One of the great characteristics of God is His love for man and His desire that all should come to repentance and be saved (1 Timothy 2:3, 4; 2 Peter 3:9). Because of God’s love, He has often been very patient with people who were in ignorance or rebellion. However, as the Scriptures reveal the mind of God to us (1 Corinthians 2:10-16), we realize that God’s patience with man has its limits.
For example, God gave the people of Noah’s time one hundred twenty years to repent, as Noah was preaching to them and building the ark (Genesis 6:3; 2 Peter 2:5). During this time, the thoughts of men were only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). This brought great grief to God (6:6), and the time finally came when God’s wrath was unleashed upon the sinful world of man: “they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away” (Matthew 24:38, 39). Do we need to repent of wicked thoughts? Have we allowed our minds to become polluted by the world? (Matthew 5:8; Philippians 4:8; 1 John 2:15-17). If so, do we erroneously assume that God will be patient with us forever with our corrupted minds? (Genesis 6:11, 12; Ephesians 4:22; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 3:8; Jude 10).
God was initially patient with Moses when Moses began making excuses not to go back to Egypt and deliver God’s people (Exodus 3, 4). God had an answer for every excuse of Moses, and God assured Moses that He would be with him. However, Moses finally told God to send someone else. This refusal to obey kindled the anger of the Lord: “And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses…” (Exodus 4:13, 14). Do we need to repent for making excuses instead of using our talents for God? (Matthew 25:24-30). Have we focused on our own weaknesses instead of trusting in the power of God being with us as we do His will? (Proverbs 3:5, 6; Ephesians 6:10; Philippians 4:13). Do we assume that God will be patient with us forever, if we refuse to serve Him as we should?
God was patient with the Israelites in the wilderness time and time again, but there were times when their constant complaints and lack of faith finally prompted God to unleash His wrath upon them (cf. Numbers 14:22-24). Thousands died on different occasions, by plagues, snakes, swords, fire, or even the earth opening and swallowing them alive! (Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy). On one occasion God even threatened to destroy the whole nation and make a new nation from Moses, but, like many other occasions, His wrath was stayed through intercession (Exodus 32:9-14; Deuteronomy 9:13-29). Have we been guilty of attitudes of ingratitude? (cf. Philippians 2:14). Do we realize how much God has done for us? (Acts 17:24-28; Romans 5:8-10; James 1:17). If we are ungrateful complainers, do we assume that God will be patient with us forever?
God was patient with those transporting the ark of the covenant incorrectly, until Uzzah actually touched the ark. Only a certain family of Levites called the Kohathites could transport the ark, and it had to be borne by staves on their shoulders. Also, the priests had to cover the ark first, before the Kohathites could even begin to move it (Numbers 4). It was not to be touched (or even seen) by the vast majority of Israelites. With all these rules being broken as the ark was being transported by ox cart, God finally lost His patience when the ark was about to fall because of their carelessness, and Uzzah actually touched the ark! (2 Samuel 6:6, 7). Later David realized that God had made that “breach” upon them, because they had not followed “the due order” (1 Chronicles 15:2, 13). Have we failed to follow “the due order” of God in New Testament worship? Do we worship God exactly as He instructed, and with the right frame of mind? (John 4:24). If we are not doing so, do we assume that God will be patient with us forever?
God was patient with the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah, until His compassion came to an end: “And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand” (2 Chronicles 36:15-17; cf. 2 Kings 17). Have we rejected the Word of God, like the Israelites of old? These were God’s chosen people during those times, but that did not exempt them from God’s wrath. There came a time when God’s compassion was no longer available. If we are erring children of God today, do we believe God will always have compassion on us while we rebel against His will? If so, we are wrong (2 Peter 2:20-22; Hebrews 10:23-31).
God was patient with ignorant Gentiles in the times before Christ came, but now commands all men everywhere to repent: “The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30, 31; ASV 1901). Have we hidden behind an excuse of ignorance to justify a sinful lifestyle? Perhaps we are like those Peter called “willingly ignorant” (2 Peter 3:5). Under the New Testament, ignorance is no excuse to live without Christ (Ephesians 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:15). If we plead ignorance as our defense on the Day of Judgment for living worldly lives, do we expect God to go back on His Word and have mercy on us?
Today God is patiently waiting for people to repent, but one day His patience will come to an end (2 Peter 3:9-ff). Those who assume that God will always be patient when them, although they refuse to repent, are sadly mistaken. They will be greatly surprised on that day when the Lord returns in the clouds with fiery vengeance, and “sudden destruction” comes upon those who “know not God and obey not the gospel” (Matthew 24:37-39; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 1 Peter 4:17; 1 John 2:3-6). As He once destroyed this world with water, He will use devouring fire the next time to bring an end to this physical universe and send all people to either Heaven or Hell (Matthew 25:34, 41, 46; 2 Peter 3:4-ff). Let us all make sure we are on the Lord’s side when that day comes. In the meantime, may we serve God faithfully and diligently, lest His wrath be poured out on us when His patience with this world comes to an end!