The Patience of God
by Harry Reeder
You have all seen the buttons some Christians wear, haven’t you? It’s an acrostic — PBPGINFWMY — “Please Be Patient God Is Not Finished With Me Yet.” It’s a request for others to be patient with us as we are growing by God’s grace. But it is also a request for patience based upon the fact that God’s patience has been displayed toward us.
God is patient. I am not. I am learning patience. God is patience. I am developing patience. God is displaying His. Clearly, the patience of God toward us is absolutely staggering. It has been extremely helpful for me to think about God’s patience as it is displayed in the Scriptures, in history, and toward me as I continue to seek the fruit of the Spirit in my own life, including that illusive, yet glorious, element called “patience.”
I see God’s patience in dealing with Adam and Eve as they fall into sin and as He grants the initial revelation of His covenant of grace. I see the patience of God with the patriarchs and Israel, even with their grumbling in the wilderness. I see His patience throughout the Gospels as Jesus, the Son of God, is being rejected and forsaken. And I see His patience in the establishment of the church in the New Testament. I see His patience in the ebb and flow of the church throughout history.
Perhaps we can gather up the majestic display of God’s patience from a few areas of Scripture that would focus our thoughts. First of all, the Bible says, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come …” (2 Peter 3:8–10a).
Here Peter refers to the mocking of the world concerning the Second Coming of Christ. Since He has not come yet, the skeptics say this is the evidence that there is no Christ and there is no Second Coming. In reality, Peter informs us that the fact Christ has not come is a display of God’s patience. Why has He not come? Because all of His people are not yet saved, and He is long-suffering and will continue to be until all of the elect have been gathered into a saving relationship with Christ. The key text is “He is patient toward you,” not wishing for any of you to perish. Who are the “you” in this verse? The text itself tells us that it is the “beloved.” If we go back to 2 Peter 3:1, we see that the beloved are now receiving their second letter: “This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder.” If we go to the first letter of Peter’s writing to the “beloved” we will find out that the beloved are the elect. Peter writes: “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1–3). So this patience of God toward “the elect” is patient and long-suffering, and thus He will not send His Son to bring all things to a consummation and final judgment until all of the elect are gathered. That is why Peter indicates that the ministry of evangelism is “hastening the day of the Lord.”
A second display of God’s patience is His patience with the world and its rebellion against Him. This patience is described in the book of Romans: “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. (Rom. 2:4–5).
In the exercise of His common grace, God displays patience and forbearance with the world. But patience and forbearance ought to lead men and women to repentance. Instead, it emboldens the unbeliever in his sinful rebellion and mocking of God, and the patience of God is then turned into a rationale to rebel further against God. This does nothing more than store up greater judgment because of their ungodly response to His kind patience.
Thirdly, God is patient toward you and me as He is developing us and refining us, stretching us and growing us. I praise God for that patience — not only toward all of us but, specifically, His patience toward me.
I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to be a parent along with my wife in rearing our children. The most difficult days for me were the days that we took each of our three children to college; I knew that was a significant moment and that our relationships would never be the same again. Of course, when they marry, they leave us to cleave to another, and our relationships change again. It is a good step forward for them, but it is also a change for us as parents. My relationship with my children has not always been so significant, so enjoyable, or so embraced. I remember early on my children were instruments in the hands of God to try my patience with their unending questions and sin nature manifested in rebellion and sinful autonomy. One day, in particular, stands out to me. On one Saturday morning, my wife and I were teaching our eldest daughter how to count. She had mastered counting to ten! But, when we ventured on to number eleven, she forgot about number ten!
For over an hour, we sat there while the same little girl who had counted from one to ten forgot how to count when we added the next number, eleven. Now it was 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-11!
This was a trivial moment, of course, but hanging in there with her, working with her to overcome what was either stubbornness or just a learning process, required a lot of patience that I did not have naturally. I certainly began to develop it. And what about all of the questions that our children asked over and over again? What does that mean, daddy? Why, daddy? Well, that is another story altogether! My goodness, I think of all the questions that I ask the Lord, and then I think of my stubborn streak against Him; I think of my inability or refusal to learn. I think of how many times God shows me the way of righteousness and how I turn away. I think of my faltering and failing steps and my outright rebellion against Him — even as a believer. Oh the patience of God and the riches of His forbearance and grace!
Nevertheless, God is patient. He doesn’t have to learn it. He is it. He is not developing it. He continually displays it. I am grateful that I can count on the fact that the God of all grace and glory is patient. He is patient in the work of evangelism; He will not come until all of His people have been gathered in; only then will that glorious day come. He is patient toward the world even when they use that patience as a reason to mock, rebel, and blaspheme. He is patient toward me. I never want to presume upon His patience in a self-centered way, but I am grateful that I can depend upon it every day and every moment until that glorious day when I shall see Him and be like Him.
O Lord, be patient with us. Be patient, and may you receive all of the glory as you develop us day-by-day and step-by-step. Then would you give us the ability to display that patience toward one another and toward the lost? We need to develop it, but we know that you are patient. “But thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth” (Ps. 86:15).