Word of the Week
January 21, 2023
Makrothumia: Sanctified Slow Reaction Time
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience . . .
What is the shortest interval of time ever measured? According to BBC News, a team of Austrian scientists have measured a movement of an electron that took 100 attoseconds. In case you hadn’t heard, an attosecond is a quintillionth of a second. (Think 18 zeros!)
Personally, I have found that the shortest measurable time is the interval between the moment the light turns green and the moment the guy behind me honks!
But I shouldn’t complain. I look hard for the shortest checkout line at Walmart, and I get edgy when I spend more than five minutes in a doctor’s reception room waiting to be called.
Patience is in short supply these days.
It’s natural to get edgy when we are faced with frustrations that won’t move out of the way. Perhaps that’s why the apostle Paul listed patience as one of traits that are supernaturally produced by the Spirit of God in Galatians 5.
The Greek word for “patience” in the fruit of the Spirit is makrothumia (occurs 14 times in the New Testament), along with its sister verb makrothumeō (9 times). In the King James Bible, it is often translated “longsuffering.”
Paul could have chosen a different Greek word, hupomonē, that typically describes someone who is patient in the face of difficult circumstances, the person who perseveres even when life is tough. But the one he selects here is makrothumia, which refers to patience in the presence of difficult people.
Break the word into two parts to get a revealing clue to its meaning. Makros means “long” and thumos means “anger” or “fury.” Literally, Paul is describing the kind of patience that takes a long, long time to get angry.
Like most words, makrothumia or makrothumeō can convey several shades of meaning.
- Sometimes you have to wait a long time for a promise to be fulfilled.
God promised to bless Abraham and to give him many descendants, but Abraham had to wait patiently for a long time before Isaac was born to fulfill the promise (Hebrews 6:12, 15).
A farmer plants seed and then waits patiently for the promised harvest (James 5:7).
- Sometimes you choose not to demand your rights immediately.
Jesus told the parable of a man who owed a fortune to his ruler. He begged for mercy: “Have patience and I will pay everything!” (Matthew 18:26) His debt was forgiven, but he immediately went out and cornered a servant who owed him a few dollars. The servant begged for mercy in almost the same words: “Have patience and I will pay you!” (Matthew 18:29)
- Sometimes you show patience by not getting exasperated with the failings of others.
Paul tells the Thessalonians how to approach those who are idle, fainthearted, or weak. Then he adds an overarching command: Be patient with all (1 Thessalonians 5:14). It is easy to lose patience with people who can’t get their act together, but we can’t give in to our frustrations. He repeated the same advice in Ephesians 4:2 and Colossians 1:11).
- Sometimes you choose not to demand immediate revenge for people who offend you.
Peter was writing about skeptics who figured that they were free to do whatever they wished, free from the risk of divine judgment. 2 Peter 3 explains that God does judge, even when He holds back for a long time. The critics claim that God is so slow that He can safely be ignored. Verse 9, however, points out that God is not slow; He is patient. He is slow to act in anger because He wants to give ample room for people to repent.
God is the great example of longsuffering. Even though mankind deserves destruction for our open rebellion against His rule, He has postponed the day of judgment again and again (Romans 2:4; 9:22; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:15). Paul pointed to his own case as a sample of God’s longsuffering. Jesus saved him, even though he was leading the charge against Christ’s followers (1 Timothy 1:16).
Love produces this kind of patience. Paul led with this trait in his description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. When he declared, “Love is patient,” he meant that love is slow to demand punishment or revenge when someone provokes us.
Why? Because vengeance is God’s business, not ours (Romans 12:19). You can leave it in His hands.
When we leave vengeance to God, we have to accept His timing. He may not give that guy what he deserves as quickly as we wish.
In fact, justice might not be served in this life at all. Christ promises to make everything right in the end, but the end has not happened yet.
That’s why James 5:7-8 says, “Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord . . . . You too be patient, strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
Is this easy? No, but it’s a vital part of love, especially when you recall Christ’s command to “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
Next time someone makes a cutting remark or cuts you off in traffic, remember the rest of James’ advice: “Be slow to anger”!
Sometimes you can find helpful explanations by consulting commentaries or more comprehensive dictionaries. Here are a couple that I found helpful:
“The capacity for restraint in the face of what is provocative (obnoxious acts or attitudes) on the level of relations between people or relations between God and man. Also in response to discomfort or hardship.” (Danker, Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament)
“A long holding out of the mind before it gives room to action or (usually) passion. It is the steadfast spirit which will never give in. The idea is that it takes a long time before fuming and breaking into flames.” (Bible Knowledge Commentary).
Q: I’m reading a devotional guide on Hebrews 10:14 that says the verb tenses are important in understanding the passage. What is going on there?
A: This verse says, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” There are two verbs, each in a different verb tense. “He has made perfect” is in the “perfect tense” in Greek, which describes an action that has been completed, producing continuing results. It means that in some sense, Christ has already made us complete. The second verb, “being made holy,” is a present tense participle. In Greek, that typically describes an action that is in progress, something going on continuously. It means that, in a different sense, our growth in Christlikeness is not yet complete. God continues His daily work in our lives. It’s a paradox of “already but not yet.” God has already given us a new identity as His children, and we are gradually learning how to act more like children of the King.
Ready to pluck another fruit from the Fruit-of-the-Spirit tree? The next fruit on the branch is “gentleness” or “kindness,” from the Greek word chrēstotēs. You can jump right away to an article on that word by clicking HERE. Next week you will be able to see a fresh article on “goodness,” another vital trait for believers.
©Ezra Project 2023
Thank you again!