Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
There was a day recently when I was feeling inclined toward bitterness regarding a particular doctor’s ill-treatment of two of our children. My babies have suffered greatly for a long time while seeking help for a medical issue, help that hasn’t been helpful after all. Despite objective evidence to the contrary, this doctor insisted that the prescriptions he ordered were doing what he said they do. Even the ineffectiveness of doses beyond the standards would not sway his steadfast opinion that his methods were correct.
During an initial consult with another doctor, I discovered that many other (non-pharmaceutical) paths were possible, and simple non-invasive testing to determine which course to pursue was available. While I was grateful for the blessing of this second doctor, I felt a spark of anger regarding the possibility that my children had suffered unnecessarily due to the initial doctor’s pride. The prompting of the Holy Spirit flashed a red warning flag in my mind; the seed of bitterness had been planted and the roots wanted to spread through my heart.
Thankfully, my current study is on the fruit of the Spirit, so I have ready access to commentaries on the fruits of meekness and long-suffering. In his multi-sermon exposition on 1 Corinthians 13, Jonathan Edwards includes a lesson titled, “Charity Disposes Us Meekly to Bear the Injuries Received from Others.” Reading this early one morning, I quickly felt my heart soften as I considered the truths Edwards explained. I intend to summarize some of the main points below and in my next two posts with the hope that I can share them with someone in need as well as solidify right thinking on the subject of long-suffering in my own heart and mind.
Throughout Edwards’ series, he clarifies that his use of the word “charity” should be understood as referring to “Christian love,” both towards God and fellow-creatures. Love manifests itself in the other fruits of the Spirit, including long-suffering. Being Spirit-filled, a Christian should not seek revenge, but instead be able to maintain behaviors and thoughts consistent with a loving and forgiving heart. This, I already knew from previous study of Scripture, but the link that was missing in my thoughts that were starting to see the roots of bitterness was the answer to the question: how do I do this?
The portion of the sermon that really worked on my heart answered this critical question. Of foremost importance was Edwards’ first point: As a child of God, my love for Him disposes me to want to be like Him. People tend to imitate those they love the most.
From “Charity Disposes Us Meekly to Bear the Injuries Received from Others” by Jonathan Edwards
The long-suffering of God is very wonderfully manifest in [H]is bearing innumerable injuries from men, and injuries that are very great and long-continued. If we consider the wickedness that there is in the world and then consider how God continues the world in existence, and does not destroy it, but showers upon it innumerable mercies, the bounties of [H]is daily providence and grace, causing [H]is sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sending rain alike on the just and on the unjust, and offering [H]is spiritual blessings ceaselessly and to all, we shall perceive how abundant is [H]is long-suffering toward us…Now, it is the nature of love, at least in reference to a superior, that it always inclines and disposes [a person] to imitate his father, and especially does the love of God’s children dispose them to imitate their heavenly Father. And as [H]e is long-suffering, so they should be.
God is mercifully long-suffering even while we rebel against Him. In fact, He was as I allowed the seed of bitterness to be planted in me and watered it with reasons why I thought I “deserved” to be angry. Even while I’m sinning, God is forgiving me, counting me worthy due to the salvation that has been imputed to me. However, what is more amazing still is that He was patient with my rebellion even before I was saved.
This is a convicting thought for my current situation. Taking Edwards’ first point into consideration, what it really boils down to is: Do I really love God enough to want to be like Him or not? If I do, then I will bear the impact of the first doctor’s treatment methods and teach my children to do the same. I will remember that, due to my sinfulness, what I really deserve is to be in hell already; “anything this side of hell is pure grace.” I don’t deserve to be angry at the doctor; my love for my Father causes me to want to imitate Him instead.
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:12-16