OceanSide church of Christ

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Victor M. Eskew


The words “quick-tempered,” “short-fused,” and “explosive anger” should not characterize the child of God.  A Christian is not a dry keg of power looking for a match.  In contrast, we are to be “long to anger.”  It is often translated with the word “longsuffering.”  Many times the Bible exhorts disciples to have this quality.  It is one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance:  against such there is no law.”

            Let’s begin our study by investigating THE DEFINITION OF LONGSUFFERING.  The Greek word for “longsuffering” is makrothymia.  “Makro” means “long, large, big, and grand.”  “Thymia” means “temper, anger, and rage.”  It is from the combination of these two words that we get the definition “long to anger.”  It is the idea of holding in check large quantities of emotions such as anger and frustration.  It involves the concept of taking a long time to build up these emotions before they are expressed.  Then, when they are forthcoming, they are always under control.

            There are times in the King James Version that the Greek word is translated “patient” (Matt. 18:26, 29, Acts 26:3; I Thess. 5:14; Heb. 6:12, 15, James 5:7, 10).  In I Thessalonians 5:14, we read:  “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”  Here, the definition is “steadfastness under strain.”  It is the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trail.  It involves a faith that just keeps on keeping on.

            There are other definitions for the word makrothymia.  In Colossians 3:13, it is translated forbear.  “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any:  even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”  Another way to define the word is “slow to anger” (Num. 14:18; Ps. 86:15).  “Self-restraint in the face of provocation” is another definition.  Longsuffering also involves “a certain degree of tolerance for the intolerable.”

            Longsuffering is AN ATTRIBUTE OF GOD.  Several passages refer to this divine quality.  “And the Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exo. 34:6).  A New Testament passages that refers to the Lord’s being longsuffering is found in II Peter 3:9.  “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  Other passages that refer to this attribute of God are Numbers 14:18; Psalm 86:15; Romans 2:4; and II Peter 3:15.

            Another way the longsuffering of God is described is by saying that He is “slow to anger.”  “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Ps. 103:8).  Psalm 145:8 says:  “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.”  There are several other passages that teach us that the Lord is slow to anger (Neh. 9:17; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nah. 1:3).

            God’s longsuffering can be seen in many illustrations.  In the days of Noah, the earth was wicked and filled with violence (Gen. 6:5).  During that time, God was longsuffering with men.  “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waiting in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is eight souls were saved by water” (II Pet. 3:20).

            God’s longsuffering was also extended to the city of Nineveh.  The Ninevites were a very evil people.  They were the world power during the days of Jonah.  They would conquer others and no mercy was extended.  Too, they were an idolatrous nation.  They worshiped all sorts of gods.  This worship often involved all kinds of immorality.  God put up with their sins for a long time.  In Jonah’s day, He sent the prophet to warn them of coming destruction and to offer them time to repent.  “And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jon. 3:4).  Nineveh repented (Joh. 3:5-9), “and God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jon 3:10).  God’s actions angered the prophet (Jon 4:1).  In Jonah’s prayer to God, he voiced his displeasure, and described God, saying:  “…for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jon. 4:2).  Slow to anger were Jonah’s words.  God suffered long with the evil nation of Assyria.  Sadly, it was not something Jonah desired.   

Jesus demonstrated a great deal of longsuffering during His passion.  He was extremely long-tempered with his opponents.  “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:  who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (I Pet. 1:22-23).  During the hours of the crucifixion itself, Jesus remained steadfast under strain.  He hung upon the cross until all was finished (John 19:30).