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Galatians 5:22  (ID: 3183)

Bible history repeatedly displays God’s patience toward His children—and in Galatians 5:22, Paul included patience as an element of the fruit of the spirit. Alistair Begg discusses the definition, development, and demonstration of patience made manifest in the lives of God’s children. By God’s faithful pursuit and provision, we are conformed to the image of His Son so that a watching world can see the wonder of His amazing love.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22–23 Series ID: 27601

Sermon Transcript: Print

Matthew chapter 18, and we’ll read from verse 21:

“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’”

Jesus is pointing out that this matter of forgiveness is not a matter of calculation; it is an affair of the heart.

“‘Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, “Pay what you owe.” So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in [his] anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.’”


Father, we thank you this morning that you have given to Christ “the name that is above every name, … that at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[1] There’s no other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved.[2] And so we pray that as we study the Bible now, that the Spirit of God will enable us to understand what it says and that beyond the voice of a mere man, we might have that direct encounter with you, so that what happens is not simply the discovery of fresh information but an encounter with you, the living God, through your Word. Only you can accomplish this, and to you alone we look. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, for those of you who are visiting with us, we’ve taken a pause from our studies in Ephesians, at the end of chapter 2, and we have begun to look at the fruit of the Spirit, which we’ve been reminding one another every Sunday is singular—that these are not fruits of the Spirit but that what we have here is the expression of, if you like, full-orbed Christlikeness. “The fruit of the Spirit,” Galatians 5:22, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Not only have we been pointing out that it is singular, but we’ve also been pointing out that this fruit is not artificial—that it is real and that it is, as Jesus taught, the true evidence of Christian discipleship. “It is by their fruits that they will be known,” [3] said Jesus, and it is a wonderfully attractive picture in a world that is increasingly unattractive. The social interaction of our day seems to be marked by spite and by hatred, by all kinds of abusive language and intolerance, and it is a wonderful thing to move amongst the people of God and to encounter, at a very realistic level, a genuine understanding of love and of joyfulness—a joy the opposite of which is not sorrow but the opposite of which is hopelessness, because even in our sadness this morning, in the loss of members of our family, there is a joy that is unsettled by that loss, at least not entirely destabilized by it. And the attractiveness of peace in an angry world is without question. And now this morning we come to this matter of patience.

The real impact of the gospel, of the good news of Jesus, the best of evangelism, takes place in and through the lives of those who embody the message we proclaim. Indeed, to the extent that we don’t embody the message that we proclaim, we make it relatively easy for people to say, “Well, I guess that’s just your opinion.” But when there is within a life joy in the amazing reality of deep sorrow, peace when turmoil invades, and so on, then it causes people to wonder. The reverse, of course, is also true: it’s a sad indictment when onlookers see little evidence of this fruit in the lives of those who profess to be the followers of Jesus.

The second president of India was Dr. Radhakrishnan. He was the president between ’62 and ’67—1962, ’67 that is. And on one occasion, addressing his community, he challenged the Christians who were listening as he said, “You claim that Jesus Christ is your Saviour, but you do not appear to be more ‘saved’ than anyone else.”[4] So in other words, he says, “I hear your story, but I’m not seeing the evidence.” It is quite challenging, isn’t it?

We remember that little poem we used to say:

You’re writing a Gospel,
A chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do
And the words that you say;
And people read what you write,
Distorted or true,
So what is the Gospel
According to you?[5]

And it is this very matter that we are confronted by as we come this morning to the fourth element in the fruit of the Spirit—namely, patience.

The real impact of the gospel, of the good news of Jesus, the best of evangelism, takes place in and through the lives of those who embody the message we proclaim.

I want us to consider it from three angles, as it were: first of all, to think in terms of how it is to be defined; secondly, how it is developed; and thirdly, as we have time, how it is then displayed or demonstrated. All right?

Patience Defined

So, first of all, defined. Now, what I want to do is not define it in terms of the Oxford English Dictionary (I think any of us would be able to do that), but rather to start, if you like, at the only place that we should start—namely, with God and his revelation of himself. I’m going to mention one or two verses. You may look them up if you choose, or you can check afterwards to make sure that they’re actually in the Bible.

When God reveals himself to his people in the Old Testament, he consistently does so in terms that establish the fact of his patience. Exodus chapter 34 and God’s encounter with Moses, and we read in verse 6: “The Lord passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” A God whose patience is not limitless; there will come a day when he will execute his just justice on the wicked. But for now, it is a story of his mercy, of his forbearance, of his peculiar kindness.

And that message, ringing out from God, is seen as you read through the journey of God’s people in the Old Testament. So, for example, when Jonah, the prophet of God, is dispatched to Nineveh—an idea that he doesn’t like—he decides that he will head off in a different direction. You remember, he gets himself in a whale of a problem as a result of that, and when he is finally spat up and reconfigured, he does what God told him to do, and that is to preach to Nineveh the patience of God and the need for repentance.

What happens? Well, the people respond to the preaching, and many of them repent. And Jonah is actually angry about it. And this is what he says: “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country?” He’s trying to justify his running. “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish”—here we go—“for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”[6] “I knew that you are that kind of God.”

Now, the prophets bring this message again and again. For example, you can read in Isaiah chapter 30, where Isaiah, speaking from God, confronts his people, pointing out to them that in their rebellion they have put themselves in a bad situation. They are culpable, because they have been unwilling to listen to the word of the Lord. Isaiah 30:9: “You didn’t listen to me,” he says, “and the reason you’re in the mess you’re in is because you chose not to listen to my word.”[7] And then he says, “Therefore…” And if you don’t know your Bible and you’re not looking at it, you’d perhaps assume what now follows is a word of judgment and of punishment: “You were rebellious. You didn’t listen to me. Therefore, look out, here it comes.” No! “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.”[8] Why? Because patience is ultimately defined in terms of the nature and the character of God.

When you jump from Malachi into the New Testament, you are not surprised to discover that the New Testament reiterates the same song. For example, Peter, when he’s writing his second letter, alerts his readers to the fact that they can anticipate that people, unbelieving people, will scoff at the whole story that the followers of Jesus tell. The followers of Jesus are going to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah of God, that he came, that he died an atoning death, that he was buried, that he was raised to life, that he has ascended to heaven, and that he’s actually going to return. That’s the story of the Bible, in case you’ve just been wondering. That’s the story of Christianity. If anybody told you that when you remove all those difficult parts, you have the essence of Christianity, no! When you remove all those difficult parts, you have no Christianity. And so the people will scoff at that, Peter says. “They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’”[9] “Life’s been going on like this forever, and there’s no reason for you to believe these things.”[10]

So, what does Peter say? He says, “Well, you should make sure that you do not overlook the fact that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,”[11] and “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness.”[12] So what is it then? Well, he is “patient toward you.” Why is he so patient? Well, he doesn’t wish “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”[13] The patience of God in tolerating the resistance and the rebellion of men and women throughout all of time and in every generation, including 2016, in suburban Cleveland and all who are within earshot of my voice right now—that God, in the awareness of that, displays the wonder of his love and his steadfastness and his patience, granting the opportunity for men and women to turn from their foolishness and to turn to him.

When Paul writes of it in Romans, he says, “You should not mistake God’s kindness and his delay. It is simply there in order that you might have the opportunity to repent.”[14] “Don’t presume on it. It is in order to lead you to repentance.” And Paul knew a lot about that. His whole testimony was of a patient God. Some of you who have come to faith in Jesus Christ in later years of your life, you sometimes come and say to me, or I overhear this kind of thing: “You know, I went a long way in my life resisting God and paying no attention to him at all.” And you’ve often had occasion to say, “It is a wonder to me that he has been so kind and so patient toward me.”

Now, when you say that, you are actually saying what Paul had to say when he told his testimony, which he did on a number of occasions. When he writes to Timothy, in his first letter, he puts it as follows: “I thank [God] who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.”[15]

There’s a resume!

“So, how was life for you, Paul, before you met Jesus?”

“Well, I blasphemed, I was a persecutor, and I was absolutely insolent in my opposition to Jesus and the followers of Jesus.”

“So, did you just turn over a new leaf? Did you make a change in your life? Did you decide that you wanted your best life now and that that would be far better?”

“[No,] I received mercy … and the grace of [the] Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost”—that is, the worst fellow in the whole group; that the worst fellow in the whole group, “in me … Jesus Christ might display” what? “His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”[16]

The patience of God manifested in the child of God in order that the person who says “I’ll get round to it in my own time” might be made aware simultaneously of the fact that the return of Jesus will come like a thief in the night and also that the end of our life may come in a moment.[17] Our dying breath may be now. And in light of that, the wonder of God’s love is a pursuing, forbearing love—the patience that has sought out Paul and sought out others to eternal life.

So, it is the patience of God which defines the patience that his children are to show to others. That’s enough by way of its definition.

When you think about it, it is, if you like, a family characteristic. Children are supposed to bear testimony to who their father is. It’s a strange thing as you grow old, isn’t it? I can speak to this. Every so often, I… Does this happen to you? Perhaps I’m shaving, and I look away, and I look back, and I thought I saw my father in the mirror, but it was me. I get up from a chair, and it reminds me of the way he used to rise from a chair. I fall asleep reading a book, and my wife tells me, “That’s exactly what your dad used to do.” It happens! It’s supposed to happen.

Paul Overstreet, the country-western singer, encapsulated it in his song, with a refrain that goes like this:

I’m seein[g] my father in me,
I guess that’s how it’s meant to be,
And I find I’m [looking] more … like him each day.
I notice I walk the way he walks,
I notice I talk the way he talks,
I’m startin[g] to see my father in me.[18]

Now, in every right sense, loved ones, that is a song for the Christian to sing in relationship to God our heavenly Father. God is a patient, long-suffering, forgiving God, and part of the fruit that he creates in the lives of those he redeems reveals itself in that very characteristic.

Patience Developed

Now, from its definition, if you like, to its development. Well, how does this develop? How does this seed flower? How does it happen that that which is embryonic for so long and moves and comes in fits and starts, how do you finally get the plant out of the pot in such a way that people can remark on it? Well, it is God who does this. It is God who plants the seed. It is God’s Word that waters the seed. It is God’s people that encourage and strengthen one another in the development of that seed. And at the very heart of it all is God’s eternal purpose to make his people like their Elder Brother—namely, Jesus. And that’s what Paul says in that great passage in Romans chapter 8: that “those whom he foreknew he also predestined,” and he predestined them “to be conformed to the image of his Son.”[19] That phrase just simply means he was committed from the get-go to make them look like Jesus. When Phillips paraphrased it, he says, “Everything that happens fits into a pattern for good. God … chose them to bear the family likeness [in] his Son.”[20]

God is a patient, long suffering, forgiving God, and part of the fruit that he creates in the lives of those he redeems reveals itself in that very characteristic.

So, how then is it developed? Well, it’s not developed on a deck chair, that’s for sure. Patience is not something where you get a little book, or there’s a chapter somewhere, and it says, “Seven keys to the production of patience.” Those books abound. You may find benefit in them. I’m not sure. I’m sure there’s helpful things in parts. But that is not how the New Testament treats it. Remember, this is not something that is external to us that we’re trying to develop from the outside in, but rather, it is that which is worked from the inside out.

And if you turn with me to James, I’ll use the opening verses of James to help us with this notion of development. James, the brother of Jesus, is writing a very, very practical letter, and he starts off very quickly in this realm of faith—faith in the Lord Jesus when you are following him, when you are faced by challenges: “Count it all joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you meet trials of various kinds.”[21]

Now, what James is actually saying here is very straightforward: trials, for the believer, should not be regarded first of all as enemies or as intruders but as friends. That seems immediately paradoxical, doesn’t it? That trials, we want to try and distance ourselves from them, and difficulties, and so on. We set up our lives to make sure that we’ve removed as much of that to the perimeter of our lives as we possibly can. James says, “No, think about it differently. You should view these trials in a very different way, so that you come to an understanding of this kind of patience.” The word in ESV, if you’re using an ESV, here is “steadfastness.” In the King James Version, it is “patience.” It’s the same word. They’ve just chosen to translate it differently. “Patience” for our purposes this morning: “You know that the testing of your faith produces [patience]. And let [patience] have its full effect.”[22]

It’s such a challenge, isn’t it? It’s such a challenge! We’ve gone through love and been confronted by the fact, within about twenty minutes of the end of the service, how unloving we can be. And then we moved into joy, and somebody had to say to us, “I thought you were doing joy this morning. How did you get so crabby so soon after lunch?” Or was it only me that had that comment made to me? And then peace. How wonderfully peaceful you’ve been feeling until the first bad telephone call of the week. And then, apparently, peace went out the window. But don’t worry, because we have patience to look forward to! And I’m sure we’ll all be able to handle that. Some of you are incredibly impatient now, even as I speak. Some of the boys and girls are going, turning to their mother: “How long it is now? Are we well into it, or how long is it?” Patience, impatience.

Now, some of you have grown in patience. Those little… What do you call them? Busy Lizzies. Because when they germinate, with just a slight bit of encouragement, pop! They go like that. They don’t waste any time at all and just… It’s a good name for them. It’s a Latin name, I suppose. Busy Lizzie’s a good name too. But that’s by the way.

The fact is, patience is tough. And if you think it’s hard listening to it, you should try preaching it. Right? ’Cause you can go away in your own silent little world and determine how patient, loving, joyful, and everything you are. But I’m exposed up here. I’m exposed. I’m exposed first of all to myself and to God. I take that as part of the challenge.

So this week, as I got ready to come home, where I’d been in Prince Edward Island speaking for the Gospel Coalition, I got up at 4:30 in order that I might join the early morning crowd to get on the plane in Charlottetown to fly to Toronto so that I could leave again from Toronto and be home in good old Cleveland by 9:39. That was going really well, until I looked at my boarding pass for the second flight and it said, “Boarding at 11:30.” “Well,” I said, “how can you board at 11:30 for a flight that leaves at 8:45?” The answer is, there’s no flight going at 8:45, and the sign said it is leaving at 12:00. When we finally left, took off from the ground at twenty minutes to one, I was—I was, I really, truly was—confronted by how much I need this aspect of the fruit in my life. And I had all kinds of loving thoughts for Air Canada, and the people around me were going, “How joyful is this fellow, and how peaceful is he!”

See how desperately we are in need of the work of the Spirit of God? How desperately we require him to come to us again and again? How prone we are to our own agendas and our own sense of satisfaction? But James helps us here. He gives us a whole new perspective. Look at what he says: “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet various trials.” He doesn’t say “if you meet various trials.” You can guarantee one thing in your life: you will meet trials. There’s not a person in this room that is not confronted even now by things that are represented by that which is difficult and hard to handle. Three things to note: number one, trials are inevitable; number two, trials often come right out of the blue; and number three, trials come in all shapes and sizes. And, says James, by means of this testing environment, patience is developed.

Now, the thing that we have to understand is that the benefit that we receive from trials and difficulties is largely dependent upon how we look at them and the manner in which we handle them. Trials do not in and of themselves have the capacity to form patience in us. It is the Spirit of God who works patience in us, produces increasingly that fruit through us. Trials come, as one of the Puritans said, to prove us and to reprove us. But one person may respond to it in such a manner that they are increasingly bitter and angry and disengaged, while another, facing the exact same circumstance, finds that the shoots and evidences of a capacity that is clearly beyond this individual and beyond understanding in relationship to the circumstances points to the reality of God.

You see, when we’re mistreated—and we’re all mistreated, whether it’s at home or at work or in school—how do we handle that? When we’re confronted by the fact that people don’t actually meet our expectations and our standards, how do we handle that? Well, you see, the exhortation of the New Testament is that we are to be patient. That’s something that you do. That’s James, chapter 5.[23] Paul, in Colossians 3, says, “Clothe yourselves with patience.”[24] So in other words, you say, “I thought you said it was internal and not external?” No, it is external in its display; it is internal in its creation. The seed is planted in us by God, the seed is nurtured by God’s grace and God’s Spirit, but it is displayed. It’s like people who say, “Well, I won’t be at the evening service, but I’ll be there in spirit”—to which I reply, “That doesn’t mean a lot to me. What matters is not that you’re there in spirit but that you are physically there. I don’t know if you’re where you are in spirit.” No, the display gives evidence of the internal reality. And what James is saying is simply this: that by this means we become in practice what we know ourselves to be in principle.

Spurgeon, who’s always good on this kind of thing, in a sermon which he preached in 1883, uses the picture of a weather-beaten sailor. It’s a nice picture. Everybody likes a weather-beaten sailor. But he describes him in his sermon; he says, “He has a [bronze] face,” and he has “mahogany-coloured skin, and he looks as tough as [an] oak.”[25] So, someone that we aspire to, I suppose. And then he says to his congregation, “And nobody reaches that condition by staying on the shore.”[26] “Nobody reaches that condition by staying on the shore.”

So, we say, “Now, I don’t want to go out on the sea of life, because it’s really bumpy and turbulent, and there’s all kinds of things that can happen to me out there. Therefore, I think I’ll just try and stay in the tranquility of the harbor. I’ll just gather people around me here, and all will be well.” We seek to do that with our children sometimes, and purposefully. Eventually, we’re going to have to let them go. They’re going to have to become weather-beaten themselves. And so it is that when we reach the condition of that kind of picture provided there, it comes with the stormy seas. It comes with the howling winds. And, says Spurgeon to his congregation, when you reach that condition of endurance and patience, it “is worth all the expense of all the heaped-up troubles that ever come upon us.”[27]

Now, when you think about this, the purpose of God in our lives is often so mysterious, isn’t it? It’s so mysterious. Why does God disappoint our plans? Why does God cross our wishes? Why don’t we get everything that we ask for, every time we ask for it, and in the time frame that we want it? Well, of course, we don’t know, because the purpose of God is mysterious. What do we know? Well, you have to take what we know: that God is committed to conforming each of his children to the image of his Son, Jesus, our Elder Brother. So, we don’t understand, looking through the front window of the car, exactly why this is happening to us now. So we can rage against the machine if we choose, or we can take James at his word and say, “Now, wait a minute. These trials come in various capacities and at different times and often out of the blue, and we can actually rejoice in these trials when we begin to see it from the perspective of God.”

Trials do not in and of themselves have the capacity to form patience in us. It is the Spirit of God who works patience in us.

You see, we judge things by their present appearances; God judges things by their consequences. We are tempted to try and take every providence in our lives and see it as self-interpreting: “Well, this must have happened because of this, and this must have happened because of that.” It was in my mind this morning, when I was driving halfway here, and I realized I left my microphone behind. Okay, turn around. So I turned around. And then when I got home, I couldn’t find it there. And then, yeah, I couldn’t find it anywhere! And as I was thinking these thoughts, I said to myself, “Well, there must be some purpose in this.” And then I said to myself, “Yeah, the purpose is, don’t lose your microphone!” That’s the purpose! I mean, that’s obvious! We don’t need to turn this into some great theological discourse.

Now, the fact is that it was also an opportunity for distinct impatience on my part just before I’m dealing with the issue of patience. So maybe God had a little purpose in that, just another little tweak on the way: “Remember… Remember…” I don’t know! But I do know that in some of the big things—some of the big things—as I judge them in their immediacy, it doesn’t make sense to me.

It didn’t make sense to us, incidentally, when we were worshiping outdoors on the property at 91 and Cannon (some of you have been around for a hundred years), and we would go up there, have the evening services, and claim this property for Parkside Church and for God. The fact that none of the community liked the idea was simply an opportunity for us to lay hold on the promise even more, and they would oppose us in the court, then we could go to the court, and then we could go to another court, and we could spend another amount of money, and so on and so on. And then finally we said to ourselves, “You know, maybe God doesn’t want us to be on the corner of 91 and Cannon.” Took us a long time! But you can think of that in areas of your life, can’t you?

John Newton, writing to his congregation in this vein, says to them, “Imagine being blind and seeking a guide and then disputing with your guide every step that you take.” He said, “The guide would soon tire of you and leave you to your own foolish choices.”[28] Why does God oppose us? To keep us from disappointment, to keep us from our own foolish choices.

Maggie Thatcher on one occasion, classically Thatcher, she says, “I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.” I like that. I like that honesty! “I am extraordinarily patient, God, as long as it comes out the way I want it—with the girl I want, with the job I want, with the this I want, the that I want. And any time soon would be perfect for me.” And here you are. You have unanswered prayers. You have children that do not yet believe. And every night you say your prayers, and as yet, there is no answer. Well, where then does our confidence lie? What is God doing? Well, we know this: that as we learn to wait upon him, he’s producing patience.

Patience Demonstrated

Finally—our time is gone—just a word on the third one. Defined in terms of the character and revelation of God himself. He is a patient God; he makes patient children. Developed in the experience of trials and difficulties, not on a deck chair at the beach. Therefore, be careful about asking God to increase your quota of patience. Get ready, okay? “Lord, make me more peaceful.” It will be a rock and roll show. “Make me more joyful.” See, that’s the way it goes. Okay? That’s how he does it. “Count it all joy when you face these things, because of this.” He’s dealing consequences. We’re dealing appearances.

And finally, how is it demonstrated? Well, this is not the only way in which it’s demonstrated, but it is demonstrated definitely in this way: that the patience of God is revealed in his forgiveness of sin—is revealed in his forgiveness of sin. And that is why some of you are saying to yourselves, “Oh dear, are we starting a series on Matthew now?” when I read from Matthew chapter 18. No, I read from it because I thought, “By the time we get to that point, I’ll have run out of time to read it then”—which was pretty good, because we have. And so you can reread the parable for yourself.

The parable there is an illustration of what Jesus says earlier on in Matthew: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”[29] Well, what does that mean? Our forgiveness of others does not earn us the right to be forgiven. This is not a quid pro quo: “If you do this, I’ll do that.” So what is it?

Well, what it means is that God forgives those who are truly penitent. God forgives those who acknowledge that we’re on the wrong side of the equation, we’re marching to the wrong drummer, we’re up the broad road, we’re not on the narrow road. God grants forgiveness to the insolent outlaw, the blasphemer, the one who has spurned his love—whatever it is—the arrogant, religious snob. God is patient, longing for them to turn to him.

So, God’s forgiveness is granted to the penitent. And one of the evidences of being truly penitent is in a forgiving spirit towards those who have offended against us. In fact, it is the great test, isn’t it? Because you see, when my eyes are open to the enormity of my offense against God, when I understand that when Ephesians says that I was once dead in my trespasses and my sins, I was on the wrong side of the aisle, I was just enslaved and embittered, that that was what I was by nature[30]—then I say to myself, “So why, if God would be so good to forgive me all of that mess, do I believe that I have the right to continue not to call my friend from whom I have been alienated for some time because of his offense against me?” My friend knows all of the principles that I espouse. Perhaps he or she is waiting to see some of the evidence of the fruit that would reveal itself in that instance, in a call to say, “I forgive you.”

Remember—and with this I close—that this fruit is not an artificial arrangement; it is a live, growing reality. And if you would like a homework assignment—and even if you wouldn’t—it is to reread Genesis 45 and the amazing description in there of the encounter between Joseph and his brothers. Remember, they hated his guts. They ripped his coat off his back—the one that his father had made for him, a special coat that they resented. They threw him in a pit, hoping to have him die. Somebody said, “No, bring him out,” and so they sold him to the Ishmaelites. The Ishmaelites took him a little further. They stripped him up and stood him on a block with the rest, and he was sold into slavery. As a result of being sold into slavery, he’s in the house of Potiphar. The wife tries to seduce him. He makes a run for it. She then lies about him. He ends up in the jail. He has to spend time in the jail, eventually gets out. And it’s all building up to chapter 45, ’cause he can’t wait for his brothers to come so he can stick it to them after all this time. It’s a great story, if you haven’t read it. And he’s just going…

No, no. No! That’s the amazing thing. That’s the amazing thing! His brothers had taken his clothes, taken his freedom, taken everything from him. When they show up and he finally reveals himself in Genesis 45, he gives them a cart, he gives them provision, he gives them clothes, he gives them cash, he gives them counsel, and he actually says to them, he says, “Come [close] to me.”[31] Can you imagine being one of the brothers, saying, “I’m not going first. No, no, no. I know what you’re going to do right now. You’re going to… ‘Thank you, number one. And another one, please.’” No: “Come close to me.” Why? “’Cause I want to kiss you.” “And he kissed all his brothers.”[32]

You see, it’s a picture of Jesus, isn’t it? We were as indebted as could ever be. We were as indebted as this guy who owed a million bucks, you know, over ten thousand talents. He owed a fortune. He pleaded. He was forgiven. He went out to strangle somebody who owed him fifty bucks. Jesus told the parable to say, “You kidding? Do you understand what I have come to do for you? That I have come to pay your debt, that I have come to provide your pardon? Now, are you really going to go out here and do this? And if you do, you do not belong to me.”

You see, that’s the kicker in the story: “And this is how my Father will treat he or she who refuses to forgive his or her brother or sister from his heart.”


What an amazing God you are. How kind and forbearing, when you think about your people in the Old Testament, messing up again and again and again and still knowing that they had turned their back on you, turned away from your voice. “Therefore, I will wait for them.” Oh, how we bless you, that you are a seeking God and that you are a patient God. Help us not, Lord, to take your patience for granted. Help us not to presume upon tomorrow. Help us not to leave to tomorrow what should be done today: first, turning to you in repentance and in faith; and then, as you produce your fruit within our lives, bearing testimony, not simply with lip but with life, to the amazing difference that Jesus makes. To this end we seek you. In Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] Philippians 2:9–11 (ESV).

[2] See Acts 4:12.

[3] Matthew 7:16, 20 (paraphrased).

[4] Quoted in John R. W. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), 108.

[5] Commonly attributed to Paul Gilbert.

[6] Jonah 4:2 (ESV).

[7] Isaiah 30:9 (paraphrased).

[8] Isaiah 30:18 (ESV).

[9] 2 Peter 3:4 (ESV).

[10] 2 Peter 3:4 (paraphrased).

[11] 2 Peter 3:8 (paraphrased).

[12] 2 Peter 3:9 (ESV).

[13] 2 Peter 3:9 (ESV).

[14] Romans 2:4 (paraphrased).

[15] 1 Timothy 1:12–13 (ESV).

[16] 1 Timothy 1:13–16 (ESV).

[17] See 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15.

[18] Paul Overstreet, “Seein’ My Father in Me” (1989).

[19] Romans 8:29 (ESV).

[20] Romans 8:29 (Phillips).

[21] James 1:2 (ESV).

[22] James 1:3–4 (ESV).

[23] See James 5:7–8.

[24] Colossians 3:12 (paraphrased).

[25] C. H. Spurgeon, “All Joy in All Trials,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 29, no. 1704, 81.

[26] Spurgeon, 82. Paraphrased.

[27] Spurgeon, 82.

[28] John Newton to Mrs. P—., August 17, 1776, in Cardiophonia: or The Utterance of the Heart; in the Course of a Real Correspondance (1780). Paraphrased.

[29] Matthew 6:14–15 (ESV).

[30] See Ephesians 2:1.

[31] Genesis 45:4 (ESV).

[32] Genesis 45:15 (ESV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.