Maintaining the Unity of the Spirit part 4

Preserving the Peace with Patience


I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,… with patience…, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3) 

The third vital part of the bond of peace which holds Christian unity together is patience. If we are to maintain the unity of the Spirit, we must learn to be patient with one another.

First a definition: Patience is the quietness of spirit that flows from faith in God’s all-encompassing wise ordering of the universe. John Piper defines it negatively like this: Impatience is ‘murmuring against Providence when we are forced to walk the path of obedience in an unplanned place or an unplanned pace.’[1]

This definition makes it plain that patience is first and foremost to be understood in relation to God and His sovereignty. God has an agenda which He is bringing to pass in human history. As Ephesians 1:11 teaches, this agenda is (1) being perfectly accomplished, (2) incorporates all things and (3) is wise.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who (1) works (2) all things according to the (3) counsel of his will, (Ephesians 1:11)

We also have an agenda for how we think our lives and the world around us should work.

  • Dinner should be ready at such and such a time. 
  • The old man in the checkout line should use eftpos instead of a pile of 10 cent coins. 
  • The church service should be finished by 12:00 on the dot. 
  • The legal driving age should be lowered so I can get my license. 
  • God should provide me with a husband/wife by the time I’m 22. 

We all have our different agendas. My agenda includes empty roads. It doesn’t contain traffic jams or slow Sunday drivers, especially when it does include me being somewhere at a given time. Idling in bumper to bumper traffic is definitely not how I demand the world around me to work.

Yet here’s the rub. God is God and we are not. That means His agenda is the one that is guaranteed to come to pass, not ours. ‘Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand’ (Proverbs 19:21). When I am stuck in traffic, Ephesians 1:11 tells me the blockade of which I am a part is included in God’s great agenda. The traffic Jam is a ‘thing’; and as such, it is part of the ‘all things’ God is working according to the counsel of His will.

In this situation, as with most situations in life, my agenda butts heads with God’s. This is when impatience threatens to rear its ugly head. There are two responses I can make in such a conflict; I can continue to demand that my agenda be brought to pass, or I can submit to God’s agenda. The former response brings forth grumbling (expressed directly against the traffic, but is always ultimately against God), the latter a quiet spirit that rests in God. You see patience is a virtue that relates to how I as a creature respond to the outworking of God’s agenda in the specific situations that touch upon my life.

In his letter, James writes to encourage Christians to be patient through times of trial. He picks up on Job as an example of one who was patient despite great suffering.

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-11)

The example of Job fits the above description of patience very well. Job’s patient response to the horrible situations he faced showed submissiveness to God’s agenda on his part.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:20-21) 
Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die." But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:9-10)

The first quote is Jobs’ response to the total destruction of his wealth and children, the second to his awful skin disease. Surely none of these things were part of Job’s agenda, yet he viewed them through the lens of God’s sovereingty and bowed himself before the mighty hand of God.

In reminding us of the story of Job, James does more than simply highlight Job as an encouraging example to be imitated. He also reminds us of two key truths about God from Job that will help us be patient.

James first points out the purpose of the Lord. Why did all that bad stuff happen to Job? God had a purpose. ‘That purpose, according to Elihu, was to purge out of Job's life a residue of pride that had lain quietly at the bottom of his life. When Job was shaken by suffering long enough, the sediment of pride was stirred up into his life and showed itself when Job tried to justify himself at God's expense.’[2] God’s purpose came to fruition in Job 42:5-6. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” As hard as it is to hear, the loss of his wealth, the death of his children and the skin disease were all things God was working according to the counsel of His will.

Second, James identifies God’s purpose as compassionate and merciful. That should immediately give us pause. How in the world could the things done to Job be compassionate and merciful? His kids died, his body was afflicted with sores. That is not mercy, is it? According to James, God’s inspired spokesman, it is. This fact will remain incomprehensible to us until we begin to hate sin and treasure holiness like God does. Jesus says, “it is better for us to lose our eye than to go to hell.” In God’s estimation of things, it was better for Job to suffer what he did in order to gain humility and a deeper knowledge of God than to be spared the suffering. God’s purposes in our lives are not always pleasant, but they are always for our greater good; they are always compassionate and merciful. ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).

These two truths about God are essential for developing patience in our lives. We cling to our agendas because we think we know what is best for us. But if we can trust God’s compassion and mercy toward us and His wise governing of all things in our lives, then we can bow to His agenda.

How does all this help us accomplish Paul’s concern in Ephesians 4 that we preserve the peace with patience toward our fellow brothers and sisters in the church? Impatience with people is fundamentally the same issue as impatience with circumstances. Impatience arises when others fail to be or act as our agendas demand. There’s the guy with the stutter who takes forever to finish a sentence, or the old person with Alzheimer’s who asks the same questions over and over again. These aren’t part of our agenda. We demand hassle free communication. Yet God has placed them and a million other such people into our lives and church. When we find ourselves becoming impatient with one other, we need to stop and realise that we are failing to submit ourselves to God’s agenda.

Instead of impatiently yelling, “just finish the s-s-s-s-sentence for crying out loud!” I should learn to trust God’s wise placement of this very situation in my life at this very moment in time as something He has purposefully designed to bring about more Christlikeness in my life (Romans 8:28-30). This is true even when the person is sinning. Of course patience doesn’t mean passivity in helping people change for the better, but it does govern the spirit in which we do such a thing.

In seeking to be patient, the questions we must face are twofold:

  • Can I look behind any and every circumstance in my life and see God’s wise and good sovereign agenda? (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28) 
  • Am I willing to trust God and submit my agenda to His in any and every circumstance? 

______
[1] J. Piper, www.desiringgod.org
[2] J.Piper, www.desiringgod.org


Maintaining the Unity of the Spirit
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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