis, that help make the case that God is patient above all else, and that those who follow him should follow that example:
A. Old Testament. Some are so angry at the shamefulness of human rebellion, that they are more than ready to heed Ezekiel’s call to cleanse the holy city of evil: “Put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it….” “Pass through the city after him, and kill; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity” (Ezekial 9:4-5 – NRSV). Yet, two of the most famous “divine patience” passages are from the OT: Exodus 34:6 – “A God merciful and gracious, slow to anger [longsuffering = KJV]” (NRSV).
Jonah 4:2 – “That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (NRSV).
B. New Testament: Jesus’ parables about seeds and growing. While many of Jesus’ stories end with strong words of judgment, his seed parables illustrate the importance of patience:
The Sower: Matthew 13:3-23 – Mark 4:1-20 – Luke 8:4-15. The seeds which failed the test lacked patience. The seed that fell on the path was immediately snatched away by the birds (no patience at all); the seed that fell on rocky soil and among thorns also lacked patience; only the good seed was able to settle in, grow, and mature until the harvest.
The Seed Growing Secretly: Mark 4:26-29: In a seed parable appearing only in Mark, Jesus taught the importance of patient development: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come” (NRSV).
The Weeds: Matthew 13:24-30, Matthew 13:37-43. In a parable appearing only in Matthew, an enemy sowed weed seed among the wheat and some of the workers were ready to root the weeds out immediately. But the master replied: “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest (NRSV).
Excursus: Ellen White’s Contrasting Interpretations of the Parable of the Weeds
In Christ’s Object Lessons, 70-75, Ellen White stresses the more natural interpretation of the parable, the importance of patient waiting until the right time. This contrasts with her earlier interpretation in Spirit of Prophecy, 247-250 (1877), where she focuses on the inevitability and finality of judgment. As will also be noted below, Ellen White in her later years stressed cooperation with other Christians, urging that we work with them on points on which we can agree. In her earlier years she shared the early Adventist tendency to focus on the evil in the world, seeking to call sinners out of Babylon. In short, our view of God can make a significant difference in how we interpret particular passages of Scripture. Excerpts from SP and COL are given below:
Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2 (1877):
2SP 248-49: [Tares] “As the presence of the tares among the wheat counteracted to a great degree the work of the sower, so sin among the  people of God, frustrates, in a measure, the plan of Jesus to save fallen man from the power of Satan and render the barren ground of the human heart fruitful of good works. [No parallel in COL]
The tares so closely resembled the wheat that the laborers might easily be deceived when the blades were green, and root out the good plants. But when the field was white for the harvest, then the worthless weeds bore no resemblance to the wheat that bowed under the weight of its full ripe heads. Then the tares were ruthlessly plucked up and destroyed, while the precious grain was gathered into barns. Sinners who make false pretensions of piety mingle together for a time with the true followers of Christ, and this external semblance of Christianity is calculated to deceive many. But in the harvest of the world there will be no likeness between good and evil. The wicked will be gathered from the righteous, to trouble them no more forever.” [Note the stark tone of judgment against the sinners; note softer conclusion in COL.]
2SP 250: [Tares] “These words of Christ are meaningless to those who are looking for a temporal millennium, when all the world will be converted. He expressly states that the wheat and tares shall grow together till the harvest, which is the end of the world. Then the tares are to be gathered out of the field; but they are not to be transformed by a mighty miracle into wheat. They are to remain tares, and are to be cast into the fire and utterly destroyed.”
2SP 250: [Tares] “Reaching down to the end of time, he corrects the false doctrines of those who rise up to deceive the people. He would teach men that God, who rained a fiery tempest upon the cities of the plains and destroyed them because of the iniquity in their midst, will surely punish the sinner. He holds the destiny of men and nations in his hands, and he will not always be mocked. Jesus himself declares that there is a greater sin than that which brought destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah; it is the sin of those who see the Son of God and listen to his teachings, yet turn from his salvation and reject his offered mercy. But the righteous shall be rewarded with eternal life.
Christ’s Object Lessons (1900)
- COL 70 [Tares] “‘The field,’ Christ said, ‘is the world.’ But we must understand this as signifying the church of Christ in the world.”
- COL 71 [Tares] “Neither God nor His angels ever sowed a seed that would produce a tare. The tares are always sown by Satan, the enemy of God and man.”
- COL 71-72 [Tares] “Christ has plainly taught that those who persist in open sin must be separated from the church, but He has not committed to us the work of judging character and motive. He knows our nature too well to entrust this work to us. Should we try to uproot from the church those whom we suppose to be spurious Christians, we should be sure to make mistakes. Often we regard as hopeless subjects the very ones whom Christ is drawing to Himself. Were we  to deal with these souls according to our imperfect judgment, it would perhaps extinguish their last hope. Many who think themselves Christians will at last be found wanting. Many will be in heaven who their neighbors supposed would never enter there.”
- COL 72 [Tares] “There is in the Saviour”s words another lesson, a lesson of wonderful forbearance and tender love. . . .” “Through long ages God has borne the anguish of beholding the work of evil, He has given the infinite Gift of Calvary, rather than leave any to be deceived by the misrepresentation of the wicked one; for the tares could not be plucked up without danger of uprooting the precious grain. And shall we not be as forbearing toward our fellow men as the Lord of heaven and earth is toward Satan?”
- COL 74 [Tares] “Not judgment and condemnation of others, but humility and distrust of self, is the teaching of Christ”s parable. Not all that is sown in the field is good grain. The fact that men are in the church does not prove them Christians.”“The tares closely resembled the wheat while the blades were green; but when the field was white for the harvest, the worthless weeds bore no likeness to the wheat that bowed under the weight of its full, ripe heads. Sinners who make a pretension of piety mingle for a time with the true followers of Christ, and the semblance of Christianity is calculated to deceive many; but in the harvest of the world there will be no likeness between good and evil. Then those who have joined the church, but who have not joined Christ, will be manifest.”
3. Additional “Patient” New Testament passages. A surprising number of passages in the epistles pointedly urge the trait of patience. Here are some of the more vivid ones:
- Rom. 15:1 (CEV): “If our faith is strong, we should be patient with the Lord’s followers whose faith is weak.”
- Rom. 15:4-5 (NLT): “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. They give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises. May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other.”
- 1 Cor. 13:4 (NRSV): “Love is patient.”
- Eph. 4:1-2 (NRSV): “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”
- 2 Tim. 2:24-25 (NRSV): “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.”
- 2 Tim. 4:2 (NRSV): “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
- James 1:2-4 (KJV): “Count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
- 2 Peter 3:9 (NRSV): “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”
4. Ellen White on patience. The hard-hitting impatience of early Adventism softens in Ellen White’s mature years. Was it discovering that Jesus was God incarnate that made the difference? The author of this study guide (Alden Thompson) suspects so. Below are two revealing before-and-after-quotes. It is an astonishment worth noting that John 10:17, cited in Steps to Christ (1892 and The Desire of Ages (1898) quote below, is nowhere cited in the four volumes of Spiritual Gifts or in the four volumes of the Spirit of Prophecy. Indeed that passage of Scripture appears for the first time in any of Ellen White’s published writings in 1891 when she quotes it in two different articles in Signs of the Times. Twice in 1892 she published the quote cited below, once in Steps to Christ and once in an article in Signs of the Times (Nov. 28, 1892). It then appeared in Desire of Ages (1898) and again in a Signs article in Jan. 16, 1907. The transformation in Ellen White’s view of the Father’s attitude toward sinners is startling, stunning:
- 1 SG 26 (1858): “It was even a struggle with the GOD of heaven, whether to let guilty man perish, or to give his beloved Son to die for them.”
- SC 14 (1892); DA 483 (1898): “‘Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again.’ [John
10:17]. That is, My Father has so loved you, that [483/84] He even loves Me more for giving My life to redeem you. In becoming your substitute and surety, by surrendering My life, by taking your liabilities, your transgressions, I am endeared to My Father.”
Ellen White spells out the “patient” implications in all this in a letter to an Elder Boyd who is en route as a new missionary to South Africa:
In laboring in a new field, do not think it your duty to say at once to the people, We are Seventh-day Adventists; we believe that the seventh day is the Sabbath; we believe in the non-immortality of the soul. This would often erect a formidable barrier between you and those you wish to reach. Speak to them, as you have opportunity, upon points of doctrine on which you can agree. Dwell on the necessity of practical godliness. Give them evidence that you are a Christian, desiring peace, and that you love their souls. Let them see that you are conscientious. Thus you will gain their confidence; and there will be time enough for doctrines. Let the heart be won, the soil prepared, and then sow the seed, presenting in love the truth as it is in Jesus – Gospel Workers, 119-120 ; Evangelism, 200; cf. “Letter to a Minister and His Wife Bound for Africa” [June 25, 1887 = Letter 12, to Elder Boyd; almost verbatim “original” of the Gospel Worker quote] in Testimonies to Southern Africa, pp. 14-20.
But even much earlier in her experience, Ellen White was understanding the importance of patience and kindness at the practical level. Here are several (dated) quotes:
- 1872 (3T 20): “We must go no faster than we can take those with us whose consciences and intellects are convinced of the truths we advocate. We must meet the people where they are. Some of us have been many years in arriving at our present position in health reform. It is slow work to obtain a reform in diet. We have powerful appetites to meet; for the world is given to gluttony. If we should allow the people as much time as we have required to come up to the present advanced state in reform, we would be very patient with them, and allow them to [20/21] advance step by step, as we have done, until their feet are firmly established upon the health reform platform. But we should be very cautious not to advance too fast, lest we be obliged to retrace our steps. In reforms we would better come one step short of the mark than to go one step beyond it. And if there is error at all, let it be on the side next to the people.”
- 1875 (3T 420): “You must not get in too great a hurry and expect too much of darkened minds.”
- 1879 (4T 331): “If you would always manifest kindness, respect, noble love and generosity, toward even wicked men, you might render effectual service to Christ.”
- 1901 (6T 123; cf. COL 337 ). “Those who present the eternal principles of truth need the holy oil emptied from the two olive branches into the heart. This will flow forth in words that will reform, but not exasperate. The truth is to be spoken in love. Then the Lord Jesus by His Spirit will supply the force and the power. That is His work.”
- 1905 (MH 483): “Every association of life calls for the exercise of self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary. We judge differently. Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experience is alike in every particular. The trials of one are not the trials of another. The duties that one finds light are to another most difficult and perplexing.”
5. A Patient God: A key to interpreting the Bible. If Jesus is the clearest revelation of God, then patience becomes a primary element in the divine character. How can one then understand the harsher aspects of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament if God is like Jesus? By seeing God patiently condescending to reach people where they are, seeking to win them rather than coerce them. The one explicit EGW quotation applying that principle involves her interpretation of the law of blood vengeance in connection with the cities of refuge. [The study guide author (Alden Thompson) only knows of this one quotation. If anyone “out there” can come up with additional examples, he would be delighted.]
The appointment of these cities had been commanded by Moses, “that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares. And they shall be unto you cities for refug he said,” that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.” Numbers 35:11, 12. This merciful provision was rendered necessary by the ancient custom of private vengeance, by which the punishment of the murderer devolved on the nearest relative or the next heir of the deceased. In cases where guilt was clearly evident it was not necessary to wait for a trial by the magistrates. The avenger might pursue the criminal anywhere and put him to death wherever he should be found. The Lord did not see fit to abolish this custom at that time, but He made provision to ensure the safety of those who should take life unintentionally. – PP 515 (1890)
6. Patience in the Great Controversy. Adventists are familiar with the idea that God is patiently waiting for the issues in the Great Controversy between good and evil to become clear. That model is suggested by the biblical book of Job. The idea is reinforced in several subtle ways in the writings of C. S. Lewis. Here are a couple of his more suggestive quotes:
Witnessing in a godforsaken universe. “He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy”s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” – The Screwtape Letters, VIII.4 [MacMillan edition, p. 39].
Defending desperate posts in the great battle. “And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: ‘I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.’” Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, be-[10-11] yond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle. – “The Efficacy of Prayer” in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, 10-11
In short, there are very good reasons to say amen to patience as part of the fruit of the spirit, and to say amen to those lines in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient.”