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Greek Word Study - Long-Suffering

Two centuries before the birth of Christ, two great powers struggled for control of the ancient world. Rome would ultimately win, but only after defeating Hannibal—one of the greatest generals of all time. Ravaging city after city in Italy, for sixteen years Hannibal and his army were not defeated.

At the height of his strength Hannibal laid siege to Casilinum, a small city located southeast of Rome, where two main trade routes came together to cross a river. Hannibal laid siege to this strategic location, expecting the inhabitants to surrender quickly. In spite of their tiny force of only 540 soldiers, however, the little town continued to resist. One day, to Hannibal’s astonishment, he saw them planting turnips near the wall. He marveled at their “long-suffering.” They expected to hold out long enough to harvest them!

The Greek word for “long-suffering” is makrothymia (mah kro thoo ME ah). It is made from the word makros (“far, long”) and thumos (“soul, heart”). In classical Greek the thumos was used especially as the seat of courage and strong emotions. By the time the word showed up in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, to be “long-souled” was to have the courage and strength to keep one’s anger under control. (This word should be compared to hypomone, the word study in the previous Compass. Hypomone meant patience with circumstances, makrothymia is patience with people.)

William Barclay says this word is:
  1. The basis of forgiveness (Prov 19:11).
  2. The basis of humility (Eccles 7:8).
  3. The foundation of fellowship (Prov 15:18).
  4. The basis of good relationships (Prov 25:15).
  5. The basis of true wisdom (Prov 14:29).
  6. The basis of true power (Prov 16:32).

Most important of all, makrothymia describes the character of God. He is so long-suffering that He gives sinners time to repent (2 Peter 3:9). It is not weakness that makes God hold back His wrath; it is great strength of heart. Furthermore, when God’s Spirit is at work in our inner man, the kind of patience called makrothymia will also be found in us (Gal 5:22; 1 Cor 13:4; Eph 4:2). With makrothymia we will have strength to face opposition, courage to fulfill duty, and patience to forgive enemies.