More Like Jesus: Patience

June 13, 2017

by Peter Amsterdam

In the book of Exodus, we’re told that when Moses was on Mount Sinai, God revealed something of His character:

[Moses] rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai … The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”1 

God’s being slow to anger means He is patient. Throughout the Old Testament, we read of His patience with the people of Israel, as they continually sinned against Him.

Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath.2

He was patient over centuries.

For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself.3

Jesus made reference to His Father’s patience in the parable of the wicked tenants.4 The owner of a vineyard leased it to some tenants who didn’t give him his share of the crop. When he sent one of his servants to collect, the tenants beat him. Likewise when others were sent, the tenants beat some and killed others. Eventually he sent his son, whom the tenants also killed. Jesus then asked, “What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do? I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others.” In this parable, Jesus made the point that His Father had been sending prophet after prophet to help Israel repent, and now He had sent His Son. Amongst other things, Jesus was pointing out His Father’s patience.

The New Testament authors made reference to both God’s and Jesus’ patience. When referring to Israel’s history, Luke wrote:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.5

The apostle Paul wrote:

I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.6 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?7

The apostle Peter wrote:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.8

God’s patience is found all throughout Scripture, and numerous times within the New Testament we are called to be patient as well. Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.9 In the beautiful “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13, we’re told: Love is patient.10 Certainly those who want to be more like Jesus, to live godly lives, should learn to be patient.

There are two Greek words used in the New Testament that are translated as patient or patience, and they are used in two different ways. The first is hypomonē. This is a compound word from hypo (“under”) and monē (“to remain”). This type of patience refers to learning how to live when we are in difficult circumstances and facing the pressures of life. It means to persevere, to bear up under; to not surrender or succumb when going through difficult times or tough circumstances. It’s often translated as endurance, the ability to stand up under adversity, and as perseverance, the ability to progress in spite of the adversity. This type of patience is responding to adversity in a godly manner.11

Adversity in our lives can come from sources such as ill treatment by others, trials caused by the Devil’s attacks, tests or discipline given in love by the Lord to help strengthen our faith, or the normal circumstances of life. Throughout Scripture we read of biblical characters who patiently persevered in difficult or trying circumstances, sometimes for years on end, and were blessed by the Lord at the end of their ordeal. Job, David, Jacob, and Joseph all faced adversity with patience and trust in God, setting an example for believers.

This type of enduring and persevering patience has a strong connection to hope. We are patient in trying circumstances because we believe that the Lord will give us grace and will in His time bring us through to victory, just as He did for the forefathers of faith.

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.12

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…13

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.14 

We endure, we persevere, because we have faith in God and in the hope of overcoming, if not in this life, then in eternity. Therefore we can be patient in adversity.

Another aspect of patience (hypomonē) has to do with learning to work according to God’s schedule and not our own. We’re often impatient as we wait for an answer to prayer, healing, a change of circumstances, a fulfillment of a promise. James, the Lord’s brother, wrote about patience, pointing out how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient.15 He pointed to prophets throughout Scripture who faithfully and patiently served God, yet died before their prophecies were fulfilled, and Job, who suffered greatly and patiently waited for God’s healing.16 Patience calls for us to trust God’s timing, to have faith that He knows best; when things don’t happen as rapidly as we would like, we acknowledge that He loves us, has our best interest at heart, and we trust Him.

Enduring and persevering patience is a patience which trusts God enough to wait on His timing, while having hope based on faith that He will answer. It’s patience that endures hardships. It’s patience that perseveres through difficulties.

The second Greek word translated as patience is makrothymia. Like hypomonē, this too is a compound word. It comes from makro (“long”) and thymia (“anger”). It expresses the quality of one who is able to avenge him- or herself, yet refrains from doing so. It’s slowness in avenging wrong. It’s often translated as longsuffering in the King James Bible translation. It is understood as not responding to a provocation, deliberately not doing or saying something when you could do or say it. Makrothymia is understood as patience with people. This is the word translated as patience in the list of the fruit of the Spirit.17 It’s also the word used when Paul wrote love is patient.18 Peter used it in the verse quoted earlier, The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.19 God is makrothymia. He is able to avenge but often chooses not to—He is patient. We can understand this form of patience as being forbearing or longsuffering with the faults, mistakes, bad attitudes, and sometimes intentional unkindness or cruelty of people around us.

As hypomonē is connected to hope, so makrothymia has a connection to mercy. God is patient with us because He is merciful. In the encounter with Moses mentioned earlier, when God revealed something of His character, He not only said He is slow to anger (patient), but also that He is merciful.

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”20 

The apostle Paul referred to the connection between mercy and patience when he wrote, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.21 In God’s mercy, He is patient with us. By the same token, our being patient with others is akin to being merciful to others.

One area where patience (makrothymia) is needed is when we are mistreated in some way. Patience in such cases is considered longsuffering, as in suffering mistreatment without becoming resentful and bitter. Jerry Bridges wrote:

The occasions for exercising this quality are numerous; they vary from malicious wrongs all the way to seemingly innocent practical jokes. They include ridicule, scorn, insults, and undeserved rebukes, as well as outright persecution. The Christian who is the victim of office politics or organizational power plays must react with long-suffering. The believing husband or wife who is rejected or mistreated by an unbelieving spouse needs this kind of patience.22 (This is not referring to physical violence, which should not be tolerated.)

Though we don’t like being mistreated, when we are, we can patiently commit the person and their actions to the Lord, knowing that He will mete out justice. We can follow Jesus’ example:

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.23

God is the one who judges justly, and as Scripture tells us, I will repay, says the Lord.24 Therefore we are to be patient when we are in situations where we are mistreated. This doesn’t mean that we don’t try to change our circumstances, but it does mean that we don’t retaliate, we don’t seek revenge. Patience calls for us to trust God, to pray for the Lord to bring changes in others and in our circumstances, and to trust that our just God will bestow justice in His time. As hard as it might be, Jesus told us to Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.25

Another area which calls for patience is tolerance of others’ shortcomings, faults, and failures. Everyone has shortcomings, ourselves included. Usually they’re minor things people do, which aren’t wrong or evil, nor are they directed at us, but they bother us. We notice them mainly in those that we’re around most—our spouse, friends, co-workers, etc. Patience in this case is tolerating the shortcomings of others that we find annoying. We are to patiently make allowance for each other’s faults, out of love.26

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that God is patient with us every day, and not just with our personality quirks, but with our sins as well. He doesn’t get angry or annoyed at our faults and failings; rather, in His love and mercy, He is patient with us time and time again. As His followers, we are called to similarly extend mercy and patience to others. Sadly, we often lose our patience with those closest to us, those we love most, because of familiarity. We get bothered by the small recurring things they do that annoy us, sometimes not realizing that we also do things that annoy them. We don’t like it when they become impatient with us, so we should do to others what we would like them to do to us.27

An interesting thing about patience is how interconnected it is with other virtues. When we practice patience toward someone, we are also showing kindness, compassion, gentleness, and humility—all traits that Jesus manifests. Being patient is a key factor in our growth in Christlikeness.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 Exodus 34:4–6.

2 Psalm 78:37–38.

3 Isaiah 42:14.

4 Mark 12:1–11 NLT.

5 Acts 17:30.

6 1 Timothy 1:16.

7 Romans 9:22–24.

8 2 Peter 3:9.

9 Galatians 5:22.

10 1 Corinthians 13:4.

11 Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2010), 200.

12 Romans 15:4.

13 Romans 5:3–5.

14 Hebrews 10:36.

15 James 5:7–8.

16 James 5:9–11.

17 Galatians 5:22.

18 1 Corinthians 13:4.

19 2 Peter 3:9.

20 Exodus 34:6.

21 1 Timothy 1:16 NIV.

22 Bridges, The Practice of Godliness, 192.

23 1 Peter 2:23.

24 Romans 12:19.

25 Matthew 5:44.

26 Ephesians 4:2.

27 Luke 6:31.