the work of the Spirit: forbearance

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance…

Galatians 5:22

In seeking to be led by the Spirit, rather than fall into the default of the flesh, Paul’s words are set in the context of Christian community. The words certainly apply beyond that, even how we seek to engage our enemies. But are directly applicable in relation to each other in Christ, responding to what’s difficult for us by the Spirit rather than the flesh.

Traditionally the word in the NIV translated “forbearance” has been and continues to be translated “patience,” “longsuffering” in the KJV. One of my professors said it’s basically the idea of putting up with each other. Bill Mounce in his “gloss” of this word tells us:

patience, forbearance, internal and external control in a difficult circumstance, which control could exhibit itself by delaying an action

Collins Dictionary describes how we use this word:

If you say that someone has shown forbearance, you admire them for behaving in a calm and sensible way about something that they have a right to be very upset or angry about.

We don’t want to be thinking negatively about others, finding fault and picking at it. We have our own faults and weaknesses for sure. But we often do rub each other the wrong way; it works both ways for sure. Sometimes through misunderstanding, but other times whether or not we should be, we’re frankly annoyed.

When we find ourselves there, we need to determine that we want to be led by the Spirit so that we can walk by the Spirit, rather than act or react in the flesh. That should be our goal. God will honor that commitment of faith by helping us. But there may be a point where other feelings and thoughts submerge us. We then need to prayerfully seek the Spirit’s leading and help, not responding by the flesh. Part of that is moving in directions we know are good and avoiding what we know is not.

When we do stumble along the way, we can confess the sin to God, and if need be to someone we might have offended, and go on. We also have to be careful not to consider something thought, said or done as necessarily sinful. God knows, and is conforming us to the image of Christ. Satan is always present to condemn us. It’s these low points that can strengthen us in our commitment to walk by the Spirit, rather than give in to the flesh.

This leads to the important point that we just can’t go on our feelings or give in to disparaging thoughts. We certainly can’t control our feelings, but we can choose to seek in all things to be led by the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, to keep in step with the Spirit.

So back to our main point: The fruit of the Spirit is forebearance. The Holy Spirit of God will help us in our thoughts toward people and things that we find disagreeable or even offensive. God understands our struggle with it; Jesus himself experienced that. The Spirit will help us in love to put up with each other well, as we receive their forebearing love in return. In and through Jesus.

the continued need to forgive

Hardness of heart, and simply not loving others as we love ourselves, is all to endemic, dare I say even amongst us Christians. If simply loving others as Christ has loved us was automatic in this new life in Christ, then why do we have to do it? Over and over again in the New Testament we’re told that we are to love each other, to put on love, of course all of this in and through Christ, made possible by God’s grace and through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus seemed to get angry the most over those who failed to love, both in what they did and didn’t do. And he was provoked over the hardness of heart he found so often in people. We indicate that we’re not close to the heart of our Lord, when we consider such concerns as not all that important, or dismiss it all with a wave of the hand.

And sometimes we’re victimized by people because of this hardness of heart and failure to love. And we can respond in kind. Maybe people need rebuked, but likely, especially when we’re the ones who have suffered the hurt, we’re not the ones to do it. Unless they’ve specifically sinned directly against us, we likely are to keep it to ourselves, and pray. And above all, we have to forgive, and ask the Lord to forgive us, and our own heart toward them, maybe one of anger and hurt.

We do well to balance the above thoughts with the truth that we are all so very weak and limited in ourselves. And to try to see what the Lord might be teaching us, where we can improve and grow, and do better.

And above all, we need to forgive our brother or sister from the heart, even as the Lord has forgiven us. We are to love each other deeply, since love covers over a multitude of sins. Patient, bearing with each other, in other words sometimes putting up with each other. Certainly people have to put up with us at times, and it’s not like we don’t have our own blind spots. We look forward to the Day when there wil be no more hardness, including in ourselves, and nothing but love, in and through Jesus.

agreeing to disagree agreeably

Yesterday I made a plea for grace to be practiced among us, especially during this contentious (to say the least) election, and time of ungrace. What about the fact and reality that Christians who are equally committed to the Lord, may completely disagree, and strongly so? I can’t help but think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who most think was in  a plot to kill Adolph Hitler, though based on a challenge to that (one I haven’t read), I rather doubt it. However there’s no doubt that Bonhoeffer spoke out against Hitler and Nazism early on, for years and years, and ended up more and more in the minority among professed Christians in doing so. So he stands out as an example of one who disagreed strongly with the majority of Christians of his day.

Now to the presidential election of this year: Some swear up and down that Hillary Clinton not only should not be elected president, but should be locked up in prison. Others decry Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency because of his temperament, troubling ethics, and lack of real knowledge. Maybe others are not sure on this.

For many, to be gracious means not to say a word at all, to simply be quiet, and perhaps in doing so, being above the fray. For others, to be gracious might not preclude speaking out, but would surely include being silent and listening well to counterarguments, and the claims of the other side, as well as to other positions.

I for one have spoken out some, and I likely will continue to speak out. But I will read and listen to other sides, as well. I am certainly open to further understanding. And there’s a time for silence. As we read in Ecclesiastes 3:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

…a time to be silent and a time to speak…

To practice grace with each other, doesn’t mean that we simply agree, or rationalize so as to agree. Nor does it mean that we never speak out on difficult, contentious issues. It surely does mean that we do so always with a full measure of grace, the truth as we understand and take a stand for, always done with love and respect for those who oppose that, and may be challenging us.

At the same time, by and large I think silence should prevail, and certainly so rather than a constant bickering and arguing. There can be a time to make one’s case, have the other make their case, perhaps receive counterarguments, maybe followed by each one giving a closing, summary statement, and letting it go at that. Refusing afterward to speak, even when inevitably more, and perhaps new, fresh thoughts arise on the contentious matter.

I think churches and pastors do well not to take sides in political elections for the sake of the gospel, so as not to alienate those who may be very much sold on one position, or another. And even in the most extreme cases, we might do well to ask questions, and hopefully by that increase awareness about a matter we consider to be of utmost importance. We should be careful of the idea that unless another thinks like us, or sees what we think we see, or acts as in voting (or perhaps not voting at all) the way we might suggest, that they are somehow being disobedient to Christ, and a lesser Christian. Remember, the same grace that they need, is exactly what we need, as well.

In the end, we all need to love, and make the most of it, whatever differences we may have, and whatever happens. It is no less than the gospel of Christ which unites us who are in Christ. We must continue on with that, come what may, and learn to do so together, even as we disagree on what amounts to lesser things, as important as they are. Knowing that even in the present, God is at work, and Jesus will return as Judge and Savior to sort out the inevitable mess that we humans will leave behind.

the challenge of loving each other with our differences

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5

At my sister’s church in the Toledo area, the youth pastor gave a helpful, balanced message on Galatians 5 and the works of the flesh in contrast to the fruit of the Spirit. It was a good, fresh look and feel for me in thinking through what is a difficult subject to grasp, since in a sense, it’s well beyond us, something of the Spirit, not of the flesh, and not of us at all, apart from the Spirit’s gracious working.

In some ways I like the NIV 2011‘s change from patience to forebearance, as part of the fruit of the Spirit. As Dr. Carl Hoch, a great teacher and scholar himself used to tell us, it’s about putting up with each other. Sometimes that’s what we have to do, and we need the grace just as much as those to whom we need to extend it.

Forebearance means we learn to talk through our differences and listen well to each other with respect, then in the end we may agree to disagree and drop it. Or perhaps not even talk about some things at all. I like the former better than the latter, because I think we Christians above anyone else should model before the world what it means for Christ-like discussion on areas in which we don’t agree. That can be difficult, because we may think that some issues impact the gospel for ill, and some quite directly. But we do best when we fight with all the spirit we have by the Spirit, to listen well and if in a discussion, to ask questions. And to speak as those who know we are not complete in our understanding, and mistaken in some of it.

This thought is particularly important these days, when we have equally committed Christians who see the upcoming presidential election of the United States differently, and many if not most everyone seeing it as important and crucial in some ways. What I think ends up being most crucial about the election itself is that regardless of the outcome, we Christians remember to faithfully pray for the President and for other government leaders, regardless of whether we voted for or support their positions, or not (1 Timothy 2). And maybe it will help us to take a more responsible and wise tact with the politics of this world in general. We have to remember its inherent limitations, as well as the importance it carries. That is always the kind of thing I’m working on, because apart from the gospel, I see my understanding of other matters in some kind of flux in the effort to theologically see things more in line with what scripture says and what the church has taught. That’s part of the beauty and challenge of the Christian faith. For though the basics of the gospel are set, the specifics and details about those basics are up for fresh perspective from many different angles through cultures and time. Without for a moment losing any of the basics of the gospel: Christ’s death for our sins and resurrection for the new life in him which begins now, and is to come.

Yes, forebearance as a fruit of the Spirit in contrast to dissensions and division/factions which are included in the works of the flesh. We can’t work these out ourselves. It’s our responsibility to walk in and keep in step with the Spirit. So that the love in and through Jesus wins the day, even in the midst of all our difference.

looking at others

They say first impressions are important, and perhaps I need to take stock and listen, although I do think I go out of my way to give a friendly greeting when meeting someone for the first time. The sad part about that is if that first impression isn’t favorable, then the person who was viewed has to prove otherwise to get out of that bog of judgment. It is such a terrible mistake to think we can look at a person and surmise something of their full measure.

Even if we can discern just a bit of this or that, that doesn’t at all mean the script of the story is done for that person, especially when they’re young. And they may be this or that when it comes to politics and other key issues, etcetera, but we do well to put the best construction on them, remembering that decades past we were even more a work in progress than we are now, and that work continues to the end.

We do well to find the good in another and emphasize that to ourselves, while praying for anything about them which might concern us. And shrugging off much of the rest.

Jesus reminds us that how we judge others is how we ourselves will be judged (Matthew 7). Do we want to be judged fairly with plenty of grace thrown in not only for good measure, but because we need it? Hopefully not so much because of overt sins, but because of deficiencies which can be blind spots to us, but a glare in others’ eyes. Yes, above all we need to look in the mirror and judge ourselves; we need to look with prayer and discernment at ourselves. Then in grace we might be able to look at another and encourage and help them along the way.

handling differences

If some thought evangelicalism was in a theological flux a couple of decades or so ago, we could say that is all the more so now. Over periphery matters to be sure, but issues which can well undermine the gospel and our reading of scripture, if we don’t take care.

How do we handle our differences? From my perspective I face those who affirm ordination of those practicing same sex intercourse, of course as long as they’re faithful to one partner, and with that gay marriage. On the other hand I face those who see “Creation Science” as being true to the Genesis account, and my acceptance of evolution as contradictory to that. Just two examples that are hot right now.

Everyone needs to be heard out, that is everyone should have their say. Let everyone make their very best argument, and then hold on to that. In other words try to put the very best construction on both intentions and what is actually said. We help neither ourselves or anyone else by not letting people have their full say as we attempt to understand them as fully and accurately as possible.

Perhaps two words come to the fore now, as I think about our spirit in handling differences, especially among us who are in the family of faith, but beyond that, as well. Forebearance and gentleness. Firmness too, in that, but those two should always be characteristic of us in our disagreements. The NIV 2011 in the Galatians 5 fruit of the Spirit passage interestingly substitutes forebearance for patience. I think that is apt since the patience that is called for is relational in that context. Along with that, gentleness is on the list as well. In Paul’s charge to Timothy (1 Timothy 6) this is evident as well; in conflict or spiritual battle he is to be gentle.

We likely won’t win an argument. But we may well be able to plant the seeds which will reap a harvest of righteousness later. And we need that input from each other. In our disagreements and in all of life.