How do I develop patience with difficult people?
Copyright by Bob Rogers
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…” Galatians 5:22
When studying the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), people generally agree that one of the most difficult characteristics to develop in our lives is patience. There are two different words for patience in the original Greek language of the New Testament; one word means patience with circumstances, and the other means patience with people. The word used in Galatians 5:22 means patience with people; thus the 2011 revision of the New International Version translates it “forbearance.”
It may be easy to be patient with kind, sweet people. But how do I develop patience with people who try my patience? Here are some guidelines from other scripture:
1) I must remember that I am a recipient of Christ’s mercy, and follow His example. First Timothy 1:16 reminds me, “But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” Yes, the starting point of patience with others is to remember how Christ is patient with me. I am a sinner deserving Hell, but God patiently called me to faith, and He continues to work with me and develop me, even as I struggle and fall along the way. Since Christ has set this example for me, I should be motivated to follow His example, as a testimony to the gospel.
2) I must help those who are struggling with weaknesses. Romans 15:1 says, “Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.” If I am strong in a certain area of my life, I must be patient with those who are weak and struggle in that area. We have a tendency to be patient with those who have the same struggles we have. God calls us to be patient with those who are weak where we are strong. After all, they may be strong in another area where we are weak, and we will desire that same patience from them.
3) I must not keep a scorecard. In the love chapter, Paul says, “Love is patient… is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). If I keep score of how many times I’ve been wronged by another person, I am much more likely to snap and lose it. I must ditch the scorecard.
4) I must accept people as they are, not as I want them to be. Ephesians 4:2 says, “With patience, accepting one another in love.” Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Put on… patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another…” My irritation with others is often a result of unfair and unrealistic images that I project on others. While I want others to do better, I must decide that I will love and accept them as they are now. It helps to remember that I want others to love me with my faults, as well.
5) I must not quarrel. Second Timothy 2:24-25 says, “The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness.” Notice that this passage does not say that we cannot disagree. It is in the context of talking to opponents, people with whom we disagree, that the scripture commands patience and gentleness. We must learn to disagree calmly, without raising our voices, and without attacking the other person.
6) I must be quick to hear and slow to speak. James 1:19 commands, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” It is human nature for me to not truly listen to what another person is saying to me, because I am focusing on what I will say in reply. I would display patience and avoid many unnecessary quarrels if I would slow down, focus on what the other person is saying, and then reflect on what I heard before I said a word. Whenever I practice this communication tool, I am allowing the spiritual nature to rule over the human nature.
I’m praying daily to bear more of this fruit of the Spirit. Please be patient with me as this fruit ripens in my life. How about you?
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