The Fruit of the Spirit is Longsuffering Gentleness ...
Bernard Osborne, Dinas Powys, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
This article is the fifth part of a series of studies on the fruit of the Spirit. Gal. 5. 22-23
The fruit of the Spirit is . . . long suffering
he next three facets of the fruit of the Spirit are manward: longsuffering; kindness; and goodness. They start with longsuffering. It reminds us of a phrase we have looked at earlier - ‘love suffereth long’, 1 Cor. 13. 4. The secret of longsuffering is love. Love has an infinite capacity for endurance. Longsuffering is a patient holding out under trial, a long protracted restraint of the soul from yielding to passion, especially the passion of anger. It is the quality of restraint in the face of provocation, which does not hastily retaliate nor promptly punish. It is the opposite of anger, is associated with mercy and is used of God Himself.
It bears rudeness and unkindness from others and refuses to retaliate. It is the attitude of patient endurance towards inflictions of injury and enemies. It means slow to anger, patient with others, ready to forgive those who annoy us. It involves a readiness to accept others as they are with all their faults and shortcomings since God has accepted us as we are.
It is used of the attitude of God towards men. Some despise the ‘riches of God’s goodness and forbearance and longsuffering’, Rom. 2. 4; also look at Rom. 9. 22. The apostle Paul, in order to give no offence and that the service of God be not blamed, commended himself as God’s servant amongst other things, by ‘longsuffering’, 2 Cor. 6. 3-6.
We are ‘to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called’, Paul exhorts us, ‘with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’, Eph. 4. 1-3. In order to achieve this he prays for the Colossians in chapter 1 verse 11 of his letter to them, that they be, ‘strengthened with all might . . . unto all patience and longsuffering’. So longsuffering requires the strength given by God to be maintained. It is one of the characteristics of the new man that the elect of God are enjoined to put on, Col. 3. 12.
God’s longsuffering was seen in the mercy He showed to Saul of Tarsus, ‘the chief of sinners’ as he calls himself, 1 Tim. 1. 16. It is a quality which Paul himself fostered, so that at the end of his days he could point without pride to it and write to Timothy, ‘You have fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, patience’, 2 Tim. 3. 10. To the young evangelist he exhorts that ‘reproof, rebuke, exhortation should be carried out with all longsuffering and doctrine’, 2 Tim. 4. 2. It is a quality of character that well deserves serious cultivation.
The fruit of the Spirit is . . . gentleness
One of my earliest memories as a small child going to school was the children’s simple song: ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, Look upon a little child; Pity my simplicity, Suffer me to come to Thee’. ‘Gentle Jesus’, yet when He asked whom men said He was, the answer came back, ‘Some say you are John the Baptist; some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets’, Matt. 16. 14. These men were of massive mould spiritually and to their contemporaries, men of courage and strength. Gentleness was not that which would have characterized them to the popular mind. Yet the hymn’s description is still true. To the sick and needy, to the penitent, the poor and the weak, He was gentleness itself. The apostle Paul ever sought to follow the example of his beloved Lord, and when desiring to prove himself a minister of God to the Corinthians, he wrote that he did so, among other things, ‘by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness’, the last word being translated ‘gentleness’ in Galatians chapter 5 verse 22.
The idea of moral goodness, which is in the word, comes out in the phrase ‘doeth good’ in Romans chapter 3 verse 12. It is a quality which unregenerate man is said not to have. Sometimes the word ‘gentleness’ is translated in the Authorised Version by the word ‘kindness’, see 2 Cor. 6. 6; and also Eph. 2. 7; Col. 3. 12; Titus 3. 4. It is a goodness that is kind. It has been described as ‘a kindly disposition to one’s neighbour’, or ‘kindliness’, ‘benignity’, or ‘sweetness’. It is the opposite of harshness. It is contrasted with severity in Romans 11 verse 22. It is the spirit which would be hurt by others, rather than hurt others. It means graciousness, gentleness in dealing with others, a loving approach to people. It involves courtesy, friendliness and a concern for others’ feelings. God is rich in ‘kindness’, Eph. 2. 5, that is in beneficent acts, not only in the past but running through to the present, as Ephesians 2 verses 4 to 6 show. His kindness also projects into the future. Paul sees in the future a long vista of ages coming on, one behind another, in every one of which God deigns that His grace should be known, as passing all bounds in its riches and His kindness towards us in Christ. This is seen as so marvellous, lifting us up from such a depth and exalting us to such a height, through such a Saviour, that it becomes an exhibition in God’s vast universe and to all His creatures, of the immeasurable grace that is in Him. And to whom is such kindness shown? It is the incomparable riches of His grace in His kindness to us.
We read of the ‘kindness and love of God our Saviour’ in Titus 3 verse 4. In the previous verse the picture is painted of man’s inhumanity to man, and now in contrast is seen the benignity of God in saving us. The riches of God’s kindness, together with God’s forbearance and longsuffering, describe God’s approach to men, who nevertheless still despise His grace and merit His wrath. For some, however, His kindness leads to repentance, that first step towards salvation, Rom. 2. 4-5. His kindness is further seen in grafting Gentiles, who were outside the covenants of promise and the commonwealth of Israel, into His eternal purposes of blessing, Eph. 2. 12; Rom. 11. 22.
Now the Christian is to show others the kindness that has been shown to him by God. Because he has, ‘put off the old man with his deeds’, and ‘put on the new man’, and because he is ‘the elect of God, holy and beloved’, he has to be suitably attired. His garments come from a heavenly store, and one of them is kindness. The best way to cultivate this is in communion with God. When we come from the ‘Secret Place of the Most High’ we shall bear some reflection of His great kindness and whose tender mercies are over all His works.
To be continued.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Bernard Osborne is retired from a career in education and is in fellowship in the assembly at Dinas Powis, Wales. He is a gifted Bible teacher and travels extensively in ministry throughout the UK and N. America.