Missiological Signficance of God’s Patience … that none should perish

E. Sudhir Isaiah, Ph.D.

God Is Patiently Waiting!

Many of us are familiar with the old favorite hymn, “softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, He’s calling for you and for me… He is patiently waiting for you to come home… Sinner, come home ….” We still sing this hymn but seldom do we realize that while we are singing about the sinner coming home, we may be overlooking the character of Father God as a patient God, as pictured by the hymn writer.

Our Wish and His Wish!

No matter how evil and wicked this present world is getting to be, our God is waiting patiently for every sinner to return home to the Father. It is observed that many Christians are disillusioned and wonder as to why God does not just seem to zap this world by a snap of his fingers so that all the wicked and evil of this world disappear in a moment. This is what many Christians would wish that God would do, but God just does not seem to be doing that. And often one wonders why?

The answer to this question is rather a very simple one. It lies in the heart of God, and the character of God. One of the great characteristics of God is that He is “longsuffering” or in other words a very “patient” God. This aspect of God has tremendous significance for Missions. Let us consider the following from 2 Peter 3: 8-13:

Revelation Through Peter

1. Paradigm of kairos vs. chronos

Peter explains in 2 Peter 3:8 “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Peter made this statement at the beginning of this time of waiting, at the dawn of the age of grace. This idea of one thousand years like one day (God’s timing) in the sight of God is sometimes really difficult to understand. This seems to imply how patient God is.

Is God really patient? He must be! He is waiting for EVERY sinner to return home to the Father. We are now living in the third millennium and it already looks very ‘long’ to us. If we are not careful in understanding the difference between ‘kairos’ and the ‘chronos’ we might end up crying out saying ‘how long’ oh God?

2. The Father’s desire

Peter in his second epistle provides yet another dimension of the character of God–that is His heart-beat–“it is not the wish of the Father that any should perish, but come to repentance” (3:9). In other words God, in His salvation economy is allowing a long period of grace to this world so that they will have an opportunity to repent and turn from their wicked ways to the Father. Peter was absolutely right when he declared at Pentecost that the “last days” had begun (Acts 2:16,17), but that God had a secret plan to give the world a period of grace before putting down its rebellion and sending Christ to reign.

From what Peter says, it then becomes clear that God does not desire that sinners should die in their sins, but that every one must an opportunity to hear the life-saving message of salvation in Jesus Christ and repent from their wickedness and turn to the Father. Therefore, the grace of God is extended during this grace period. The “dispensation of the grace of God” is the subject of many of Paul’s epistles for God continues to show His grace to a morally depraved humanity.

3. God’s Patience and grace explained

It is interesting to note that Peter’s last message explains the reason for the delay in Christ’s return to reign when he says “The Lord is not slack (or slow) concerning His promise, but is patiently waiting for us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (V. 9). Therefore, this “delay” in Christ’s return to judge and reign should not be counted “slowness” or “laxness” on the part of God, but His patience, “that the patience of our Lord is indeed salvation.”

This is, indeed, tremendous spiritual wisdom and spiritual insight that Peter had. That is the best way that Peter could explain God’s patience. But how did he know that the world had just entered into a new dispensation of the grace of God?

Paul Helps Us to Understand

In this dispensation of God’s “long-suffering,” Paul, the Apostle to the Nations, in declaring “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), helps Peter explains that his source of information was from Paul’s spiritual insight when he says “Even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given unto him, has written unto you” (1 Tim.1:15,16; 2 Pet.3:15). “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, “if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me toward you, how that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery…which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:1-5).

Peter immediately recognized the spiritual truth that to Paul was particularly committed “the gospel of the grace of God” (Gal. 2:2,7,9), which we proclaim today (Acts 20:24).

4. A warning to be prepared

In verse 10, there is this subtle warning from Peter that this “one day is like one thousand years” may end suddenly when “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” when some unimaginable and unthinkable cataclysmic changes may take place to usher-in the end of the age. Therefore, Peter is calling into question the kind of life we ought to be living since we believer’s have been warned that these things (the cataclysmic changes) will be taking place.

The Missiological Significance

It is clear that our God is a patient God who desires that every sinner repent and come to the Father, but it also seems clear that God’s patience will come to an end at some point. Since we know that these changes will take place, Peter cautions the believer’s to live holy and righteous lives. When Peter writes this, we need to understand that the context and background he is writing from is Christ’s imminent return! Peter required that all believer’s should live a life of “holiness and godliness” as though Christ is returning any time so that the Gospel message may be proclaimed to all the nations. The “holiness and godliness” lifestyle is every believer’s garment in proclaiming the gospel.

The missiological significance of God’s patience is some how integrated with the 1. kairos, 2. the Father’s desire, 3. humanity’s repentance, 4. the warning. May we then not be found to be taking for granted the patience of God while a large chunk of humanity is going into a Christ-less eternity every day, since we know that it is not our Father’s wish that any sinner should go to hell.

Wake up! Wake up! It is still day … for soon the night will come!

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E. Sudhir Isaiah, Ph.D.
Bethany International University