Be Patient

Romans 12: 14, 17 – 21.

Patience (Rom 12:12; Greek: makrothumia) is one of the elements of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). When the Apostle Paul used the word, he was not referring to someone with the capacity to accept or tolerate delay or problems. In the Scriptural context, ‘patience’ connotes endurance and forbearance in the midst of provocation and injury from difficult others; implying an unyielding focus despite negative episodes – a persistence and centeredness in doing what is good and right through the Spirit of God. But the normal human consequence to being disliked or hurt or even persecuted is an involuntary retaliation in thought, word, and/or deed. Our survival instinct kicks in immediately unless we catch ourselves to never pay back evil for evil to anyone… and to not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:17, 21). To reciprocate in like manner against the perpetrator is to repay evil for evil; to be overpowered and defeated by evil. We then become part of the problem ourselves! Even to do nothing but to gloat at the perpetrators’ misfortune or to desire that some calamity will befall them, is to repay evil for evil (c.f., Rom 12:20). A retaliatory attitude inadvertently disrupts and distort our present wider relationships, at times contaminating our interactions with others, beyond the provocateur. Furthermore, it tends to instigate a self-righteousness or self-absorption that is contrary to the tenets of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as such an attitude often engenders bitterness and hardens our heart towards God. Jesus encouraged us to overcome evil with good in weakness and sacrifice (Luke 6:27-28; c.f., 2Cor 12:9-10), which was unprecedented in both the Greek and Jewish worlds.

What are Paul’s instructions for practising patience towards those bent on evil towards us? Firstly, bless those who persecute you (Rom 12:14; c.f., Matt 5:44). An attitude to ultimately bless your enemies and to consistently pray for them remove the poison of retribution from our heart, and align us with the Divine Spirit (c.f., Matt 5:7-11). In blessing our intimidators and forgiving them (Rom 12:17,19) are possibly the most difficult mindset shifts. Not unlike most emotional attitudinal changes, forgiveness is extended before it is felt, as our heart learns to tease out the reality of forgiveness posited by our will. If forgiveness is withheld for a prolonged length of time, we may sabotage the grace available in Christ for our own peace of mind, and thereby, possibly compromising our long-term health. There are situations where forgiveness is particularly challenging (e.g., sexual, physical, and emotional abuse for instance), where the victim must not be coerced into immediately forgiving. Paul advised that as far as is possible, we ought to live at peace with everyone, inclusive of the person(s) who had persecuted us (Rom 12:16-19). This does imply that we attempt to remain on friendly terms with them and to desist from cutting them off completely, by seeking their overall welfare for good (Rom 12:20; c.f., Prov 15:1-2; Prov 25:15b). Trusting someone (e.g., an alcoholic or a thief) who had harmed you seemed counter-intuitive, but undoubtedly it does not rule out protecting oneself against further attacks. It would certainly require God’s wisdom if there is a desire on our part to continue to maintain a witness for Christ to see the perpetrator change and grow. Challenging indeed!

Being patient in the face of oppositional invectives or physical assaults is counter-cultural and against the grain of natural human behaviour. However, Paul also exhorted us to desist from occupying the judgment seat of God, to leave revenge-taking to Him (Rom 12:19). The reason is quite clear: our ignoramus background knowledge of the perpetrator(s) cannot be compared to God’s omniscience in the matter of their complete circumstances; though their reasons can never be an excuse for their aggression(s). The prohibition of vengeance in both the Old Testament and Judaism tends to be confined to relations with co-religionists (Deut 32:35), which reflected Jesus’ revolutionary ethic. Furthermore, it is always best to resist our counter-productive ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude towards those who offend us in judgement. The Apostle reminded us that God had accorded us mercies in forgiving our sins (Rom 12:1-2), and therefore, we need to patiently and with humility extend grace and lovingkindness to others and respect them (Rom 12:14-17). Our need to justify ourselves goes contrary to the sacrifice of Jesus, as Christ had justified us when He offered Himself on the cross by taking on the punishment that was our due (c.f., Luke 23:34). Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.