by Tuvya Zaretsky
(Editor’s note: This is the 3rd in a 9-part series on The Fruit of the Spirit & Evangelism, based on Galatians 5:22-23.)
Patience is expressed of God in Exodus 34:6 by the Hebrew erekh appayim, translated literally as “slow to anger.” The idea is of a sovereign who, when emotionally provoked, inhales with flared nostrils and then…holds that breath before speaking. That is the patience of the Lord God of Israel.
He will surely judge the wicked, unrighteousness, and sin. And He is also the ultimate standard for goodness, justice, beauty, all that is right, and love. So God’s character comes out as patience or slowness — even to express righteous anger. The psalmist wrote, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Ps. 86:15).
In the New Testament, the Greek word is makrothumia and is again translated as “patience, longsuffering, and slow in avenging wrongs.” The loving God is evidently in no hurry to judge sinners. His patient nature, as slow to anger, is evidence of the Lord’s kindness that leads to repentance” (see Rom. 2:4). We, who are Jesus’ disciples, need the Holy Spirit’s fruit of patience in us as we seek to introduce others to Him.
My favorite story of God’s patience (next to my own journey to faith) is about Silviu, a Romanian son of Holocaust survivors. He started attending our Jews for Jesus Bible study in the late 1980s. It was his habit to interrupt frequently and incessantly ask hard philosophical questions. He could be a nudnick (Yiddish for a persistent bother or pest).
“How do you know that’s what really happened?” Or, “What proof do you have outside of the Bible that such a person ever lived?” Sometimes, we had to ask him to save his questions for after the Bible study just so we could get through the material with everyone else.
He was just as difficult in personal visits. Every new missionary was assigned to visit with Silviu. He was a good introduction to the difficult nature of Jewish evangelism. His tough questions seasoned new missionaries and drove them to pray for God’s patience in the process of making disciples.
A few years ago, Silviu went through a spiritual change. He no longer questioned the Bible, or even the Messiahship of Jesus. He also realized his own broken, sinful humanity. However, intellectual integrity wouldn’t allow him to fake belief in God. He had been a committed atheist. So, he couldn’t imagine how he could now have faith.
With deep skepticism, he would often ask me, “How can anyone have real faith when you can’t see God or the proof of His forgiveness?”
I did my best to explain that faith is a gift from God. I urged him to simply ask God for the blessing of faith. For two months, Silviu would ask me after every Bible study, “When is God going to answer my prayer for faith?” I had an absolutely confident patience (clearly from the Spirit of God) and I told Silviu that God would give Him faith at a time of His choosing.
On May 15, 2013, I’d prepared a Bible study on Matthew Chapter 16. Usually, anywhere from 10 – 15 people attend the small meeting. Amazingly, no one showed up, except for Silviu. I breathed a sigh of disappointment, realizing that I had prepared a whole Bible study for one person.
We read Matthew 16:13-17, where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah the Son of the Living God.” Jesus replied, “…flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17 NASB).
Silviu sat up and said, “Oh, faith is a gift that God gives people!”
I paused, looking at him with a bit of astonishment. Silviu finally got it! He immediately wanted to thank God for giving him the gift of faith. With his mouth, he confessed that “Jesus is Lord,” and that he believed that God had also raised Jesus from the grave after His death on the cross to pay for his sins. I was astonished. The process of God’s patience had won the day and Silviu’s heart, and it had only taken about 25 years!
God is patient as He waits for the repentant sinner to turn. It would be impossible for us to be involved in that discipleship process without the Holy Spirit’s gift of patience — slowness to vent frustration or anger.