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THE LONGSUFFERING OF GOD

                 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9  (NKJV)

                 The word “longsuffering” is defined by Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament words as, ‎"to be patient, longsuffering, to bear with," lit., "to be long-tempered," In the article on the word used in our text, Vine goes on to 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.”

                 We often hear of the longsuffering of God.  It is one of His traits that gives us comfort and hope.  When it comes to sin, we must constantly remind ourselves that the only reason we can even think about going to heaven is because God does not want us to perish.    When we examine our salvation from a broader perspective, it becomes clear that our hope rests in God.  Our God is described as merciful, a God of grace, good and compassionate, among other traits.  Certainly, who God is, is more complex than this (He is also a jealous God, just and severe – Rom. 8:22), but my point in emphasizing the “positive” traits of God is to remind us, that in the end, even when we have done all that we can do, our salvation is still dependent upon Him.  In Luke 17:10, Jesus Himself said to His disciples (and it applies to us), “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ”

                 The longsuffering of God is demonstrated throughout scripture.  After man sinned in the garden of Eden and was cast out, things became progressively worse.  The world continued to exist for several centuries with man becoming increasingly wicked.  Wicked to the point that God could take no more and destroyed the world by flood (Genesis 6:1-8).  But even in that event, God demonstrated longsuffering in sparing Noah and his family.  1 Peter 3:20 says,  “…when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.”  A study of the history of Israel shows that God truly is longsuffering.  In the wilderness and at Mt. Sinai, Israel constantly complained and rebelled against God.  He had delivered the nation from slavery, taken care of them in barren circumstances, protected them from enemies and demonstrated His greatness through miraculous events (such as the Red Sea crossing) and yet their answer was discontent, rebellion and selfishness.  And that was just the wilderness.  The historical books (Joshua-Nehemiah) record Israel and Judah continually worshipping idols, living immoral and corrupt lives toward each other and foreign nations, blaspheming God in their conduct, persecuting the few who stood faithful, offering Him only token service, and a host of other behaviors that totally insulted God.  Yet in all these things, God never totally wiped out the nations.  He had made a promise and He intended to keep it, even though Israel had utterly spurned Him.  Moses would tell Israel at Mt. Sinai, in the infancy of their rebellious and ungrateful developments, “The Lord  is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.”  (Num 14:18-19)

                But the ultimate example of His longsuffering was in sending Jesus, His only begotten Son, to this earth so that, we in our rebellion and selfishness might receive complete forgiveness of our sins.  As we consider what Jesus endured in this world, as the Son of God and ultimately on the cross.  We see God’s longsuffering tested to its greatest point.  Not many of us would stand by and let our son, nor any family member, be mistreated as Jesus was if we had the power to stop it.  Yet God did so, because He “so loved the world” (John 3:16). 

                And He STILL demonstrates His longsuffering even to this day.  After the ascension of Jesus and the establishment of the church, man continued to test God.  While a few served (and a few still do) Him faithfully, most rejected Him.  Many who began a walk of service to Him began to waver or tire of His ongoing expectations of loyalty.  Man would turn against Him, began to corrupt and change His word, and once again live a life of self-gratification, offering to Him only token acknowledgment, if even that.  Church history reveals digression almost from the beginning (even before scriptures were complete – cf. Gal. 1:6-7, 2 Peter 3:16).  With each passing generation men would drift further from the true faith until they developed a church organization completely foreign to the pattern of scripture in nearly every aspect.  Also much of the world, continued to reject Jehovah God and the Savior Jesus Christ all together and heaped up for themselves foreign gods or no god at all (atheism).  This progression lasted for more than a millennium.  Attempts to return to proper service and patter at first were well intentioned, but still espoused man made creeds.  It was not until the late 1700s that history records efforts to set aside all the innovations and creeds of man and return to the simple New Testament pattern.  Restoration began aside the continued man made religions that had so far strayed from God’s word and the world religions that all together reject the Bible.  But shortly thereafter, even among those who desired to restore the New Testament church, worship and teachings, history records digressions began once again.  Among professing churches of Christ, we find today a much more liberal mindset and once again digression is rearing its ugly head, becoming worse and worse with each passing generation.  ONCE AGAIN, the warnings of Paul to Timothy ring loudly, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:3-5)  Truly we are living in perilous times where men are driven by selfishness. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)

                YET with all of history’s rejection of God, we find the world still stands.  Why?  2 Peter 3:9 tells us, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  Paul told some of the brethren at Rome,  Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4-5)  My point:  The ONLY reason this world is still standing is because of the longsuffering of God. 

                Today, we find a world filled with religious confusion and indifference, immorality that is reaching its apex in the records of history, wholesale rejection of God and a climate that in many places in this world outright persecutes true Christians. 

                Most of us can look at our personal lives and see moments, or even long seasons, where we simply did not serve God as we ought to.  Some of us have been outright rebellious and hypocritical in their faith.  And even more insulting to God, some of us have simply served Him half-heartedly (cf. Rev. 3:15-16) or with divided loyalties.  When we consider our refusal to totally submit to God, what do we really deserve?  Most of us have been treated with far more kindness by God than our conduct warrants.  So why does God put up with us?  Because of His love, grace, mercy AND longsuffering!  What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” (Rom 9:22-24) (NOTE: This text deals with specific events and had reference to God’s dealings with the Jews, but it demonstrates to us how much God STILL puts up with.) 

                What He puts up with ought to humble us to do a much better job of serving Him than our past reveals.  But will we?  May His longsuffering grant us the time to repent!

                BUT, even though our God is longsuffering there are some things that it does NOT mean.  Let us take a few moments to consider these.  The longsuffering of God does NOT mean:

1)                   It has no boundaries.  Know that God’s longsuffering WILL run out.  Both Israel and Judah were removed from God’s sight (taken into captivity) after He gave them chance after chance to get things right.  Their hardened hearts demonstrated there was no intention to do the right thing.  So He finally rejected them as His people (but He still fulfilled His promises through them for all mankind).  The world was finally destroyed by flood after He could no longer tolerate their ungodliness.  In 2 Peter 3, a context speaking of God’s longsuffering (vs. 9) we find a people who have despised His divine attribute and are assuming they have plenty of time.  Peter’s point is that they don’t have unlimited time.  He concludes that letter by speaking of the Lord’s return when He will destroy the world (2 Pet. 3:10-12).   Acts 17:31 tells us that God has appointed a day when this world will come to an end and we will be judged. 

2)                   We have a license to put off our repentance.  Just because God is longsuffering doesn’t mean we have permission to sin a little longer.  Read carefully again 2 Peter 3:9.  God wants, even DEMANDS that we repent!  There is no passage of scripture that gives us license to sin a little longer because we have time.  While we MIGHT be afforded opportunity to repent.  There is NO guarantee of such.  See Acts 17:30-31.  Putting off reconciliation with God is a dangerous pursuit that could have eternal consequences.

                Truly the longsuffering of God is a wonderful thing.  It gives us hope, even when we stumble.  But let us NOT abuse it, rather let us resolve to live so that His longsuffering is not needed toward us personally.  Why?  Because we love Him and keep His commandments. “And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2 Peter 3:15).  Think about it!