I used to have my own definitions of longsuffering and patience. Longsuffering was putting up with something, and patience was putting up with nothing. The one was expressed in “I wish I didn’t have,” and the other in “I wish I did.” There’s more to both than that, of course, especially longsuffering.

When I looked into the Greek word μακροθυμέω (phonetically, makrothumia), the word translated in some Bible versions as “longsuffering,” I saw that there was another facet. Makro means “long” (no revelation there), and thumia means temper, which was eye-opening. So a more precise translation of makrothumia may be long-tempered, the opposite of short-tempered.

When my brother-in-law returned from a conference awhile back, he told me how one of the speakers had said that spontaneously flying off the handle is now referred to as Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). If sudden short-temperedness is now regarded as a mental disorder, then it makes sense that long-temperedness would be a sign of mental wellbeing. The speaker went on to say that IED is reaching alarming proportions, and I can say that recent personal experience has provided a little anecdotal evidence to support that position.

Just the other day, my wife and I were walking in town when a well-dressed lady behind us let loose with a string of expletives that would make a rapper blush. She was apparently angry that an older fellow on a bicycle was riding on the sidewalk. I was taken aback by the “sidewalk rage” of this otherwise elegant middle-aged woman.

We live in a beach town, and we can expect the population to swell over the coming summer months. It’s good for the local economy, but it plays havoc with traffic, food prices, and other aspects of our otherwise easygoing town. So around here at least, we’re coming into the season to practice being long tempered.

In the book of Colossians, Saint Paul lists some of the qualities that Christians are supposed to cultivate, and—you guessed it—longsuffering is one of them. “Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another … even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection”—it’s the glue that holds the rest together—“and let the peace of God rule in your hearts.”1

What more can be said than that?

  1. Colossians 3:12–15