Ephesians 4:1-6 (2) In patience we are to bear with one another.
What do these situations all require? You’re out for a dinner date and someone at the next table talks loudly on his cell phone. You’re short on time and a check-out clerk is chatty+pokey, so your line moves like a snail. Your son’s room is often a frightful mess- and sometimes gets smelly. A husband who snores and makes it hard to get to sleep.
What is needed in these situations? Some forbearance. Bearing with one another.
In our text the Apostle Paul is writing to a church which was very diverse. Ephesus ranked as one of the great urban centers of the Roman Empire. Along with a Gentile mix, Ephesus also included a significant Jewish enclave.
In chapter 4 Paul stresses the need for unity amid all this diversity. Vs. 3: Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. God prizes Christian unity. Christian unity is an prominent biblical doctrine. But how could the Ephesians manage it? How can they maintain unity in such diversity?
Here we should all listen carefully. Our church too has plenty of diversity: in age, in race, in education, in life experiences, in personality, in musical tastes, in political outlook. In our life together there are bound to be things we find annoying or irritating.
Christian unity is a challenge. So, in vs 2 Paul points out some key attitudes and traits. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Humility, gentleness, and patience all go a long ways toward building unity.
But there is something more: bearing with one another. Showing forbearance. The Greek word here literally means to hold yourself upright. In other words, you don’t get all bent out of shape in annoying situations. You keep cool. You tolerate certain things. You can put up with them.
Ruth will tell you, I am not naturally handy. My mechanical IQ is very low. Some years ago I had a really nice lawn mower. Then it started to have problems. So I had it checked out. Turns out: I neglected to put oil in. The engine was wrecked.
Forbearance is like engine oil. Without oil, the parts of an engine grind on each other. They create tremendous friction. Parts break down. Without forbearance, we grind on each other; there is friction; relationships break down. Forbearance is the oil that helps people working together in unity.
Bear with one another. God’s Word makes it clear that forbearance is an attribute of God. Think of how often the Israelites grumbled and disobeyed God and went their own way. In Numbers 14 God laments: How long will these people treat me with contempt? Think of what God had to put up with over all those years! God showed great forbearance.
Knowing the perfect justice of God, here’s an important question: why weren’t the Israelites destroyed for their wickedness long before Jesus was ever born to save them? Romans 3 says: in his forbearance God left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. In his forbearance. God put up with their sin for centuries- until the Savior came.
In his coming Jesus fully revealed God's forbearance. Think about this: for all eternity Jesus had lived in perfect fellowship with God the Father + God the Spirit. But now in his ministry on earth he had to put up with all these foolish and flawed people.
Matthew 17 gives a striking glimpse of this tension. Jesus has just been on a mountaintop. He’s heard his Father say: This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased.
But the minute he comes down he finds his disciples bumbling around. A man brought his afflicted child to them. But they couldn’t help. They didn’t have the faith in Jesus’ power to drive out the demon from that boy.
Listen to Jesus’ reaction: O unbelieving + perverse generation. How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? I take that to be a rhetorical question. Jesus knew how long. He had to put up with their foolishness and faithlessness till his work was done.
Even now he puts up with our foibles and faults and failures- till he comes again. Jesus reveals a bounty of divine forbearance. For that, we should be mighty glad. In turn Jesus calls us to do the same. Be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Now, let’s be realistic. Forbearance doesn't come easy. After all, you don’t need forbearance with things you like or enjoy or approve of. You don't need to bear with a delicious ice cream cone. You don't have to bear with an adorable child. You don’t have to bear with a great team like the Green Bay Packers. You enjoy them! Forbearance is needed with things you don’t like- with things you find tasteless or tiresome. Let’s be honest: when something is really irritating, forbearance is hard- for all of us. Many a church has collapsed in hard feelings and fights because forbearance was lacking.
Forbearance is hard. So how do we manage it? Well, there is no neat four-step formula. But notice the last two words of our text. Bear with one another in love. In love. Only a reservoir of love can help us put up with various irritations. If someone rubs you the wrong way, get on your knees; ask the Spirit to fill you with love.
Let me ask: right now is there something you find hard to bear with? Perhaps in your marriage? In your family? At school? At work? At church? Then ask the Spirit to give you a big dose of love and forbearance.
Let me add this: to bear with one another it may help to recall irritating habits you’ve had; the faulty opinions you’ve held; the dumb things you’ve said; the foolish things you’ve done. Some of us may need to think back to our teen years and just how difficult we were. Remembering the forbearance needed for us may replenish our forbearance for others.
Now I want to pose two practical questions. First, what kinds of things are we to forbear? What kinds of things should we put up with?
First, we should bear with people over little things- over little things. If you make a fuss over every little incident, life will get pretty dreary. If you get irritated every time a driver fails to use a turn signal, there’d be no end to it. If you got hung up on every grammatical error a preacher makes, you’d miss the good news. Bear with one another when it comes to small stuff.
Second, we should bear with people who have different styles and tastes. Cooks need to reckon with different taste buds; and we must allow for different tastes. This is certainly the context in Ephesus, which includes such a mix of ethnicity + culture.
Take music as an example. Some people are deeply moved by the beauty of classical music- you know, the music written by white, European males who are now dead. Some love great hymns with a grand organ. Others thrive on contemporary Christian music. Others love country. In the church we need to bear with diverse musical tastes.
We also need to bear with one another in differences of opinion or convictions. You may think we’re spending plenty on roads; I may hate pot holes + want to invest more. You may think clean air standards too costly; I may think its part of faithful creation care. You may want a bigger military; I may think the pursuit of justice/mercy makes for peace. Recently the Christian church has wrestled over women in leadership. The historic conviction is that only men are to serve in positions of leadership and authority. But in our generation many have cited biblical grounds for including women in every role. In 1995, after decades of study and discussion, the Christian Reformed Church formally acknowledged that there are two convictions on this matter- both with biblical grounds.
At Faith Church I gather a portion of us hold the historic conviction: men only. A portion hold the inclusive view: God intends men + women to freely serve in all roles And perhaps a portion has never seriously listened to scripture and is up in the air. To move ahead in unity, we will definitely need to be humble and gentle and patient. We will definitely near to bear with each other in love.
Now I’ll pose a second practical question: isn’t there a limit? Isn’t there a limit to forbearance? Isn't there a time to confront certain things?"
The answer is a definite YES! God showed great forbearance with his people. But there were plenty of times he said: that’s enough; no more! He drew a line. We may forget the time right after God’s people received the law on Mt. Sinai. The people actually started complaining again about their wilderness hardships. When God heard them his anger was aroused; fire from the LORD burned in their camp.
Look at the example of Jesus. When something really mattered, he was ready to speak up. Take the time the disciples ask Jesus why they couldn't drive out the evil spirit. Jesus rebuked them: Because you have so little faith.
So, forbearance doesn’t mean putting up with any behavior. It doesn’t mean a wife should put up with abuse from her husband: verbal or physical. It doesn’t mean parents should put up with open disrespect or lies from their children. It doesn’t mean teachers should put up with bullying or fighting in their school.
Neither should the church just bear with disrespect, gossip, or divisive behavior. To allow serious problems to fester is a sure way to undermine Christian unity. So, we need to discernment: when should forbearance give way to correction + discipline?
In a sin-broken world we all know there are plenty of irritants that can fracture our unity. Forbearance is the virtue- the oil- that enables flawed people to live and work in harmony. Forbearance is the virtue that makes the church a place of grace.
So, brothers and sisters, like our gracious God: bear with one another in love.