Aug. 24, 2021
According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). In this seven-part series, we will familiarize ourselves with each of the seven virtues, with the goal of developing new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.
Patience is the capacity to accept delay, suffering, or interruptions in a reasonable and prudent manner. This virtue encourages measured and appropriate responses to comments, critiques, challenges, or criticisms. It encourages us to wait, take a step back if necessary, and consider the full implications of a decision before proceeding. In the Bible, Jesus fully embodied this virtue. He overlooked arrogance from religious leaders, did not criticize or condemn the skeptical, listened to the desperate, and endured much suffering. Patience is selfless; it prioritizes relationships over immediate personal wants and desires.
Patience is ultimately an expression of love. In On the Morals of the Catholic Church, XV.25, Thomas Aquinas wrote, “I hold that virtue is nothing other than perfect love of God.” In 1 Corinthians 13, the well-known passage about love, Paul begins by saying, “Love is patient.” It is noteworthy that Paul says love is patient before he says love is anything else. Cultivating the virtue of patience is part of learning how to truly love God and other people.
The first habit of patience is learning to be patient with ourselves as Christ sanctifies us to become more like him. The second habit of patience is learning to be patient towards others and extend loving kindness towards them. And finally, the third habit of patience is rejoicing in the truth of God’s love and patience towards us as we persevere in the faith.
Anger, the opposing vice of patience, is often referred to as wrath. But these are not entirely the same, because anger can be an appropriate response in certain circumstances—but only when it is a measured response and not brash. Wrathfulness, on the other hand, is a disproportionate and immature response to a situation. In Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung says that the primary concern with this vice “is that anger so disturbs reason that it twists any real concern about sin or injustice into service of self—protecting our own ego, demanding something from the world we would not reasonably expect from anyone else, feeding our own reputations for righteousness instead of admitting our complicity. True selflessness would eliminate anger.” DeYoung agrees with Aquinas, who believed that wrath inhibits the virtue of patience. When we are wrathful, we get angry too easily or quickly, are disproportionately angry, or stay angry for longer than is appropriate. In contrast, patience waits to respond, discerns a reasonable response, and is quick to forgive.
Many Scripture passages commend the virtue of patience. A few examples:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19)
A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. (Prov. 15:18)
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Prov. 19:11)
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. (Ps. 37:8)
Notably, the Bible refers to God’s wrath in several places. For example, the prophet Nahum wrote:
A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; the Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies. (Nahum 1:2)
However, it is important to remember that whenever Scripture refers to God being angry or displaying His wrath, it is always a proportionate response to human sin and wickedness. Moreover, the Bible is quick to affirm that although God displays His wrath against sin, He is also “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh.9:31; Ps. 86:5, 15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). God is angered by sin, but He never sins in His anger.
As Christians, we must learn to be imitators of God in regard to how we manage our anger (Eph. 5:1, 4:26). We must practice not being easily angered (Ecc. 7:9) or unreasonable in our response towards situations and/or individuals (Col. 4:6).
Patience means setting aside our pride and humbling ourselves to be teachable and gracious. If we want to become patient, we should practice it in our lives, paying special attention to the opportunities we are given to practice patience every day. We should also pray specifically for patience. When we pray for patience, we should pray for courage to enter every conversation and situation with kindness, humility, diligence, and charity. The virtuous life is interwoven; we must practice all the virtues, and all the virtues encourage the practice of each other.