‘Forbearance’ – the duty to tolerate each other and to put up with each other’s sins, faults and irritating ways

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From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 12 – What it really meant by forgiving others, and what does it involve?

Forbearance is another concept which is closely linked to forgiveness but is still separate and distinct. Sometimes we become alienated from others, or do not get on with them, not necessarily because they have wronged us or harmed us, but simply because we do not like them. We are all very different and our ways, habits, mannerisms etc can be very irritating.

If this is not dealt with promptly, and in the right way, it can produce relationship problems, the effects of which are not much less than if we had been wronged. Moreover, if people do not get on, or if they irritate each other, they can eventually get to the stage where they do start to do actual wrong to each other, such that they really would have a need to forgive and be forgiven.

Therefore, we also have a duty to show ‘forbearance’. This is an aspect of forgiveness, albeit usually not at the fullest level, because it also applies even where people have not wronged us. It means to be patient and to put up with each other’s sins, faults, weaknesses, annoying habits and minor acts of rudeness. Forbearance involves being slow to anger and tolerating such things, rather than reacting carnally to them. That is how God wants each of us to be, if we claim to be Christians:

12Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, 13forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:12-15 (RSV)

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:1-3 (RSV)

Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand.

Philippians 4:5 (RSV)

If God was short-tempered, touchy, irritable, resentful, easily offended and prone to holding onto grudges, as we often tend to be, then none of us could relate to Him at all. He would be able to find far more to object to in us than we can legitimately object to in each other. Thankfully, that is not how He is. He is gracious and slow to anger. That involves Him being patient with us and putting up with our many faults, bad habits and selfish ways:

3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?

Psalm 130:3 (ESV)

8 The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The LORD is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.

Psalm 145:8-9 (ESV)

So, forbearance is a part of what forgiveness is about. It primarily concerns the lesser things which are at the ‘shallow end’ of what we are called upon to forgive. It basically means putting up with it when people behave selfishly, foolishly, rudely or thoughtlessly. Yet, forbearance is still very important because it is likely that more relationships are undermined or destroyed because of minor irritations and personality clashes than by major situations, where one person has been seriously wronged by another. The little pin pricks may be trivial in themselves, but they may mount up over time and their eventual consequences can be major, if we are not willing to practice the art of forbearance.

However, if we can develop forbearance and make the effort to put up with things and get along with people that we don’t naturally like, then everybody will benefit. This has not been an area of strength for me. I find I am too easily irritated by others and so I need to work at this much harder. God wants us all to make a bigger effort to get along with other Christians, and to be slow to anger. We are to tolerate their faults, and also their habits and ways, even where they are not necessarily at fault, but are merely different from us:

Behold, how good and pleasant
it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Psalm 133:1 (ESV)

God also wants us to encourage those who fail and lift up those who fall, whether it is into sin or other problems or mishaps. We should be willing to do that for them, because that’s what He does with us:

The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.

Psalm 145:14 (ESV)

When disagreements arise over questions of doctrine or practice we also need to be very selective about the issues over which we ought to take a stand. We should not get into a conflict situation over every difference of opinion. Otherwise we could end up contending with others unnecessarily, when no vital issue of principle is at stake:

But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile.

Titus 3:9 (RSV)

Do not contend with a man for no reason,
when he has done you no harm.

Proverbs 3:30 (ESV)
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