I have an easy life, with few risks, in a middle-class American community, with adequate funds to live well in my retirement, and excellent medical care. However, I previously lived in the inner city of Baltimore and then in sub-Sahara Africa, where poverty is the norm. Although God has always provided abundantly for me, living in impoverished communities taught me that no one is immune from the effects of disease, poverty, and intense need. I attended funerals in Africa, grieving with those who had lost people, provided jobs when I could, helped those I could help—all of which affected my life. So I understand the importance of a recent statement from the United Nations. “The COVID-19 outbreak affects all segments of the population and is particularly detrimental to members of those social groups in the most vulnerable situations, continues to affect populations, including people living in poverty situations, older persons, persons with disabilities, youth, and indigenous peoples…If not properly addressed through policy the social crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic may also increase inequality, exclusion, discrimination and global unemployment in the medium and long term.” (1) When my friends and I think of waiting for a haircut, for a store to open, or information about school, camp or graduation plans, I remember the big needs of people who are waiting to go back to work, for a much-needed stimulus check, or results of their COVID-19 test. Patience to wait for a haircut cannot be compared to the perseverance that is required for sustaining life, but sometimes we have both superficial and deep soul needs. Fortunately for us, we have the Holy Spirit and God’s Word, both far more powerful than the CDC or any medication. Christians need and have God-given patience. “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15) The Holy Spirit gives us the desire and power to bear fruit in all circumstances with patience.
Living in Kenya, I knew what it is to wait for the rains to supply drinking, bathing, and garden water. I moved there in 2000 when the country was entering a three-year season of a severe drought. I purchased dirty river water from a truck for storage in a large tank; the sediment settled enough for me to filter it for use in laundry and bathing, and I filtered it further to be potable. But I had it easy; others spent entire days walking to the river for a few gallons of water to boil. Bucket baths were standard for us all. Today, in addition to this, some don’t know how they’re going to buy food, pay their rent or mortgage, see a doctor, pay for a bus trip, or buy gas for the car, and must persevere. Luke wrote about perseverance in the face of persecution, which may have led to similar trials of unemployment and sickness. But persecution for one’s beliefs adds the element of social harassment to personal deprivation. These trials are the reason we need patience in this life, and the reason the Spirit gives it to us. Patience is the fourth fruit that we are considering from Galatians 5:22-23; it is the opposite of “strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [and] envy…” (Galatians 5:20-21) The Holy Spirit gives us patience to be persevering, fruit-bearing Christians. So, as we greet each day, our tolerance increases as we endure, to bear fruit for the Lord. We need it for spiritual difficulties as well as life-threatening troubles, rather than only for superficial desires (like haircuts and restaurant or movie experiences). I am not attempting to compare one set of difficulties to the other as if to diminish our challenges, but to point out that our impatience for shallow wishes is often indicative of our spiritual impatience and discontent.
“Perseverance may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion. It is because God never forsakes His work that believers continue to stand to the very end.” (2) Matthew’s and Mark’s gospel do not include Luke’s attention to “bearing fruit with patience” in Jesus’s teaching on the parable of the sower. However, they mention the high degree of the fruitfulness of the ones made righteous by Christ—they bear “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:20) Either we are good soil, or we’re not; either we’ve been redeemed or not. Either we want to bear fruit for God’s kingdom or want to live for ourselves. Personally, the longer the pandemic goes on, the greater my temptation to give up the struggle between these desires, to just wait for it to be over and to resume my ministry responsibilities. I must ask myself if I have a deeper spiritual issue. Am I, in some way, not fighting the spiritual battle necessary to bear all the fruit I can, and am just waiting for the inevitable time of departure from the world through death (or the return of Christ)? James rebukes me. “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 5:11) In his lecture on “The Patience of Job,” Dr. Derek Thomas makes the point that while Job seems to lose patience with God, wanting to argue with him, he never becomes an atheist. Even in his darkest moments, he takes his complaints to the Lord. His steadfastness is “broader than patience, like stick-to-it-ness,” staying the course of his faith. Job “expresses his firm belief that God is sovereign, in control of everything by his providence which he has ordered. Nothing happens outside of his decree, not his finances, health, or family. And Job’s steadfastness results in his understanding about God in the end, despite not knowing anything about Satan and spiritual warfare,” as we do from Revelation and New Testament epistles. (3) Dr. Thomas proposes that a vital lesson from Job’s steadfastness, and the reason for James’s citing it, is to not just survive in a trial of his magnitude but also flourish. The Holy Spirit gives us the fruit of patience to be persevering, fruit-bearing Christians.
Commenting on Luke 8:15, John Gill writes, “[The Christian] abides by [God’s Word], stands fast in it, and is valiant for it: and this he does in and with ‘an honest and good heart’; which no man naturally has; nor can any man make his heart so: this is the work of God, and is owing to his efficacious grace. This is an heart of flesh, a new and right heart, and spirit; an heart to fear God, to love him, and to trust in him; in which Christ dwells by faith; in which the Spirit of God has his temple; and in which every grace is implanted…so he holds fast the word he hears, understands and receives, with all faithfulness and honesty: the fruit bore, and brought forth by such an hearer, is the true fruit of grace and righteousness, and is all from Christ, under the influences of the Spirit…and is brought forth, as Luke says, ‘with patience’: constantly, and continually, in all seasons, in old age, and even unto death; and is at last brought ‘to perfection’, holds, and remains unto the end.” (4)
For what significant spiritual distress are you in need of godly perseverance? How might your superficial desires reflect your need for biblical patience and fruit? What fruit might you bear for the Lord, through steadfastness, as the pandemic continues? “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:36) Dr. Thomas cites a hymn to remind us of Job’s steadfast trust in God, that we might do the same as we continue to learn to bear fruit with patience. “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm…Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take. The clouds you so much dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face. His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour. The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.” (5)
(1) United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Everyone Included: Social Impact of COVID-19,” https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/everyone-included-covid-19.html
(2) Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology, page 546, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993.
(3) Thomas, Derek, “The Patience of Job,” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/the-book-of-job/the-patience-of-job/
(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Luke 8:15, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/luke-8.html
(5) Cowper, William, “God Moves In a Mysterious Way,”
May 15, 2020