Be Long-suffering Toward All
“BE LONG-SUFFERING TOWARD ALL.”—1 THESS. 5:14.
1. Among whom can long-suffering be found, and why?
AMONG all the creatures of the earth, only man appears to have the divine quality of long-suffering. Even among men it is rare. This is primarily because long-suffering is the fruitage of God’s spirit. (Gal. 5:22) Therefore, it can be found mainly among people in whom the spirit of God is at work. The exercise of this fruitage is a blessing indeed, not only to the one who is long-suffering, but to his associates as well. People living today in this impatient, selfish world need to be more long-suffering toward one another.
2. (a) What facts highlight the scarcity of this quality in the earth? (b) What makes long-suffering desirable?
2 When we bear in mind that long-suffering is an endurance of ill-treatment without irritation or retaliation, without murmuring or repining, and that it has as its unselfish end the salvation of mankind in view, we are a once appalled at the scarcity of this divine quality among mankind, and we are also impressed at the so great need of it. The need becomes even more evident when we realize that all mankind has been conceived in sin and born into a world alienated from God and steeped in corruption. (Ps. 51:5; 1 John 5:19) Daily survival in itself demands a certain amount of long-suffering, a toleration of minor offenses and injustices. Persons conscious of their personal failings are forever grateful for whatever forbearance does come their way. They actually hope for the tender affections, sympathy and compassion of others. Not to receive mercy and understanding can and often does plunge men into terrible depressions. Many have become overwhelmed under the weighty thoughts of their own unworthiness. So the practice of long-suffering unburdens their thoughts, gives them a new lease on life, as it were. Long-suffering becomes a precious blessing to them, a quality making life more tolerable and livable for all. It is love’s more excellent way, for “love is long-suffering.”—1 Cor. 12:31; 13:4.
3. What other factors about long-suffering must be borne in mind?
3 The servant of God is called upon not only to suffer long under the injustices of others, but he is charged to do so with the proper frame of mind, that is, without grumbling about it. His forbearance must be in imitation of God and Jesus Christ. Jehovah holds no grudges and harbors no ill will or resentment against his opposers. It is this quality of long-suffering that has merit. Jesus said: “You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”—Matt. 5:48.
4. What aids Christians to bear up under suffering, and how do the Scriptures bear this out?
4 In addition to Jehovah’s marvelous example of long-suffering, the Christian also has added incentives that aid him to bear up under suffering. These he needs, for suffering is never easy. Jesus Christ in his famous Sermon on the Mount briefly touched on what these are, when he said: “Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them. Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:10-12) Yes, Jesus drew attention to the reward for suffering evil. And when we compare the suffering endured with the riches of the kingdom and everlasting life, it is a small thing indeed to suffer for righteousness’ sake! In fact, we have every reason to rejoice and leap for joy, if we but believe the promises of God. “Brothers,” said the disciple James, brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, “take as a pattern of the suffering of evil and the exercising of patience the prophets, who spoke in the name of Jehovah. Look! We pronounce happy those who have endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome Jehovah gave, that Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful. Happy is the man that keeps on enduring trial, because on becoming approved he will receive the crown of life, which Jehovah promised to those who continue loving him.” (Jas. 5:10, 11; 1:12) When under trial for right doing, believe the promises of God and joy will result from your long-suffering.
5, 6. (a) What did the apostle Paul have to say to the Colossians about suffering? (b) How can suffering be termed a privilege and a gift?
5 The apostle Paul also comments on this point of rejoicing during trials and suffering. In his letter to the Colossians, he says: “Be long-suffering with joy, thanking the Father who rendered you suitable for your participation in the inheritance of the holy ones.” (Col. 1:10-12) Christian forbearance or long-suffering is to be with joy. This it will be if we consider such suffering a privilege and appreciate that endurance brings approval and approval the crown of life.
6 Suffering a privilege? Yes! In fact, it is a gift to suffer in behalf of Christ. Note how the apostle Paul makes this point in his letter to the Philippians. He says: “Because to you the privilege was given in behalf of Christ, not only to put your faith in him, but also to suffer in his behalf.” (Phil. 1:29) No one with faith will deny that to believe on Christ is a precious privilege, but Paul takes this matter a step farther. He informs us that to suffer in behalf of Christ is no less a privilege and a gift, for a thing given is a gift. And to some extent, “all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will . . . be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) An appreciation of this fact will help us to understand why it is necessary to be long-suffering toward all.
7. What has been Paul’s experience with suffering, and why could he recommend the course of long-suffering to others?
7 The apostle Paul not only wrote about suffering and being long-suffering, but he had suffered much himself. In his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Co 11:23-29), he relates some of the things he endured in behalf of Christ. He was imprisoned many times, beaten near death; five times he was whipped with thirty-nine strokes. He was stoned, shipwrecked three times. He knew hunger, sleepless nights and dangers. Yet he calls upon his Christian brothers to be long-suffering toward all. This he could do because he knew the issue involving Christian integrity and because he was convinced of the glorious prize of life that God would give to those who endured. Another factor that strengthened Paul was his conviction that nothing could befall the Christian unless Jehovah permitted it. And if God allowed it to happen, then he as God’s servant would delight in the service, whatever the price.—2 Cor. 6:3-10; 2 Tim. 4:6-8.
EXAMPLES IN SUFFERING
8. What enabled Joseph to be long-suffering toward his persecutors?
8 It is surprising to see this fact of God’s will in suffering emphasized over and over again by faithful servants of God. Take, for example, Joseph, the son of Jacob. He was sold into Egypt by his brothers, but he was not angry with them. He was falsely charged and imprisoned; still his spirit did not sour. When after many years he met his brothers and revealed himself to them, what did he say? “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now do not feel hurt and do not be angry with yourselves because you sold me here; because for the preservation of life God has sent me ahead of you.” (Gen. 45:4, 5) Joseph saw the guiding hand of God behind all that occurred. This helped him to be long-suffering toward all who wronged him.
9. How did King David respond to abuse, and why?
9 On one occasion King David suffered the abuse of an evil-mouthed man called Shimei. This son of Gera threw stones at David and shouted: “Get out, get out, you bloodguilty man and good-for-nothing man!” Abishai, a servant of David, wanted to have him killed. But David said: “Let him call down evil, because Jehovah himself has said to him, ‘Call down evil upon David!’” (2 Sam. 16:5-13) David endured the humiliation as being God’s will. Not many men in positions of power would have done what David did. But David desired to please Jehovah and not himself. This is what helped him to be long-suffering.
10. What fact did Jesus emphasize to Pontius Pilate, and how did this aid him to be long-suffering?
10 When Jesus Christ was being mocked, scourged and a mad mob howled for his life, Governor Pontius Pilate curiously asked Jesus: “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Hence Pilate said to him: “Are you not speaking to me? Do you not know I have authority to release you and I have authority to impale you?” Jesus told him what every servant of God who has suffered knows: “You would have no authority at all against me unless it had been granted to you from above.” (John 19:1-11) Jesus recognized the will of God in what was taking place. If that meant suffering, then suffer he would and gladly.—Ps. 40:8; Heb. 10:5-10.
11. What spirit do we see in Jesus’ followers? Give examples.
11 We see the same mind and spirit in the followers of Jesus Christ down to our day. When Peter and the other apostles of Jesus were flogged for representing Christ, they rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.” (Acts 5:41) When Paul and Silas were thrown into prison after being inflicted with many stripes, they sang songs of praise to God. (Acts 16:22-25) History abounds with examples of Christians who sang while being thrown to the lions and burned at the stake. Modern accounts of Christian witnesses of Jehovah tell of them as boldly facing the guillotine, gas chambers, firing squads, concentration camps, prisons, salt mines and what have you. These have had impressed upon their minds and hearts the issue of integrity to God. They know why they suffer. And they know, too, the glorious promises for faithfulness, which enable them to rejoice in suffering.—John 15:18-21.
CULTIVATING THE FRUITAGE OF LONG-SUFFERING
12. How can long-suffering be developed in our life? Give four basic requirements for gaining God’s spirit.
12 How can we come to this same appreciation of God’s will? How can we cultivate long-suffering in our lives? Long-suffering is a fruit of God’s spirit. Therefore, to have this quality we need to have God’s spirit. There are primarily four things we must do to gain it. (1) We must study the spirit-filled Word of God, the Bible. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; Heb. 4:12) By applying its principles in our lives the spirit of God will manifest itself in a new way of life for us. We will then come to appreciate our relationship to Jehovah our Creator and the issue of integrity to God, which involves us. (Job, chapters one and two) (2) We must then associate with those who are interested in carrying out the will of God. Such association will stimulate us to faithfulness. It will aid us to “become doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (Jas. 1:22) (3) Prayer is also essential toward gaining and maintaining God’s spirit. We must, therefore, learn to pray to Jehovah and to “persevere in prayer.” (Rom. 12:12; 1 Thess. 5:17) Jehovah’s people know that “a righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force.” (Jas. 5:16) And (4), in addition to all of this, there is the need daily to practice the good things learned from the Bible. We need to practice long-suffering toward all. (Phil. 4:9) If we apply this counsel, then we will be the recipients of Jehovah’s spirit and the blessings that it brings.
MANIFESTING LONG-SUFFERING TOWARD ALL
13, 14. What are Christians admonished to do? What examples have we to follow? How will this be a help?
13 Christians are admonished to “be long-suffering toward all,” actually ‘to clothe themselves with long-suffering,’ ‘to walk worthily of the calling with which they were called, with complete lowliness of mind and mildness, with long-suffering, putting up with one another in love, earnestly endeavoring to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace.’ (1 Thess. 5:14; Col. 3:12-14; Eph. 4:1-3; 1 Cor. 13:4) How can we best do this?
14 Jesus Christ is our exemplar. And since he came into the world to save sinners, we would do well to pay heed to his example. He left us a sample of his long-suffering in Saul of Tarsus. Saul by his own admission was a blasphemer, a persecutor of Christians, an insolent man, one who approved the murder of the Christian Stephen. Still Christ reached down and made of him a special Christian representative, an apostle, whom we today know as the apostle Paul. To Timothy, Paul said: “The reason why I was shown mercy was that by means of me as the foremost case Christ Jesus might demonstrate all his long-suffering for a sample of those who are going to rest their faith on him for everlasting life.” (1 Tim. 1:12-16) Let this demonstration of long-suffering of Christ be our sample when we wonder how long-suffering we should be toward one another.—Matt. 6:14, 15; 18:21, 22; Ps. 103:13, 14.
15, 16. (a) Why is long-suffering needed in the family circle? (b) How can long-suffering be applied respecting husbands and wives? (c) What example have we to show that long-suffering is beneficial?
15 We live in critical times, hard to deal with, where the quality of long-suffering is constantly in demand. (2 Tim. 3:1-5) In the family circle, for example, unless patience and forbearance are shown, the family will be robbed of its joy. It will not prosper. Long-suffering is like soothing oil over heated irritations. Its end is unity and happiness. The apostle Peter gives us some sound advice along this line. He advises wives to be in subjection to their own husbands, “in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect. . . . Let your adornment . . . be the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God.” Then to husbands, he says: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with them [the wives] according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one, since you are also heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life, in order for your prayers not to be hindered.” (1 Pet. 3:1-7) The apostle appeals to the marriage partners to consider the spiritual aspect of their lives first, to suffer long under one another’s failings with salvation in view, not only for themselves, but for their marriage mate as well.
16 Long-suffering is never the easy way out. It is hope abiding its time. It is prayer serving toward the answer. Some wives have suffered the abuse of their unbelieving husbands for ten, twelve, sixteen and more years, finally to have their husbands come into the way of life. Husbands, too, have done the same. A husband writes: “For twelve years I was the worst enemy of my own wife . . . because she got the truth.” He tells about beating her, becoming drunk for spite and being as mean as he possibly could be. “Twelve years thus passed in my wild fight against the truth and against my wife and child,” he says. “A short time ago I sat and reviewed the past twelve years of my life. This analysis crushed me. I saw how terribly mean I had been toward my wife, while she had borne everything with humility. . . . The more cruel I was, the more love and mercy she showed. Yes, it is only now that I see all this . . . Two weeks ago I symbolized my dedication to the only true God Jehovah by water immersion, to that God who, during the time of my madness, led my wife and my child in such a wonderful way.” A grand reward reaped after twelve years of long-suffering. May this letter be an encouragement to you to be long-suffering toward unbelieving members in your family.
17. (a) How and why should long-suffering be applied toward children? (b) How can children be long-suffering? (c) What advice should both parents and children follow?
17 The quality of long-suffering should also be applied toward children in the family. If adult behavior is not always angelic, this should help parents to understand that their children will not always be so-called “angels” either. Children in conduct often reflect the inheritance of sin. Therefore, they are in line for the same patience that we expect others to show us because of our inherited failings. Children, also, with their vivid sense of justice and expectation of adult maturity, should appreciate that their parents are not perfect either. Thus the need for children to be long-suffering toward parents. This can best be accomplished if both parents and children carry out the Scriptural injunction at Ephesians 6:1-4, which says: “Children, be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous: ‘Honor your father and your mother’; which is the first command with a promise: ‘That it may go well with you and you may endure a long time on the earth.’ And you, fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah.” Long-suffering on the part of both parents and child will make the fulfillment of this command possible, to the blessing of both and to the glory of God.
18. Why should Christians be long-suffering toward their worldly relatives?
18 The family circle calls to mind worldly relatives. Here, too, patience can be practiced. Christian kindness is disarming. It leaves worldlings with a fine impression. Unbelieving relatives get to see that our Christianity is not all words, but truly a pleasant way of life. This may encourage them someday to become Christian witnesses of Jehovah too. We must suffer long to that end.
LONG-SUFFERING IN THE CONGREGATION
19. In what ways should overseers be long-suffering to those in the congregation?
19 Another place where long-suffering can be applied is in the Christian congregation. The overseer must be long-suffering toward all in the congregation, whether they are newcomers or have been with the congregation many years. He may counsel, but never browbeat or show impatience. The overseer must put up with the weakness of habitual latecomers in hope of their improvement. He bears the burden of the inactive with a hopeful longing of their becoming active. He forbears when his assistants do not respond to their responsibilities in the way they should. When some procrastinate, when meeting participation is weak, when parents are indifferent and children misbehave, the overseer must display patience, long-suffering. He suffers long in hope that all in his care may someday come to a full appreciation of the Christian ministry, embrace it whole-souledly as the way of life and live.—Col. 3:23.
20. On what occasions will assistant ministerial servants find need to be long-suffering?
20 Assistant ministerial servants, too, must exercise long-suffering in the congregation. They must forbear when the overseer may appear a little demanding at times, when their Christian brothers do not respond to their privileges in the proper way. For example, the ministry school servant must exercise long-suffering when those on the program do not appear to take their parts; the accounts servant must endure when contributions are slow in coming; the literature servant is patient when literature orders are not picked up, and service center conductors are long-suffering when there is little or no response for service, when lessons are not studied, when few show up to help him clean the Kingdom Hall. There is need for servants to be long-suffering toward all.
21. Why and how must missionaries and Bethel ministers practice long-suffering?
21 Missionaries in foreign assignments and ministers in Bethel homes, where Bibles and Bible aids are printed, must also practice long-suffering. In some missionary territories people are slow to respond to the good news about the established kingdom of God. The missionary must endure. He must be patient with himself in learning a new language, when adapting himself to an entirely new way of life. In Bethel homes ministers often live in large numbers and at relatively close quarters, which can be trying at times. The shortcomings of one’s neighbor must be endured and overlooked. Schedules and routines demand adjustment, discipline. But ministers endure by clothing themselves with love and its fruitage—long-suffering.—Col. 3:12-14.
22. At what other times will servants and members of the congregation find it necessary to practice long-suffering? How must this load be borne?
22 When ministers fall short, a heavy burden invariably falls upon the congregation. Those placed on probation for misconduct or other failings thrust heavy loads on the servant body. These must be borne in love. (Rom. 15:1-6) Disfellowshiped persons cause great hardships and grief not only to members of the congregation but often to related family members. Yet such reproaches must be endured in the spirit of Christ.
LONG-SUFFERING TOWARD ALL OUTSIDERS
23. (a) Why will Christians find it necessary to be long-suffering to others outside the Christian congregation, and how should this suffering be borne? (b) How have Christian parents and children demonstrated long-suffering? (c) In what way have Jehovah’s witnesses displayed long-suffering in the field ministry, and has it gone unnoticed? (d) What view have Christians about suffering, and why?
23 There are huge burdens to be suffered today in behalf of Christ. Many Christians by means of circumstances are forced to work among people of the world who use vile speech, who lie, cheat, steal and do about every indecent thing that can be imagined. Still the Christian must endure this without being contaminated by it. (John 17:15-19; 1 Cor. 5:9–6:11) Racial indignities, religious hatreds, national prejudices, all must be endured by the Christian. How long have ministers of Jehovah suffered because of mischief framed by law! How long have they endured the hatreds of dictators in Russia, Spain, Portugal and other places on earth! How long have Christian parents and their children suffered the abuse of flag-waving patriots who ignore God’s law forbidding idolatry! How long have Christians endured the insults, rudeness and the doors slammed in their faces while in their house-to-house ministry! They have shown almost divine-like patience in their back-call and home Bible study activity. Still they rejoice! And their endurance has not gone unnoticed. A Roman Catholic publication recently stated that a characteristic it liked about Jehovah’s witnesses was their “willingness to suffer ridicule and abuse for their beliefs.” Christians are spectacles before men and angels. Like eager athletes, they are not content to sit on the sidelines, but rejoice when given the opportunity to prove themselves. For what athlete does not suffer in preparation and striving for a win or the prize? To be given the chance to compete is often considered a rare honor and privilege indeed, despite the costs. That is the way Christians feel about their quest for the prize of eternal life. Their brothers cheer them on and count those happy who have endured. “If you are being reproached for the name of Christ,” said the apostle Peter, “you are happy, because the spirit of glory, even the spirit of God, is resting upon you.” (1 Pet. 4:14, 16; 2:20) With Jehovah’s spirit resting upon them, they endure suffering long with joy.
24. In what ways is Christian long-suffering unique, and what is its reward?
24 Christian long-suffering is, therefore, unique indeed. It promotes peace and unity. It opens wide the door to repentance. It nourishes obedience and makes faith more firm. Jehovah is glorified by it, his organization advanced and his people made happy. By means of long-suffering the Christian secures for himself and others the prize—the only prize worth suffering for—the prize of everlasting life. What greater incentive could there be for one to be long-suffering toward all?