Let Patience Have Her Perfect Work

Fruit of the Spirit: Longsuffering (Part 7)

By Simon Padbury 14 October 2023 14 minutes read

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews1 urges his fellow Hebrew Christians to go on and not to go back from following their Messiah. He encouraged them in this way even though he was persuaded that there was, in these believers, “better things” than were found in those who had turned back from following Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 6.1-10). The author uses both words that are translated as “patience” in our Bibles: makrothumia and hupomone.

In chapter 6, the author lays the following charge upon his Hebrew Christian readers: “And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience [makrothumia] inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6.11-12).

Dear Christian, keep on going the way that you are going, as a Christian—do not cease; do not turn back. Continue to do the same things that you have been doing already; and continue doing them with the same diligence—so, no slacking, no half-heartedness. Keep on doing the “things that accompany salvation… your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward [God’s] name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (vv.9-10). Keep on living the Christian life. Your hope, your assurance of salvation, is in the Saviour himself, in whom you believe—your eternal security has already been anchored in heaven by Christ himself (see vv.13-20; especially v.19). So, will you not continue to live as a Christian? Then show that you are a Christian by the way you live.

If you find that you do keep going this way (we sometimes call this “walking the walk,” referring to what Paul said elsewhere: Romans 8.1-4; Galatians 5.16-17), then this progress that you are making is a further evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit within you. For you know that you would not be living or walking this way at all, or “showing” it in your life, or continuing in it, or making any real progress in living for Christ—if it were not for the grace of God working within you.

This is why we desire that you be an increasingly obvious Christian in living the holy, godly, Christian life, urges the author of Hebrews. And for even more encouragement and stimulation, he points to many others who have gone before you in this way, and we desire that you follow them: follow those ancient saints who have through their faith and superadded patience2 inherited God’s promises already, ahead of you—the same promises as God has made to you in the covenant of grace.

Hebrew (Israelite) Christian, the author of this epistle says to you: for an example of a man who has through faith and patience inherited the promises of God, consider Abraham. You must follow Abraham (Hebrews 6.13-15).

Yes, we know the Jews claim to follow him, but the truth is as John the Baptist preached: “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3.8-9). And remember where our Messiah himself said of a Gentile, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8.10-11). Understand this: they who do not follow Jesus do not truly follow Abraham: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out” (Luke 13.26). Abraham and many other ancient saints have, through their faith and patience, inherited the promises before you. So, be sure to follow these men and women, who were indeed the Lord’s people.

All Christians, whether from the Hebrews or the Geniles: whoever you are and wherever your nationality, you must follow Abraham. “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently [makrothumeo] endured, he obtained the promise” (Hebrews 6.13-15).

This is the same promise to Abraham and believers of all nations, about which the apostle Paul teaches us elsewhere: “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness… Therefore it [justification; and thus salvation] is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Romans 4.3, 16-17).

The same truth again: “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham… And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3.7-9, 29).

Christian, you must follow—and keep on following—the saints who have gone before you (such as Abraham, who is set before you as a prime example). Keep on walking with the Lord’s people, your brothers and sisters in the faith, who through faith and patience have inherited the gospel promises.

Later, in chapter 10, the author of Hebrews further stimulates his fellow Israelite Christians to keep on following Christ, but he puts it like this: remember how much tribulation you have suffered for Christ already—and continue going this same way! For they had already shown their confidence in the Messiah who had brought them through all that they had gone though so far; and he will continue to keep safe in his almighty hand all those who remain steadfastly committed to him (see John 6.27-30; Revelation 1.8). “But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods,3 knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience [hupomone], that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10.32-36).

Yes, dear Christian, you still have need of this patience—don’t throw it away, or give it up: this patience that is not a passive waiting but a sustained effort of enduring, in order to hold fast, remain steadfast, and to keep on keeping on. Stand for Christ, and remain standing for Christ. Stand with those who stand for Christ, even if it means suffering with them. And having done all, still stand in the strength of the Lord and stand in an armour that is not your own but is God’s armour4 (see Ephesians 6.10-11).

Remain with Christ—and keep on running to Christ, says the author of Hebrews. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience [hupomone] the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12.1-2). Many, many others have run this race before us. Beyond the finish line, and compassing us about (though we do not see them), there is this great cloud of witnesses whose record in the Bible itself witnesses to us that we can do it too if the Lord Jesus Christ is with us, by his Holy Spirit within us.

We know that Christ is the “author” of our faith—the author of the things we believe. He is the instituter and fulfiller of it all. He is the Word of God, the Truth, and the revealer of the truth (John 1.1-3; 8.31-32, 38). And he is also our faith’s “finisher,” completer and perfecter. Our forerunner ran his race before us (Hebrews 6.20) and completed his race. By so doing, he actually made the way for us (John 11.25; 14.6; 19.30).

Weak though our faith may be—or as we may express it, weak though our assurance of faith (i.e. our personal belief, trust, and hope in Christ our Saviour) may be, at the present time—the truth is, our faith is growing. Our faith is being built up. Our faith is, by this growing and building-up, being finished to become a perfect faith, full of assurance. Our faith is presently being finished by the finisher, Jesus himself. Therefore, we will most surely believe all that is written in the Scriptures, including what is written concerning true Christians such as we. We will see the truth about ourselves, in Christ (in the covenant of grace), written in the Bible! We will utterly believe in the Christ who is able to save to the uttermost all those people who come to God by him (Hebrews 7.25).

You understand that JESUS (whose name means “Jehovah is salvation;” see Matthew 1.21) is your Saviour, who alone saves you—not your faith. Your faith (your belief, trust, hope) is not in yourself at all but it is all in the Saviour who saves his people from their sins. So, look away from of those sins that have been easily besetting you and bringing you down, and look to JESUS, “Jehovah is salvation,” while you run the Christian race that he has set before you. For, as you know, “Follow me” was his call to you (see John 10.4). Run your race with the sustained endurance that the Bible calls patience.

The apostle James explains that in the difficult trials we Christians can sometimes go through, we should look above the circumstances, as it were, and “know” that God in his providence is examining, testing, exercising and strengthening our personal Christianity. We persevere in these trials until we come out of them, whether in this world or the world to come, with patience. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1.3-4; see also Hebrews 12.11). Christian, keep going. True Christians keep going as Christians.

James continues in his epistle with this theme of perseverance, that is, of patient endurance. In chapter 5, the apostle would have us all to learn lessons about longsuffering and patience from the farmer, the prophet, and the patriarch Job. Our Bible translators have chosen to stick with one English word to emphasise the continuity of subject matter, but in the Greek the words are not all the same (though their meanings overlap):

“Be patient [makrothumia] therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience [makrothumia] for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient [makrothumia]; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience [makrothumia]. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience [hupomone] of Job,5 and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5.7-11).

Sometimes this tribulation involves “suffering wrongfully”—even suffering an injustice that you have to bear for being a Christian. “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently [hupomeno]? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently [hupomeno], this is acceptable with God” (1 Peter 2.19-20). Persecution can come in many forms and many degrees.

As we saw earlier, the author of Hebrews teaches us about our Saviour’s race that he ran with joy while enduring the terrors and pains of the cross at Calvary, despising its shame, and keeping going until he finished his race whereby he redeemed his people and sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12.2). With this in mind, consider the following truth that the apostle Peter draws out this doctine: “For even hereunto [i.e. suffering for Christ] were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (2 Peter 2.21-25).

What the apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Philippi concerning their persecution for Christ is very similar to what many Christians are going through today: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (Philippians 1.27-30).

The world hated Christ before it hated those who follow him (John 15.18-19). And, evidently, it still does. And, the more of Christ the world sees in Christians—we should not hide him or be ashamed of him, but we should proclaim him, testify of him, obey him, and do all for his glory—then, integral to our calling to follow Christ, we may often have to suffer for him various forms of rejection, ostracization, and even persecution. As Christians we must bear all this patiently, in a manner that is pleasing to our God.

  1. See footnote 1 of Evidence of Things Not Seen ↩︎

  2. See previous article, Add to Your Faith: Temperance, Patience, and Godliness. ↩︎

  3. These Christians supported the author of Hebrews (whether it was the apostle Paul or some other), both financially and in other practical ways, at their own expence—even spoiling or plundering their own goods (possessions) to do so. In this way they suffered with him. ↩︎

  4. Did you think it was a Roman soldier’s armour? Read and study Ephesians 6.10-11 again! See also the previous article, Standing in the Evil Day. ↩︎

  5. I used to think that the Lord would not allow his people to suffer in this world so much as Job did, and that he was a special example to teach us. But that’s wrong. Any Christian can still go through the worst problems, diseases, disasters, pains, persecitions, deaths. Yet our Good Shepherd, who gave his life to save us, is always with us even through the worst of the worst (Psalms 23.4; John 10.11). Even in the Psalms that we (should) sing, which were written for our learning (Colossians 3.16; Romans 15.4), we are regularly reminded that the Lord’s people can suffer tribulations (whether by the hands and plans of wicked men or by the effects of the curse upon this world, see Genesis 3)—even such afflictions as can be described in Job-like language. For example, think through Psalms 31. ↩︎