Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The fruit of long-suffering

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Galatians 5:22 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness."

I am sure you have in your home a "power-strip" to which various electrical-powered devices are connected. Most of the time we find "power-strips" near computers or in kitchens. Such devices have multiple outlets all routed into one cord and plug that in-turn plugs into a wall-outlet. Power-strips enable people to access the power they need through multiple outlets. Whenever we think of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, such a list of virtues act as the Holy Spirit's power-strip for the Christian to plug their obedient Christian life into whilst living out their faith.

In past posts we have studied Paul's description of what is termed "the fruit of the Spirit". We have looked at the first three of these fruit: love, joy and peace. One could say that these first three fruit deal with Christian virtues that enable the Christian to relate to God from the inside-out. Today's post will feature the beginning of the second set-of-three in the nine fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 - namely "patience" or as some other translations render, "long-suffering". 

How God's "incommunicable" and "communicable" attributes aid us in understanding the fruit of the Spirit
One of the truths we learn about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 is that they are virtues born-forth by the Holy Spirit in the Christian who attends to following in obedience in Jesus Christ. Since the Holy Spirit is a member of the Trinity, He connects the Christian to those virtues and qualities that makes Christ-likeness possible. The particular virtue of "long-suffering" or "patience" can be better understood in connection with what we term God's "communicable attributes". 

One of the most profound studies one can undertake is to consider the attributes of God. Attributes are those expressions and traits of God's very being by which He expresses Himself. When God acted in history toward His people, He would reveal to them a quality or feature of His very being by which they could behold and worship Him. Theologian Elmer L. Towns notes the following about God's attributes on page 98 of his "Theology for Today":

"The nature of God defines his existence, whereas the attributes of God reflect His nature through attitudes, actions and points of relationship with His creation/creatures."

As theologians have studied the being and character of God by way of His attributes, two general categories have been offered to try to handle the subject. The first of these are what we call God's "incommunicable" attributes and the second type of attributes are termed "communicable". To negatively illustrate these words in a different context, we all know what a "communicable" disease like a cold-virus is all about. One can be at work or school and someone can suddenly sneeze on you. The next day, you find yourself exhibiting similar symptoms as the person from whom you caught or had "communicated" the cold. Thankfully, ailments such as cancer are "incommunicable", which means, they cannot be transferred by human contact. 

To positively illustrate these same words, what happens when an excited parent places gifts underneath a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and the children open such presents the next day? The excitement of the parent is somehow communicated to the children at the sight of those gifts. Now if there is a goldfish in that same room, that goldfish will be no more excited by the opening of the presents than if it were any other day. Such experiences are "incommunicable" with respect to the fish.

With God and His relationship to human beings, we understand that their are some attributes which (by analogy, mind-you), we share to-a-certain extent with God. In other words, there are attributes of God that are "communicable" and others attributes that are "incommunicable". Hence, Divine attributes such as infinity are "incommunicable", since only God is infinite. However, other attributes, like "long-suffering", is a moral quality that finds its comparative expression in the Christian. 

What God's long-suffering or patience communicates to the Christian who partakes of the fruit of "long-suffering"
God is described in scripture as a "long-suffering" or "patient" God (Exodus 34:6; Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 3:20). Other passages in the Bible describe Christians as being able to express "long-suffering" or "patience" as well (2 Timothy 3:10). Old Testament believers, such as the prophets, exercised "long-suffering" or "patience" (James 5:10), with Job offered as a chief example (James 5:11). Certainly we find passages that indicate that God's communicable attributes, like "long-suffering", are to be expressed by believers. Romans 15:4-6 describes how the scriptures connect God's communicable attribute of long-suffering to us: "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Further study reveals that Jesus Himself is the contact point between us and Himself in Hebrews 12:3 "For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." God's long-suffering in the Spirit's working gives us a spiritual "long-fuse" with which to handle life, challenges and provides the power to endure hardship. 

Closing thoughts
As we considered the fruit of "long-suffering" or "patience", we discovered that by considering God's communicable attribute of "long-suffering", we can better understand this particular fruit. We also discovered that long-suffering is a vital virtue for the Christian, since it gives us the tools we need to persevere, the wisdom to handle life's challenges and the strength to look to Jesus - our Mediator. 

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