Question: "What does the Bible mean by longsuffering?"
Answer: It has been said that longsuffering means “suffering long.” That is a good answer, but a better definition is needed. The word longsuffering in the Bible is made up of two Greek words meaning “long” and “temper”; literally, “long-tempered.” To be longsuffering, then, is to have self-restraint when one is stirred to anger. A longsuffering person does not immediately retaliate or punish; rather, he has a “long fuse” and patiently forbears. Longsuffering is associated with mercy (1 Peter 3:20) and hope (1 Thessalonians 1:4). It does not surrender to circumstances or succumb to trial.
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 (1 Kings 17:1–23; 2 Kings 24:17–25).
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.