The Fruit of the Spirit is Patience

Matthew 18:21-35

 

If a discussion was going to arise between Jesus and one of the disciples concerning forgiveness and patience, don't you know that it would be with Peter?  Peter had a friend, and we’re not told what went on with this friend, but you’ve probably had a friend like him.  He’s blown it, and not just once but over and over again.  He’s left Peter hanging, he’s made a promise he didn’t keep, betrayed his trust, said something hurtful, maybe a little of everything. 

 

Peter, exasperated, comes to Jesus and asks "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?”  Peter thought he had gone the extra mile in patience – and admit it, you’re agreeing with Peter – forgiving someone seven times when he keeps messing up is really beyond what even God should expect.   But Jesus stops Peter in his tracks when he says, "I tell you, not 7 times, but 77 times."

 

And then Jesus tells him a parable - a parable of contrasts -Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.  But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’  //But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.  Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart. (Matt. 18:23-35).

 

Two men beg for patience in paying off debts - one owes an enormous debt that he couldn’t pay off in three lifetimes.  The other owes a little more than three months wages – large but not insurmountable.  The servant who owed the ten thousand talents to the king begs the king for patience.  Not only does the king demonstrate patience, he bestows forgiveness – he cancels the debt completely.  Within minutes of this incredible display of compassion and generosity, as this servant is walking out of the king’s throne room, he runs into a fellow servant who owed him some money he had loaned him.  This servant makes the same plea for patience that the first servant had made to the king just moments earlier.  But instead of responding with the same compassion and generosity shown to him, he grabs the man and drags him off to debtors prison.  And of course, word of this made its way back to the king, who is now infuriated and takes back his act of kindness and has this servant, not only thrown in prison, but tortured until he pays it all back (which we already know is never going to happen).

 

The point Jesus is making to Peter - and to us, is that patience is something we must develop and dispense generously on others, because we ourselves are the most in need of it.  And that God, though patient and forgiving, has no patience for the one who refuses to forgive as he has been forgiven.

 

Patience is a quality highly esteemed in the pages of the NT.  But patience is most recognizable in the fruit it produces.  Consider where we need to develop patience in two different facets of our lives:

 

Toward people:  In the day to day course of our lives, we are constantly confronted with people who try our patience.  Whether it is an obnoxious co-worker, a friend who is always late, a husband or a wife who can't seem to make up their mind about the smallest matters, children who have to be told over and over and over to take their dirty clothes to the hamper.  It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so inconvenient -- it imposes on our plans and schedules and deadlines and... well you get the picture.  People are always trying our patience and it always seems to come at the most inconvenient times.

 

Where patience finds its most powerful expression is in forgiveness.  Forgiveness as we are inconvenienced -- as we experience rejection -- as we are required to go more than half-way in making a relationship work.

But it's not necessarily a major expression of forgiveness for some sin someone has committed against us, but that continual forbearance of those many minor faults we see in others that affect us --  Paul includes that kind of forgiveness in Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

 

And when our patience fails and we cannot or will not forgive? Impatience produces anger and resentment and erodes relationships.  It's not the bomb that destroys, but the termites that chew away underneath the surface.  And who does my impatience hurt most?  Well I might hurt your feelings by being impatient, but the one I'll hurt the most is me... (Skunk and the grizzly bear – S.I. McMillan)

 

When I display impatience, it tells the world around me that I do not understand God's mercy, that I do not comprehend his forgiveness -- because I have failed to give of my own.

 

In the midst of circumstances:  Patience displays itself in another facet of our lives, and that is in the circumstances which confront us.  We have to be able to meet the daily confrontations with stalled cars and broken dishwashers -- or the financial struggles that confront us, or the health problems that try our lives.

 

The word patience is what most of our modern versions use to translate the word, but older versions like the King James use “long-suffering” – antiquated, but very descriptive.  You’ve heard of a short-temper?  What we need to develop is a long temper – one that doesn’t ignite immediately at every inconvenience and slight.

 

Patience expresses itself over circumstances by perseverance.  Listen to the words of James 1:2-4, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

When you face trials... whether big or small, how do you meet them – do you fuss and fume / or absorb them with  calmness and patience.

 

You see, James says that joyful attitude toward trials initiates a procession of qualities - perseverance, steadfastness, endurance -- those qualities which represent a sureness of your faith, the solidarity of your trust in God to take care of you.  Those are the qualities which God loves.  They are the expression of patience put to the test and found intact.

 

What does impatience produce in the face of trying circumstances?  Sleepless nights, anxiety, ulcers, rage and resentment. It poisons relationships and robs us of joy. It betrays a lack of trust in anyone but yourself to run things -- and your own blindness to the reality that you are incapable of running them.

 

I will have to admit, I am probably not the best one  to preach on patience – I’ve never been a patient person – I’ve always struggled with it.  I’ve always been punctual and it bugs me when others aren’t.  I hate sitting in doctors’ offices for an hour past my appointment.  I get irritated when I get behind someone going slower than the speed limit, and really chapped if someone cuts me off in traffic.  I’ll lay awake at night thinking about some situation that hasn’t gone like I thought it should.  I’m the perfectionist who inwardly groans when someone doesn’t do something like I think it should be done – or rather, how I would do it.  You could well say, "Physician heal thyself" and I would be guilty. 

 

I’ve gotten better.  I’m working on it, or rather, I find the Holy Spirit working on me.  (Just a hint, never ask God to help you develop patience if you’re not serious – he has a real sense of humor about giving you opportunities to practice it!)

 

Does anybody else struggle with this?  Are you a slave to impatience? 

 

Our culture works against us.  We wear watches, we surround ourselves with clocks, we fidget if someone is five minutes late, or the sermon goes five minutes long.  We read books with titles like Managing Your Time, One Minute Manager, Get It Done Now!  We carry around Daytimers with15 minute appointment segments, or iphones that keep our lives on schedule.   We’ve been taught to be a slave to the clock and the calendar.

 

That’s all well and good, but for that type of person, patience is so foreign to our nature.  And if we are naturally impatient, it is going to be a lifelong struggle to shed our impatience -- certainly not by our own power, but only as we allow the Spirit of God to work in our lives, and as we come to know, and understand and respond to the patience and mercy of God in our own lives.

 

The key element to developing patience is knowing what is most important.  Patience demands that you know what is most important -- and it isn't schedules, convenience, or perfection -- it is people.  My impatience has much less to do with how someone else has inconvenienced me, or done me wrong, as it does with what is going on inside of me. And Paul addresses that in the book of Philippians by making us look into the face of Christ.

Philippians 2:3-8 - Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

 

The response of impatience and an unwillingness to forgive the sins and shortcomings of others comes from a wrong perspective of self.  We see ourselves as most important -- my time, my possessions, my schedule, my rights. And when somebody violates those, we lash out with anger.  How could Jesus patiently endure the whip across his back, and the spittle running down his face and the nails in his wrists?  His patience was displayed as he said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  It was not a dispassionate response of resignation -- he could have called down legions of angels to destroy them -- but it was a response of love and forgiveness, knowing their failures and understanding their truest needs.

 

If you are an impatient person you need to confront the pride and selfishness in your life that distorts your perspective and keeps you from patiently responding to others impositions and failures.

 

Don't practice a part time patience that bottles up these responses of anger that you gather up all day at work or school and by the time you get home you're like a coke can, shaken up, ready to explode all over your family because you haven't handled your impatience with everyone else appropriately.  Keep your accounts current -- deal with situations and people as they arise.  Patience means setting these wrongs aside, canceling the debts -- not bottling them up inside.

 

And how should patience cause you to live in the face of trying circumstances and stress filled trials?  It demands that you lay aside self-confidence and begin trusting in God.

 

Trust dispels our fears and restores our vision -- vision to see beyond the momentary problems and frustrations of this life to life within the context of God's eternal kingdom.  And our response of patience to these trials is not apathy, but a realization of their true perspective in our lives. There is no circumstance, no trial, no setback strong enough to separate us from God, if we keep our eyes firmly on the goal.

 

I can imagine that Paul was not a naturally patient person – I suspect he struggled with it as much as any of us, if not more.  He was a driven person on a mission – and he was surrounded by people and circumstances that were out of his control.  There’s a recipe for impatience.  Think about the time John-Mark bailed on their first mission trip.  Paul refused to take him on the next one and he and Barnabas ended up parting ways.  Or when Paul prayed three times for his thorn in the flesh to be taken from him, and all God would tell him was, “my strength is made perfect in your weakness.”  But Paul learned patience – and it came through a transformation in the way he looked at life and at himself.

 

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

 

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:22-25). 

 

Our lives are not controlled by circumstances. My security and happiness in life are not a product of keeping the wheels turning and the plates spinning.

 

But Paul also learned to trust that God is in control, and that even when people and circumstances get in the way of what we think is God’s purpose and God’s plan, God is bigger than any of them.  

    

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

(Romans 8:28-31)

 

I’ll have to tell you, I’m thankful for the Lord’s patience for me.  I’m the debtor who owes the ten thousand talents.  I’m sure I try his patience to the breaking point.  But with patience, he forgives my sin and gently sets me back in place.  And it is his patience that inspires me to be more patient with others.

 

Near the end of Peter's second letter, he talks about the reason for the delay in the Lord’s return – "Bear in mind that the Lord's patience means salvation for you" (3:15).

And this morning, that is the hope held out for you.  The Lord has delayed his coming for one reason -- not apathy, not neglect -- but that you might have the opportunity to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ and be saved.  No promise of his delay beyond this moment -- not a license to put off what needs to be done.

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