Series: Seasonal Attitudes To Have All Year Long
We have been looking at seasonal attitudes to have all year long. First, there’s contentment, which is vital in a season where overspending is easy to do. Second, we looked at being thankful, especially how it can be a catalyst to our spiritual growth. Then we saw that an attitude of peace was critical to reducing stress during the holidays. Briefly, we looked at gentleness, especially important because many people who have suffered loss feel that loss most during the holidays and may need a gentle touch.
Now, we take a look at patience. Why patience? Well, think of kids this time of year. What do they want for Christmas? How long is it until Christmas?
Waiting for presents is not the only, or even the most important, reason we need patience this Christmas season. As we remember Christ’s first coming, we need to dial up the patience as we wait for his second coming. Is he ever going to return? Will there ever be peace on earth? The sad Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” written at the height of the bloody Civil War, laments about this very thing:
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Have you ever waited so long for something to happen that you gave up? Once when we were on vacation, we were driving through Missouri on the Interstate when we found ourselves in a traffic jam—there must have been a huge wreck far up ahead. We weaved and bumped a little but eventually settled into the right lane where we crept slowly along. Each minute dragged by like it was an hour.
Tami looked out her window and saw a turtle on the side of the road—it was going faster than we were! Eventually we got near an off-ramp, and since I had given up patience a mile back, I took it. We escaped the Interstate for a nice long rural drive around the traffic jam, but in the end, we spent more time driving around trying to find a way to get where we wanted to go then it would have if we had just stayed in the traffic jam.
Patience is “the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty” (BDAG). Patience is more than just waiting; patience is holding up when things are difficult. Patience is more than just holding up when things are difficult—it is holding up when things are difficult without complaining or murmuring.
Waiting for Christ to return, waiting to open presents, waiting in line to buy presents, waiting for the package to be delivered by Fed Ex. The holidays are a prime time for our patience to be tested to the limits. It’s a stressful time for many. We need to be patient with one another and even with strangers and UPS drivers!
How does the gospel teach us and enable us to be patient?
Christian patience is based on the hope that we have for a better future beyond this life. We may nod and agree with that statement, but can being patient for the coming of Jesus Christ really help us be patient with an annoying in-law or church member or a long line at the store? The apostle Paul felt so. In 2 Corinthians chapter 4, we get insight into how he managed to be patient through the greatest of difficulties and problems. In fact, our first lesson from this passage is that…
PATIENCE DOES NOT COME FROM A LACK OF TRIALS
We might be tempted to think, “If only I didn’t have to endure this or that, then I would be patient.” Truth is, however, people with no problems or trials are the most impatient people in the world. The apostle Paul was not a man without trials. He writes:
For which cause we faint not [i.e., we are patiently enduring];
but though our outward man perish, (2 Corinthians 4:16a)
What does Paul mean by “our outward man”? He means those parts of ourselves that are subject to decay: our physical strength, our organs and tissues, our mental sharpness, and so forth. This happens to all of us. Even children, who are in a time of physical, mental, and emotional growth, are subject to this decay. One case in point: two of our children need eyeglasses.
I think that perhaps Paul was feeling tired and worn out, not so much from age, but from years of hard missionary work and persecutions. But, he’s not complaining, because while the “outward man perish…”
yet the inward man is renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16b)
The “inward man” refers to our inward self—our attitudes, beliefs, desires, personality, and so on. The “inward man” is the part of you that survives your physical death. This is being “renewed day by day.” Becoming a Christian doesn’t instantly change you, that happens over the course of months and years, as the Spirit gradually changes you on the inside.
At the end of our earthly lives, every Christian should be like a cow-tree. What’s a cow-tree?
Alexander von Humboldt [who lived 200 years ago] tells of a tree in South America called the cow-tree. It grows on the barren flank of a rock that its roots are scarcely able to penetrate. To the eye it appears dead and dried, but when the trunk is pierced there flows from it a sweet and nourishing milk. This is not unlike the Christian, who outwardly may appear to be withering and dying but within possesses a living sap that is welling up to eternal life. (Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians, vol. 8, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996], 2 Co 4:13.)
It’s not just the decay of his outward man that was giving Paul trouble. It was also the outward persecutions and difficulties he faced. He calls these things…
For our light affliction, (2 Corinthians 4:17a)
It might surprise you, if you know anything about what Paul went through, that he calls his trials “light affliction.” Later, in this letter, he knocks off a list of his “light afflictions:”
23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23–28)
So why does Paul call these things “light affliction”? It’s not that he’s pretending to be humble. Sometimes a person might endure great pain, but pretend to be humble about it in order to gather pity from others. No, Paul genuinely sees his trials as “light afflictions.” The reason he can do so is that he has a eternal perspective on them. That’s our second lesson today…
PATIENCE COMES FROM AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE
1. An Eternal Perspective Sees That Trials Are Limited By Time
Paul says that his “light afflictions”…
which is but for a moment, (2 Corinthians 4:17b)
How can affliction be light and not heavy? Because, when you measure the time of a trial against the length of eternity, you only have a small dot where the trial was. Even if the trial lasts a hundred years, compared to eternity, it’s a dot on a long line that goes on forever. To every trial, as a Christian, we can say with confidence, “This too shall pass.” Our perspective must be that our trials are limited by time.
There is a story about a kindergarten teacher helping a child put on his snow boots…
They worked together to push and pull and tug… and it seemed like she’d never get those boots on him. The boots just didn’t seem to want to go on. They finally got the second boot on when the little boy looked up and said, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.”
She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on—this time on the right feet.
He then announced, “These aren’t my boots.”
She literally bit her tongue and controlled herself as she asked, “Well, why didn’t you say so?” Once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off.
… and then he said, “They’re my brother’s boots. My Mom made me wear them.”
She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She mustered up all the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again.
Then she said, ‘Now, where are your mittens?’
He sweetly looked up at her and said: “I stuffed them in the toes of my boots…”
In recent years, I’ve become more patient with my kids, especially the small ones, because they don’t stay small long. Those trials that you have with a small child are too soon gone.
God wants us to look at all of our trials that way. They will soon be past, lost in the distant mist of eternity. That very thought can help us be patient. Be patient, God is working on you!
2. An Eternal Perspective Sees That Trials Have A Greater Purpose
Paul says that our trials, our light afflictions…
worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; (2 Corinthians 4:17c)
This is one of my favorite phrases in the Bible. What does it mean that our trials work in us a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”? Imagine a scale—the old-fashioned kind where you balance weights on either side. On one side are your trials and on the other side is the God’s thumb pushing it all the way down. Eternity outweighs temporary trials.
Okay, so the “eternal weight of glory” outweighs temporary, light afflictions. But what is it? The “eternal weight of glory” is what we become in Christ.
18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Christian patience comes from believing that God is working to produce something better, “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” out of every situation. Christian patience comes from believing that God is sovereignly working behind the scenes in every circumstance of our lives. This is confirmed for us by James, who wrote:
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2–4)
There is an old Jewish legend about Moses, told by Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of Voice of the Martyrs, that illustrates the importance of believing that God is working out his purposes even when we don’t see what it might be.
A legend says that Moses once sat near a well in meditation. A wayfarer stopped to drink from the well and when he did so his purse fell from his girdle into the sand. The man departed. Shortly afterwards another man passed near the well, saw the purse and picked it up. Later a third man stopped to [quench] his thirst and went to sleep in the shadow of the well.
Meanwhile, the first man had discovered that his purse was missing and assuming that he must have lost it at the well, returned, awoke the sleeper (who of course knew nothing) and demanded his money back. An argument followed, and irate, the first man [killed the third man who was sleeping].
[So] Moses said to God, “You see, therefore men do not believe you. There is too much evil and injustice in the world. Why should the first man have lost his purse and then become a murderer? Why should the second have gotten a purse full of gold without having worked for it? The third was completely innocent. Why was he slain?”
God answered, “For once and only once, I will give you an explanation. I cannot do it at every step. The first man was a thief’s son. The purse contained money stolen by his father from the father of the second man, who finding the purse only found what was due him. The third was a murderer whose crime had never been revealed and [so received the] punishment he deserved [in the first place]. In the future believe that there is sense and righteousness in what transpires even when you do not understand.” (John Piper, Future Grace [Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1995], 174–175)
A classic example for me, is when I get stuck behind a slow driver. I find that I have more patience with them when I start thinking about why God might have allowed me to be stuck there in the first place. Is it to prevent an accident—a collision with a deer? Is so that we have more time to think or talk while we’re traveling, hitting on an idea or conversation that makes a difference in our lives? Is it so that we don’t get home in time to catch a phone call from a telemarketer?
We can find patience by thinking about what God might be up to in any situation in our lives. The stomach pain that leads to several hours at the doctor’s office might be a cause of impatience until the doctor takes an x-ray and discovers the early signs of cancer. The late night phone call (wrong number even) might upset us, but then we smell gas from downstairs.
Unbelieving people call this sort of thing, luck, and it does nothing to help them grow. The Christian sees it as God working and it develops in us patience to face other delays and inconveniences with a more open mind to what God may be doing. Be patient, God is working on you!
3. An Eternal Perspective Sees That Eternal Things Are More Valuable
While we look not at the things which are seen,
but at the things which are not seen:
for the things which are seen are temporal;
but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
There are temporary and seen things and there are eternal and unseen things. Paul isn’t saying that we can’t enjoy material possessions or worldly success, or that they are sinful. But we do tend to get stuck in a rut. The human tendency is to value the seen and the temporary before we value the unseen and eternal. We have a saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
We fret if our church doesn’t have large numbers attending or the building needs some remodeling. We get depressed if we don’t make as much money as our neighbor. Those are all indicators that we are valuing the seen and temporary above the unseen and eternal.
Jesus himself told us:
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19–21)
God does not call us to be successful, or healthy, or wealthy…he calls us to be faithful. Faithful in obedience, faithful to his word, faithful to his Son, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 4:2).
How do we do this? Valuing the eternal over the temporal does not come automatically to us. In fact, it’s in our nature to believe what we see, not what we don’t see. There has to be an effort on our part to value the eternal the most. Paul says that we must “look.” That’s what we must do. Or as, it says in Colossians, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).
This has to be a daily quest for us. I don’t mean that we throw out everything material that we own, but that we look past those things to the one who gives them to us. Giving thanks everyday for what you have in this world would be a great way to remind yourself to look at the Giver.
When we are able to look at the one who gives us the gifts in a clear light, we’ll find that our patience increases—
One day when John Wesley [a 18th century evangelist] was away from home, someone came running to him, saying, “Your house has burned down! Your house has burned down!” Wesley replied, “No, it hasn’t, because I don’t own a house. The one I have been living in belongs to the Lord, and if it has burned down, that is one less responsibility for me to worry about.” (John MacArthur, Strength for Today [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1997].)
Maybe that’s a little overboard, but you get the picture. If we hold our temporary possessions loosely and hold to our eternal possessions tightly, we’ll find ourselves more patient when those temporary things rot, decay, break, burn, or get stolen.
How has God been patient with you?
God was patient with me. I was saved when I was 19. But I can trace God’s active working to bring me to himself for more than a decade before that. I remember that every summer at Vacation Bible School, I raised my hand to be saved. When we moved from the Circle area to Big Timber, I lost contact with the VBS teachers. But then I met a classmate in eighth grade who read his Bible at school. Once again, I was drawn close, only to back off again, to the point of denouncing God when I was in my mid-teens. Finally, when my boss told me her testimony, I admitted my rebellion against God and received Christ as my Savior.
Have you trusted Christ as your Savior? God’s been patient with you, but there will come an end to his patience. It will happen when you die. There will be no more patience after that point. The Bible says that,
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: 28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9:27–28)
When Christ returns a second time, will you be ready? Will you be saved? Don’t test the patience of God any longer…trust Christ today.