The Spirit's Fruit: Patience

There was once an ancient man who so pursued the Lord, seeking always to glorify God no matter what came his way, no matter how crooked his lot, that even God himself could proclaim of him that “He still holds fast his integrity” (Job 2:3). Of course, Job’s ability to “hold fast” to his integrity would be challenged through extreme suffering, nonetheless holding fast – that is, patiently persevering – is a virtue the Lord delighted to see in his servant.
            Patience, from the Greek ὑπομονή (hupomone) carries the idea of remaining or enduring under, often translated as steadfastness. But it is a steadfastness in and through suffering, hence our English word patience, with its Latin root pati, meaning to suffer. An older English word, forbearance, helps get at the idea – the patient man courageously forbearing underneath the weight of suffering. Which leads to an obvious question, why would anyone want to wait patiently under suffering? Shouldn’t a sense of self-preservation move us to avoid suffering, much less, wait patiently under it?
            Listen to the wisdom of James, speaking to those Christians undergoing their own suffering in the first century church: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:2-5).
            For James, trials of suffering for a believer ought to be seen through the lens of God’s sovereign and fatherly goodness. All that befalls the believer, befalls the believer because of God’s good wisdom. And therefore, there is sanctifying meaning in the suffering. In other words, to bypass the suffering would be necessarily bypassing the intended fruit and sanctification God designed to bring about through the trial. Which is why James says that when one undergoes a trial, he ought not to first pray, “Lord, remove this trial from me,” but rather, “Lord, give me wisdom in this trial so as to help me count it all joy.” Heavenly wisdom, therefore, is the gift God gives suffering Christians to walk patiently and steadfastly in their suffering. You could say that godly wisdom is the life-blood of godly patience, or as Augustine writes, “Patience is the companion of wisdom.”[1]
            One thinks of Micah, who in the midst of severe suffering and societal break down – family members turned against each other (Micah 7:6), and magistrates being bought off to turn a blind eye to corruption (7:3) – declares, “As for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” This is wisdom infused patience: wise, because he does not despair according to what he sees all around him but rather looks to heaven; patient, because he can now wait on God’s good timing to end the suffering when God deems it best. This is why patience is so often closely linked with wisdom in the Scriptures, especially the wisdom literature of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:8-9; see also Prov. 14:29, 15:18, 16:32). A lack of patience signals foolishness in a man.
            Dutch theologian and minister Wilhelmus á Brakel provides a pretty thorough definition of godly patience as “the believer’s spiritual strength which he has in God whereby he, in the performance of his duty, willingly, with composure, joyfully, and steadfastly endures all the vicissitudes of life, having a hope that the outcome will be well.”[2]  Godly patience should certainly be distinguished from mere worldly patience, or as á Brakel puts it, as “the believers spiritual strength which he has in God.” Puritan John Flavel, delineating godly patience from worldly patience says that it is a “holy boldness, not a natural or sinful boldness, arising either from the natural constitution, or evil disposition of mind.”[3] This is why patience is listed among the fruits of the Spirit within a believer (Galatians 5:21-23); it is a mark of regenerated godliness that only God can work within us. Understanding this are we then able to fulfill the New Testament commands for Christians to be patient (Luke 21:19, Romans 12:12, Hebrews 12:1). Indeed, James calls us to “consider 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. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7-8).
            Ultimately, our example for patience is to be found in our Lord. As Peter tells us, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 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” (1 Peter 2:20-23). As we look to Christ and grow in the wisdom of Christlikeness, so too the Lord will grow us in Christlike patience, helping us hold fast to his promises even in the midst of severe trials. Jesus, using the same phrase God uses for patient Job, encourages all within his church to “not fear what you are about to suffer... Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life... hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations” (Revelation 2:10, 25-26).

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.


[2] Wilhelmus á Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans. By Bartel Elshout (Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, MI. 2007), p. 413

[3] John Flavel, “Preparations for Sufferings; or the Best Work in the Worst Times”, The Works of John Flavel, vol. 6 (Banner of Truth Trust, 2021), p. 49


Stephen Unthank