Longsuffering – definition

Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

Traditional Legal Model: God restraining Himself to give man a little more time before He finally takes corrective or punitive action. 

Biblical Healing Model:  God actually suffering emotionally while hoping man will turn to Him.

Modern Dictionary

Longsuffering, adjective
enduring injury, trouble, or provocation long and patiently.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Longsuffering, adjective
Bearing injuries or provocation for a long time; patient; not easily provoked.

Applied to God, “not easily provoked” implies that He is patient for a long time, enduring the provocation until something snaps and He lashes out in reaction, takes retributive action etc.

Here is a verse that seems to support that idea:

“But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy.” (2 Chron 36:16)

Before reaching the point of “until” in that verse, what were they (God’s people, v15) doing? They “mocked the messengers,” “despised his words” and “misused his prophets. That certainly sounds like provocation. And then what happened? “The wrath of the LORD arose.”

Notice that it doesn’t say “God punished them.” Rather, it says “there was no remedy.” The next verse helps to explain what happened:

“Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand.” (2 Chron 36:17)

While this passage does not use the word “longsuffering,” it could be understood in the way we commonly think of longsuffering – God put up with their provocations until some point and then took action against them.

However, “He brought” can be understood as an accommodation to their choices as indicated later in the verse: “he gave them all into his hand.” God did not protect His people because of their actions as listed in verse 16.

This could actually be seen as a good example of what I call the SWAT formula:

  • S in = Mocked the messengers
  • W rath of the Lord
  • A ccommodated by allowing the consequences of their choices = gave into his hand (Chaldeans)
  • T rouble = young men slain etc.

“But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for agehe gave them all into his hand.” (2 Chron 36:16-17)

That process is explained in detail here  and over 70 examples are given here.

It is not God being patient to a point and then losing His temper. Rather, He patiently keeps doing all He can to get through to His people (sorrowing for their state the whole time) until there is nothing left to do. Notice the parallel structure:

  • until the wrath of the LORD arose
  • till there was no remedy

It was when there was no remedy left, that God had no choice but to make an accommodation of some sort such as to let His people go the way they had chosen and reap the consequences. It was either that or force them to comply which God will not do. There are other examples in scripture:

  • When the people would not take no for an answer in their request for a king, God directed the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul as Israel’s first king. (1 Sam 9:17)
  • When Moses would not agree to be God’s spokesman before Pharaoh, God told Moses that his brother Aaron would be his spokesman. (Exo 4:14-16)
  • When the Israelites refused to come near Mt. Sinai to hear God’s words, God used Moses to relay His words to the people. (Exo 20:19, 22)

Read more about those and other examples of God’s accommodations  for His people.

Word Meanings

“Longsuffering” in 12 of 13 New Testament uses, is translated from:

3115 μακροθυμία makrothumia mak-roth-oo-mee’-ah
from the same as 3116; n f;
AV-longsuffering 12, patience 2; 14
1) patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance
2) patience, forbearance, longsuffering, slowness in avenging wrongs

There is another word translated “patience”: G5281 “hupomone” which is not translated as “longsuffering.”

The On-line Bible calls the two words synonyms and compares them:

“5281 is the temper which does not easily succumb under suffering, 3115 is the self restraint which does not hastily retaliate a wrong. The one [G5281] is opposed to cowardice or despondency, the other {G3115] to wrath and revenge.”

So, they are not exactly synonyms. G5281 might be not giving up in spite of waiting a long time for a treatment to heal an injury. G3115 might be not blowing up at the kids that persist in being much too noisy.

The word “longsuffering” in both the Old and New Testaments is used of God or of qualities to be seen in His people. We are especially looking at G3115, the word translated as “longsuffering” in the New Testament.

From the On-line Bible definition we have this:

            “self restraint which does not hastily retaliate a wrong.”

Can you see that there are problems with that in relation to God?

“Does not hastily retaliate” implies that eventually God does retaliate. God is not like a young child who hits another in retaliation for a like injury.

Self-restraint? – does God have to restrain Himself? That makes no sense. God is always in complete control; He does not change; He is consistent in behavior. Self-restraint implies an inner conflict.

“If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim 2:13)

Longsuffering and Patience

Evidence that longsuffering and patience do not mean the same thing is the fact that they are used together:

“Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience (G5281) and longsuffering (G3115) with joyfulness;” (Col 1:11)

“But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering (G3115), charity, patience (G5281),” (2 Tim 3:10)

A Quality of God

Longsuffering is a quality of God’s character:

“And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering (H750), and abundant in goodness and truth,” (Exo 34:6)

The Lord said that in response to Moses’ request:

“And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.” (Exo 33:18-19)

The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses G3115 for “longsuffering” in Exodus 34:6.

The Longsuffering of God

“Longsuffering” means patience as in not retaliating against an ongoing wrong (waiting for something to happen such as people to repent), yes, but what is the longsufferer, the one doing the longsuffering – God, in this case – doing or experiencing while being so patient, while longsuffering?

Of course, He is suffering. Did God suffer in Old Testament times?

“Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (1 Peter 3:20)

“And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” (Gen 6:6)

“Grieved him at his heart” would be the state He was in during that time. That sounds rather like suffering. Many would see that as a good example of:

“the self restraint which does not hastily retaliate a wrong.”

God waited for 120 years and would have been suffering (grieved) for some time before that. Then what did He finally do?

“Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden? Which were cut down out of time, whose foundation was overflown with a flood: Which said unto God, Depart from us: and what can the Almighty do for them?” (Job 22:15-17)

He could do nothing for them without imposing upon them when they did not want His presence.

“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:” (Rom 9:22)

“What if God, choosing to reveal what will happen, patiently continued to offer treatment to those who refuse his healing Remedy, and yet they refused to take his free cure anyway? What if, in this way, God revealed that such people prepare themselves for death and destruction?” (Rom 9:22, The Remedy New Testament)

“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

If things are happening that are contrary to what God wills, wouldn’t that cause Him some pain? The antediluvians did not want His help and neither did the Jews in Jesus’ day:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt 23:37)

Longsuffering Misunderstood

Here are some discussions of “longsuffering” from other sources:

“However, we need to understand that long-suffering does not mean eternal tolerance.  As we have seen in 2 Peter 3:9, God does not want men to perish, so He is delaying the destruction of the world, hoping that we will turn to Him before it is too late for repentance.  But, understand that this is not a promise of a permanent delay;” (https://www.murrayledger.com/church_page/fruit-of-the-spirit—long-suffering/article_6b4cc2ce-bf4a-11e7-a3d4-9f0de17ec52e.html)

“God is the source of longsuffering because it is part of His character. … He is patient with sinners. At the same time, God’s longsuffering can come to an end, as seen in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah As God is longsuffering with us, we can and must be longsuffering with others.”

Any problems with those? “God’s longsuffering can come to an end.” “As God is … we can and must be longsuffering” – But if His longsuffering can come to an end, therefore, logically, it would be okay for us to lose patience. This is an example of the danger of misunderstanding God’s character – it will affect our own.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,” (Gal 5:22)

See a video of a group study on the meaning of the lion of the tribe of longsuffering.

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