Building Up One Another by Gene Getz
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).
In the previous chapter, we studied Paul’s injunction to the Galatians to “bear one another’s burdens.” In his Ephesian letter we discover another injunction that sounds very similar but in meaning is quite different. We are to “bear with one another in love.” In Galatians, Paul was talking about helping another Christian to bear (bastazo) or carry his burden of sin; to help him get out of Satan’s trap. But in Ephesians, the word bear means to be tolerant towards other Christians; to bear with them; to patiently endure their idiosyncrasies and weaknesses; to have a forgiving spirit toward others who may sin against us.
I’m fortunate, I guess. I enjoy people. Since I have a pretty good picture of my own weaknesses, I find it rather easy to tolerate most people. Yet as I reflect on my past and present relationships with Christians, a few faces come to mind who represent what some might term as “unlovable.” To be perfectly honest, I must admit it was at times difficult to bear with them.
For example, I remember John, probably one of the most difficult. He was a college roommate whose middle name was Mr. Self Centered. This was not simply my opinion; most people who knew him well agreed! He was just plain hard to get along with.
But he was a Christian a brother in Christ. And I had a responsibility to John “to bear with him in love” (Eph. 4:2). Paul’s letter to the Colossians made my responsibility even clearer: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:12 13).
How could I help John? What did Paul really mean when he exhorted Christians to “bear with one another in love”?
In both passages where Paul exhorted Christians to “bear with one another,” the key word preceding this injunction is patience. The King James Version uses the word “longsuffering,” one aspect of “walking in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22). It is also the focus of Paul’s prayer for the Colossian Christians: “And we pray this . . . so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Col. 1:10 12).
To “bear with one another,” then, means being patient with each other’s weaknesses. Not one of us is perfect. All of us fail, particularly in human relationships. How easy it is to expect more from other Christians than we expect from ourselves.
This has particular relevance to Christian family living. In the family setting we get to know others like in no other social unit. We live together day after day, week after week, year after year. As members of a family unit we are seen at our best and at our worst both as parents and as children. Parents often expect more from their children than they do from themselves. Children often expect more from their parents than from other adults in their lives. And together, this dynamic often erupts in anything but patience and forbearance with one another.
The same is often true in the family of God. In a church where people get to know each other as they should, they also get to know each other’s idiosyncrasies. This is the challenge Paul gives to us: We are to “bear with one another in love.”
When we are tempted to be impatient with one another, we need to think about Jesus Christ and His attitude towards us. This was Paul’s secret. The Lord’s longsuffering and patience toward him marked his life (1 Tim. 1:15 17) and gave him unusual tolerance toward others. Seeing himself as the worst of sinners and experiencing God’s love and patience in saving him caused Paul to respond to others with the love and patience of Jesus Christ.
A Forgiving Spirit
Bearing with one another and having a forgiving spirit are synonymous concepts. This Paul made clear in his Colossian letter. “Bear with each other,” he said, “and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).
Some Christians carry grudges for years. How miserable! And how tragic! And how out of character for a follower of Jesus Christ. How ungrateful for a Christian to hold a grudge against a fellow believer when Christ has canceled our own debt of sin.
Pastor Jones visited in the homes of Christians who had stopped attending his church. Several years before he came as pastor, these people had been offended, sometimes by seemingly insignificant things such as their child’s name being left out of a printed Christmas program. They quit coming . . . and continue to live miserable lives by holding grudges against some other member of the church.
One day Peter came to Jesus and asked, ” `Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’
“Jesus answered, `I tell you, not seven times, but seventy seven times”‘ (Matt. 18:21 22).
Jesus then told a story to get His point across:
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
The servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.
His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.”
But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
Then the maser called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers until he paid back all he owed.
This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart (Matt. 18:23-35).
Work Hard at Bearing with One Another
Immediately following Paul’s injunction to “be patient, bearing with one another in love,” he said, “Make every efort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2 3).
Patience, forbearance, and forgiveness are not automatic actions that follow conversion to Christ. These involve deliberate acts of the will.
Every person I know who has an unforgiving spirit chooses to do so. And often he chooses to let the other person know how he feels by avoiding that person, by using cutting and sharp words, by talking behind the person’s back. This is deliberate action.
Christians who really care about each other, who really are concerned about doing the will of God at all times, will “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” This is Christianity in action.
Practical Steps for Bearing with One Another in Love Step 1
Take a good look at yourself. In all honesty, make a list of your weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. These questions will help you.
1. What do I do (or not do) at home that irritates my wife and children (or if single, my parents, my brothers, and my sisters, or apartment mate)?
2. What do I do (or not do) at work and/or school that irritates fellow employees and/or teachers and fellow students?
3. What do I do (or not do) that irritates my friends?
Now that you have isolated some of your own weaknesses, evaluate these weaknesses in the light of your attitudes and actions towards other Christians. Do you expect more from them than you do from yourself? Do you criticize others in the areas of your own weaknesses?
Note: If you are normal, you probably will have to answer “yes” to both of these questions. Honestly looking at ourselves helps to make us tolerant of others’ weaknesses.
Make a list of all Christians you have difficulty relating to especially those you hold a grudge against.
If you can’t think of any, praise the Lord! Don’t drudge up any just to be practical. But make sure you’re being honest.
Now that you’ve made a list, ask yourself why you can’t relate to these Christians; or why you are angry at them. Is it because of something they’ve done to hurt you? Are they aware of how you feel? Are your feelings justified? Or is it because of your imagination and an over sensitive response on your part? Or are you upset with them because they remind you so much of yourself?
Some Christians are super sensitive and feel deep hurt at what they interpret to be the slightest rejection. And sometimes, people don’t even realize they’ve hurt someone. For example, I was told one time that someone was hurt because I walked by them without saying “hello.” They thought I had snubbed them. Frankly, I had not even remembered the incident. One thing I did know, however, and that was that I had not deliberately snubbed them. Actually, I probably had something else on my mind and completely overlooked their presence.
But I talked to that person just the same. I also sincerely apologized for my absentmindedness. Needless to say, the results were positive and I also was able to minister to one who had been hurt and over sensitive.
This step is the most difficult to take. But you must do it. Consciously and deliberately forgive every person who has ever done anything to hurt you. Then, one by one, talk to these Christians about whom you feel badly. If they hurt you tell them why you feel as you do. Ask them to forgive you for your attitude even though they may be primarily at fault.
Warning: Don’t base your “forgiveness” on the condition that they offer an apology. Take care of your own attitudes and God will take care of theirs.
Note: If a Christian has sinned against you (and others) in such a way that it demands a repentant response, and if you have approached that person in love without a response, then you’ll need to follow the procedure Jesus outlined in Matthew 18:15 17. Make sure, however, that your approach is characterized by “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). If it is, chances are you’ll get a positive response.
Remember John? One day I had to approach him about his self centeredness, his insensitive actions, and his overbearing attitude. The results, eventually, were dramatic. He responded. And so did I. We both learned something about each other’s weaknesses and about our own!
Remember, too, that a Christian is never justified to take the law into his own hands. Listen to Paul: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the sight of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, `It is Mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: `If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-21).