‘Clothe Yourselves With Long-Suffering’
“Clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion . . . and long-suffering.”—COLOSSIANS 3:12.
1. Recount a fine example of long-suffering.
RÉGIS, who lives in southwestern France, became a baptized Witness of Jehovah in 1952. For years his wife did all she could to hinder his efforts to serve Jehovah. She tried to puncture the tires of his vehicle to prevent him from attending meetings, and on one occasion she even followed him as he preached the Bible message from door to door, making fun of him as he spoke to householders about the good news of the Kingdom. In spite of this constant opposition, Régis continued to be long-suffering. Thus, Régis is a fine example for all Christians, since Jehovah requires all his worshipers to be long-suffering in their dealings with others.
2. What is the literal meaning of the Greek word for “long-suffering,” and what does the word denote?
2 The Greek word for “long-suffering” literally means “longness of spirit.” The English New World Translation ten times renders this word “long-suffering,” three times “patience,” and once “exercising of patience.” Both the Hebrew and Greek expressions translated “long-suffering” include the thought of patience, forbearance, and slowness to anger.
3. How did the Christian view of long-suffering differ from that of first-century Greeks?
3 Long-suffering was not viewed as a virtue by the Greeks of the first century. The word itself was never used by the Stoic philosophers. According to Bible scholar William Barclay, long-suffering “is the very opposite of Greek virtue,” which vaunted among other things “the refusal to tolerate any insult or injury.” He states: “To the Greek the big man was the man who went all out for vengeance. To the Christian the big man is the man who, even when he can, refuses to do so.” The Greeks may have considered long-suffering to be a sign of weakness, but here, as in other cases, “a foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and a weak thing of God is stronger than men.”—1 Corinthians 1:25.
Christ’s Example of Long-Suffering
4, 5. What wonderful example of long-suffering did Jesus provide?
4 Second only to Jehovah, Christ Jesus set a fine example of long-suffering. When under duress, Jesus showed astonishing restraint. Of him it was prophesied: “He was hard pressed, and he was letting himself be afflicted; yet he would not open his mouth. He was being brought just like a sheep to the slaughtering; and like a ewe that before her shearers has become mute, he also would not open his mouth.”—Isaiah 53:7.
5 What remarkable long-suffering Jesus showed throughout his ministry on earth! He endured the treacherous questions of his enemies and the insults of opposers. (Matthew 22:15-46; 1 Peter 2:23) He was patient with his disciples, even when they continually quarreled over who was the greatest. (Mark 9:33-37; 10:35-45; Luke 22:24-27) And what admirable restraint Jesus showed on the night of his betrayal when Peter and John fell asleep after being told to “keep on the watch”!—Matthew 26:36-41.
6. How did Paul benefit from Jesus’ long-suffering, and what do we learn from this?
6 After his death and resurrection, Jesus continued to be long-suffering. The apostle Paul was particularly conscious of this, since he had formerly been a persecutor of Christians. Paul wrote: “Faithful and deserving of full acceptance is the saying that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am foremost. Nevertheless, 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) Whatever our past, if we rest our faith on Jesus, he will be long-suffering with us—while, of course, expecting us to produce “works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:20; Romans 2:4) The messages that Christ sent to the seven congregations in Asia Minor show that while he is long-suffering, he does expect progress.—Revelation, chapters 2 and 3.
A Fruit of the Spirit
7. What is the relationship between long-suffering and holy spirit?
7 In the 5th chapter of his letter to the Galatians, Paul contrasts works of the flesh with the fruitage of the spirit. (Galatians 5:19-23) Since long-suffering is one of Jehovah’s attributes, this quality originates with him and is a fruit of his spirit. (Exodus 34:6, 7) Indeed, long-suffering is listed fourth in Paul’s description of the fruitage of the spirit, along with “love, joy, peace, . . . kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22, 23) Therefore, when God’s servants manifest godly patience, or long-suffering, they do so under the influence of the holy spirit.
8. What will enable us to cultivate the fruitage of the spirit, including long-suffering?
8 This does not mean, however, that Jehovah imposes his spirit upon a person. We must willingly yield to its influence. (2 Corinthians 3:17; Ephesians 4:30) We allow the spirit to act in our lives by cultivating its fruits in all we do. After enumerating the works of the flesh and the fruitage of the spirit, Paul added: “If we are living by spirit, let us go on walking orderly also by spirit. Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh, but he who is sowing with a view to the spirit will reap everlasting life from the spirit.” (Galatians 5:25; 6:7, 8) If we are to be successful in cultivating long-suffering, we must also cultivate the rest of the fruitage produced in Christians by holy spirit.
“Love Is Long-Suffering”
9. Why, possibly, did Paul tell the Corinthians that “love is long-suffering”?
9 Paul showed that a special relationship exists between love and long-suffering when he stated: “Love is long-suffering.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) One Bible scholar, Albert Barnes, suggests that Paul emphasized this in view of the contention and strife that existed in the Christian congregation in Corinth. (1 Corinthians 1:11, 12) Barnes points out: “The word here used [for long-suffering] is opposed to haste: to passionate expressions and thoughts, and to irritability. It denotes the state of mind which can BEAR LONG when oppressed, provoked.” Love and long-suffering still contribute greatly to the peace of the Christian congregation.
10. (a) In what way does love help us to be long-suffering, and what counsel does the apostle Paul give in this regard? (b) What comment did a Bible scholar make on God’s long-suffering and kindness? (See footnote.)
10 “Love is long-suffering and kind. Love . . . does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked.” Hence, in many ways, love helps us to be long-suffering.* (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5) Love enables us patiently to put up with one another and remember that we are all imperfect and have faults and failings. It helps us to be considerate and forgiving. The apostle Paul encourages us to walk “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.”—Ephesians 4:1-3.
11. Why is it particularly important to be long-suffering in Christian communities?
11 Long-suffering on the part of their members contributes to the peace and happiness of Christian communities, whether congregations, Bethel homes, missionary homes, construction teams, or schools. Because of differences in personality, tastes, upbringing, standards of politeness, even hygiene, trying situations can arise from time to time. This is also true of families. Being slow to anger is vital. (Proverbs 14:29; 15:18; 19:11) Long-suffering—patient endurance, in the hope of a change for the better—is needed on the part of all.—Romans 15:1-6.
Long-Suffering Helps Us to Endure
12. Why is long-suffering important during trying circumstances?
12 Long-suffering helps us to endure trying situations that seem endless or without any quick solution. This was true of Régis, mentioned at the outset. For years, his wife opposed his efforts to serve Jehovah. However, one day she came to him in tears and said: “I know it’s the truth. Help me. I want a Bible study.” She was eventually baptized as a Witness. Régis says: “This proved that Jehovah blessed those years of struggle, patience, and endurance.” His long-suffering was rewarded.
13. What enabled Paul to endure, and how can his example help us to endure?
13 Back in the first century C.E., the apostle Paul was a fine example of long-suffering. (2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 1 Timothy 1:16) Toward the end of his life when he was giving counsel to his younger companion Timothy, Paul warned him that all Christians would face trials. Paul cited his own example and recommended basic Christian qualities that are necessary for endurance. He wrote: “You have closely followed my teaching, my course of life, my purpose, my faith, my long-suffering, my love, my endurance, my persecutions, my sufferings, the sort of things that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, in Lystra, the sort of persecutions I have borne; and yet out of them all the Lord delivered me. In fact, all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:10-12; Acts 13:49-51; 14:19-22) In order to endure, we all need faith, love, and long-suffering.
Clothed With Long-Suffering
14. To what did Paul liken such godly qualities as long-suffering, and what counsel did he give to Colossian Christians?
14 The apostle Paul likened long-suffering and other godly qualities to garments that the Christian should put on after stripping off practices characteristic of “the old personality.” (Colossians 3:5-10) He wrote: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering. Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also. But, besides all these things, clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:12-14.
15. What results when Christians ‘clothe themselves’ with long-suffering and other godly qualities?
15 When members of a congregation ‘clothe themselves’ with compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, long-suffering, and love, they are able to resolve problems and go forward unitedly in Jehovah’s service. Christian overseers in particular need to be long-suffering. There may be times when they need to reprove another Christian, but there are different ways of doing this. Paul described the best attitude when he wrote to Timothy: “Reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all long-suffering and art of teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2) Yes, Jehovah’s sheep should always be treated with long-suffering, dignity, and tenderness.—Matthew 7:12; 11:28; Acts 20:28, 29; Romans 12:10.
“Long-Suffering Toward All”
16. What may result when we are “long-suffering toward all”?
16 Jehovah’s long-suffering toward mankind places us under a moral obligation to “be long-suffering toward all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) This means being patient with non-Witness family members, neighbors, colleagues at work, classmates. Many prejudices have been overcome by Witnesses who, sometimes for many years, put up with sarcastic remarks or outright opposition from people with whom they associated at work or at school. (Colossians 4:5, 6) The apostle Peter wrote: “Maintain your conduct fine among the nations, that, in the thing in which they are speaking against you as evildoers, they may as a result of your fine works of which they are eyewitnesses glorify God in the day for his inspection.”—1 Peter 2:12.
17. How can we imitate Jehovah’s love and long-suffering, and why should we do so?
17 Jehovah’s long-suffering will mean salvation for millions. (2 Peter 3:9, 15) If we imitate Jehovah’s love and long-suffering, we will patiently continue preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom and teaching others to submit to Christ’s Kingdom rule. (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 13:10) If we were to stop preaching, it would be as if we wanted to limit Jehovah’s long-suffering and failed to recognize its purpose, which is to bring people to repentance.—Romans 2:4.
18. What was Paul’s prayer for the Colossians?
18 In his letter to Christians in Colossae, Asia Minor, Paul wrote: “That is also why we, from the day we heard of it, have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the accurate knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension, in order to walk worthily of Jehovah to the end of fully pleasing him as you go on bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the accurate knowledge of God, being made powerful with all power to the extent of his glorious might so as to endure fully and be long-suffering with joy.”—Colossians 1:9-11.
19, 20. (a) How can we avoid viewing Jehovah’s continued long-suffering as a test? (b) What benefits will come from our being long-suffering?
19 Jehovah’s continued long-suffering, or patience, will not be a test to us if we are “filled with the accurate knowledge of his will,” which is that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) We will “go on bearing fruit in every good work,” particularly that of preaching “this good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14) If we faithfully continue to do this, Jehovah will make us “powerful with all power,” enabling us “to endure fully and be long-suffering with joy.” So doing, we will “walk worthily of Jehovah,” and we will have the peace that comes from knowing that we are “fully pleasing him.”
20 May we be thoroughly convinced of the wisdom of Jehovah’s long-suffering. It works for our salvation and for the salvation of those who listen to our preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 4:16) Cultivating the fruitage of the spirit—love, kindness, goodness, mildness, and self-control—will enable us to be joyfully long-suffering. We will be better able to live at peace with members of our family as well as with our brothers and sisters within the congregation. Long-suffering will also help us to be patient with our workmates or schoolmates. And our long-suffering will have a purpose, that of saving wrongdoers and of glorifying the God of long-suffering, Jehovah.
Commenting on Paul’s statement that “love is long-suffering and kind,” Bible scholar Gordon D. Fee writes: “In Pauline theology they [long-suffering and kindness] represent the two sides of the divine attitude toward humankind (cf. Rom. 2:4). On the one hand, God’s loving forbearance is demonstrated by his holding back his wrath toward human rebellion; on the other hand, his kindness is found in the thousandfold expressions of his mercy. Thus Paul’s description of love begins with this twofold description of God, who through Christ has shown himself forbearing and kind toward those who deserve divine judgment.”
Can You Explain?
• In what ways is Christ a wonderful example of long-suffering?
• What will help us to cultivate long-suffering?
• How does long-suffering help families, Christian communities, and elders?
• How will our being long-suffering bring benefits to ourselves and to others?
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Even when under great pressure, Jesus was patient with his disciples
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Christian overseers are urged to set a good example of long-suffering in dealing with their brothers
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If we imitate Jehovah’s love and long-suffering, we will continue preaching the good news
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Paul prayed that Christians “be long-suffering with joy”