1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
“Love is Patient”
The first time God’s character is described in the Bible is in Exodus 34:6
“The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”
The phrase “slow to anger” describes God’s patience and in Hebrew the idiom is “has a long nose”. The Biblical author wants us to understand that God does not have a short fuse when it comes to humanity, rather God tolerates us, puts up with our mistakes and willful disobedience, and allows us time to grow and develop. This is the message that God is giving to Moses on Mt. Sinai—yes there is justice and God will eradicate evil, but God’s desire to punish the wicked is held in check by God’s own patience. In the story of Exodus, the people of Israel had just made covenant with God to be God’ people and immediately broke the covenant by making the golden calf. After an intense discussion with Moses God makes this claim about the divine character, God cannot allow evil to rule the day but will show restraint and patiently allow the people to grow.
As a major character trait of God, patience is a characteristic we should work to develop in ourselves. Patience is the ability to tolerate people who are not “just the way you would like them.” Our society makes a big deal of “tolerance” and normally I speak against it as inferior to love. Here I want to take a moment to clarify slightly, tolerance is the first step to love and the trouble is, our current social norm is to make it the only step. But tolerance is essential to loving a person. Tolerance is the ability to look at a person and say, “it is ok that you are here right now.” Patience is another word for this level of toleration. Currently I am in that stage of life where I must be patient with children as they learn to do things like ride a bike. I must accept there is a level of fear and apprehension and there is a lack of coordination, my child has not used their body for this exercise enough to subconsciously ride. I am constantly watching this little one struggle physically and mentally creating new habits and mindsets. Loving my child through this process begins with the recognition of the difficulty of the endeavor and then allowing that child the time to develop.
Patience is grace; patience says you are not perfect and I am going to accept that fact and receive you where you are. Patience does not mean you will not push your loved one to change, but it does mean that you accept that person even when (and especially when) the change does not happen as rapidly as you would like.
Let’s look at Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5, he is ending the letter and giving people that final bit of instruction for how to maintain a healthy church. His first concern is to listen to those in charge and then he follows it with “be patient with everyone.” Paul is clearly uniting these themes and doing so for a purpose. Paul is trying to create unity within the church, he wants the people to move forward in Christian love and that begins with tolerance. First people must learn to accept the fact they are not in charge, and they must learn to be disciplined in their support of those who are. Paul unites this with toleration of everyone. The members of the Thessalonian church are meant to overtly recognize they are not in charge and they are not to be forceful with their brothers and sisters who might disagree with them.
The idea of patience tests us, particularly in this time when it appears that every arena in this nation is divided. From churches to politics we seem to be increasingly polarized on any number of issues and yet Paul calls us to be patient with each other. Patient in these contexts means to listen to the other person’s opinion and recognize even if you are clearly right and the other person is clearly wrong it might take a significant amount of time for that person to learn and grow. Patience is remaining calm when you want to get angry, patience is staying put and continuing a conversation when you want to walk away, patience is accepting the situation for what it is and resolving to make the best of it. Impatience is forcing the division wider, it is getting angry and dissolving friendships. Impatience ultimately breaks down the church because it divorces us from God’s character. Patience is the exercise of grace to another person, impatience not only denies the other person the grace to grow, change, and develop at their own speed. Our responsibility is to provide people with the same level of grace given to us by God and this means to be as patient with others in the church as God was with Israel after the Golden Calf was made.