Longsuffering in the Christian Life

This article was originally published in my column at the Colson Center. It is republished here with permission.

 

“And meekness, as it respects injuries received from men, is called longsuffering in the Scriptures, and is often mentioned as an exercise, or fruit of the Christian spirit (Gal. v 22). . .  He, therefore, that exercises a Christian long-suffering towards his neighbor, will bear the injuries received from him without revenging or retaliating, either by injurious deeds or bitter words. He will bear it without doing anything against his neighbor that shall manifest the spirit of resentment, without speaking to him, or of him, with revengeful words, and without allowing a revengeful spirit in his heart, or manifesting it in his behavior. . . . Not that all endeavours in men to defend and right themselves, when they are injured by others, are censurable, or that they should suffer all the injuries that their enemies please to bring upon them, rather than improve an opportunity they have to defend and vindicate themselves, even though it be to the damage of him that injures them. But in many, and probably in most cases, men ought to suffer long first, in the spirit of the long-suffering charity of the text. And the case may often be such, that they may be called to suffer considerably, as charity and prudence shall direct, for the sake of peace, and from a sincere Christian love to the one that injures them, rather than deliver themselves in the way they may have opportunity for.”

–Jonathan Edwards

Monday: Read Luke 6:20-38

  • According to this passage, how important is it to be a peacemaker? What is the attitude that Jesus tells us we should have towards our enemies? How does our Heavenly Father set the example for us? According to this passage, what will be the result of creating an atmosphere of peace among those we interact with (including those who are mistreating us)?

Tuesday: Read 1 John 3:10-24

  • When John says we ought to lay down our lives for our brethren, he is not merely talking about martyrdom, but the daily sacrificing of my needs for the needs of someone else. This can include being gracious when dealing with other people’s faults. If it’s important for us to be longsuffering when interacting with our enemies (Monday’s reading), then how much more important is this when dealing with fellow believers? How much importance does John attach to loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Who does John give as the ultimate example of such love?

Wednesday: Read Ephesians 4:1-6

  • How important is Christian unity to Paul? If we follow Paul’s command to practice longsuffering and to bear with one another in love, how might this transform the character of our relationships?

Thursday: Read Galatians 5:14-26

  • Compare the type of atmosphere created by the fruits of the spirit vs. the lusts of the flesh. How does longsuffering relate to the command to be peacemakers? How does Jonathan Edwards words above help us to understand what this looks like in practice?

Friday: Read 1 Corinthians 13

  • Although other places in scripture show us that it is sometimes necessary to rebuke another person in a spirit of gentleness, this chapter suggests that our first knee-jerk reaction for dealing with conflict should be to suffer long and avoid becoming provoked. If we have love which suffers long, bears all things and endures all things, how might this transform the atmosphere we bring to difficult relationships?

Saturday: Read 1 Peter 3:8 – 4:9

  • What do Peter’s words show us about the type of atmosphere we should be seeking to cultivate as Christians? What guidance does the passage give us for knowing how to respond to people, especially fellow Christians, who have wronged us? What does this passage tell us about the Lord’s example of longsuffering?

Sunday: Read Proverbs 17

  • What does this chapter tell us about conducting our relationships? How might the proverbs in this chapter help us to under-accuse, over-confess and over-forgive instead of over-forgiving, over-accusing and under-confessing?

Lesson for This Week

It can be difficult to pursue peace with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, especially when we know that we are in the right. However, as these passages teach us and Jonathan Edwards’ words remind us, there is something even more important than being right, and that is to pursue peace. Other passages speak of how to deal with a brother who has sinned against us, showing that conflict is sometimes necessary within the Christian life. However, these passages suggest that our default mode of operation should be to try to pursue peace, even if it means covering over someone else’s sin in love.