God is the source of longsuffering because it is part of His character (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18–20; Psalm 86:15; Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 3:9; 2 Peter 3:15). He is patient with sinners. At the same time, God’s longsuffering can come to an end, as seen in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18—19) and the sending of Israel into captivity (2 Kings 17:1–23; 24:17—25:30).
The believer in Jesus Christ receives the very life of God, His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). That life produces certain characteristics (fruit) that are displayed in the believer as he obeys the Holy Spirit who lives within him. One of those godly characteristics from Galatians 5:22–23 is “longsuffering.” The word is translated “patience” in the New American Standard Bible. Longsuffering is to be exhibited by all believers (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 1:11; 3:12).
Think how our lives would be affected if longsuffering were exhibited in individual relationships, family relationships, church relationships, and workplace relationships. The old nature can be very short-fused at times, and we tend to strike back against offenses with unkind words and unforgiving spirits. By obeying the Holy Spirit, the believer in Christ can say “no” to retaliation and exhibit a forgiving and longsuffering attitude. As God is longsuffering with us, we can and must be longsuffering with others (Ephesians 4:30–32).
The ultimate example of God’s longsuffering is His waiting for individuals to respond in faith to Jesus Christ. God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Have you made that decision to believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for you and that He rose again to provide forgiveness and eternal life? If not, read Romans 10:9–13.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
God moves in mysterious ways. Perhaps you’ve read this phrase on a meme or heard it in a song. God does move in mysterious ways—decreeing and orchestrating things in such a way that boggles our minds. God’s timing, perhaps, is one of the aspects of how He works that leaves us humans slack-jawed and, at times, frustrated.
In 2 Peter 3:9 we read that the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness. What is this promise? And why do Peter’s readers suppose that God is slow about bringing His promise to pass? What is the purpose of God’s slowness?
A few verses before and after verse 9 show us the immediate context for Peter’s encouraging words. In verses 3-4 he warns that scoffers will come in these last days, “following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’” So, there are scoffers who deride God’s alleged slowness, suggesting that God’s slowness may imply incompetence or disinterest on His part. Now look just a bit further down at verses 10-13 for more contextual details:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Jesus’ return, referred to as “The Day of the Lord,” is the promise that is in view in this letter. Peter not only assures his readers that “the Day of the Lord” is coming, but he describes the manner in which it will come and how we ought to live in light of it.
We’re given explicit directives on how we are to live throughout his letter, summarized by the phrase in verse 11 “in lives of holiness and godliness.” God’s supposed slowness is not license for us to live sinfully, but a call to renewed commitment to live not according to our own desires like the scoffers do, but according to God’s desires.
God’s long-suffering—His patience—is grace to us. While we yet live, we have an opportunity to trust Christ in repentance and faith. If you woke up this morning in this fallen world (and I’m assuming you did!) then these moments—however painful or grievous they may be—are God’s kindness to you. You may yet repent and believe in Christ crucified on your behalf for the first time ever. If you are a believer, you may glory in the gospel yet another day and revel the sweetness of your salvation in Christ as you endeavor to walk by faith in Jesus in “holiness and godliness.” Your salvation is one day nearer than when you first believed—praise the Lord!
Imagine the most expensive wrist watch on the market owned by a wealthy individual. The time kept by that luxurious watch is the same time that exists even for the poorest person who has never even seen a watch. The idea that a mere mortal can “have time” is an illusion. God created time—He owns it—and He allows us to steward His time even as He is making the best use of the aeon. The Lord is not slow as some count slowness. God is deliberate. He is purposeful. He is patient and gracious, not wishing that any should perish. He is willing to save every rebel who accepts the amnesty offered from the King of Kings through the cross. He is God. And based on the promise that Christ would return—and He will return—we wait for His appointed time with patient hope and confident urgency, fleeing from sin and reaching out to those who do not yet know the God who is so long-suffering that He mercifully grants us time to repent.
The Day of the Lord
(Zephaniah 1:7–18; Malachi 4:1–6; 1 Thessalonians 5:1–11)
8Beloved, do not let this one thing escape your notice: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.c 9The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.
10But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyedd by fire, and the earth and its works will be laid bare.e
11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to conduct yourselves in holiness and godliness 12as you anticipate and hasten the coming of the day of God, when the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt in the heat. 13But in keeping with God’s promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
14Therefore, beloved, as you anticipate these things, make every effort to be found at peace—spotless and blameless in His sight.f
15Consider also that our Lord’s patience brings salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom God gave him. 16He writes this way in all his letters,g speaking in them about such matters. Some parts of his letters are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort,h as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
17Therefore, beloved, since you already know these things, be on your guard so that you will not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure standing. 18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.