My first cursory review of the last part of verse 2 was inaccurate. I read it as to bear or lift one up in love but this does not seem to be the definition. It says to, forbear one another in love. The word forbear means to put up with – to endure. Another translation uses the phrase “showing tolerance”.
You see, when Christians around us see things differently, hold different views in portions of the Scriptures, put more emphasis in one area of their life then someone else, and yes, even at times offend us and harm us in so many ways, we are told in this verse to put up with them. They may be a little weird, they may have a few “extreme” convictions or preferences, or they may be lacking discernment in a few areas of life but we are called to, forbear one another in love. As an example, Paul discussed the issue of eating meat offered to idols in I Corinthians 8. Here Paul was describing how that some felt eating the meat that had been offered to idols was sinful while others did not see this as an issue. In summary, Paul tells the Corinthians that while there is no issue in eating this meat because there is only one true God, if eating the meat causes another brother to stumble and sin, then we should defer to the weaker brother and not eat this meat so that we are not encouraging them to go against their conscience and sin. In essence Paul was saying that the one should forbear or tolerate the other in love. Not to do so was actually sin by the “stronger” Christian. (For some good messages on the Conscience please listen to our Pastor, Dr. Bryan Ferrell here.)
You know, there are just some people that are hard to deal with or with whom to get along. I can think of a half dozen people right now that for one reason or another, we just kind of clash, and on the flip side, I am probably on someone’s list. But Paul is reminding us that along with lowliness, meekness, and longsuffering, we are to “put up with / tolerate” in love those around us. Can you imagine Christ and his tolerance for the brethren? Can you imagine the differences, the Son of God had with his disciples? Yet He loved each one of them, and was willing to die for them. In the same way, He has tolerated us in love so much that He died for you and me. We are undeserving, hardnosed, rebellious, sinners, deserving of Hell only, yet He loved each one of us enough to die for us. Put that up against your tolerance for your fellow believers and see how you compare. We come up short don’t we?
It’s hard to forbear in love a fellow believer when our own hearts are not striving for that lowliness, meekness and longsuffering. Yes, in public, out of responsibility or duty we can usually find a way to put up with other Christians that differ from us, but how are we at home? How do we respond when their name comes up around the dinner table? How is our heart attitude toward the individual? Are we really forbearing in love? When our own hearts are right with God, and we are practicing lowliness, meekness and long suffering, and we are pursuing our ultimate vocation which is to be a follower of Christ, we are able to respond outwardly in love from our heart rather than responding with hypocrisy. Please don’t read into this that I am implying that to prevent this hypocrisy we should be rude and respond how our heart really feels towards an individual, (some would try and call this “being real”). Remember, two wrongs don’t make a right (bad heart, bad response). We should examine our heart, and recognizing the lack of real love for that individual, and through the Holy Spirit we should be convicted unto repentance.
Although the other items in this verse are big, for me at least, forbearance in love can be extremely difficult to keep in check. If someone isn’t doing what I do, or doesn’t believe exactly as I believe, if I am not careful, I can become judgmental and shun those people. This sin, yes sin, can creep into our lives so easily causing our pride to grow (lack of humility), and our meekness and longsuffering to be stifled so that we cannot accomplish what Paul writes about in the next verse – Unity.
I think we can see through this entire verse that Paul is focusing not on our outward actions but on the heart attitude. Come back and we’ll take a quick look at how unity cannot be achieved without the fulfillment of verses 1 and 2.