It’s most commonly believed that the phrase “patience is a virtue” originated from the poem, “Piers Plowman”, which is said to have been written around AD 1360 by English poet William Langland. One line in the poem states that “patience is a fair virtue.” We tend to use this phrase as a sort of exhortation to someone being impatient. But what is patience? What is a virtue for that matter?
The Greek word used in our Bibles that we translate as patience “refers to steadfastness and perseverance under certain circumstances” and an “unyielding, defiant perseverance in the face of aggressive misfortune” (Radl 1990, 3:405). Luther’s friend and fellow reformer Melanchthon says that patience “is obeying God in enduring adversities… and not being broken down” (Loci 1559, 514). A virtue is what happens when you have trained yourself to behave in a certain way, and it may eventually become second nature (Wright 2010, 20; Loci 1559, 507). Putting this all together, when we say that “patience is a virtue” we’re saying that if we are enduring difficult circumstances, misfortunes, or hard times, patience should be our response. It is something that we have to cultivate and discipline in ourselves. But, it is not just that patience is something worth cultivating, but it is also something that God himself grows in us, since patience is one of the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
We live in a world that wants everything immediately. There is an immediacy which the latest technology and media have given us that fosters impatience. We order something on Amazon and expect it within days. We send a text message or email and become agitated when we do not receive a response within a given period of time. We cannot seem to wait patiently very well anymore as a society.
St. James encouraged Christians going through severe trials to have patience. “My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience. What’s more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything” (James 1:2-4, NTE). Paul similarly writes about patience, “We also celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience, patience produces a wellformed character, and a character like that produces hope. Hope, in its turn, does not make us ashamed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the holy spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, NTE).
Like those to whom James and Paul wrote, there are many in our own congregation who are enduring situations which require patience. Some may have health issues. Others may have financial issues. Some may be trying to juggle a busy work and family life. Of course there are also those who are facing the trials of increased age. In these situations, and more besides, we need to learn to cultivate patience.
With the Coronavirus epidemic now nearing half a year, the need for patience has never been greater. We need to have patience with one another as we all seek to work our way through situations we have not had to encounter before. We need to have patience with our neighbours, because we do not know what they are going through. We need to show patience with our government, and those working to serve us in our communities. We need to show patience with those who are trying to lead our Church family through this time, all the while still reach our community with the Gospel. We are all ready for this to be over, but we need to be patient.
We need to train ourselves to not let life wear us down. We should not give way to grief, despair, anger, resentment, or discontentment, but instead take a deep breath, and wait on God. These situations test our faith. How far does our trust in God go? Will we trust in Jesus “come hell or high water”? Are you only going to trust in Jesus while the going is good? Will you trust Jesus even when the dark clouds gather and all looks bleak? This is where patience comes in. Remember, God “has been truly affected by His concern for our troubles” (Loci 1559, 357). God has shown you just how concerned he is for you by showing you His own Son. God did this so that you may be certain of His mercy towards you. God promises His help and deliverance to those who “call upon him in every trouble”. We should have patience because God has been incredibly patient with us poor, miserable, sinners. By our sins we have justly deserved God’s present and enteral punishment. Yet God not only has patience with us and our many failings, but he forgives us and helps us endure whatever comes our way. Jesus Christ, even though he could have destroyed his enemies in a blink of an eye, bore their cruel torture with patience, and even prayed for his enemies. He endured this so that God could forgive and be patient with you. You are reconciled to God through the cross of Christ and nothing can take away the hope of Eternal life from us. Though this life is often deeply painful, we can hold our heads high and have patience with others because of God’s patience towards us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Wright, N. T. 2010. After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. New York: HarperCollins.
Wright, N. T. 2011. The New Testament For Everyone. London: SPCK. [NTE]
Melanchthon, Philip. 2011. The Chief Theological Topics: Loci Praecipui Theologici 1559. Second English edition. Translated by J. A. O. Preus. St. Louis: Concordia. [Loci 1559].
Radl, W. 1990. “ὑπομονή.” Pages 405-406 in vol. 3 of Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Edited by H. Blaz and G. Schneider. English Edition. 3 vols. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.