Long-suffering is hard. But if I am to become more like God in character, the fact of the matter is that I must become more long-suffering. When I remember how long-suffering He is with me and my many failings, it sure makes it easier for me to be long-suffering with others and their little annoyances. Paul tells us, “Love suffers long.” Can you think of anything more needed in human relationships? We need to be long-suffering in our relationships with people: Christians interacting in a local church, husband and wife, parent and child, or just getting along in society. A failure to be long-suffering in any one of those above relationships will result in a rupture.
In the Old Testament, the word long-suffering is a word meaning, literally, long-nosed or breathing (as opposed to anger's rapid, violent breathing through the nostrils). In the New Testament, the word literally means long of mind or soul as opposed to shortness of mind, irascibility, impatience, or intolerance. Vines defines the word as “that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish.” Trench says, “A long holding out of mind before it gives room to action or to passion.” Abbot tells us long-suffering is “self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate on wrong.”
Furthermore, long-suffering and patience are not necessarily synonymous. Generally, long-suffering expresses the idea of patience in respect to people. William Barclay says, “Long-suffering expresses a certain attitude toward people which never loses patience with them, however unreasonable they may be, and which never loses hope for them, however unlovely and unteachable they may be.” He says, “Patience expresses an attitude toward events which never admits defeat, and which never loses its hope and its faith, however dark the situation may be and however incomprehensible events may be.” Both attitudes are essential for Christians, but long-suffering of love is primarily in relation to people and our attitude toward them when they offend and provoke us.
Also, Paul tells us the reason he obtained mercy was because of the long-suffering of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 1:16). When Jesus was reviled, He reviled not again; when he suffered, He threatened not. Jesus Christ’s long-suffering attitude towards His enemies prevented Him from sinning against them. Long-suffering is also a part of the character of God. In fact, our salvation is due to His being long-suffering with us (II Pet. 3:9). God is concerned with our soul. His long-suffering is a part of His goodness, but if we misuse it or abuse it, He will punish (Rom. 2:4). Divine love is long-suffering, and ours must be, too!
We must develop the virtue of being long-suffering. It is called for in any relationship. It is needed with brethren (Col. 3:12-13, 21), those we teach (2 Tim. 4:2), and in overcoming prejudice (2 Tim. 3:10). In the absence of long-suffering, all good is neutralized. The presence of love produces the presence of long-suffering. The presence of long-suffering results in an attitude that makes working together possible. Long-suffering is not an optional quality of our character. Love produces long-suffering which make us most like God.