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The Fruit Of The Spirit Is Love (Part 4. Love's Aspect - Forbearance)
Although this article is part of a series, it is a Complete study on its own. (4 of 9 in series)
* all [bracketed] words in Scripture verses are mine *
Love's Aspect Forbearance.
When I go to the movies, some of my favorites are ones that have elements where the "little" guy, the downtrodden, wins. You know the kind - where some sort of revenge is worked out. I can't help it, it appeals to me to see those who are hurt get vindicated and those who wronged them get their comeuppance. In the back of my mind, though, is the niggling thought that somehow love has been circumvented. I hear "vengeance is Mine sayeth the Lord" in my head. But in my flesh, it feels so good to put someone in their place, to teach a lesson. I love the humiliation given in the turnaround. The Lord is still working His will in my life and deals with me when I go down this road in my mind, or if I ever tried to do this thing for real. I know that His will is to practice long-suffering, especially toward my brothers in the faith. One can see this principle is getting less and less common, even in Christian circles. Teachers teach things contrary to the concept of forbearance. Many young people have no idea even what the word means. There are Christians that I know that think that long-suffering is wrong and no one should even give it credence. They see the concept at work as weakness.
"Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord." (Romans 12:19)
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
Of course, what I am referring to is the fourth facet of the fruit of the Spirit, what the Bible refers to as long-suffering. The word means patient endurance or forbearance. King Solomon said in Proverbs that a friend loveth at all times. There is no time when we are not to love. Sometimes love is easy, like when someone is nice to you, gives you a gift, or complements you. Sometimes, though, love is difficult or even seemingly impossible to envision. It just isn't natural for fleshly man to forgive and forget. The reason why is that forgiveness and forbearance is a work of the Holy Spirit. Only God can give the ability to love at all times because according to the Scripture, even your enemies are to be loved. 1 Corinthians 13 says that love "suffereth long" and "endures all things."
"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (Proverbs 17:17)
"Love...bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13:7)
The literal interpretation of the root words for long-suffering is "to keep the breath even or keep the nostrils from flaring" (as in anger). The Bible does not say exactly how to implement this command, just to do it. God assumes that if you truly love, it will be one of those things that you will do naturally (through God). In fact, it is our command to look to God for the example of how long-suffering is to manifest itself. As one looks at the passage in Nehemiah, (Ne. 9:30-31) you see how sin sickened the Most Holy God, but "for many years didst thou forbear them" (or have patience with them). He endured the sin against Him for a long time. He pointed out their mistakes to them and allowed them to digest it and come to the conclusion that they were in the wrong. This is what is known as grace. Basically, He allowed people to be stupid, for a time. He reminded them of the sin and allowed them time to repent. During this time He "overlooked" or "winked at" the sin, was patient with the people, and allowed them the time to grow. This is how it will look to others as God loves through us. Then He will mete out justice in His own time and in His own way, and usually without our involvement at all.
"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love." (Ephesians 4:1-2)
"Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do." (Colossians 3:13)
"And for many years you had patience with them, and testified against them by your Spirit in your prophets. Yet they would not listen." (Nehemiah 9:30)
"Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:30-31)
Long-suffering is not a martyr complex. Instead, it is extending grace in a super-human way as God loves through us. We know God has told us to hate the sin while we love the sinner. So how do we know how to treat the sinner separately from his poisonous actions? How do we show our love for him or her while at the same time not condoning or giving the impression that we condone the sin? God gives us the way, simply love, but we so enjoy doing things in the flesh. We really do, and that to our shame.
"I will set nothing wicked before my eyes. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me." (Psalms 101:3)
"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all long-suffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life." (1 Timothy 1:15-16)
When people react in the flesh to sin, when long-suffering (love) is not practiced, there is a process that takes hold like a disease and begins to eat away and destroy. Without love in play, the result is judging of the person without really intending to do that. When we go down this road, we "find ourselves" in the midst of judging someone and then puzzling about how we got to the point of doing so. Almost right from the start of this process, in some part of the mind, we categorize the person who sins against us as not being able to change.
What Happens When Forbearance Is Not Shown?
We can list the steps as Forbearance is not shown.
1. Not loving the person that is sinning, but instead noting their sin only.
2. Holding resentments.
3. Withholding fellowship.
4. Secretly wishing bad to come to the one sinning.
Now let's look at each of these phases that happen in the absence of long-suffering.
1. Not Loving The Person Sinning But Instead Only Looking At Their Sin.
What happens first is one forgets to look at the person's soul but only at their sin. The thought process that comes is the thought of how repulsive the sin is to you or toward you, and elements of prideful arrogance begin to grow. "How could she do that?" "How could the person say that he is a Christian and be that way?" "See how this sin affects me?" "How do I stay clean and still be around this person?" "Should I not warn others to be as cautious as I?" "Shouldn't I do something to fix this?"
We human beings tend to think of everything we have, or everything we do, or everything we think, as priceless and remaining forever. In this flawed thinking resides some very petty values and actions. Instead of God, we become the center of our universe and can see nothing else as important, just us. Nothing else exists except everything we have, everything we do, everything we think. I heard a coined term that I really like and can't remember who said it. The term is "navel-gazer" and means someone that can't get over themselves to the point that everything revolves around their center, around their own belly button. They constantly make everything about themselves and will always look to see how everything affects them. They constantly stare at their own navel. Isn't that the coolest term you ever heard? I hate it when I do that. When someone slights me or I perceive that someone slights me, I need to remember that that person battles sin as do I. I need to grant them the grace God grants me, and that can only happen when I allow God to love through me. If I indeed have a good relationship with My Lord, I will be loving like He is.
2. Holding Resentments.
The next step is quick and happens sometimes simultaneously with the above attitude. Invariably, sinners around you will sin, and the sin will be against you or perceived to be against you. You begin taking offense. "How could she do that to me?" "Who does he think he is?" "She has no right to live like that, let alone hurt me!" That train of thought becomes the holding of resentments. "I'll give him one more chance, that's all he gets, then I'll have to do something!" "I'll tell him Scripture, I'll tell him what kind of sinner he is." Ironically, the sin that the person is doing is against you most likely is what you yourself are committing against others. When one battles sin in one's own life it causes a sensitivity when seeing it in others.
This step is common among Christians. When a person is offended or hurt in some manner, that person will many times keep to themselves, thinking he is forgiving the offender simply by not having blown up at the offending party. "If I don't talk to him, he's going to know that I'm hurt and he'll apologize." The truth is, the offended party is simply not allowing the matter into his conscious mind, but instead letting it fester in his subconscious. When it does resurface, the words or actions are allowed to replay again and again in his mind. Indeed, Satan loves to pounce on this very scenario.
A "righteous indignation" or should I say, "unrighteous indignation" forms. We forgive by using the "Strike one, strike two, strike three! You're out!" method. We think of that as long-suffering. I am reminded of the disciples asking Jesus how many times they were to forgive their brother - "up to seven times?" I'm sure they were feeling outrageously generous when saying seven as the total times to forgive their brother. Just imagine the look on their faces when the Master of the universe told them "seventy times seven" or 490 times for the same sin! The principle was clear. No one is supposed to count or keep track like that when they really love because love comes from God and He keeps the books.
"Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble." (Psalm 119:165)
"Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (Matthew 18:21-22 see also Luke 17:3-4) [The disciple's reaction] "And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." (Luke 17:5)
3. Keeping Account Of Hurts.
Springing up from holding resentments is another tendency common to all. We start letting the offense grow and we build on it until there is a list of sins (or perceived sins) and the start of a "root of bitterness." They rehearse the list in their minds, highlighting how it hurts or how it is somehow worse than the last incident. The enemy's objective being for us to accumulate resentment and have it turn into prideful hate. Sometimes a person will try to reason away the sin by saying, "That person just doesn't like me- so I don't like him." He may try in the flesh to approach or make a fresh start but inevitably the offense will "play" again in her mind or the person will err again and there will be no healing.
Imagine the account of hurts kept by Cain against his brother Abel. I am sure that Abel, a godly man, said to his brother, "Cain, how can you sacrifice fruits from a ground that is cursed? Only a blood sacrifice will do." Cain's reasoning was perhaps, that Abel had an attitude because God loved his brother's profession and hated Cain's. "I've worked hard to get the ground to produce fruits and vegetables. Doesn't that count for anything?" You can almost hear him thinking, "Abel thinks he is so good. He mocks me. He judges me. This offense is more than I can bear." We all know where his sin led him- to murder.
"Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, "I have acquired a man from the Lord." Then she bore again, [a twin] this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of the flock, and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it." Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him [butchered him like a sacrifice]." (Genesis 4:1-8)
3. Withholding Fellowship.
The next degenerative step is avoiding the person altogether. Withholding fellowship is sinful, weakening the whole body of Christ. We are to forbear one another, not avoid one another. But it's the easier way, even the cowardly way, to avoid rather than to be long-suffering. Withholding fellowship is withholding love.
In Jesus' parable of the prodigal son (a story told to illustrate a point - probably not based on an actual case), He told of the faithful older brother who loved his Father but I believe was offended and keeping account of "wrongs" suffered at the hand of his brother and father. I believe that the son felt used and noted the extra work that fell to him because of his wayward brother who had departed to party and enjoy life while he dutifully worked for his dad. When all of a sudden, the brother returns and the father throws him a party. He refuses to come to the party because he believes he's been slighted and resents his brother. He also resents his father and accuses Him of favoritism. The charges against the dad were many in his mind. His response to it all is to withdraw his fellowship from his brother and father.
"Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, "Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf." But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, "Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him." And he said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found." (Luke 15:25-32)
4. Secretly Wishing Bad.
Thoughts of hatred and ill will can be Scripturally equated with murder. "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer." Satan loves to remind us of wrongs made against us so as to promote hatred. When does hate begin? faster than you think. It begins in the heart with thoughts of evil and revenge. The beginnings of hatred manifest itself in the recesses of the mind, in the seat of motivation known as the heart. A person will find himself wishing trials and pain to come into the life of someone because that person has offended him. The mind plays intricate scenarios, the end of which is the humiliation and pain that the offended party now believes should come against the offender. It is that same humiliation that I find myself relating to at the movies. This is evil.
The Spirit, on the other hand, wishes to give us the power to love despite wrongs done to us. Wishing evil on our brother and even to our enemies is expressly forbidden. The Bible says that rejoicing at calamities and wishing harm will anger God and cause the very opposite thing to happen. It will cause blessings to be poured on the ones who wronged you and mercy to those who make themselves your enemy. We are not even to think such thoughts. It will lead to even greater sin in us.
"Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." (1 John 3:15)
"But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man." (Matthew 15:18-20)
"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him." (Proverbs 24:17-18)
Of course, those who start down this path and get to this point will say that this is not where they wanted to go. They would have sworn that it would not get to this point. But alas, it has arrived. Everyone is capable of great sin, any sin, once they get to this point. Don't think,"Oh I could never murder, I could never rape or any serious sin like that. Once we give away this much of our judgment and control over to the flesh and Satan, anything is possible.
"Revenge is sweet" goes the saying. They that say that, are wrong. Revenge will eat you up inside. It can consume you until you lose sight of everything important in life, or it will change you into someone capable of any kind of sin or crime you can imagine. Lying, stealing, assaults, murder, character assassination - anything.
"Do not say, "I will do to him just as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work." (Proverbs 24:29)
Learning To Practice Long-suffering
"Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Therefore "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:19-21)
1. Be Filled With The Spirit.
As with all facets of love, only God can enable you to be long-suffering toward someone that has hurt or offended you in some way. Without Holy Spirit empowerment, you will begin to avoid, hate, and hurt back. It's just sinful, human nature. And human nature is what we want to suppress. We want God's nature controlling us. That is what is known as being filled with the Spirit. God wants to motivate the thoughts, motivations, actions, objectives, and goals. He wants to suppress the lusts and self-centeredness. If allowed, He will enable us to see others through His eyes. We see others as imperfect works in progress. We cut will them a break. We love them.
"And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation [excess]; but be filled [controlled] with the Spirit." (Ephesians 5:18)
"That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit to the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height - to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us." (Ephesians 3:16-19)
2. Trust God.
Learning to trust God is pivotal. We have a tendency to want to fix all our problems ourselves. Part of the equation present when taking care of your own hurts yourself is that the flesh does not trust God to do it. In your mind, either God isn't real enough or God isn't competent enough to handle it. Let God take vengeance if that is required. Trust Him to make it right. He is a Just God. Let Him take care of you. If you intervene, the Scriptures above say that you effect how God deals with fixing it. Not only are you unable to fix it, but God who is able may just take His time doing it, all because of your sin and your lack of forbearance.
"Do not say, 'I will recompense evil'; wait for the Lord, and He will save you." (Proverbs 20:22)
3. Vow To Love, No Matter What.
Jesus led the way, showing that one could love, unconditionally, by simply letting God love through you. He said, "love your enemies...pray for them who despitefully use you." He left no exceptions so you can't point your finger and say, "Except for that guy." It is possible to love like that, but only with God's help. Consider Jesus with regard to Judas. Remember that little verse that said that Jesus offered Judas the sop at the Last Supper meal? Don't lightly pass over that verse. The sop (knish) was the choicest morsel traditionally given to the one the host loved the most. Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him, for He knew the hearts of men. He chose him and loved him from the start. Jesus gave Judas all of Himself and a chance for salvation. Jesus loved Judas right to the end where He offered the sop, one last chance. Jesus' offer of salvation was rejected. Then Satan entered Judas and he betrayed Christ and then committed suicide. Our Master gave us the model. Love unto the end and God will sort out the end.
"I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled. He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me. Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He"... "Jesus answered, 'It is he to whom I shall give a piece a bread when I have dipped it [knish].' And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, 'What you do, do quickly.'" (John 13:18-19, 26-27)
"Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me." (Psalm 41:9)
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." (1 John 4:7-8)
4. Learn patience.
Long-suffering means patient forbearance. Patience is learned behavior acquired at great cost and usually through a great deal of pain. The more mature you are, the more you will be expected to have learned patience in your daily walk. Patient forbearance will deliver you from things that will cause you suffering, things that you could have avoided. When you learn to forbear your brother's sin so that it does not stumble you, you have won a great battle with your flesh.
"And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance [patience]." (Roman 5:3)
To sum it all up in a nut shell, people are going to be stupid. People are going to sin. You are a people. You will be stupid and you will sin. You would wish others to cut you a break when you make mistakes or act rashly, so you do likewise. Learn to love people and they will learn to love you. See them as God sees them. Be filled with the Spirit so God can minimize the hurt their sin will cause you and minimize your sin that will hurt them. Pray without ceasing. Serve the Lord and let Him guide you. The result is that you will be at peace with all men and when there is a situation, don't let it bother you. God keeps the books and He will take care of the situation. Cast your cares upon Him and let Him guide your paths and you will be blessed.
Perhaps you were taught that you must do all your own fighting. Perhaps you are having a hard time digesting this message. You may never have asked Jesus into your heart and therefore cannot envision anyone doing what has been suggested be done in a situation where you are hurt. Well, I assure you this is what God says to do. Perhaps the reason that it seems so foreign to you is because the Holy Spirit is not reassuring you of its truth. Perhaps you need to receive Jesus and be empowered to do the things that the Bible says to do. It is easy to ask Christ into your heart. All that is required is to believe that Jesus is the Christ that came to die for your sin. If you see your own sin and cry out to God to save you, He will hear and come into your heart and be with you forever. Pray this:
Dear Lord Jesus, I see my sin and I know that I need a Savior. I believe that You were God in human flesh that came to bleed and die for my sin. I believe in Your death, burial, and resurrection. I cry out to You to save me from my sin and come live in my heart. I turn now from my life of sin and turn to You as the only Way of salvation. Thank You for hearing me for I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Others in this series of independent articles: