Scripture Reminds Us That God Is Patient – until He Isn’t

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Scripture Reminds Us That God Is Patient – until He Isn’t

We may need to cultivate patience in our lives, but God doesn’t. Patience is part of His perfect character—a divine attribute. But God’s patience is often a neglected teaching, and the church experiences loss when it does not express gratitude for His patience. 

God’s patience is magnificent and matchless—we simply cannot comprehend it fully—but when we study His patience in Scripture, we begin to understand not only how extraordinary it is, but that it also has limits.

How Do We See That God Is Patient in Scripture?

David Hocking wrote, “God is never said to be patient about things or circumstances. Why? It is because He knows all things. He knows the beginning from the end. He does not have any need of that kind of patience. When we speak of the patience of God, we are not talking about enduring hard times; we are talking about being longsuffering toward people.”

God’s patience is astonishing. The One who is greatly offended by every sin chooses to exhibit great patience, and we see this patience exhibited throughout the Old and New Testaments and in the lives of people today.

There are a number of other words for “patience” in the Bible. In Nahum 1:3, the prophet says God is “slow to anger”—greatly patient—yet He “will not leave the guilty unpunished.” In other words, God will always punish wickedness, but with His own timetable. The concept “slow to anger” means He shows restraint. The word used for Christ’s patience in 2 Thessalonians 3:5 is “steadfastness,” or in some versions, “perseverance;” but it is translated elsewhere as “patient endurance.” 

God can cause immediate judgment for sin—such as with Ananias and Sapphira—or He might show delayed punishment or longsuffering patience in other cases until His sovereign purposes are fulfilled. Professor Wayne Grudem, who taught systematic theology, wrote that God’s mercy, patience, and grace are often mentioned together, especially in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Paul similarly wrote about God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience (Romans 2:4).

What Are Some Verses about God’s Patience?

So many Bible verses teach us about how God is patient. God wanted Moses to understand that He is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering”—that was how He described Himself (Exodus 34:6). 

We learn that God is slow to anger (Numbers 14:18, 27; Nehemiah 9:17; 9:30-31; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8). He restrains or delays His anger, even when people test Him (Psalm 78:38, 41; Isaiah 7:13; 48:9; Ezekiel 20:17; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Acts 13:18). Yet God will not leave the guilty unpunished (Nahum 1:3; Habakkuk 2:3).

Lost sinners are the recipients of much patience from God. He illustrated His divine longsuffering character to the people of Noah’s day, giving them plenty of time to repent (1 Peter 3:20). Abraham appealed to God’s patience as he pleaded for sinful Sodom (Genesis 18:16-33).

God’s patience is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9, 15), just as His “immense patience” led the Apostle Paul to salvation (1 Timothy 1:16). God also endures “with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath,” to make His power known (Romans 9:22).

A woman praying in a hallway, Christians must have faith

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What Stories in Scripture Illustrate That God is Patient?

God showed great patience, even from the beginning of time. He was patient when Adam and Eve sinned. He removed them from the Garden of Eden for their sin, He covered their nakedness and shame, and He promised a savior would someday come (Genesis 3:15). 

God was patient with the Patriarchs. He showed amazing patience with sinners in Noah’s day (1 Peter 3:20). He was patient with Abraham during his appalling lapses of faith (Genesis 20-21). He revealed His compassion, patience, love, and faithfulness to Moses (Exodus 34:6). 

God was so patient with His people, Israel. He mercifully and repeatedly forgave and did not destroy them (Psalm 78:38).  He delayed His wrath, not killing them for their continuing rebellion and idolatry, for the sake of His praise (Isaiah 48:9)

Israel asked questions about the lack of judgment on Israel’s enemies. They asked, “How long, Lord … will the wicked be jubilant? … they crush your people” (Psalm 94:3-7). Down through the ages, people don’t always see God’s purposes for allowing the wicked to thrive (Romans 9:22-23).

David Mathis wrote, in “Perfect Patience with the Worst of Sinners” about a common misconception regarding patience: “It is not as though the Father is quick-tempered, while the Son is patient. Rather, the patience we see in the Son is the very patience of His Father.” 

Jesus was shown to be patient in many situations—including with His earthly family, toward those who rejected Him, with His secret disciples, and with the disciples who failed Him in their human weakness.

God Is Patient Regarding the Second Coming of Christ

Debbie W. Wilson wrote, in “Does Christ Seem Slow in His Return?” – “Christ’s return feels slow to us, but it will come right on time. Compassion, not apathy, motivates the delay.” God’s patience flows out of His love.

The disciples desired to know the Lord’s timetable for setting up His kingdom, but Jesus said that was not for them to know (Acts 1:7-8). Today, skeptics mock Christians concerning their belief in the Second Coming of Christ. They don’t appreciate that Jesus, in great patience, is still drawing people to the Gospel—but He will return (2 Peter 3:8-10).

It’s helpful to remember that God created time. Christopher Ash wrote, “Time is God’s instrument to achieve this magnificent sovereignty project, at the end of which His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. As we wait for God to heal our broken world,” Ash said, “we cry out with other believers, ‘How long, Lord?’”

Dr. Harry L. Reeder offered three reasons for Christ’s delay:

1. All of His people are not saved yet.

2. He is showing patience with the world and its rebellion against Him—common grace that shows His “kindness and forbearance and patience” that are meant to lead people to repentance (Romans 2:4-5). (Note: God’s patience often “emboldens unbelievers in their sinful rebellion” against Him.)

3. He is developing and refining His people. 

Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.” That is what is happening in the world today. Sinners see God’s patience as license to continue in sin, but God will judge all evil.

Is There a Limit to God’s Patience?

God’s patience is lengthy, but it is not endless. God, with great patience, waited for repentance in the days of Noah, but His patience didn’t last forever. The flood came in judgment. Later in Genesis, God told Abraham there would be judgment on the godless Canaanites, but it would be delayed because their sin had “not yet reached its full measure.” Although God pronounces judgement, He often allows time before He activates that judgment—but He will not “leave the guilty unpunished.” 

In Numbers 14:11-12, God said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? … I will strike them down.” God’s justice requires that He punish those who do not respond to His patience and lovingkindness. Though compassionate, He holds all people accountable (Ezekiel 18:23-24). 

John McArthur wrote about a time when God’s patience ran out with the Jews as a nation (John 12:35-43). Jesus gave a final invitation to the Jews—“their final opportunity to believe in Him before the light goes out,” McArthur said. The prophets had called for repentance, but God’s people wouldn’t listen; so Israel was at the brink of the Babylonian Captivity because of their apostasy, idolatry, and lifestyle of blaspheming God. God’s patience came to an end and “there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:16). God severely disciplined His people.

Jesus warned the Jews in New Testament times not to go beyond the limits of God’s patience (2 Corinthians 6:2). But the Jews—who knew the Scriptures and were called God’s people—rejected their Messiah. The Jews couldn’t deny Christ’s testimony and miracles, but they refused to believe—and their time ran out. God blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts so they would not be converted (John 12:37-40). 

In God’s plan, the Jews’ rejection became an open door for the Gentiles. But even Gentiles must not try God’s patience. Judgement always comes, McArthur says, “but it doesn’t come without a warning, and it doesn’t come without a witness.”

God’s patience can run out even with those who love and serve Him. God told Moses to go and speak to Pharaoh, but Moses pleaded for God to send someone else, and the Lord became angry. God is sickened by the excuses of His people. His patience runs out when they refuse to obey.


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It’s Not Wise to Abuse God’s Patience!

We must not mistake God’s patience for His grace. A person who continues in sinful habits without experiencing immediate judgment may falsely reason there will be no consequences. Though God is incredibly patient, it’s foolish to assume a day of reckoning will not come.

Steve Gallagher wrote, “The longsuffering nature of God becomes a problem—or stumbling block—for the hard-hearted person who chooses to abuse it to his own destruction. As Solomon once said, ‘A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.’”  

God’s silence about sin does not equate to approval; and playing games with God is not wise, because He never loses. His purposes are not thwarted by those who mock or oppose Him. His sovereign purposes will always prevail. 

Dr. Steven Charnock wrote that we have all abused God’s slowness to anger—His patience—at some point. He suggested four ways this happens.

1. God’s patience is abused by misinterpretations of it—those who are careless and neglectful of His providence, or they charge Him with impurity—“as if His patience were a consent to their crimes.”

2. God’s patience is abused by continuing in a course of sin, as if His gracious long-suffering “had been intended for no other purpose but a protection of them in their rebellions.”

3. God’s patience is abused by repeating sin, after God has, by an act of His patience, taken off some affliction from men.

4. God’s patience is abused by taking encouragement from it, when people presumptuously “mount to greater degrees of sin.” 

“When He puts an end to His abused patience,” Charnock said, “His wrath will make quick and sure work. He that is slow to anger will be swift in the execution of it.” Sadly, this was Israel’s fate (Psalm 81:12).

Lessons to Learn in Light of God’s Patience

Dave Hocking suggests five things to remember about the patience of God. 

1. The patience of God is controlling His sovereign plan and perfect timing. 

2. The patience of God calms His righteous anger and makes forgiveness possible

3. God’s patience characterizes His wonderful love

4. God’s patience shows that He cares about people who need the Lord.  

5. God’s patience comes to the believer through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

God knows our frame. While His patience often includes an element of loving discipline, He patiently transforms His own until they reflect Jesus in the world. 

His patience is a true blessing to the believer. As Mary Kassian wrote in Growing Grateful, “The patience of God ought to give you great comfort and confidence. …He will be patient with you. You can run toward Him rather than away from Him. You can draw near without fear, knowing that He will not respond in anger but with mercy and grace.” 

Sources

Ligonier.org, “The Patience of God”

BlueLetterBible.org, “The Patience of God”

GraceToYou.org, “When God’s Patience Runs Out, Part 1”

GraceToYou.org, “When God’s Patience Runs Out, Part 2”

APuritan’sMind.com, “God’s Patience Abused”

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Dawn Wilson 1200x1200Dawn Wilson has served in revival ministry and missions for more than 50 years. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com.