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“But the fruit of the Spirit is…longsuffering” Galatians 5:22
Longsuffering made for an interesting study. I’m an avid reader and I can’t count how many times I’ve read the phrase, “a longsuffering sigh.” To me, longsuffering carries the connotation of deep sighs, eye rolls, biting one’s tongue, and attempting to control one’s temper. Longsuffering does not immediately equal fruit of the Spirit in my mind.
Different translations of the Bible translate this word in different ways. The King James has “longsuffering” while the Amplified has “patience” and expands that with “even temper, forbearance”. Both the New American Standard and New International have “patience” while my New International Version Journal Bible has “forbearance”. I can’t say forbearance is any more appealing to me than longsuffering and neither is patience, really. I can’t shake the feeling of negativity associated with these words. Whenever I think of longsuffering, forbearance, and patience; I picture someone stiff, almost frowning. Why?
I find the beginning of an answer to that in The New World Dictionary’s entry for patience. After the definition, I found a section on synonyms which states: patience implies the bearing of suffering, provocation, delay, tediousness, etc. with calmness and self-control…endurance stresses the capacity to bear suffering or hardship…forbearance implies restraint under provocation or a refraining from retaliation for a wrong…stoicism suggest such endurance of suffering without flinching as to indicate an almost austere indifference to pain or pleasure.
Austere is a good word and that helps me to understand what I’m picturing. While I read the words patience, longsuffering, forbearance, I am actually thinking stoicism. This is why I find study so necessary to my Christian life. I bring preconceived meanings to scripture when I read it and I often find words do not mean what I think they mean. I did not find any surprises in the definitions for the Greek word translated patience but was able to begin looking at it in a different way. I did unearth some buried treasure as I dug deeper into the word which I’ll get to in a moment.
Impatience is something I struggle with. I did not think my struggle was having patience with people although, while conducting this study, I am thinking the Holy Spirit does have some work yet to do in this arena. I do struggle with being patient with God’s process. It takes such a long time. There have been many times I have been frustrated with God because His will is that I know him, my will is that I know Him, let’s get on with it! Zero to Overcomer in less than 60 seconds. He is not a God of the Zaps. No, He is a God of process. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18)
One of the most difficult words I receive from my Heavenly Father is “Wait. Be still.” It is especially difficult when I’ve been waiting years for some answers and His response is still “Wait. Be Still.” Obedience to My Father can become a burden rather than my delight and I am relieved when I realize patience is something that flows out of His life within me because it is not something I am capable of having on my own.
The meanings of “wait” and “be still” are a help to patience bearing fruit. “Wait” and “Be still” are not commands to thumb-twiddling. The “wait” as in “Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14) is the Hebrew word qavah (H6960) and means “to bind together by twisting, to expect”. “Be still” as in “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) is the Hebrew word raphah (H7503) and means “slacken, abate, cease…let alone…be slothful”. That does sound a bit like thumb-twiddling but that’s not the picture I see. I see a letting go of my need for things to happen in my NOW and, instead, I focus on entering into Jesus’ rest. I choose to look at the waiting time as opportunity to be knit together with Jesus through the work of His Spirit and the time is not spent in idleness. I see that patience is not passive, neither is it stoic.
Now, for the buried treasure:
I tracked the Greek word for patience (makrothumia G3115) to its root words and found makros (G3117) and thumos (G2372). Under Strong’s entry for thumos was the suggestion to compare with 5590. I did so and found 5590 in the Strong’s concordance is the Greek psuche. There is a long line of definitions for psuche but, put simply, it means breath. This struck me because of how closely an even temper and patience is associated with the breath. Even as I read the entry, I couldn’t help taking a deep breath. I caught myself doing it and thought, “That’s exactly what I do when I’m keeping my temper.”
I recently completed a round of Physical Therapy and my therapist wanted me to focus on diaphragmatic breathing. She told me I could do a lot for pain management if I focused on my breath. I remembered that as I was struck by the connection between breath and patience. I can change what’s happening in my body and how I’m feeling by changing my breath. When it comes to fruit of the Spirit like patience, it isn’t my breath I need.
1 Corinthians 15: 45 says, “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” The word for “being” is sometimes translated “soul” and is the Greek word psuche. Genesis 2:7 tells me how this was done: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Jesus breathed on the apostles after His resurrection and then said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). The word used for the Holy Spirit is pneuma (G4151) and, while it doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as psuche, it does carry the meaning of breath.
The Newsboys have a song titled “Father, Blessed Father” on their album Adoration. The song contains the lyrics, “Breathe on me, Breathe Oh breath of God. Breathe on me, ‘til my heart is new.” That is my prayer as I wrap up this study and walk into a new week. Breathe on me, Oh Spirit of the Living God. Be my very breath. Create in me a clean heart and may your patience bear fruit in my life.
Unless notes otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982
The Comparative Study Bible, The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984
Guralnik, David B., Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2nd Edition, William Colling + World Publishing Company, 1976
Strong, James, LLD., S.T.D., The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990
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