"Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth" (Exodus 34:6); "The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations" (Numbers 14:18); "But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth" (Psalm 86:15); "Who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water" (1 Peter 3:20); "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9); "'And I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality" (Revelation 2:21).
Lessons From God’s Patience
- No one can claim that the God revealed in the Bible is mean, angry, unreasonable, and impossible to satisfy, or has unrealistic standards. The very term longsuffering means literally a long temper. Note: "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, PC Study Bible). Therefore, all of the judgments revealed in the Bible, even those in which God struck people dead, only came after a tremendous amount of patience on God’s part. None of these examples were an over-reaction on God’s part, including such passages as Acts 5:1-11.
- When God gave the order to exterminate entire cultures because of their entrenched and persistent evil, this only came after years and centuries of patience. The Canaanites were not removed from the land of Canaan until after at least four centuries of extreme patience (Genesis 15:16). If people are tempted to complain about God’s judgments revealed in the Bible, then they need to carefully read about what God was enduring: "Every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5); "The men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter" (Genesis 19:4), (how bad is it when an entire city is corrupt and tries to rape two angels?); read carefully Leviticus 18:20-25.
- No man or woman can complain, "God is forcing me to do this or that". If anything, God has allowed people to do their own thing. God created the universe, God gave His only Son for the man’s rebellious acts, and still the vast majority of people continue to spur Him, while ungratefully and selfishly to soak up His physical blessings. And yet, God continues to allow such blessings to come upon them. Sounds like God is bending over backwards and is going the second-mile for some very ungrateful people (Luke 6:35; Matthew 5:45). No man or woman can complain that God has been "too pushy", "has driven me or her away", "has been to harsh", or "has come on too strong". Listen to these verses,
"And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:16-17); "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31).
For the most part, God has allowed people to go into sin, see what it is like, and experience the negative side effects of such behavior in this life. In fact, the gospel message has often come to people not before they go into sin, but after they have lived there for some time, when God reasonably feels that people should be eager for a change (Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 Peter 4:1-6). The word overlooked infers that for the vast majority of time and cases, God didn’t immediately inflict punishment on the sinner. Someone has noted that in the context, we have Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (17:18). The word repent is a word they needed to hear. For the Epicurean might later regret some of the ways he had sought for pleasure, but he had little time for sorrow or regretting the past. The Stoic was ready to accept the consequences of his actions with a serene apathy. Either school of philosophy had little room for any idea that they needed repentance.
- When God exercises His longsuffering, He is taking a chance or a risk, for many people abuse the extra time and second chances that He gives them. Solomon noted, "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Our society questions whether or not punishment is a deterrent to evil behavior. God says that it is! What this also means is that the only way that many people will ever learn, change, or grow up, is by means of some discipline or hardship. When someone gets into trouble, we need to let that person suffer, for a valuable lesson is being taught. This should also teach us a lesson concerning parenting and church discipline. A lack of discipline and sound standards in the home and church will only lead to carelessness, slackness, and sin (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1ff; Ephesians 6:4). This verse also informs us that some people will never change until they face the full physical consequences of their actions. "The lack of a quick and clear punishment is enough to encourage wicked people to foster new evil plans" (Longman p. 219). This verse also seems to imply that the selfish person can’t be pampered into repenting, or hugged into obedience. God isn’t ignorant, He knows that people will abuse His grace and mercy and yet He extends it anyway, "Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? "Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. "Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. "But if that evil slave says in his heart, 'My master is not coming for a long time,' and shall begin to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and shall cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:45-51); "And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God"(Romans 2:3-5).
- Often people complain about all the bad things that are allowed to happen in this world. We need to remind others that if they want God to be patient and merciful, and be a God who gives second chances to sinners, they need to accept the fact that God must allow the existence and spread of evil. The fact that a sinner is prospering isn’t proof that God doesn’t care, or that God doesn’t exist, rather it is proof that God is kind to ungrateful and evil men and that God makes the sun to rise on the sinner as well as the believer.
- Note in the above passages that the person who abuses God’s patience is a hypocrite, an evil servant is stubborn and has a heart that refuses to repent.
Extra time is also a risk for man as well. In giving us a second chance, God is also giving us time to add to our condemnation, if we so choose. Concerning Romans 2:5, someone noted, "Accumulating wrath it went. Pile upon pile it grew. Until the day of reckoning when it had become one vast treasure of wrath! Devouring, boiling, consuming wrath! Judicial, not vindictive." Some people accumulate treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19ff); others only accumulate wrath.
- God expects results! God rightly expects people to make good use of the extra time they are given to change their lives and repent,"And He began telling this parable: ‘A certain man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it, and did not find any. "And he said to the vineyard-keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?' "And he answered and said to him, 'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down’" (Luke 13:6-9).
2 Peter 3:9
"The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance".
In view of such a statement it is completely unreasonable to complain that the God revealed in the Bible is unloving. Every sinner should consider the fact that he is not cut down in his sins, as proof that God is patient. Every man who sins and is spared, even for a moment of time, should regard such as proof that God is kind and that God wants him saved. God takes absolutely no pleasure in punishing the rebellious. God didn’t create mankind so He could punish someone. God derives no pleasure from the lost condition of dead sinners(Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11). But there is a place where people do perish! "It is hard to tackle this theme without a shudder. But Peter’s response is to call us to live a godly life in the light of it. As he will show, the reason for God’s patience is to lengthen the days during which a change of heart is possible. Clearly, these are terrifying ideas; but we must not find them so threatening and distasteful that we refuse to believe them, for that is the error of the false teachers. Peter is convinced that it is God’s right and duty to judge…and the wonder of his love is that it offers salvation against this background of destruction…The regular ordering of the seasons….all argue for a creator God who is patient. But that does not mean that the world is closed to Him. False teachers should realize that the same word that guarantees the stable world they delight in, also guarantees the judgment they mock" (Lucas/Green pp. 134-135). The verse isn’t teaching unconditional salvation. For man must acknowledge and forsake his sins. Salvation is conditional—for everyone. God has never offered an unconditional salvation. All men can repent and everyone can change. There isn’t a sin that you can’t forsake. God won’t change His mind. Rather, if a man or woman is to end up saved—they are the ones who must change. God even wants the false teachers to repent. God is being patience, so that even His defiant and arrogant enemies can be saved. This passage definitely contradicts the Calvinistic idea of limited atonement or predestination. Any view of the Bible which excludes certain penitent individuals from salvation, is a wrong view. What determines our salvation, isn’t some arbitrary decision—but rather our own choice to change or not to change, our choice to serve self or serve God. No one can blame God for his or her lost condition, or the lost condition of a loved one.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017