In this series on the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23) we have been exploring the word translated as longsuffering (ακροθυμία, makrothumia)1 in our New Testament (KJV), that is also translated in other verses as patience. We should also consider ὑπομονή (hupomone)2, another Greek word that is translated as patience. The meanings of these different words are similar, and they are sometimes used interchangeably, or combined for emphasis.
While the word hupomone is usually translated as “patience” (also, “patient” and “patiently”), there are three places in our New Testament where it is translated differently to bring out the meaning (whereas elsewhere the meaning is evident from the context):
- enduring—2 Corinthians 1.6: “And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring [hupomone] of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”
- patient continuance—Romans 2.7: “To them who by patient continuance [hupomone] in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:”
- patient waiting—2 Thessalonians 3.3-5: “But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting [hupomone] for Christ.”
There is sustained effort involved in enduring the suffering of various afflictions and hardships; patient continuance involves not stopping the well-doing (good works) that you are doing; and patient waiting for Christ’s return involves the doing and doing again of the things commanded by the apostle Paul and those who faithfully preach these same doctrines, though this New Testament era until our Lord returns.
The work of living, growing, cultivating the Christian life involves much patience. The Lord Jesus Christ likens this patience, spiritually speaking, to that of a gardener or farmer, preparing the ground, planting the seed, watering, weeding, tending to, and protecting the plants as they grow and eventually bear fruit. As our Lord himself says of the Christian: “But that [seed which fell] on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Luke 8.15). Christians are the farmers, or farm labourers, of their own soul’s spiritual harvest. For it is “they” who keep God’s word in their hearts and bring forth this fruit “with patience.” The Christian’s characteristic patience (hupomone) is exercised, strengthened, and added to their faith (see 2 Peter 1.5-6).3
Meanwhile, it is also true that faithful preachers plant the seed and water it (therefore, for your own good and the good of your family—you must join a church where God’s word is faithfully preached; and you must sit under this planting, watering, pastoring, all your remaining life in this world). And meanwhile, it is also true that it is God who gives the increase, i.e. the fruit (1 Corinthians 3.5-6). As we have emphasised repeatedly, the spiritual fruit that Christians bear is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23); and as Paul says of Christians: “ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3.9). So, God is the farmer of your soul, Christian, that’s true—but it is also true that you must work in and on your own soul like a farm labourer.
These truths are not contrary to each other, and nor must we take them to mean any kind of synergism (the error that says salvation is partly the work of man and partly the work of God). No, for salvation is all the work of God, from beginning to end. And yet you, Christian, must also work out your own salvation—you must work the work that God is working in you (Philippians 2.12-13).4
The precious seed of the word has been sown in your soul. It has been broadcast, published abroad, preached, or handed to you on paper, delivered by electronic means, or maybe by optic fiber. And when it came into your ears it fell into “good ground,” your “honest and good ground heart” (Luke 8.15)—a heart made honest and good by being born of the Spirit—indeed, by being born of God (John 1.13; 3.5-8; 1 John 5.1-5).
In yourself, you know you were not worthy to receive the gospel, and it would have done you no good for you would have done nothing good with it. Like many other people you know, God’s word would have failed to get deep into your mind. Left to yourself (if God had passed you by, leaving you to your sins), you would have thought no more about the gospel, and so it would have been plucked away as by birds; or, it would have been like a seed that fell on a stone that gets scorched by the sun; or, maybe it would have begun to grow but you didn’t think it worth keeping so you neglected it, letting it get smothered as by the weeds of the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches—whatever you were dedicating your life to (see Matthew 13.19-22).
One of these pictures, or maybe some composite, is how it was with you. And that is how it would have remained with you now, were it not for God’s work of grace within your soul. But—all thanks be to God—by the work of the Holy Spirit you became good ground, and so there was found in you an honest and good heart. From this your conversion onwards and upwards, the work that you must do is summarised in Jesus’s words on this matter: “having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” Not in order to save yourself, and not in order to keep yourself saved, but as a Christian living the Christian life—showing that you are indeed someone whom the Saviour has saved.
The patience of which the Bible speaks is not a passive waiting but an active one. It involves the work of keeping God’s word, Jesus says. The keeping of God’s word that brings forth fruit with patience, involves all of the following and more:
- the work of studying, learning, internalising and then externalising the Scriptures unto all good works (2 Timothy 3.16-17).
- the work of outworking your own salvation (Philippians 2.12-13);
- the work of mortifying the deeds of the old man and the putting on the new man (Romans 6.1-14; Ephesians 4.17-32; Colossians 3.5-10).
- the work of walking in the Spirit (Romans 6.4; 8.1-11; Galatians 5.16-26).
- the work of serving God (Deuteronomy 6.13; Daniel 3.17; Matthew 4.10; 6.24; Acts 27.23; 1 Thessalonians 1.9; Hebrews 9.14; 12.28).
- the work of being strong in the Lord; wrestling but not against flesh and blood; putting on the armour of God and standing in this evil day; standing firm and strong as a Christian in the middle of tribulation (Ephesians 6.10-18);
- the work of coming boldly to God’s throne of grace, obtaining his mercy, and finding his grace to help you in your time of need (Hebrews 4.16);
- the work of holding fast (2 Timothy 1.13; Hebrews 3.6; 4.14; 10.23; Revelation 2.25; 3.3,11).
- the work of overcoming, enduring to the end, and being more than a conqueror in the Christian life (1 John 5.4-5; Revelation 2.7, 11, 17, 26; 3.5, 2, 21; 21.7).
This characteristic patience of a Christian, says the apostle Paul, is an integral part of the way we respond to God’s word and God’s providences toward us. The tribulations that we all go through in this world—whether the troubles, burdens, afflictions of the world under the curse, and/or the various hateful rejections and persecutions that come form those who want nothing to do with Christ (Genesis 3.17-19; Romans 8.22; John 15.18-20)—Christians should view all these as so many challenges by which they are exercised and strengthened in their hope: “tribulation worketh patience [hupomone]; And patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Romans 5.3-4).
We have a sure and certain hope. In the verses preceding our quote, Paul identifies this hope as the manifestation of the glory of God: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God (vv.1-2). This glory of God that we rejoice in is summarised in one word: SALVATION, and it shall be manifested in us, as Paul later explains in his epistle (8.16-21; more on this below).
What a hope!
“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also…” (5.3a). Now, why glory in tribulations? Tribulations are troubles, afflictions, and even persecutions for Christ’s sake (see 2 Timothy 3.1,12; John 16.33; 1 Thessalonians 3.3-4). When you see any of these coming your way, Christian, are you learning to smile and welcome them? What have your tribulations done for you in the past? What are they doing for you now, even while you are suffering them as a Christian?
Ah, there it is. Because, you see, you are coming to know in your own experience that all these tribulations are working patience in your soul. This patience is the humble submission under the mighty hand of God, and the casting of all your cares upon him (1 Peter 5.6-7)—upon God, who by his grace in your soul is bringing you through this world and keeping you safe and keeping you faithful to him. And all this patience is working experience in your soul—for God has upheld you before and he has answered your prayers; and in these you are gaining more and more reasons to believe that the unchangable God will continue to bless you and keep you, and cause his face to shine upon you, and give you peace (Numbers 6.24). And more: all this experience is working hope in your soul. Therefore, you will fear no evil even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And even now you are coming to understand and be assured of these facts: God’s goodness and mercy shall continue follow you all the days your life; and you will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever (Psalms 23).
So, tribulations work patience in the Christian. Patience works experience in the Christian. And experience works hope in the Christian. Not in every human being, but certainly in Christians—this is the doctrine. But why, and how? Paul explains: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience [hupomone] wait for it” (Romans 8.21-25).
Why do we suffer tribulations? Because we, together with the whole of this created world, God has made “made subject to vanity.” This vanity, futility, physical corruption, decay, loss, death is God’s curse upon the man’s world because of man’s sin (Genesis 3).
How do these tribulations work patience in the Christian? Tribulations impose bitter experiences upon all people who suffer them—but the Christian finds a genuine sweetness in them. How? Because in the salvation that God, in Christ, has also bestowed upon us, we have a sure and certain hope of something beyond this world: “the glory which shall be revealed in us”—which glory Paul also identifies as “the manifestation of the sons of God” (we understand that daughters are included by Paul in this phrase). This total transformation is our glorification: “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8.30). And the patience, experience, and hope that is worked up in us through our Christian response to tribulations is part of this transformation, our growth in the here-and-now.
Here’s the apostle John on this same doctrine: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he [Christ] shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3.1-3). Christian, this glorious state of being like Christ in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4.24; 2 Peter 1.4; Galatians 4.19), is what we are all currently in patient continuance (hupomone) for; or, as John says, what we are all purifying ourselves for, with earnest expectation! Or, we should be doing so. For this is what we are already: “now are we the sons of God.” And though the world doesn’t recognise it in us yet, we see this in ourselves by our eye of faith in God’s promises, affirms John. This, even though what are now has not yet been manifested in full.
If you are going about your life as you should be, Christian, then your characteristically Christian patience is working an experience of God’s grace within you. And this experience of God’s merciful and gracious dealings with even you are increasing your evidential grounds for the hope of your salvation unto glory. The more we live out the Christian life with patience, the more we gain this experience. We experience, over and over again, God’s helping us in our own personal history, in similar ways as the Bible records the him looking after his people in their times past.
We have God’s grace in our experience, and we experience God’s grace over and over again. Indeed, we experience it continually, though we don’t stop to acknowledge it and thank God for his being always with us (John 14.16; Hebrews 13.5-6)
We are assured of our salvation, not by virtue of our own faith, our believing in the Saviour (as though we ourselves worked up our faith, somehow), but by the astounding fact that we are believers in him. We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ of whom the Bible teaches, correctly interpreted and understood. It is not our faith that has saved us, but our Saviour in whom we believe. Our faith, and everything else we add to it by the Holy Spirit’s enabling, and all the fruit of the Spirit that we bear—even our faith and our good works that God has prepared for us to walk in—even our faith that is of one substance with the things we hope for, including all that pertains to life and godliness—yes, our living, walking, growing, working, manifesting, fruit-bearing faith itself is the key evidence of our salvation, and all this our ourworked faith is also by God’s grace (Ephesians 2.8-10; 2 Peter 1.2-11; Hebrews 11.1; Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 5.8-9)
This is how we learn for ourselves what the apostle Peter means: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5.10-11). This is how we learn for ourselves, that all things—even evil and affliction and tribulation and persecution—work together for the good of those people who love God (Romans 8.28).
The Book of Psalms is full of this testimony to the Lord’s looking after his people in this way. And “all Scripture,” as you know, “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3.16). Therefore we learn to love the Psalms as we see in them our own spiritual life reflected as in a faithful mirror. We also see in them how God works in the souls and lives of his people. And above all, we see our Lord Jesus Christ’s heart, and words, prophesied, which he came to live and die for his people. Christian! Learn the Psalms. Learn to love them as the words to your own spiritual life. Let Christ’s word dwell in you richly—by praying the Psalms, and singing them into your own memory and heart. This is a truly excellent means whereby, as Paul commands us, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds; and we should encourage one another to do the same (Colossians 3.16).
“I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me” (Psalms 13). “Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble” (31). “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD” (130). “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance” (42). “In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God” (62). “Cast me not off in time of old age” (71). “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever” (23). “I will extol thee, my God, O king, and I will bless thy name for ever and ever” (145). “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (103). I could go on, but I would rather you did!
Concerning both the Psalms and all the Scriptures, we must all learn to agree with Paul that “…whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience [hupomone] and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience [hupomone] and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15.4-5).
As Paul prayed for the Lord’s people in his day, so we should pray to God for our own growth in the knowledge of the word of God, so that as we ourselves come to understand God’s providences in our life according to the Scriptures, we will be strengthened in their patience, experience, and hope (and, same as Paul did, we should pray this for our Christian family): “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience [hupomone] and longsuffering [makrothumia] with joyfulness… ” (Colossians 1.9-11).
The apostle gave all thanks and glory to God when he learned about how the Lord’s people were withstanding their persecutions and other tribulations: “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience [hupomone] and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure” (2 Thessalonians 1.3-4; see also 1 Thessalonians 1.3).
from ὑπό (hupo) meaning by, or under; plus μένω (meno), meaning abide, continue, remain, tarry. So, ὑπομονή, hupomone (and ὑπομένω, hupomeno) mean remaining under, abiding by (or with), enduring [hardship, suffering, etc], waiting for, continuing steadfast. (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, numbers 5281 (ὑπομονή), 5259 (ὑπό), and 3306 (μένω).) ↩︎
See a previous article Add to Your Faith: Temperance, Patience, and Godliness. ↩︎
Similarly, when Paul affirmed that himself, Apollos and other faithful preachers worked together with God in evangelism and in building and growing Christians and congregations (1 Corinthians 3.9a; 2 Corinthians 5.20-6.1), this too was no denial that the work was all God’s work: “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3.7). Whoever we are, and whatever we think we are, we need to be reminded: “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Galatians 6.3). ↩︎