There are a few places in the English Bible, King James Version, where makrothumia is translated as “patience”1.
In one of our Lord Jesus Christ’s parables about the kingdom of heaven, he describes “a certain king” who is inspecting the accounts of his servants. One servant is heavily in debt to the king for “ten thousand talents” and he cannot pay back what he owed. This amount of money was far beyond the ability of any servant to pay. So the king, at first, justly commands that the servant, his wife, his children, and all his possessions be sold off to pay back his debt to the king. But “The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all” (Matthew 18.23-26).
The servant pleads for his king to show him makrothumia—patience, longsuffering. But the king’s response is to do far more than his servant pleaded for: he does not give the servant time to pay back the ten thousand talents (something the servant could never do, anyway) but, because he was “moved with compassion,” the king “loosed him, and forgave him the debt” (v.27).
Consider this well: the king did better than show him patience. It becomes evident that the king loved his servant. Being moved with compassion, he showed him forgiveness instead. There would have been no injustice if the king had consigned his servant to the debtor’s prison. But he showed mercy, and he took the servant’s debt upon himself.
This is what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus teaches us. Like this king, God forgives like this—yet not his people’s financial debts to him, but their iniquities, transgressions, and sins.
Jesus taught this parable first to his disciple Peter, and then to us, in its inclusion in the Scriptures (see 2 Timothy 3.16).
Peter had been repeatedly sinned against by one of his brothers in the faith. And Peter, resisting his urge to unleash his anger against the man, turned to his Lord about this matter. “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (v.22).
Peter would need to be a perfect man to forgive his brother’s repeated sins that much. But this is Christ’s command both to him and to us: we ought to forgive likewise. To impress this lesson upon our hearts, Jesus immediately links to it the parable we are currently considering, beginning the parable with “Therefore:” “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants” (Matthew 18:23 ff.).
The first servant in Jesus’s parable failed to learn this lesson. His king, moved with compassion, forgave all his debt, but he turned around and grabbed one of his fellowservants around the throat and threatened into his face: “Pay me that thou owest.” This other servant owed him “an hundred pence,” a small debt that a servant on a wage of a penny a day would be able to pay back. He fell down at the feet of the first servant and begged him to “have patience [makrothumia], and I will pay thee all.” But for this small, easily manageable debt, the first servant had his fellow servant cast into a debtor’s prison (vv.28-30).
The first servant couldn’t repay his massive debt, and yet he begged for his king to wait patiently while he repaid it all; but the king in his compassion forgave him all—writing off all the debt, taking the loss himself—so that his servant didn’t need to pay him back anything. Whereas this servant’s fellowservant could repay all (so small was his debt) by setting aside from his servant’s wage, and he begged his lender to wait patiently for what may only have been several months; but the first servant in his wickedness—so unlike his king!—did not forgive: he would destroy his fellowservant’s health and life by consigning him to hard labour in the debtor’s prison. (And robbing his king of his fellowservant’s work in the process.)
When the king was made aware of the first servant’s wickedness, he changed his mind: “Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (vv.32-35).
Peter, learn the lesson. Reader, learn the lesson! Be like the compassionate king, not like the wicked servant. Your God has showed you love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness—Christian! Do you think showing patience toward people is hard, impossible? God commands and expects even more of you: forgive (to your own damage) those who do you wrong seventy times seven times, and more.
Notice here there are two ways patience (makrothumia, longsuffering) can be manifested: showing forgiveness is more than showing patience; but to show forgiveness over and over again is also to show patience. Christian, do both!
This uniquely Christian, indeed God-like and Christ-like forgiveness is so important that our Lord even taught it in that prayer he taught us as the model for all our prayers; and he immediately expounded this teaching so that we should not fail to understand: “Our Father which art in heaven…forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6.9,12,14-15).
Listen to this same lesson on forgiving others as it reverberates throughout the New Testament Scriptures. Besides being taught by our Lord in Matthew, his teachings on this matter are also recorded in Gospels of Mark and Luke (Mark 11.25-26; Luke 11.4; 17.3-5). And this lesson is taught again in the epistles.
To the Colossians: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Colossians 3.11-13).
To the church at Corinth, Paul reproves Christians who have utterly failed to learn this lesson: “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren” (1 Corinthians 6.7-8).
Our Lord Jesus also taught this same lesson in a different way: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…” (Matthew 5.38-45)
So, why should we forgive other people? And why should we forgive other people so much? Here is the Christian’s threefold answer:
- We forgive because Christ forgave us, and we forgive the same way as Christ forgave us: truly, mercifully, completely, and repeatedly: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3.13);
- We forgive because we are commanded to love our neighbour (Matthew 22.36-39), and love “suffereth long” (1 Corinthians 13.4);
- When we forgive and keep on forgiving, we manifest this longsuffering new nature in a strength not our own (for it is a fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5.22)—and if this fruit of the Spirit is in us, we can be assured of our own forgiveness by our Father in heaven (Matthew 6.14-15).
Although μακροθυμία, makrothumia (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 3115) is sometimes translated as “patience” in English, the New Testament Greek word ὑπομονή, hupomone is more commonly translated as “patience.” Hupomone means steadfastness, constancy, endurance, patience, patient continuance, patient waiting (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 5281). But remember, Greek word used in Galatians 5.22, is μακροθυμία, translated as “longsuffering” by Tyndale and in English translations following, including the KJV(AV). So, this article does not include a word-study of hupomone. ↩︎