Focus: “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on . . . patience.”—Colossians 3:12
Last week I had a unique blessing. I was passing through a town in eastern South Dakota on my way to another meeting. I happened to be there when one of our churches was having a morning men’s Bible study, so I joined them.
That morning’s study focused on Colossians 3:12-17 where Paul commands us to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other” (vv. 12-13). As the pastor walked us through the different character qualities, my mind was drawn to the word, “patience” and I’ve continued to be drawn back to it throughout the past week.
One of the blessings (or maybe distractions) of modern technology is the ability to do instant Greek word searches. I Googled the verse and found that the word translated patience is makrothymian (doesn’t that just bless your heart!). It is a compound word from “makros,” meaning “long” and “thymus,” meaning “passion or anger.” A literal rendering of it in the context of this verse could be to put on “long anger.” It carries the thought of “waiting sufficient time before expressing anger.” I’m not sure who said this, but I came across this explanation: “This avoids the premature use of force (retribution) that rises out of improper anger (a personal reaction).” Mom was right . . . count to ten!
Makrothymia is used to refer to God in 1 Peter 3:20. God’s “long anger” gave humanity more than a century to turn to Him before the flood. He expressed His patience passively by delaying their destruction for over one hundred years. It was expressed actively through the preaching of righteousness by Noah (2 Peter 2:5). The word appears again in 2 Peter 3:15 as God’s loving call to us to salvation. His patience offers us time and opportunity to respond to the gospel.
F. F. Bruce said of makrothymia, “(It) embraces steadfastness and staying-power. If in English we had an adjective ‘long-tempered’ as a counterpart to ‘short-tempered,’ then makrothymia could be called the quality of being ‘long-tempered’ . . . which is a quality of God.” In fact, only God can produce this kind of patience in us, as patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). And yes . . . that’s the word makrothymia again.
We jokingly warn friends, “if you ask God for patience, watch out.” Maybe we need to look at developing patience differently. If patience is indeed a quality of God’s divine character and a gift of the Spirit, then our goal must be to “put on” Jesus; surrender to Him our will and ways as well as our character and attitudes, which frees us to embrace His. Instead of praying, “God give me patience (or compassion, kindness, or any of the other qualities mentioned in Colossians 3), perhaps our prayer ought to be, “God, give me Jesus.” For with Jesus comes a “long anger” heart.