Am I My Brother's Keeper? (Part 3. Jesus' Mandate: Forbear One Another)
Although this article is in a series, it is a Complete study on its own. (3 of 3 in series)
* all [bracketed] words in Scripture verses are mine *
In Part one of this series, we considered how Christians are to love one another in a manner so uniquely different, the world can spot us a mile away. We cited the account of Cain and Abel who were the first examples to us of brothers in which one knew how to obey God and love his brother while the other did not, instead rising up to slay his brother. Drawing from this example, a principle emerged to love God with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This commandment was given by Jesus as a mandate to love one another with the power of the Holy Spirit. In part two, the focus shifted to fellowship and the duty of every believer to be available to his fellow heirs of the Kingdom, to lend strength, to edify, to bind many into one body of Christ.
In this last installment of the series, we will consider perhaps one of the hardest things about church and spending time with our Christian family. We must learn about forbearance and loving one another when the people we are commanded to love are simply unlovable.
Part 3. Forbearing One Another.
We humans are social creatures and we cannot exist without the community of other human beings with which to associate, as those who journey into space and have had to endure long periods of isolation know. Anybody who has had to suffer solitary confinement for any length of time also knows that we can only be alone so long before madness begins to set in. But there is another principle that works in our psyches, a total opposite side of the human condition that is just as true. People need to be able to withdraw from the group to a safe distance because we all need our space. Sociologists will tell you there is a subconscious need for space and it can be demonstrated when you watch a stadium begin to fill up with people. You will see how the crowd picks out the perfect seats that seem so cozy at the time and they are usually spaced equi-distant from other people in their small little groups. You will never see a whole section fill up with people coming in and sitting all one right next to another like sardines packed in a can. Without counting, they lay their belongings on seats leaving a buffer zone, a comfort space, near but not too near anyone else. As the people continue to file in, the people sit more stiffly as the feeling of cramped space eases over everyone.
If you compound this need for space with the fact that all people have a basic sin nature that pulls against the works of the Spirit you have a resistance tug of war going on. On one end of the rope is the self-centered feeling of space needed for comfort and tugging on the other end is the Spirit saying that mixing with people is part of serving God. So with the knowledge that a yanking is going on we fight our fleshly selves and we associate ourselves with other people... that is, until someone rubs us the wrong way.
Like a cat whose fur is stroked against the grain, our backs arch and we begin to hiss our warning. Even people who enjoy the company of others begin to be bothered by words chosen by friends and acquaintances. An ill-chosen phrase, an unintended insult, a gesture or attitude will serve to put a damper on good will forming between people.
Listen to people talk about why they no longer attend church and you can understand, even empathize why they want to stay away from this group that is supposed to be like a family. "Those folks drive me nuts! They are so hypocritical, so phony. I see some "lording it over" others and some really needing help but are too afraid to ask for it. I see people there only to get attention and some there trying to run the whole show. Most are there to be entertained and I see very little kindness or affection."
Where is the forbearance...
You may be thinking, "I know what you're going to say...that we are supposed to put up with everything people do to us and just smile as if nothing is wrong. Well I just can't do that!"
If you were thinking forbearance means being hypocritical, you were wrong. If you were thinking that forbearance means ignoring and accepting another's sin, that is also incorrect. Take careful note of John's two great 3:16 verses:
"For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16) and...
"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (1 John 3:16)
These two verses laid side-by-side are quite powerful. Most of us fall way short of this kind of love for our brothers. Resentment, bitterness, and lack of forgiveness are commonplace in the church today. Would you consider laying down your life for your brother? How does one cultivate that kind of attitude? How about beginning with a little forbearance?
Let's add to that counsel of Scripture some regarding forbearance of the unsaved:
"Then Jesus said [just before He died at the hands of the unsaved], 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'" (Luke 23:34)
"Then he knelt down and cried with a loud voice [Stephen when he was being stoned], 'Lord do not charge them with this sin.'" (Acts 7:60)
Forbearance is a concept that is totally rejected by the world. But the world has good reason to dismiss the concept. They have no power to implement such an attitude. Who in their right mind would ask the world to forgive as Christ forgave? They know not Christ nor do they know His love or empowering Spirit.
"Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." (1 John 2:8-11)
Only the Holy Spirit can cause "unity of the Spirit." So how does one develop forbearance?
1. While tolerating immaturity, teach wisdom.
Tolerance is difficult, especially when Satan plays upon our own immaturity. We hold our breath and pray. "Oh God, deal with this man's immaturity before I kill him!" When we show tolerance it is to be out of love (agape') and in the spirit of edification. Try to remember how you thought at that "spiritual age," in the case of a Christian, and give them a break. It's not up to you to grow them spiritually. It's up to God. In the case of a lost person, hey, they are lost! They need time to be convinced from above and depending on their willfulness, it may take some time (which time, by the way, God is more than willing to give). So you, too, show some patience for the learning process. Be there to love them, to mentor them, to edify them, and when led of God, to correct them with kindness and the Holy Scriptures of God.
2. While praying for them forgive them.
It is inevitable that someone's sin will "wrong" you from time to time. Your prayers for them should reflect what Christ said while hanging for you and me. "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." (Lu 23:34)
Use a little empathy. How often have you inadvertently wronged those you loved because you were caught up in your sin and just didn't care until it was too late? It happens more than any of us would like to admit. Let your prayers reflect a request for their growth and inquiries of how you may help them to grow.
3. While being hurt, show love.
Always remember that God keeps account of hurts you suffer for the faith. Remember how God wishes us to think of our brothers. He said we are to lay down our lives for them. The world has no concept of self-denial or toleration of suffering of any kind. The mentality is always revenge, retribution, and pride in oneself. To do otherwise would admit that someone else "keeps the books" on hurts suffered and the world will not allow such thoughts of God to exist in their minds. It is up to you (they say) to defend you or people will just walk all over you. You can't have people walk all over you, can you? As a matter of fact, that is just what God is suggesting for saved brothers and sisters to do in regard to forbearance. He knows and will reward you for your suffering.
The great forbearance Scripture is in Luke 17:3-5
"Take heed to yourselves, If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times a day he returns to you, saying, 'I repent', you shall forgive him. And the Apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."
and if you think that is an example of a "doormat" then consider Jesus' words in Matthew 18:21-22:
"Then came Peter to Him, and said, 'Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? till seven times?' Jesus saith unto him, "I say not unto thee, until seven times: but until seventy times seven."
I guess Jesus would not have advocated the "three strikes and your out" rule that most of us have as a motto (with most of us not counting to three).
When you speak of forbearance, you really mean love. Love is the greatest power in the universe, for "God is love." If a person is going to learn to utilize this power then a relationship must be forged with the source of love, God. It is only possible to forgive someone after you have been forgiven. The kind of forgiveness I'm referring to is the kind most would think is crazy to contemplate. An example of which is when you forgive your enemy in the midst of the battle or you forgive as someone hurts you over and over and over.
Putting up with the irksome foibles of brothers is nothing other than continued application of love. If you find yourself unable, then it follows you have something to learn of love. That kind of amazing love comes from God.
If you know Jesus and find yourself unable to have any forbearance, perhaps it is because you haven't learned about real love. Perhaps you don't love God as much as you think, for it is He who commands forbearance and it is He you are disobeying when you don't apply that command. Learning to love God and trust Him makes all this possible.
In the case of a lost person, they need to know Christ. Without Him they are dead while they live.
"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sin." (Ephesians 2:1)
Let me speak to those to whom this Scripture applies. If you do not know Jesus, perhaps this whole article was somewhat laughable. Let me say that I didn't expect it to mean a lot to those who have never approached Jesus to ask Him into their hearts. Let me tell you that you do not have forever to think and contemplate about God and where you will spend your eternity.
"Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows he has a short time." (Revelation 12:12)
"Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth." (Proverbs 27:1)
"Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." (James 4:14)
Jesus has been knocking at your life's door for so long now. He has used so many experiences you have gone through to reach into your heart and tell you that you need Him. He has used good times like the birth of a child or a wedding or seeing the majesty of nature. He has used bad times like being unemployed or loneliness or hurt or depression. He has been waiting for you to open the door because he will not kick it down. He respects the dignity of your mind.
The Bible has informed us of man's plight. It explains why these feelings of sin invade our thoughts from time to time telling us we need a Savior to save us. You see man was sinless at one time, at the time of creation.
"You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, til iniquity was found in you." (Ezekiel 28:14)
Sin came into the picture, as far as man is concerned, with the first man, Adam. Then sin passed upon all men who were in Adam's loins for nothing sinless comes out of sinning man.
"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned." (Romans 5:12)
God knew that Adam's children would be born with only separation from a holy God in their future so He came to earth in a man's body to take the punishment for every man's sin upon Himself.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
Receiving Christ in your heart is not hard if you have believing faith. What is believing faith? Do you believe in your heart of hearts that you are a sinner and need to be saved from your sin? Do you believe that Jesus was God in human flesh that came to take your punishment, that He died, was buried and rose the third day? If you do then you can turn from your sin and turn to Christ to save you. Pray this:
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and I deserve hell but I know You took my punishment for me. Lord please forgive me of my sin and save me. I believe you died and were buried and rose from the dead. I now turn from my life of sin and turn around completely to follow You. Jesus be Lord of my life. I thank you for saving me. I pray this in Jesus' holy name. Amen.