Don’t you love compound words? Gingersnap – snapdragon – dragonfly – flyboy – boyfriend – friendship – shipwreck…okay, nowhere to go from there. I could play that game, or any word game, all day long. I’m delighted that God invented language and chose words as one of the ways He communicates with us. Sunsets are sensational, and music touches my soul, but words in all their rich variety, precision and nuance, are an excellent means by which to communicate truth.
There are, of course, compound words in Greek, too, and an intriguing one appears in the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. It’s usually translated longsuffering or patience.
The word in Greek is makrothumia, which means patience, endurance, perseverance, steadfastness, forbearance, longsuffering, or slowness in avenging wrongs. Not much different from the English. But look deeper. It’s a compound word made from makros plus thumos. That is, remote or distant combined with passion, boiling anger or heat. Huh.
When I think of longsuffering I picture, I don’t know why, a saint with clasped hands, peering up to heaven with big, sad eyes. I don’t sense any anger there at all. The word patience perhaps carries a little hint of faraway anger, maybe manifested as a slight clenching of the jaw around the edges of your patient smile. But I like the subtlety of the Greek word, the vision of remote heat, distant passion. I can squint at the horizon and see that, yes, there is a boiling heat out there, but it’s not affecting me here, in this possibly troubling situation.
I bring my eyes back from the horizon to what’s happening here. In this situation I am calm and stable, filled with my Father’s peace and power. There’s no danger that I’ll snap, suddenly lose control and start flinging four-letter-words and furniture. Whatever is going on in my life, makrothumia is an essential aspect of how I should deal with it. I am a child of God, and He abides in me. Therefore, I must walk worthy of the calling I have received. This involves living in “all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us,” Paul writes in Ephesians 4, and echoes in Colossians 1 and 3 and several other places in his epistles. In 2 Timothy 4:2 he says to “rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.” Yes, people will oppose you, behave badly, do wicked things, act stupidly. In response, don’t get angry but keep doing what must be done steadfastly, enduring what you must, persevering until the work is done or the situation is made right.
When we are patient in this way, we leave room for God to work. Interestingly, passages in the New Testament that are about God’s patience seem to me to carry a stronger undercurrent of that remote wrath. It may be far off as yet, but it will inevitably be felt. Take for instance these verses in Romans 2. Read the surrounding context in your Bible to see who is being addressed.
“Do you really think…that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience?…But because of your …unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed.”
In 1 Peter 3:20 Peter says that God waited patiently while Noah built the ark (for 120 years!) before unleashing His righteous wrath in the form of a flood to wipe out the wickedness that had completely infected the planet. In 2 Peter he says that in the same way, “the present heavens and earth are held in store for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” We want to see justice right now, but Peter says God is being patient with us, “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” Judgment day will come, though, as the rest of the chapter makes clear.
It’s quite a perspective. If God can be so patient, enduring our global wickedness, being so slow to avenge such immense wrongdoing, and persevering with His desire to see as many come to Him as will, surely I can be patient with the microscopic afflictions that I face. I miss that mark so frequently it shames me. I clasp my hands and look toward God with big, sad eyes, and though He calls me a saint I sure don’t feel like one. I ask for forgiveness, grateful for His patience with me, and vow to carefully tend the fruit of patience in my soul.