Have you ever justified your sin by saying, "At least I don't do _____?" Have you ever felt a secret pride in your sin because you didn't recognize it for what it truly was, a thorn trying to grow on a grape vine (Matthew 7:16)? I'd like to say I've never done that. It seems like such an obvious thing to avoid. But when I was studying the Fruit of the Spirit, I had to face my own sin, and worse, I had to face the way I have treated sin in my life.
It starts with the difference between me and my husband. You see, I have a temper, a very quick temper. I'm like a match; I get angry quickly, but it burns out quickly too. My husband is more like an oven. It takes a lot to make him angry, but when he does he tends to hold on to it for awhile, silently "stewing." I don't like "stewing." So I justified my anger. "Maybe I do have quick temper," I said, "but at least I don't stew." I felt a twisted sense of pride in my short temper.
Then I started to study about patience. I wonder if my "great idea" to cover the fruit of the Spirit in this blog may have been a bit providential. When I looked at the word patience, the first definition in my concordance that jumped out at me was "slow to anger." When I looked at the origin of the Greek word, I understood why. The KJV is probably closer to the Greek when it lists "longsuffering" instead of patience. The word in the original language is actually a compound word. The two words? Long and Temper. Ouch.
Long of temper. Slow to anger. These phrases reminded me of multiple Old Testament descriptions of God himself. Once again, the Fruit of the Spirit takes us back to the character of God. I found nine references in the Old Testament where our Father is described as being slow to anger. Why is it important to me that God is slow to anger? The answer to that is obvious, and beautifully stated by the Psalmist:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:8-13).
If God were not patient with us, then he would punish us according to our sins. God has every right to be angry with my sin, especially with my justification of it. Even before Jesus shed his blood to cover our sins, God was known as a merciful God. He continued to lead his children even after they turned their back on him in the incident with the golden calf (Nehemiah 9:15-20).
What about me? If God were not patient, we would all be punished in the way we deserve. As a Christian, I am striving to be more godly. What happens when I am not longsuffering? Unfortunately, my family can tell you exactly what happens. I lash out with my tongue. I show how angry I am by my petty actions. An angry shout here, a slammed door there, it all adds up. I don't abuse my children physically, but I have bruised their hearts. Sure, I get over it quickly, but the wounds from my hurtful words to my husband are still there. I am not being godly. God is patient and holds back the punishment that I rightly deserve. I am impatient and punish my family with my anger. Sadder still, I usually snap at stupid things. They don't deserve the treatment I give them.
What I saw as "stewing" in my husband was really him being righteous. Maybe he is angry, but he is "suffering long," withholding punishment in the form of angry words. He is not bottling up his anger; he is modeling for me what I need to do. Be quiet. Calm down. Show grace. Be patient. I've learned that when I feel the smug feeling of superiority over someone, I probably need to look a little closer at my heart. Self-righteousness in itself is wrong. Don't believe me? Read what Jesus had to say to the Pharisees. In my case, though, the sin ran much deeper. My self righteousness was a cover for a deeper sin that I refused to see. Next time that ugly smugness rears its head, I'll be looking for a hidden sin.