How Bible-Study Ruined My Sermon

I went to church pretty unprepared. I’m trying to teach more extemporaneously anyway. But your mind plays tricks on you so that usually you are prepared, just in your mind. This time I was totally unprepared. Many people in our congregation are suffering at new and interesting levels that I find rather concerning. We have people who are grieving serious loss, unemployment, child issues, marital issues, money problems, illness and more. The leadership of the church is weak right now because the leaders are particularly targeted, in my opinion. So I wanted to preach a sermon on “longsuffering”, using Galatians 5:22 as my text… longsuffering being one of the fruit of the Spirit. But after doing an extensive word-study on it, I came to discover, to my surprise… that this particular word’s roots go back to the Old Testament usage of it in reference to God, who is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6). The New Testament word for longsuffering actually goes back to God’s slowness to anger toward us. The fruit of the Spirit “longsuffering” in Galatians 5:22 isn’t referring to perseverance in the troubles of life. There are other passages for that. In the New Testament, longsuffering is amplified to mean that God’s slowness to anger his actually kindness to give us time to repent so that no one would perish (Romans 2:4). Then, in an act of New Testament genius, it is used to refer to how the human community is to act: we are to be longsuffering toward each other, that is, slow to anger, patient and willing to go the long haul in forgiveness (Ephesians 4:2; Galatians 5:22). This is how the new community is to act.

The normal way of creating and maintaining community is by restitution and reparation. Eye for an eye. But the New Testament’s vision is forgiveness being the glue that makes and holds a community together. Colossians 3:13 says it best: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other.” You see, normally, we believe that the only way we can repair a relationship is for the person who did something wrong to pay up, to repair and repay the damages. Not so. This is a never-ending trap of human endeavor that ends in insurmountable debt. The truth is, the one who is offended forgives. This is what creates and maintains community and relationship. This isn’t to say there shouldn’t be reparations. But that is a separate issue that arises in the contextual environment of forgiveness and love. In other words, I forgive the offense and the offender. Then, reparations are worked out if need be. God loved me while I was dead in my trespasses and sin. My response manifested in good works springs from my gratitude for his love.

So yesterday, while I was sharing this discovery that the fruit of the Spirit, including longsuffering or patience, is for the maintaining of community. Not just the Christian community, but for the world. God’s vision is the reconciliation of all things. The radical nature of this good news is that I cannot expect certain conditions to be met before I can call someone a brother or sister. I love all beings, am patient, longsuffering and slow to anger with all beings, because that is what has been shown to me. This is God’s vision for the world, the human community, and one which I feel I am just beginning to catch.

The beautiful photo is taken fromJorgen Klausen’s Shades of Black collection.

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  • Pam

    So ,when we forgive then God will take care of the rest(sort of thing).
    Like if we forgive and we don’t look for “repair and restitution” it usually comes back to us..People will come through; inregards to restitution..however not in all cases..
    I think because we do our part and God does his.

    Most importance is forgivness as well I think because if we don’t forgive others then God will not forgive us!!We all fall short with respect to anger(interferences wether it be personal or what ever)impacts our anger towards one another..There has to be a place of forgiveness in order to be healthy and move forward in growth..

  • i think forgiveness has layers… there are often more depths of pain or perhaps abuse revealed when we are ready to face them and these require deeper levels of forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
    Perhaps the same is true of confession – God doesn’t reveal to us all that we should confess at once but in His true longsuffering waits… continuing his grace in the meantime.
    Great thoughts… I’m sure your congregation were challenged to reflect…

  • thanks gracie. good thoughts from you too.

  • ttm

    Is there ever a point at which longsuffering might become damaging to community?

  • ttm: i can’t see how that’s possible. maybe you could explain what you mean in more detail.

  • ttm

    I’m not sure I know “what I mean.” It’s just that when you speak of God’s longsuffering toward us you mention that it gives us time to repent; it implies that God is longsuffering UNTIL…a point when which we no longer have time to repent. And if God’s longsuffering does have this turning point, does human longsuffering also have an UNTIL point?

  • Well, ttm, so far it’s been thousands of years. He seems to be pretty patient!

  • ttm

    That’s a very good point. How would you respond to a woman who was sexually abused for most of her childhood by an unrepentant father? Or a man whose gay son’s murderers have duped the court and have been declared innocent? Or a woman whose sex addict husband continues to seek out anyone or thing that will bring him pleasure? Do these situations demand that they as victims and we as “support systems” be longsuffering–slow to anger and willing to go the long haul–for thousands of years?

  • Or a man who suffered torturous beatings and nailed to a cross and died for political reasons even though he was completely innocent?

  • ttm

    I think the back and forth comments here have helped me to answer my own questions.

    I believe that if longsuffering becomes the mantra of a community at the expense of discernment of good and evil, the community will destroy itself from the inside out. Of course, people should be slow to anger and quick to forgive. But they should also be slow to sin and quick to repent. Even God destroys evildoers. And we don’t always have to wait thousands of years for Him to do it.

    Some examples are given in the following link:

    I guess in my opinion, a God/church without longsuffering is ruthless and a God/church without discernment of, and judgment for, unrepentence is pointless.

  • I guess discussions like this always bring to my mind the echo of my brother’s lament in Bible college…..”they don’t teach about God’s love enough”.

    Discernment of good and evil without the foundation of deep love risks judgement and condemnation, and not to mention self-righteousness. I just can’t see long suffering becoming something that will destroy a community. Long suffering (fruit of the Spirit) = destruction…that’s an oxymoron.

    Love covers a multitude of sins. I guess I believe that love in how it is defined in 1 Cor. 13 is powerful enough to be a catalyst for exposing our hearts and bringing about change.