Perfect Patience with the Worst of Sinners

Patience is at a premium in our day.

Fast food is too slow; now we can order ahead. Even “instant coffee” takes too long; now there’s Keurig. And of course, we have the monumental tribute to our desires for immediacy: smartphones and ubiquitous wifi. We’re always finding new ways to get around waiting in line, or waiting at all, from rapid passes at theme parks to (wisely) making every effort to avoid the Post Office and DMV altogether.

Many of these developments are wonderful. Why wait in line needlessly? I happily embrace the improvements. But at some point, we should pause to ask whether having it our way, right away, is leading us to overblown expectations of instant gratification in all of life. Not only are we impatient about fast food, coffee, information, and thrill rides, but are we losing our capacity to be patient altogether?

In the midst of the increasingly speedy expectations of our day, one aspect of the diamond of Jesus Christ that sparkles all the more brilliantly is his perfect patience. No one surpasses him, or even comes close to his ability to handle us with care, even in our worst fits of sin, with the life-changing strength of gentle kindness.

Patient with Friends

It was Philip, according to John 14:8, who so foolishly said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus answers with compassion and patience, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

When Thomas declared, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25), Jesus again was patient with him — eight days patient — in accommodating his request.

Most dramatically, though, Peter saw Jesus’s perfect patience on display after denying him three times on the eve of his crucifixion. It should be no surprise, then, that Peter pays tribute at the end of his second letter to Christ’s amazing patience.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. . . . Count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him. (2 Peter 3:9, 15)

Patient Even with Enemies

Perhaps, we might think, if there would have been anyone on whom the newly ascended Lord would have poured down fire, rather than his Holy Spirit, it would have been Saul of Tarsus. Saul surpassed his fellow Pharisees in zeal, and soon led the effort to snuff out the fledgling Jesus movement in Jerusalem. He even took his show on the road to round up members of this new sect and stop, at all costs, the spread of their offensive message about a crucified Messiah.

“Knowing ourselves as deeply sinful goes hand in hand with knowing Jesus as supremely patient.”

The risen, sovereign Christ had every right to take Saul out. The early church would have been thrilled with such an exhibition of his power from heaven, through whatever means necessary. But Jesus is not just powerful according to our natural expectations. He is surpassingly powerful. All authority in heaven and on earth is his (Matthew 28:18). And included in the arsenal of his manifold power is the shining strength of “perfect patience” — to which a converted Saul would pay tribute soon enough:

Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. . . . But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:13, 16)

Jesus did eventually take Saul out — with mercy, instead of wrath. And Paul, as he came to be known as the apostle to the Gentiles, stood in awe of the perfect patience he was shown by this Jesus, who could hold his peace on the very throne of heaven while watching his enemy thrash against his newborn church, carefully biding his time for the dramatic intervention on the Damascus road.

What we see with Paul is that knowing ourselves as deeply sinful goes hand in hand with knowing Jesus as supremely patient. Realizing his perfect patience frees us, as it did for Paul, to own the depths of my depravity, and confess that I am indeed “the foremost” sinner I know. Finding Jesus to be even more patient than we are sinful enables us to genuinely own our wickedness.

Patient Like His Father

When Jesus demonstrates his perfect patience, not only does he do so as fully human — showing us the kind of divine life that can be expressed in our own human flesh — but also he points us to the patience of his Father. It is not as though the Father is quick-tempered, while the Son is patient. Rather, the patience we see in the Son is the very patience of his Father.

He was patient with the rebellion of the first man and woman, removing them from the garden, but covering their nakedness and promising a Son to come and crush the serpent. And “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:20), and with Abraham’s tragic lapses of faith. He revealed himself to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). He endured with astounding patience as his chosen people grew cold and limped after other gods. He even “has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:22–23).

“Jesus is even more patient than we are sinful.”

When Paul pays tribute again to Jesus’s patience in his prayer of blessing in 2 Thessalonians 3:5, he puts it alongside the very love of the Father: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” Steadfastness here is the same word translated “patient endurance” elsewhere. And Paul wants his fellow Christians to know the comfort that he himself receives when he directs his heart to the patience of Christ.

To discover yourself a recipient of Christ’s patience is to find yourself loved by God. To know Jesus’s patience is to know the very love of God.

Patience Is True Power

Jesus’s perfect patience toward Paul wasn’t only about Paul. It’s also about us — “an example to those who were to believe in [Jesus] for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).

How many times have we rebelled? How often have we misrepresented him? How frequently have we presumed upon his forgiveness? How much have we been impatient with him — only to find out how gently and kindly he handled us in return?

Our own impatience pulls back the mask. We may think impatience makes us look and sound strong, but it grows in the soil of our soul’s insecurity and unrest. Patience, on the other hand, reveals true power.

And what awesome, extraordinary power is on display when Christ handles us with his perfect patience.