|Christian Life and Doctrine||May 1975|
Patience and Self-control
“For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” —Hebrews 10:36
IN THE Scriptures the word “patience” has the meaning of cheerful endurance, and of constancy in that endurance; that is, one is not to permit the trials and difficulties of life to swerve him from his set goal, which for the Christian is to follow faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus, even unto death. In Romans 12:12 the word patience is translated from the Greek word meaning “to bear under or to submit to,” the thought being that the Christian endeavors to accept whatever experiences the Lord in his providence may permit, and to do so with cheerfulness.
This meaningful word patience is used in the Bible in connection with many of the vicissitudes of the Christian life. One of its prominent uses is in connection with the Christian’s waiting on the Lord for the outworking of his plan of salvation as centered in Christ and his return for the establishment of his kingdom. Following the apostle’s admonition, “Ye have need of patience,” he adds, “For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” This is a reference to Habakkuk 2:2, where the Lord speaks of a vision which was to be made plain on a tablet. He adds, “For the vision is yet for a time, and it shall shoot forth at the end, and not in vain: though he should tarry, wait for him; for he shall surely come, and will not tarry.”
In the Common Version translation the personal pronoun is not used, but Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recognized that this was prophecy of the return of Christ to establish his kingdom; so he used the personal pronoun; and the translation of Habakkuk 2:2, which we have used, from the Septuagint, also emphasizes that the reference is to a person—even to the Messiah of promise.
Waiting on the Lord for the fulfillment of his promises concerning the Messiah and the establishment of the messianic kingdom has been a test of patient endurance upon his people of all ages. The expression, “How long, O Lord, how long?” has been very much in the hearts of the Lord’s people, and in the Bible it finds expression in words. When Jesus left his disciples to return to the heavenly courts, they asked, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) To this he replied, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” One reason that waiting on the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom has been a test of endurance is suggested here. The Lord’s people have not been given exact information as to when many of the details of the divine plan are to be fully accomplished, and the tendency is to assume that the fruition of the entire divine plan will take place much sooner than it has. Nor are we at this end of the age free from this test. So it is our privilege cheerfully to endure and to be faithful to the Lord while we are waiting for the consummation of our hopes.
Joy in the Morning
The return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom is God’s method for bringing about peace and happiness in the world. The long period of sin and death is referred to in Psalm 30:5 as a period of darkness, a nighttime, with the explanation that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” The Lord’s people, who know this purpose of the Lord’s return for the establishment of his kingdom, long for this time of joy to come, but there is nothing they can do to hasten its coming, so they have to wait on the Lord—patiently wait—and this becomes a genuine test of their cheerful endurance as they look to the Lord to help them in the present time of distress and chaos. And this test of cheerful endurance often becomes a very personal one as the follower of the Master is subjected to more than the ordinary hardships of the reign of sin and death.
We think of those—and there have been many of them—who are confined to beds of sickness and pain throughout periods of many years. It is a real test of their endurance, of their patiently waiting on the Lord, as they go through this harrowing experience.
It is always true, of course, that the Lord gives strength for every time of need, and he does in these difficult situations; but this does not mean that he releases the individual from suffering. It simply means that he helps them to bear it. And in proportion to their faith they can and do bear it; while they look ahead to the establishment of the kingdom, when their own hope of glory, honor, and immortality will be realized, and when eventually throughout the whole earth there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more death, when the former things are passed away.
Then there are those who are called upon to care for the sick and the invalids. Living under these conditions seems dreary and confining. This, too, is a severe test of cheerful endurance. But many of the Lord’s people have endured these tests, and successfully, because the grace of the Lord was with them. It is a hard test, although not so difficult as is the case with the ailing ones, because, as a rule, those who care for the ill do not undergo the same degree of physical suffering. But God is not unrighteous to forget the labor of love of these dear ones, in that they faithfully minister to his saints, gladly laying down their lives in this way—the way he has indicated to be his will.—Hebrews 6:10
To love all of our brethren collectively is one thing, and perhaps is not too difficult if we do not undertake to analyze the characters of each and every one of our brethren. But to love those who, as we see it, oppose our plans, or whose natural faults are precisely those that grate most on our feelings, presents a real test of patient endurance and of our love for those brethren who do not appear to us to be lovable.
And then there are those circumstances of life which isolate us from the brethren. We have an expression, “under the circumstances.” Many years ago a brother in Denmark raised the question as to why we have always to be under the circumstances. Why can’t we get on top of them once in a while? In the case in point, perhaps if we get on top of our circumstances we could prevent our being isolated from the brethren. But if there is no other way than to accept the circumstances of life, even though it be one of isolation, the test of our endurance in such cases is a severe one; because we need the brethren to encourage us in the narrow way, and if we endeavor to get along without them, it will only be by the Lord’s special help that we will be able to endure cheerfully what his providence may permit.
Making Ends Meet
If, in these days of inflation, our income never seems to cover the needs of our family, and monetary worries are many, this also becomes a test of endurance, of waiting on the Lord, of depending on his promises that he will supply all our real needs—not perhaps all that we may want, but all we really need in order that we may serve him faithfully.
If our maturing children follow the ways of the world rather than the ways we had planned for them and hoped for, this also is a test. In this we have to wait on the Lord patiently, realizing that he knows what is best. And if we have done the best we can to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, then we can leave the results in the Lord’s hands, knowing that he is too wise to err.
And then there are the temptations that come to us daily—temptations to turn away from the rigid standards of the narrow way. If these temptations came only once and through our resistance we overcame them, we would like it very much, but this is not the case. Many times the same temptations recur, and it becomes a matter of cheerful endurance as we endeavor to resist and continue on in the narrow way of sacrifice.
And there are other difficulties of the narrow way, among them our numerous failures in doing the Lord’s will. Doing what we know to be our privilege when the flesh rebels is a test of patient endurance. It would be so much easier just to give up the struggle and drift along, but this would not be pleasing to the Lord.
We also need patient endurance in our service of the Lord in connection with the work of witnessing the glad tidings of the kingdom. Most times the results of such efforts are small, and it is so easy to reason that we are accomplishing nothing, and to ask ourselves why should we keep on wearing out the flesh in doing that which is a failure. But this is Satan’s method of attack. The Scriptures show that we should be faithful, sowing the seeds of truth in the morning and at all times, although we know not which will prosper. The results of these efforts are in the Lord’s hands. He gives the increase, and it is our privilege to endure cheerfully whatever sacrifice may be involved, that we may continue doing that which we know the Lord wants us to do.
In our common use of language we often refer to what the Bible describes as self-control as being a display of patience. Through a mishap, perhaps, we say we lose our patience. The Bible does not use the word patience from this standpoint. The Bible, rather, refers to this a losing our self-control. In II Peter 1:6 we are admonished to add to our knowledge temperance. Here the word temperance is translated from a Greek word meaning self-control.
To practice self-control is a severe test upon every Christian. It is so easy when some little thing goes contrary to what we think is right to lose our temper. The Scriptures associate anger with the failure to exercise self-control. Solomon wrote, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” (Prov. 16:32) High praise might be due to a general who, through his strategy and military resourcefulness, captured a city; but if in doing this he should become angry with one of his subordinates simply because he expressed an opinion contrary to his own, he would lose the right to any praise or commendation. Taking the city would not be nearly so important as controlling himself.
We may be called upon unexpectedly at any moment for a display of good temper; but if we display ill temper instead, it means that we have failed to learn and practice one of the fundamental requirements of God’s Word.
There are various things that cause a Christian to lose his temper. One of them is disappointment in others. How much easier it would be to display good temper if we would stop to think of the many imperfections we ourselves possess which test the good temper of others!
We may have our hearts set on something which appears to be very desirable. Perhaps it is a journey to another part of the country. This does not materialize, and we show a great deal of ill will on account of it.
Then there are sights and sounds that annoy us. A dog barking at night might keep us awake awhile and we would become very angry. These seem like small things, but they are the tests of our real self-control.
Then there is the spirit of unkindness or ingratitude where we least expect it. This might cause us to become angry, intemperate in our use of language, intemperate in our attitude. This would not be a display of self-control.
There are times when we are tired and would much rather be alone, but our home is invaded by company. What is our reaction to this? Do we display something less than cordiality? Do we think this a proper excuse for being ill tempered? These are simple questions concerning simple things which come up frequently in our Christian lives. How are we dealing with them? Perhaps one of the frequent causes of ill temper is when we try to cope with someone else’s bad mood or temper. Under such circumstances do we end up being more ill tempered than the other fellow?
Sometimes there are necessary associations with those who have no congeniality with us. Do we make the best of this and remain cordial, or do we use it as an excuse to display the spirit of ill temper almost every time we are in their presence?
Our expressions of impatience hinder others from taking things patiently. It doesn’t necessarily have to be put into words. Moods are very contagious. What is our mood when we are going through circumstances which tend to disturb our peace and tranquility of mind?
All the aspects of the true Christian character are important because they are set forth in the Word of God. It is true that we can never become overcomers in the full sense of the word, either in cheerful endurance or in self-control. It is true that we come short of the glory of God all along the line of our endeavors to know and do his will. But these failures do not need to discourage us! We should keep on trying, and by the grace of God we know that we will eventually hear the “Well done,” not because we have actually done so well, but because our unwilling imperfections have been covered by the blood of Christ.