“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)

These verses are so familiar to me that when I encountered them in my morning Bible reading recently, I almost missed the change that was made in the 2014 update to the New International Version (NIV) of the Scriptures. The word patience had been changed to forbearance. My immediate and instinctive reaction was “There they go again! Why don’t they leave well enough alone?”

Having memorized these particularly verses many years ago, I often quote them in my teaching and in conversations regarding spiritual matters. These traits of the fruit of the Spirit identified by the apostle Paul have provided a useful checklist to gauge whether my inclinations are driven more by my flesh or the Holy Spirit.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I typed those words without looking at the text. They flow together so well and are easily memorized. Replacing patience with forbearance disrupts that flow. I stumble every time I try to quote it now. Why change such a powerful and poetic list?

Then I quickly realized that my negative reaction to this change was being driven by my flesh as the Spirit revealed to me that the word forbearance better conveys his intent when Paul penned his letter to the Galatians. According to my Wycliffe Bible Commentary, the Greek word Paul used literally means long-spiritedness. The King James Version (KJV) translates it as “long-suffering”.

The word patience has a very broad application whereas the word forbearance relates specifically to our attitude toward others. According to Wycliffe, the word Paul used “involves a refusal to retaliate or work vengeance for wrong received”. My KJV Study Bible describes it as “a disposition quietly bearing injury”. Webster’s defines forbearance as “the quality of someone who is patient and able to deal with a difficult person or situation without becoming angry.”

As I reflect on these definitions, it becomes clear that forbearance is sorely lacking in our world today. Perhaps with a little more forbearance, our elected leaders might be better able to work together to develop solutions to the many problems facing this nation. With a little more forbearance, maybe Christians could overcome some of our denominational differences and present a more unified message to the lost people outside our church walls. (Are you listening, Southern Baptists?)

In Romans 3:25, Paul writes “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood–to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” (NIV) Aren’t you thankful for God’s forbearance? How can we fail to practice forbearance toward others while enjoying God’s forbearance toward us?

In our fleshly pride, forbearance does not come naturally. While we can sometimes fake some aspects of the fruit of the Spirit Paul identifies in Galatians 5:22-23, forbearance may be our best indicator of who is winning the ongoing battle for the control of our heart – our flesh or the Holy Spirit.

May we all display a little more patience forbearance with those whom God places in our paths this week. (Old habits are so hard to break!)

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9 NIV)

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