The Value of Longsuffering in Our Relationships

Many years ago, I sat with a friend and highly respected marriage counselor. As he spoke about the many couples he had worked with over the years, he made a statement I will never forget. He said, “The problem with American Christianity is that we have no theology of suffering.” Many marriages and friendships end because one or both parties are unwilling to endure suffering. In our self-centered, consumer-driven culture, we tend to view relationships like a convenience store, existing to meet our needs and improve our lot in life.

From a biblical standpoint, relationships are vital to a wholesome existence and the fulfillment of God’s purposes for our lives. However, they are also one of God’s primary character development tools. Over the long haul, relationships bring incredible joy – but they can also be an avenue of necessary suffering. Both sides of the coin are essential.

From a biblical standpoint, relationships are vital to a wholesome existence and the fulfillment of God’s purposes for our lives. However, they are also one of God’s primary character development tools.

One of the keys to healthy, enduring relationships is the quality of “longsuffering.” This biblical idea is not popular in today’s world, as we tend to turn away from anything that involves intentional pain. Yet the power of this quality in our lives is profound and essential in every lasting relationship.

Definition and Source

The original Hebrew word for longsuffering means “long of breathing” and is the opposite of anger (“short of breathing” or “violent breathing”). In the New Testament, the idea involves a person who is “long of soul” and indicates bearing long with people. One definition I like defines the word as “refusing to give up hope in a relationship.” One synonym for longsuffering is “fortitude.”

It is often translated “patience.” Of the two Greek words used for “patience” in the New Testament, one refers to patience with people and the other speaks of patience with circumstances. Longsuffering is the first term and is vital in dealing with others. God is the author and ultimate example of longsuffering. Numbers 14:18 states, “The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression.” Psalm 86:15 affirms, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.”

Of course, God is the source of our ability to experience and express longsuffering. Our very salvation is an expression of His longsuffering. Romans 2:4 tells us, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” His longsuffering heart towards us motivates us to repent and pursue intimacy with such a wonderful God.

As believers, we can expect that His Spirit in us will manifest longsuffering. Galatians 5:22 tells us that longsuffering is a fruit of the Spirit. Colossians 1:11 promises that God will strengthen us “with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy.” When friends get on our nerves, children let us down, spouses become difficult, and work associates stab us in the back for the tenth time – the Lord’s longsuffering heart can control our attitudes and actions if we yield to His power.

When friends get on our nerves, children let us down, spouses become difficult, and work associates stab us in the back for the tenth time – the Lord’s longsuffering heart can control our attitudes and actions if we yield to His power.

Four Keys to Practicing Longsuffering

In considering the value and practice of longsuffering, here are four specific points of advice:

Refuse to give up positive hope

As long as God’s character of longsuffering does not change (and it never will) and as long as His Spirit lives in our hearts (and we are “sealed” in this assurance), we can believe that God is able to impart all we need for the positive progress of a relationship. He is able to change hearts and lives. We should always let Him start with our own – then trust Him to do the same for others. Longsuffering is the power of God to us and through us that never allows us to give up hope in the improvement of a relationship.

Longsuffering is the power of God to us and through us that never allows us to give up hope in the improvement of a relationship.

Resolve to speak helpful truth

In his book The Last Lecture, author Randy Pausch states, “When you’re messing up and no one says anything to you that means they’ve given up on you.” A longsuffering heart is willing to “speak the truth in love” even when it involves temporarily risking one’s standing with that person. This enduring commitment to the highest good of another person compels us to give him or her helpful, honest input even when it hurts. To do otherwise is to give up on that person. A longsuffering person doesn’t make that choice.

Resist giving in to negative emotion

It’s been said, “Emotions have no brains.” Longsuffering is violated when we allow our emotions to rush beyond the controlling power of the Holy Spirit. Our thoughts become irrational and our words unloving. We react in ways that we later regret. As the definition suggests, longsuffering involves being “long of breath,” which implies a steady, measured response as compared to a hotheaded impulse.

Remember character over convenience

Relationships are not a disposable convenience. They are a gift from God that must be treasured and embraced, even when it seems difficult and painful. A convenient life is seldom a life of deep character. It is in the fire that we are refined and made strong. Sometimes this refinement involves a demanding marriage, a rebellious child, an unreasonable boss, or a less-than-perfect fellow Christian. These relationships may not be easy – but they are worth it, because God uses them to make us more like Jesus.

It is in the fire that we are refined and made strong. Sometimes this refinement involves a demanding marriage, a rebellious child, an unreasonable boss, or a less-than-perfect fellow Christian. These relationships may not be easy – but they are worth it, because God uses them to make us more like Jesus.

English historian and novelist Arthur Helps said, “Strength is born in the deep silence of longsuffering hearts; not amid joy.” We all love the joyful highs that come with our relationships. This, too, is a gift from God. But if you are in the midst of a hard time in a relationship, be assured that God is pouring strength into your soul and that He will be sufficient in this season – as you learn the value of Christ-honoring and Christ-empowered longsuffering.

Copyright © 2020, Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.