More than likely, we have all heard the phrase “patience is a virtue” at one time or another in our lives. One might hear the phrase most commonly in a specific situation where patience is lacking at that time. As with many other common colloquialisms, we freely say it or hear it with little thought to its origin or full meaning. This sentiment is a reflection upon someone’s ability to wait for something. By calling patience a virtue, or state of moral excellence, it leads people to believe an ability to wait without agitation is an admirable quality. Where does this phrase come from though; can we find it in the Bible? Although the exact phrasing “patience is a virtue” cannot explicitly be found in scripture, the Bible does have a lot to say about the significance and absolute essentialness of patience in the Christian’s life. Paul lists it among the nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, in 1 Corinthians 13:4 patience is the first defining trait of love, and in almost every instance of instruction on how we should be with our Christian brothers & sisters, patience is encouraged and commanded.
So, how can we, as Christians, exhibit this sometimes difficult virtue in our lives today? God’s Word, perfect and lacking in nothing, doesn’t stop at the command of patience, but provides us insight on how we can implement it in our lives today. The first aspect in which patience is critical can be seen in how we show patience in the present, in hope for the future promises. Paul writes in Romans 8:18, 25, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy of being compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us…But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance (patience), we wait eagerly for it.” Patience in the promises of tomorrow can be the saving grace that carries us through the problems of the present. A great example of this is in the life of David and the path he took on his way to be the second king of Israel.
Starting in 1 Samuel 16, we follow David’s life and his ascent to the throne that culminates in 2 Samuel 2. Early on in this journey, David understands that God has already chosen him to be the next King of Israel. This promise, though, does not come true right away. Years go by, where David is not only not the King of Israel but is in constant fear of being killed by the current King, Saul. David finds himself hiding out in caves, fleeing and living in Philistine territories, and even having to act mentally unstable to escape imprisonment. Yet he was patient with God’s plan and patient with the promises of tomorrow. We find this trait expressed by him in Psalms 27:1-3, 13-14, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall, I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamps against me, my heart will not fear; Though war arises against me, in spite of this, I shall be confident….I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.” David was able to face his enemies and wait out this period of tribulation because his patience in God’s promises was mightier than his present misfortunes. Patience can be the foundation you stand on that enables you to stand firm today, no matter the circumstances.
Additionally, patience is not only essential in our mindset of today’s problems, but also imperative in our interactions with the people that surround us today. This avenue is where patience seems to be lacking more than anywhere else. In today’s fast-paced culture of ordering online, curbside pick-up, and limited true human interactions, patience between people seems to be diminishing at a rapid pace. The Bible, as it stands true through all times, outlines patience as the keystone in our interactions with others. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1-2, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” When we can implement patience towards other Christians in our lives, we accomplish so much more than a temporary success in not being rude or dismissive. We are not only “walking in a manner worthy of our calling” but also “preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” What great achievements! Our patience with others doesn’t stop with our Christian brothers and sisters.
According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an older man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink. The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So, Abraham asked him, “Don’t you worship God?” The old traveler replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.” When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out his tent into the cold night air. When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.” God answered, “I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?”
Patience truly is one of the most fundamental traits that define a Christian’s life. It is at the very core of our love for others and the main driving force behind our anticipation for eternity. With that said, none of this makes it an easy trait for us to have at all times. Patience is something that doesn’t come naturally for so many of us; it’s something that we must all continually work on and improve. Jesus, in John 13:34, says, “…As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” If we swap out the word love with the word patient, we find our motivation for pursuing patience in our daily lives. “As I have been patient with you, so you must be patient with one another.”