“Walk Worthily . . . With Long-Suffering”
SHE was repeatedly arrested and subjected to intense interrogation. Once she was even paraded through the streets in front of a jeering crowd in company with nine male prisoners whose crimes varied from murder to rape and theft. Altogether she was imprisoned and separated from her family for more than 20 years.
This Christian woman’s experience is perhaps not unique, for many have similarly endured long prison terms. But her “crime” was certainly unusual: She was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Renouncing her faith could have brought immediate relief. What therefore enabled this woman not only to submit to such treatment but also to retain a measure of happiness?
To answer this question, let us make reference to another faithful Christian who was also arrested because of the religious stand that he took. This was the apostle Paul. Writing to the congregation at Ephesus, he said: “I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, entreat you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with complete lowliness of mind and mildness, with long-suffering [longness of spirit], putting up with one another in love, earnestly endeavoring to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace.”—Ephesians 4:1-3.
Christians in Ephesus had a marvelous “calling” to heavenly life with Christ Jesus. (1 Peter 1:3, 4) But in order to attain to it, they had to “walk,” or conduct themselves, in a way that proved they were worthy of it. Paul indicated that “long-suffering” was vital to their doing this. “Long-suffering,” however, meant more than merely suffering pain or inconvenience for a prolonged period of time. A man with a broken leg ‘suffers long,’ but does he have any other choice? The long-suffering person, however, endures ill-treatment without retaliation or irritation for a purpose. His slowness to express anger is an exercise of deliberate restraint.
Paul showed such restraint in enduring house arrest. He knew it served “for the advancement of the good news.” (Philippians 1:12) Also, it allowed Paul to demonstrate his loyalty and devotion to Jehovah God, to prove he was ‘walking worthily’ of his calling to heavenly life. Paul thus happily endured imprisonment. And many Christians since then have similarly demonstrated long-suffering. Not all have had the heavenly “calling.” But they have been moved to “walk worthily” of the prize of everlasting life, whether that be in the heavens or in the earthly realm of the Kingdom.
Nevertheless, comparatively few have had to suffer the rigors of prison life. Is long-suffering valuable under other circumstances? Yes, indeed, for Paul encouraged the entire Ephesian congregation to “walk worthily . . . with long-suffering.” Ephesus was the most important city in the Roman province of Asia. Its wealth was a potential snare for Christians. It was also a city noted for loose conduct, demonism, sorcery, and magic, a city filled with worshipers of the goddess Artemis, or Diana. Said ancient historian Lucius Seneca concerning such ones: “Men seek pleasure from every source. No vice remains within its limits . . . We are overwhelmed with forgetfulness of that which is honourable.” ‘Walking worthily’ was therefore a trying experience for Christians there.
No wonder, then, that Paul further wrote the Ephesians: “This, therefore, I say and bear witness to in the Lord, that you no longer go on walking just as the nations also walk in the unprofitableness of their minds, while they are in darkness mentally, and alienated from the life that belongs to God.” (Ephesians 4:17, 18) How difficult it must have been to live among such depraved people! But by being long-suffering, a Christian could at least lead a tolerable life.
We today similarly find ourselves surrounded by wickedness, materialism, and demonic influence. In fact, there is even greater pressure on Christians today because Satan has been cast down to the vicinity of the earth and is set on destroying our faith. (Revelation 12:12, 17) We must therefore pay more than the usual attention to how we walk if we are to prove worthy. And like Christians of old, we must be long-suffering. True, it is unusual for a person to show such restraint. Nevertheless, long-suffering is an evidence of God’s spirit upon a Christian. “The fruitage of the spirit is . . . long-suffering,” says Galatians 5:22. How, though, does it benefit us?
Long-suffering helps us tolerate economic difficulties, health problems, and other pressures of 20th-century living. We know why such problems exist and we also know that relief is in sight! (2 Timothy 3:1-5; Luke 21:28) Even when we encounter strong opposition to the work of spreading the good news of the Kingdom, long-suffering acts like a restraining wall that not only helps us endure but also keeps our hope alive.
Following Paul’s advice to “be long-suffering with joy” has also helped improve touchy domestic situations. (Colossians 1:11) At times Christians are yoked in marriage to unbelievers. Said one man: “Not only was our family life very much disturbed but I also had to endure all kinds of hardships . . . No meals were prepared . . . No clothing was cleaned and ready . . . Sometimes it was filthy language on her part toward me.” But this Christian man was long-suffering. “I turned each time to Jehovah in prayer,” he said, “and I trusted Him to help me develop the good quality of long-suffering in order not to lose my Christian balance . . . This has helped me to endure.” The outcome? After 20 years of opposition, his wife became a Christian too! “How grateful I am to Jehovah,” says this man, “that he helped me cultivate the fruit of the spirit, long-suffering.”
Long-Suffering Toward One Another
Since long-suffering is a product of God’s holy spirit, it is incompatible with “the works of the flesh,” such as enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, and envies. (Galatians 5:19-21) What results when we allow these “works” to surface and dominate in our dealings with one another?
A situation involving Moses illustrates what can happen. He was said to be “by far the meekest of all the men who were upon the surface of the ground.” (Numbers 12:3) On one occasion, however, he ceased being long-suffering. When the nation’s water supply ran out, the faithless people cried out: “Why have you men brought Jehovah’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts of burden to die there?” (Numbers 20:4) This situation required on Moses’ part both restraint and sober reflection on the fact that their rebellious talk was really directed against Jehovah himself! Moses, however, allowed fleshly impulses to dominate him. Said the psalmist: “Further, they caused provocation at the waters of Meribah, so that it went badly with Moses by reason of them. For they embittered his spirit and he began to speak rashly with his lips.”—Psalm 106:32, 33.
As if he were the miraculous provider of water, Moses bitterly said: “Hear, now, you rebels! Is it from this crag that we shall bring out water for you?” (Numbers 20:10) Yes, Moses allowed the quarrelsome and complaining spirit of others to get the better of him. And because of his loss of restraint and also his failing to glorify Jehovah, he was denied entry into the Promised Land.
Christians today must beware of falling into this snare. At times our own Christian brothers can be a source of provocation, as the Israelites were to Moses. “But a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil.” (2 Timothy 2:24) The exhortation at 1 Thessalonians 5:14 is thus appropriate: “Be long-suffering toward all.”
Worthy Examples to Imitate
Christ set a perfect example of long-suffering. He had to endure not only “contrary talk by sinners” but also problems that arose among his own disciples. (Hebrews 12:3) At times they were slow either to comprehend or to apply his teachings. Yet, never did he deal harshly with them. When on the night of his betrayal his disciples fell asleep, Christ kindly exhorted them by saying: “Why are you sleeping? Rise and carry on prayer, that you do not enter into temptation.”—Luke 22:46.
Since his resurrection, Jesus has continued to manifest patience and long-suffering. Saul, for example, was a persecutor of Christians, a blasphemer, and an insolent man. Yet Christ showed him mercy in a way that led to Saul’s becoming a prominent follower of Christ. Paul (formerly Saul) explains: “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 Timothy 1:15, 16.
The Scriptures tell us to “follow his [Christ’s] steps closely.” (1 Peter 2:21) Do you show the same patience toward fellow believers when they are slow to apply some Bible principle? Do you grant a similar long-suffering spirit toward people of the world who are ignorant of the truth? Are you moved to help such ones find the truth?
The incomparable example of long-suffering, however, is Jehovah. “Jehovah is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.” (Psalm 103:8; Exodus 34:5-7) Though men such as Moses became frustrated with the stubborn Israelites, Jehovah said: “All day long I have spread out my hands toward a people that is disobedient and talks back.” (Romans 10:21) But there was purpose behind such long-suffering. Like a father with a wayward son, Jehovah refused to give up hope for improvement in his strained relationship with Israel. And his forbearance produced results—a remnant of that nation was saved!
Limits to Long-Suffering
God’s patience is not limitless, however. Israel’s persistent resistance to Jehovah’s warnings resulted in their being alienated from God as a nation. Said Isaiah: “But they themselves rebelled and made his holy spirit feel hurt. He now was changed into an enemy of theirs; he himself warred against them.” (Isaiah 63:10) Yes, in time “the rage of Jehovah came up against his people.” (2 Chronicles 36:15, 16) His long-suffering came to its end.
This has serious implications for us today. It would be unreasonable to conclude that God will forever tolerate wrongdoing. True, as Paul says: “God, although having the will to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, tolerated with much long-suffering vessels of wrath made fit for destruction.” Yet there has been a purpose in such toleration: to “make known the riches of his glory.” (Romans 9:22, 23) Yes, as a result of God’s restraint, his name has been declared throughout the earth. Also, God has announced his “day of vengeance” by means of his people. (Isaiah 61:2) It is true that many mock and ridicule this warning message, like the Epicureans and Stoics in Paul’s day who said, “What is it this chatterer would like to tell?” (Acts 17:18) But remember, God will bring “vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.”—2 Thessalonians 1:8.
In the meantime, however, we must continue with the work of preaching God’s judgments until God reveals that it is time to stop. We must ‘exercise patience until the presence of the Lord.’ (James 5:7) But patiently enduring the various evils that life in this system brings upon us will produce tangible results. It will increase our dependence upon Jehovah. It will smooth out our relationships with others and prevent needless problems from developing. Long-suffering may mean hardship, but regardless of who we are or where we may be living, whether free or imprisoned, experiencing opposition either at home or in the Christian ministry, the peace and unity that long-suffering promotes will add joy and contentment to our lives. (Ephesians 4:2) By all means, then, walk worthily with long-suffering.