Forbearance

Preaching and Worship Resources about Forbearance

Forbearance in Scripture is the expression of God's love that enables God to suspend righteous judgment on human sin so that the Holy Spirit might create room for repentance. God practices forbearance both for the good of human beings and to bring glory to God. When speaking of God's forbearance, Scripture and the Christian tradition also describe a God who is patient, long-suffering, and slow to anger (or "long of anger" in the most literal English translations).

In Scripture

In Scripture, God's forbearance is central to God's character. It is a point of praise for the psalmist and the hope of the prophets (Jonah being the noteworthy exception). While Scripture makes clear that God's willingness to restrain wrath against human sin is vast, it makes equally clear that it is not infinite (see 2 Pet. 3:8 - 10 and Rev. 16). When crafting sermons on forbearance, preachers will need to carefully consider their contexts to determine which point demands greater emphasis.

"The Lord passed before [Moses], and proclaimed, `The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty" (Ex. 34:6 - 7)

"The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Ps. 103:8).

"The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Ps. 145:8).

"Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing" (Joel 2:13).

"[Jonah] prayed to the Lord and said, "O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing" (Jon. 4:2).

"Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4).

"The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9).

(See Gen. 6, Mark 12:1 - 12, and Rev. 16 for additional passages related to God's forbearance.)

Points to Ponder

Illustration Idea Every parent has been there. A child disobeys. A warning is issued. A child disobeys again. Another warning is issued. A child disobeys a third time. A third warning is issued. Finally, after the fourth offense, the parents' patience reaches its limit. They explain to their protesting child that that even though it was not their desire to punish, they have not been left with any other choice. Love and justice demand it. This simple scenario gives us one picture into the way our heavenly Father chooses to relate to his human children. The key difference, however, is that instead of punishing his children, the Triune God chooses to absorb the consequences of his children's disobedience into himself. This is his gift to them in Jesus Christ — if only they will receive it.

Illustration Idea In a Christianity Today article about the virtue of human patience, theologian Cornelius Plantinga Jr. writes: "Patience is like good motor oil. It doesn't remove all the contaminants. It just puts them into suspension so they don't get into your works and seize them up. Patient people have, so to speak, a large crankcase. They can put a lot of irritants into suspension." Thanks be to God that our God has a very large crankcase!


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.