This week I posted on Facebook with regards to events in Charlottesville, VA, “I pledge not to look away, not to offer the cop-out of “It’s complicated” as an excuse for doing nothing. This white supremacist garbage is straight out of hell, and we’ve got our work cut out for us as the body of Christ to unseat an ancient evil. But our Jesus will have the victory in the end.”
I truly believe we, the church, have an opportunity to respond to God’s call for unity within His body and then work shoulder-to-shoulder to fight what is ultimately a spiritual battle against racism, sexism, class-ism and any other “-ism” that’s not’s reflective of Who we serve. (If you need a starting place to understand that vision, check out Derwin Gray’s latest book The High Definition Leader: Building Multiethnic Churches in a Multiethnic World. Both he and Trillia Newbill are leaders who are speaking and writing eloquently on the topic.) With that vision in mind, I want to remind us of two tools in our tool belts, forbearance and forgiveness, that will go a long way in helping as we dismantle old mindsets and walk in Christ’s will for His earth. I’ve written a few chapters about those two things in New Woman, New Clothes, so I’ll share some excerpts this week and next.
And sisters and brothers, hold tight to Galatians 6:9 and let’s not grow weary of doing the good things Christ is calling us to do, for in due time we will reap a harvest!
In Colossians 3:12-14, Paul offers a list of attributes that characterize the life of faith: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love. So very needed, aren’t they?
Right in the middle of listing them off, though, he interrupts himself to add this: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
I like how the old King James Version renders the first part of the verse: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another.” That sticks in my brain, but it also prompts me to wonder why Paul didn’t simply tack the words forbearance and forgiveness onto his list of virtuous attributes. Could it be that we need an urgent call to action here? In fact, not only does he stop and exhort us to bear with each other, but three times in this one verse, he uses a version of the word forgive. Could it be that the Holy Spirit is identifying two areas—refusing to patiently endure with others in their humanness and refusing to truly forgive others from the wrongs they’ve done toward us—that can stymie us in our quest for spiritual maturity? I believe we’d do well to pay attention.
That word forbearing, or as the NIV I quoted earlier says, “bear[ing] with each other,” is the Greek word anechomai, which means holding up firmly and enduring (see Strong’s G430). The same Greek word is found in Ephesians 4:2, where Paul instructs the church to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (emphasis mine). So again, just as with the concept of patience in Colossians 3:12, the idea here is to endure with strength and hope even through the tough times that come in relationships.
Imagine you are building a house. Architects will tell you that the walls of the house do different things. Some are known as “curtain walls” because their function is to divide up the space. There is flexibility as to using these room dividers in any given area. But other walls in the house are “load-bearing walls.” These walls take the weight of the house and conduct it down to the foundation so that the house won’t collapse. If you mess with a load-bearing wall, watch out! You risk the whole structure.
Our relationships are like houses, too. Psalm 127:1a says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builder labors in vain,” and I’ve come to believe that is true of our relationship houses. When we choose to make Jesus the foundation of our relationships, we can trust that He will teach and guide us as we build, even when things get tricky. One of the guidelines He gives us is this principle of forbearance. When we choose to forbear with sisters and brothers in the body of Christ, we are choosing to stand firm in that relationship, to put our shoulder up against the other person and bear with them through the ups and downs. And they are choosing to do the same with us—we are choosing to extend each other grace and patience. We are no longer “curtain walls,” mere placeholders that can come or go at a whim, but we are “load-bearing walls.” We no longer rely on our fragile, human strength but conduct the weight of the relationship down into the firm foundation of Christ. I’ve found that we can do this most often through these ways:
Listening to each other.
Praying with and for each other.
Welcoming the safe expression of doubts and fears.
Recognizing that God has a different timetable of growth for each of us.
Choosing more grace and less criticism as we see evidence of change.
With patience, we wait to see God work out His promises in each other’s lives, and we experience the joy of cheering for each other as those promises are being fulfilled in daily living. We exercise good boundaries with each other—honoring God by allowing Him to be first place in our own lives and making sure we haven’t tried to take His place in someone else’s life by being the answer to every need. Remember, load-bearing walls transfer weight down into the foundation; they are not the foundation themselves. This is not toxic co-dependence—fulfilling our need to be needed by constantly assuming another’s responsibilities. This is life-giving interdependence on Christ and His Body (see Romans 12:4-8).
The truth is that in any relationship there must be a willingness to put up with a certain amount of quirks, eccentricities, immaturity, and humanness in the other person just as we want the other person to put up with a certain amount of quirks, eccentricities, immaturity, and humanness in us. It’s the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12 all over again—doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Compassion—really looking and listening—gets us in the frame of mind to have some empathy. Obviously, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience go a long way in these situations, too. We aren’t swooping in to fix everything, nor are we taking offense at the first sign of trouble and bailing on the relationship. We are choosing to stand firm, bearing with one another.
But this kind of daily-life forbearance is only part of the equation. Life hurts. We hurt each other. The closer you get in relationship with someone, the more vulnerable you become, and the more the possibility exists for you to cause each other real pain. I think it is significant that this entire passage in Colossians is talking about the whole community of believers. We should be turning into a family that gets close enough to actually hurt each other. Think about that. We have to risk it. We cannot be so walled off from each other that vulnerability does not exist. Otherwise, we will never know the joy of being real with each other. But, praise the Lord, He has provided us with a very real power to keep those inevitable hurts from destroying our community—whether it’s the smallest unit of community like a family or the entire church body. Through what Christ has done, through the power of the Holy Spirit alive within us, we are able not only to forbear, but also to forgive and by so doing, to follow our Master in the work of advancing His purposes here on earth. We’ll take a look at the tool of forgiveness next week. Until then, let’s get to work being load-bearing walls in the house God’s building.