CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CII)

5:22e  Our oneness with the Anointed in the Spirit bears the fruit of . . . Patience . . .

Both joy and peace, in the original languages spoken by Paul, prove fairly easy to translate, but when it comes to this Hebrew combination of adjective and noun, ‘aph’arek, it is more of a challenge. To understand this better, let’s look at the makeup of the word.  First, ‘arek means “long” and ‘aph means “face.” Most of us certainly know what a long face conveys. But the long face here is an angry one, a frustrated look, rather than sadness or disappointment. The way the LORD looked when He passed by Moses and declared that He was merciful, gracious, longsuffering (patient), and abundant in goodness and truth.[1] He was letting Moses know that He did not lose patience very quickly. When Moses explained what God told him to the Israelites, he repeats God’s words to him.[2] And the Psalmist named off the same qualities of God’s essence.[3] And the prophet Jeremiah begged the LORD not to discard him, out of a lack of patience.[4]

Today, we might call it an “impatient” look. However, as Augustine notes in his commentary: “patience helps us to be consistent in our love.” In other words, patience is more than just standing there, rubbing your hands, or tapping your foot; it means looking for ways to keep calm while forgiving recurring mistakes. The oft-repeated phrase is found in the First Covenant, “slow to get angry,” which has more in common with the Greek word for patience than the Hebrew “long-face.” The Greek noun is makrothumia, and as the Hebrew, takes two words to explain itself. Makro means “long,” and thumos means “temper.” It’s another way of identifying people who possess tempers with long fuses, people who endure patiently. Patience is slowness in avenging wrongs. It is the quality of restraint that prevents believers from speaking or acting hastily in the face of disagreement, opposition, or persecution. Patience is bearing pain or problems without complaining.[5]

In Roget’s Thesaurus, it provides an antonym for “long-tempered” – “quick-tempered.” In my vocabulary, we often call it “short-tempered.” Adam Clarke points to a British compound word for long-tempered – “long-mindedness,” and defines it as: “Bearing with the frailties and provocations of others in consideration of the fact that God was very patient with us. Clarke goes on to give two more meanings: “bearing up through all the troubles and difficulties of life without murmuring or complaining,” and “submitting cheerfully to every situation God allows us to go through so that we gain benefits from every occurrence.[6] However, for the sake of our study, we will use “Patience,” which we will further define as a fruit of transformed-love.

So, the early English translators gave us “longsuffering” to translate both the Hebrew and the Greek. In English, it means: “to allow, to tolerate or put up with something for a long time without despairing.” It serves as the essence of patience. It expresses an attitude toward people in which one endures their stubbornness or procrastination no matter how unreasonable they may be. It never loses hope for them, however ugly and unmanageable they become. Since God declares patience as one of His virtues, we can see that the Spirit’s transformation of love to produced patience. It’s not for our patience with God, but our patience with others even as God was patient with us. At the same time, it denotes an attitude toward circumstances that never admit defeat. It never loses hope or faith, no matter how dark the situation becomes or how inexplicable events may turn out to be. Theologian Robert Gundry describes such patience as “having a long fuse, as opposed to ‘outbreaks of rage,’ which is one of the works of the sinful nature.” [7] [8]

Four great people of faith in the First Covenant give us glowing examples of patience. There is Noah’s patience with God’s prophecy and people’s harassment. Abraham’s patience with God’s promise while waiting for his son to be born. Joseph’s patience with God’s plan by refusing to take the easy way out. And Job’s patience with God’s purpose by not compromising his faith in a just Redeemer. Job, more than any other patriarch, became the icon of patience to every Jewish believer, and Christians admire him just as much. However, as a fruit of transformed-love manifested by the spiritual oneness with the Anointed, we must find how other Scriptures portray this attribute of love being consistent and strengthened in the believer’s life to grasp Paul’s reason for including it in the list of spiritual fruit.

The writers in the First Covenant knew that patience required the virtue of love. When Moses pleaded with God to forgive the rebellious Israelites, he tried to convince them to repent. He also attempted to persuade the LORD to pardon them. His message to them was this: “It takes a long time for the LORD to get angry because He’s filled with an unfailing love that allows Him to forgive every kind of sin and rebellion.” Then Moses prayed: “O LORD, because You have such magnificent, unfailing love, please pardon the sins of these people, just as You have forgiven them over and over since they left Egypt.” [9]

The Psalmist agrees and praises the LORD for being a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.[10] Then the prophet Joel used the same thought when pleading with the people that judgment day was coming, “Return to the LORD your God, for He is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to be patient and not to punish.” [11]

Even Solomon, in his wisdom, taught that sensible people control their temper and earn respect by overlooking wrongs.[12] Also, people with common sense control their anger because they know a hot temper makes them look foolish.[13] Furthermore, patience is more admired than influence; self-control should be more desired than winning.[14] For Solomon, patience did not imply weakness; instead, it spoke of the power to pause; strength to stand, and energy to endure. Even more, a reason to accept that love is an act of the will, not the expression of romantic emotions, no matter how deeply we feel them.

In the eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we find a fascinating interaction between Jesus and His disciples on character and virtues. His followers start by asking who rates as highest in the Kingdom of Heaven, and Jesus replies by pointing to those who have child-like faith. Then Jesus proceeds to instruct them on being forgiving and not resentful; rejoice when you win back someone through patience. It impacted Peter in such a way that he later came to Jesus and asked how patient should people be in forgiving others. Should they be patient for a respectable amount of time? Jesus looked at Peter and smiled, “No, Peter! Be patient as long as it takes!” [15]

Our LORD then commences telling Peter a parable about a man who was overdue in paying back the king a large amount of money he owed. When the king requested immediate payment, the man fell before his master and begged him, “Please be patient with me, and I will pay it all back.” The king relented and marked the account, “Paid in Full.” This same man then went and found a neighbor who owed him a small amount of money, and started choking him while demanding that he pay up at once. The man fell before him and begged for a little more time. “Be patient with me, and I will pay it all back.” This scoundrel showed no patience or mercy and had the man jailed. When the king was informed, he ordered the ungrateful man arrested and thrown into prison.

After telling this parable, Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” In other words, let your love act decisively by being patient with those who may offend you, especially your fellow believers, even as your Heavenly Father was patient with you until you confessed your transgressions and asked His forgiveness. Wow! Now that’s something to think about, isn’t it?

As such, the word patience gives us essential insight into the essence of Love. Emotions and passions of admiration and attraction are not Love; they are the basic instincts of “a need to be wanted and appreciated,” as well as to satisfy our human nature.  Love, however, is an act of the will. John does not say that God so loved the world because they were kind to Him.[16] Paul tells us that while we were yet sinners, the Anointed died for us. That’s why with God’s love in our hearts, we can decide to show kindness and goodness to someone even if they don’t return the favor right away. Therefore, when someone tries our patience, they are testing our persistence in loving them.

Paul’s definition of love helps clarify that love can help develop the character of one’s spiritual oneness with the Anointed.[17] What the world calls love is often not much more than a romantic notion. It’s like a flame that sparks into being and then quickly dies out. But the love of God that the Holy Spirit infuses us with has the power to will love into action anytime it is needed. Once we lose our will to love, however, then the fruit of the spiritual oneness with the Anointed will wither on the vine.  No wonder the Psalmist said to the LORD, “I’d rather have your unfailing love than life itself.” [18] On the other hand, when we do “will to love” and return our investment with affection by the person to whom we showed love, then all the emotions and desires that accompany that act of love are felt more substantial and more profound than ever.

When Epaphras came from Colossae to visit Paul, he told him about the love the Holy Spirit put in the Colossian’s hearts for others. So, Paul wrote to them, “We have not stopped praying for you ever since we heard about what you’ve done. Each time we ask God to increase your comprehension of His will and add to your spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live and act will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit.  All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power, so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.” Here we see how the consistent Love of the Holy Spirit brought into their hearts is transformed into patience.

[1] Exodus 34:6

[2] Numbers 14:18

[3] Psalm 86:15

[4] Jeremiah 15:15

[5] Rose Publishing: The Fruit of the Spirit (Kindle Location 80)

[6] Clarke, Adam: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[7] See Galatians 5:20

[8] Gundry, Robert H., Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] Numbers 14:18-19

[10] Psalms 86:15

[11] Joel 2:13

[12] Proverbs 19:11

[13] Ibid. 14:29

[14] Ibid. 16:32

[15] Matthew 18:21-22

[16] John 3:16

[17] 1 Corinthians 13

[18] Psalm 63:3

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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