Thursday, April 28, 2011

Putting Up with Joy

Continuing in Paul’s pastoral prayer* for believers …
For all patience and longsuffering with joy. (Colossians 1:11)

Paul prayed for the believers at Colosse that they would be always strengthened with all might, and he had a particular purpose in mind: “for all patience and longsuffering with joy.”

The Greek word for “patience” is hypomone, a compound of hypo, “under,” and meno, to “stay.” Strong’s Concordance gives its meaning as, figuratively, to undergo, to bear (as in trials), to persevere, abide, endure. Patience is the ability to persevere and endure in difficult circumstances.

In the Bible, this kind of patience is associated with hope, which is positive expectation or joyful anticipation. It is not giving up in the face of adversity or resigning yourself to it, but remaining on course, no matter what. It comes from having your expectation set on God and His promises.

The word for “longsuffering” is macrothymia, another compound word, from macro, “long,” and thymos, passion. “Longsuffering” is the opposite of “short-tempered.” We find macrothymia a number of times in the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, usually noted as LXX). For example:
But You, O LORD, are a God full of compassion, and gracious,
Longsuffering [macrothymia] and abundant in mercy and truth.
(Psalm 86:15)

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger [macrothymia], and abounding in mercy.
(Psalm 103:8)

He who is slow to wrath [macrothymia] has great understanding,
But he who is impulsive exalts folly.
(Proverbs 14:29)

He who is slow to anger [macrothymia] is better than the mighty,
And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
(Proverbs 16:32)
Here we can see the nature of macrothymia, as well as some of its benefits.
  • It is the nature of God to be slow to anger.
  • It flows with His compassion, mercy and grace.
  • It demonstrates wisdom and creates understanding.
  • The one who “rules his spirit” will accomplish greater things than the one who “flies off the handle.”
Patience is about persevering through difficult circumstances; longsuffering is about graciously “putting up with” difficult people. It is part of the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Elsewhere, Paul says,
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2)
Longsuffering is part of what it means to walk worthy of our calling in the Lord (which is what Paul’s prayer in Colossians is about) and reflects humility and gentleness. It bears with one another in love and promotes the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Enduring adversity and bearing with difficult people is hard enough by itself, but Paul adds a kicker: we need to do it “with joy.” Now we can see why we need to be always strengthened with the power of Almighty God. And here is why we need the promises of God and the hope (positive expectation, joyful anticipation) they bring. And this is why longsuffering comes after love, joy and peace in the fruit of the Spirit. When we are filled with the love, joy and peace of God, and let them come forth in our lives, enduring adversity and bearing patiently with others will follow naturally.

*For more about the pastoral prayers found in the New Testament, see Praying With Fire: Change Your World with the Powerful Prayers of the Apostles

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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