GOD’S GLORIOUS ATTRIBUTES
By Rayola Kelley
Last month I brought a comparison between godly patience that needs to be developed into man’s character and God’s longsuffering. The word for patience that is used in relationship to the Lord is longsuffering. It is vital we as believers understand how God’s longsuffering works. After all, patience in man is often expressed in grace, but God is not showing grace towards man when He is being longsuffering; rather, He is showing endurance towards man. This is made clear by the disciplines that are associated with God’s longsuffering.
The reason people need to understand this attribute is because many individuals have a tendency to connect God’s longsuffering with His other attributes such as love, but the truth is longsuffering stands alone. It is true He does all things within the confines of love, but longsuffering has to do with God’s willingness to suffer through stages of man’s independence of His sovereignty, resistance to His rule, and rebellion against His authority in order to bring Him to a place of humility.
God’s love was displayed on the cross, but His willingness to forbear with man in His rebellion is for the sole purpose of giving man the necessary space to repent. How do I know this? because the Bible is clear about this subject. There can be no salvation without repentance, Jesus summarized it best, repent or perish (Luke 13:3, 5). The Apostle Peter states that God is not willing that any perish but is longsuffering toward people so that they can repent (2 Peter 3:9). Church history reveals that all great revivals came out of true repentance, beginning with the leaders, followed by whole congregations breaking under the heavy hand of God’s conviction.
God desires to see man spared of judgment, but man is willing to test God, push the lines of righteousness, adjust His truths, and redefine His moral standards while hiding behind God’s love, mercy, or grace. In this scenario, virtues are substituted in the place of longsuffering to give the impression it is God’s good pleasure to put up with people because He loves them and they are deserving of His patience.
For example, many people mistake God’s longsuffering with mercy, but these two attributes are diversely different. In fact, they are often used in the same Scripture to describe the Lord, but they are manifested in different spiritual environments. Mercy is allotted when a person is seeking forgiveness. It simply means God is turning judgment away from the individual by pardoning him or her.
Unlike man who displays grace in patience, there is no real grace associated with salvation being bestowed upon rebellious man when the Lord is being longsuffering towards him. Granted, the Lord is giving man space to repent, but that is neither a matter of mercy (because judgment still abides on man) and it is not a matter of grace because God is not able to show any real favor towards man such as salvation.
Consider what Exodus 34:6-7 states, “And the LORD passed by before him and proclaimed, the LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty: visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”
We see that mercy and grace precede longsuffering, but the truth is man must seek mercy to find grace but often fails to do so which causes the Lord to have to be longsuffering towards him even though He wants to show His goodness and establish him in truth that will liberate him.
Exodus 34:7 confirms this by stating that God keeps His mercy available, willing to forgive the iniquity, transgression and sin of thousands, but He cannot clear people of such moral deviation without forgiveness. The problem is that such moral deviation is often passed down from generation to generation. Sadly, where moral weakness exists in one generation, it will often manifest itself seven times greater in the next generation. When you multiply such weaknesses in each generation, it can result in devastating results.
Numbers 14:18, 19 says, “The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now. And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word.” Notice how longsuffering is first in the lineup. God endures with man in his rebellion with the desire to show His mercy upon the person who repents and seeks His mercy. Keep in mind, God’s mercies are new every morning; therefore, they are able to meet the present state of a person with the necessary pardon.
Psalm 86:15 gives us this insight, “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.” We are told God is full of compassion. In fact, we also know that His compassions will not fail, and that like His mercies, are new every morning. The availability of such virtues is because of His faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23). Compassion is the ability to enter in with someone and show kindness. God desires to enter in with us as a means to meet us in order to show His mercy. If given an opportunity to do so, He is faithful to display mercy, meet us in a compassionate way by showing His pity and kindness.
Lamentations reveals that it is because of God’s faithfulness that we can have hope towards Him. Lamentations 3:25-26 states, “The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.” The Lord shows longsuffering towards us while we learn to wait upon Him to intervene on our behalf. As I pointed out we must learn to wait on the Lord to ensure His perfect timing. Until we are prepared enough to receive something in the right spirit, desperate enough to put it into practice, and enlarged enough because of our faith to come to a place of rest regardless of what is going on, we must wait. God suffers with us until we are willing to turn from our ways, but we must wait upon Him until His way is accomplished in a matter. However, the one thing we can rest in during our waiting times is, because we live in the expectation of hope, stand confident that His intervention will happen in due time and it will benefit us spiritually and end up bringing Him much deserved glory.
Romans 2:2-4 states, “But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” One of the great manifestations of impatience for man is expressed in a judgmental attitude towards others. Patience requires us to be patient with that which irritates us and proves to be very inconvenient and trying at times. We do not want to feel like a heel in abandoning the ship when it comes to such individuals in our lives, but sometimes dealing with them can be taxing.
The natural tendency is to relieve ourselves of such nuisances, but how do we do that while justifying ourselves? It comes down to judging them. I am feeling this way because of this person’s attitudes, actions, and responses. As a person begins to judge, he or she is now allowed to make judgment calls to justify his or her judgmental attitude and response.
It is interesting that in these Scriptures, we are reminded that God, who is the ultimate righteous Judge, tempers His judgment towards all of us. Our impatience to see judgment on those we do not appreciate is a way of showing the Lord that we despise the way He handles such matters. A very simple question is asked of those who sit in judgment of Him and others is if they despise the riches of his goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering that He shows to all of us. Clearly, we are trying to deny others of what we have so wondrously benefitted from as forgiven, blood bought saints.
“Forbearances” means something that is unfading and perpetual. Clearly, God’s longsuffering is not fickle, temperamental, self-serving, nor will it fade away. It is perpetual, ongoing and it is ongoing because He wants to show goodness where He can in order to lead rebellious people to repentance.
Consider what insights the Apostle Paul gave us in Romans 9:21-23, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, or the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.”
We are all clay taken from the earth. Clay makes up 75% of the earth’s terrain. Clearly, it is available to any potter who is willing to put the time in. However, some clay takes greater time to prepare for the potter’s wheel.
The Lord is clear, He makes all vessels and it comes down to a person’s heart condition as to the type of vessel he or she becomes in the Potter’s hands. Some vessels will prove to be vessels of dishonor, used in ways that will not honor the Lord, but still will be used to bring about certain results such as in the case of Pharaoh during Moses’ time. Other vessels will prove invaluable to the work of the Lord as He uses them for His glory such as Moses, David, Peter, and Paul.
As we consider the importance of both vessels, we must recognize that it is the Lord’s longsuffering towards the vessels designated for wrath that become a perpetual testimony that makes known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He has prepared for glory. This truth reveals an important aspect of God and that is contrast. We are all vessels slated for wrath, but because of Jesus, believers become vessels of honor, and to keep their humble beginnings in perspective, they are be constantly reminded that except for the longsuffering, mercy, and grace of the Lord, that they would never have reached their status of being honorable vessels in His kingdom.
Clearly, the longsuffering of the Lord is to develop a right attitude in each of us as believers towards others. Understanding how much God has tempered His own responses towards us when we were yet in sin and rebellion, should cause us to choose the way of grace when it comes to those we struggle with. Grace shows kindness to those we would consider unworthy to receive such favor, and the reason we do it is not because of nobility but because it is a matter of doing the right and honorable thing.
In 2 Corinthians 6:3-6, the Apostle Paul talks about ministry. He is speaking about how we must approve ourselves as ministers of God in much patience, afflictions, necessities, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labor, watchings, and fastings. He then goes on to say, “By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned.” Paul is telling believers they must patiently endure great challenges but he also explains the real source of endurance. It will come by purity, knowledge, longsuffering, and kindness of the Holy Ghost who is the one who sheds the love of God in our hearts (Romans 5:5). We clearly must endure all affronts like a good soldier, but we must be aware that all empowerment that enables us to withstand in purity, understanding, longsuffering, and kindness in love comes from the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Timothy 2:3-4). Once again, we must note when it comes to God, such endurance is longsuffering. We know that longsuffering is the fruit of the Spirit, while patience is a virtue that is worked in us as we make the choice to stand in the ways of righteousness.
In Colossians 1:8-14, the Apostle Paul, in reference to partaking of our inheritance, reminds us that we must be filled with the virtues of the Holy Spirit. This means having knowledge of the Lord’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding so that we might walk worthy of the Lord, becoming fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. He goes on to say, “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” Joyfulness manifests itself in thankfulness and thankfulness comes because we realize that we have been delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of Jesus Christ, who redeemed us by His blood.
Clearly, we must be strengthened to suffer or endure to the end. Matthew 24:13 reminds us, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” It is clear we must choose the way of patience in order to be endued from above with longsuffering as we try to maneuver through a world with many snares, pitfalls, and traps. The Bible is clear we must run the race set before us and finish our course.
Colossians 3:12 instructs us to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, while forbearing with one another, be forgiving towards each other in love, which is the bond of perfectness. To have longsuffering that forbears with others, we must possess mercy and kindness which is established through humility of attitude and having temperance of the Holy Spirit directing our attitudes and walk.
In 1 Timothy 1:16, the Apostle Paul spoke of God’s longsuffering being a pattern in his life for believers to follow so others might become heirs to the kingdom of God. When Paul was contending with those who withstood his ministry, he set forth the criteria that could be identified by Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:10, “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience.”
The Apostle Paul made his doctrine known and confirmed it by the way he lived. It is easy to preach about the things we believe, but true believing manifests itself in living it. In Paul’s life those around him understood that his purpose was to preach the Gospel because of his faith. It takes longsuffering to walk out one’s faith in the midst of unbelieving people. Paul did it because of charity that afforded him the necessary patience to endure in his mission.
It was the Apostle Peter that spoke of God’s longsuffering towards the sinner because it is not His will that any perish, but that all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He also made this statement 2 Peter 3:15a, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.” Clearly, God’s longsuffering is for the main purpose of seeing the lost found, forgiven, saved, and reconciled back into a relationship with Him.
God saves, but we must be willing vessels that will choose the way of patience in order to be an avenue of God’s longsuffering when it comes to those on their way to hell. Sadly, we can become more caught up with how we feel or how we see someone instead of remembering we have a ministry of reconciliation, possess a Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation, and we are to work in the harvest field of this world until He calls us home.
We must stop finding excuses to be inactive when it comes to souls and the harvest field. We need to always choose the right way regardless of how hard it may become, believing that our strength is in the Holy Spirit who is with us and will enable us to do the Lord’s will and bring pleasure to His heart and glory to Him. We must endure temptations by giving way to the Lord, trials by choosing the way of faith, afflictions by standing on the Rock, and challenges by taking the sword of the Word to each one. We must endure to the end to know the fullness of salvation that awaits us.