The Virtue of Patience
“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.”- Ecclesiastes 7:8–9
Bob was required to go online regularly to do research for the reports and other tasks his employer assigned him. One day, he knocked on the door of his company’s information technology department and explained that he was having a problem with his computer. His browser was taking too long to load the web pages he had to visit in order to do his job. When Frank, the IT worker, sat down at Bob’s computer, he found that on average it was taking just under two seconds to load the web pages Bob needed for his research. Frank explained that Bob’s computer was not really slow at all, and Bob replied that his friends at other companies could see the web pages they visited in less than one second.
The story is fictional, but it points to a truth about the reality of life in modern society—we want what we want now, if not yesterday. The idea of patiently waiting for an outcome or for gratification is all but lost on us. Yet patience is a key biblical virtue. Indeed, it is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–24). One does not have to read very far in Scripture before finding an exhortation to be patient.
Today’s passage calls us to patience, explaining that it is better to be patient than it is to be proud (Eccl. 7:8). Coupled with the teaching that the end of a thing is better than its beginning, we find what seems to be a call to patient endurance in the midst of suffering, particularly in light of the mention of oppression in v. 7. Knowing that the end of suffering—the goal that the Lord is trying to achieve as He works in and through our pain—is better, we are encouraged not to give up hope in the midst of trials and tribulations. Instead, we are to think on the good fruit that God will surely produce through our suffering. As Hebrews 12:11 reveals, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
In commenting on today’s passage, Matthew Henry notes that “the patient in spirit are here opposed to the proud in spirit, for where there is humility there will be patience. Those will be thankful for any thing who own they deserve nothing at God’s hand.” If we humble ourselves before the Lord and admit that we have a right to no good thing, we will be thankful for the love God shows us in disciplining us. This, in turn, will help defeat the anger that can lodge in the heart when we are impatient and unwilling to wait for suffering to make us who God, in His timing, wants us to be. Such anger is the mark of fools (Eccl. 7:9).
Impatience can lead to frustration, which can lead to anger. Cultivating a patient spirit by focusing on the promises of God in His Word and the work of the Spirit of the Lord will lessen frustration and reduce the anger that is the mark of the foolish heart. This is a vital task, for unrighteous anger is the root of many other sins. May we seek the Lord’s face in our suffering, trusting in the promises of God that we might endure in patience and love.
Passages for Further Study