This is a continuation of our YPS series on the fruit of the Spirit based on Galatians chapter 5 verses 22 and 23.
A recent news article about the appalling Syrian civil war, described how that the ‘longsuffering’ people of Aleppo had borne the brunt of the devastation there. The word ‘longsuffering’ accurately conveys the extended duration of their plight since the conflict is nearly six years old. However, the biblical word has a deeper meaning than this. This subject was clearly important to the Apostle Paul as he refers to it in most of his letters. Indeed, he presents himself as an example of one who has experienced the longsuffering of Christ.1 Paul views himself as the ‘chief of sinners’, not deserving God’s mercy due to his previous rebellion, yet God showed true longsuffering and saved him. We should be forever grateful that God has shown the same longsuffering to us. Paul includes it as one of the aspects of love in the first letter to the Corinthians and here in Galatians it is one of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit.
A longsuffering person is one who can endure, but the endurance is also marked by patience. It is, likewise, generally applied in relation to people rather than to external events.
In the Bible, we are encouraged to show longsuffering towards sinners,2 continuing to sow and water the seed of the gospel until God’s ‘early and latter’ rain comes. Unsurprisingly, we are taught to display longsuffering to fellow saints too, being slow to judge and complain, and bearing with the foibles and differences of others.3
The Bible paints a picture of gentleness using the image of a weak bruised reed that you would see being buffeted by the elements on a river bank. Such a reed could easily be broken, unless handled with gentleness and this is exactly how Christ deals with us.4 So, gentleness is the soft handling, and kindness shown to another, which is especially necessary due to that person’s weakened state.
Another Old Testament illustration of this is David, and his gentleness with Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son.5 Mephibosheth was doubly weak. Firstly, he was weak as he was a member of the house of Saul, the former King, and then, secondly, he was lame in both his feet. But David showed him kindness, allowing him to sit and eat bread at his table, as one of the king’s sons.
This word is sometimes translated ‘kindness’ in the KJV, as in Paul’s description of the kindness and love of God towards man in his bruised and broken state.6 Christ Himself emphasized that He would deal gently with those that came to Him with their heavy burdens. When we are yoked to Him, we find that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.7
Young believers may not want to appear ‘gentle’ as this may make them appear weak and not ‘smart’. Paul, however, used this approach in his dealings with fellow believers, whom he would be gentle with ‘as a nurse (nursing mother) would cherish her children’.8
We love to sing the words of Psalm 23, which tell us that ‘goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life’. Elsewhere, the Psalmist says to God, ‘Thou art good, and do good’,9 being totally assured of God’s intrinsic goodness. Biblical goodness stems from moral beauty and describes the character of one who will do more for someone than what is expected. Perfect goodness belongs only to God Himself, as the Lord Jesus would make plain to the man who called Him good.10 Paul taught the unbelievers in Lystra that God is seen to be good in the way that He provides rain, and fruitful seasons.11