Longsuffering is defined as: “having or showing patience in spite of troubles, esp. those caused by other people” (New Oxford American Dictionary). In his explanation of the words that are translated “longsuffering” in the Scriptures, W. E. Vine lists as synonyms “forbearance and patience.” He also says, “Longsuffering is that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish; it is the opposite of anger, and is associated with mercy, and is used of God” (Vine's Expository Dictionary).
Longsuffering is indeed an attribute of God, and it is to be an attribute of the Christian. In Exodus 34:5-7 we are told, “And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty...”
The Psalmist wrote of this in Psalm 86:15: “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.” And Paul listed longsuffering among the qualities of God described as “the goodness of God.” He also says that these qualities, “riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering,” leads men to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
Often today, when one surveys our world and sees the exceeding sinfulness, ungodliness, corruption, denial of God and all that is right, we hear statements similar to this: “How can God allow our world to continue when it is as evil and wicked as it is?” When you consider that sin is so against everything that God stands for, and that because of sin, His “only begotten Son” had to pay the supreme sacrifice on the cross, this may seem like a pertinent question.
However, the people of our age are not the first to question why God allows the world to stand and why He has not yet sent His Son to “take vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thess. 1:7-10). When Peter wrote his second epistle, he mentioned that there would “come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming?” (II Pet. 3:3-4). Their reasons for questioning the timing of our Lord's return may have been different from ours today; nevertheless, question it they did. Peter explained that God has His own time table for His actions. (See also Galatians 4:4.) He told them that God's promise is not affected by the passing of time: “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (II Pet. 3:8). Then he states that it is his longsuffering, not slackness in keeping His promise, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (v. 9). Thus the very traits that are so difficult for us to understand in God―mercy, forbearance, longsuffering, grace, forgiveness, etc.―are the only things that permit men to be saved. Peter also declared, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (II Pet. 3:15).
When it comes to the Christian, Paul lists longsuffering as part of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22). He also lists longsuffering, along with “lowliness, meekness, forbearing one another in love,” as characteristics necessary before we can “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Eph. 4:1-2). These qualities are essential to keeping “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). He also lists longsuffering among the things that we are to “Put on as the elect of God” along with “bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind and meekness” (Col. 3:12). Notice the company that it keeps in these scriptures. Even when the situation calls for reproof and rebuke, it is to be done “with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Tim. 4:2). I am afraid we put all the emphasis on “the doctrine” and often overlook the longsuffering. In the words of Christ, (on a similar subject) “these ought ye to have done, and not leave the other undone” (Matt. 23:23).
Let each of us determine to follow our God's example and display proper longsuffering toward all. If we practiced this, we would be slower to criticize, slower to speak evil one of the other, and, perhaps, even slower to pass judgment. May God help each of us to evaluate our lives in regard to this trait, and by all means, seek to emulate it in our lives!