The seventh of the ‘one another’ sayings of the New Testament for our thought for this week is “Bear with one another” (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13; James 5:7-11). Someone has perceptively pointed out that “the church is not an art gallery for exhibition of eminent saints, but a hospital for helping sick sinners.”
Most, if not all of us, have been disappointed and disillusioned with the church. For we have gone hoping to find perfection and have only found human frailty. One church had the following advertisement: “If you’re looking for the perfect church, don’t bother coming here!” And it could be added, “If you do find the perfect church, don’t join, or it won’t be perfect anymore.”
Churches are imperfect because they are made up of people like you and me. And since we are not perfect, neither are the congregations that we are a part of. Yet how prone we are to see and focus on the warts in others. And it is most often true that we so harshly condemn in others the very things we’re guilty of. But so often we’re blind to our own faults.
Byron Langenfeld put it, “Rare is the person who can weigh the faults of others without putting his or her thumb on the scales.” Because we only see through a glass darkly, because we are such poor judges of others, we are admonished by God to abstain from judgment. We must, therefore, learn to be tolerant with each other.
This is a point that Paul made in writing to the Christians at Ephesus and Colossae. To the believers at Ephesus he wrote: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
After having established the fact that the great mystery of the past is the “one new man” created in Christ (Ephesians. 2:11-15), Paul now goes on to show how this oneness created in Christ is to be maintained: “by bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2b).
Paul has explained that through the gospel “Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise of Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:6). He proceeds to show how these Gentile and Jewish believers can maintain this unity.
Paul begins by making the following appeal: “As a prisoner for the Lord then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). Then he spells out what it means to live a life that is “worthy” of their calling. Mutual forbearance (“bearing with one another”) is coupled in this passage with four other virtues that characterise a life worthy of the Christian’s calling. Without these Virtues mutual forbearance is impossible. What are these other four virtues? These are: humility, gentleness, patience and love. Paul’s prayer for these Christians who are “rooted and established in love” is that they might “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpassed knowledge” (Ephesians 3:17b-19a). His appeal is that they live a life of love, which is the basis of unity.
DeWitt Talmage remarks, “Without exception, the people who have the greatest number of faults are themselves the most merciless in their criticism of others.” How is this possible? Because the further we are from the light (God), the less we see our own darkness. Those with the most faults are those furthest away from the light, and thus, most insensitive to their own glaring sins.
Another reason why people are so critical is because of diversion. M.R. De Haan perceptively writes, “It’s a dead giveaway when you meet a person who is always criticising and find fault with others. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred he/she is trying to divert attention from his/her own sin by pointing an accusing finger at someone else.”
To handle such critics, a preacher devised an effective plan. He kept a special book entitled, “Complaints of Members against One Another.” Each time a member would point out a fault against another member, the pastor would say, “Here’s my complaint book. I’ll write down what you say, and then you can sign your name by the complaint. And when I see that person, I’ll take up the matter officially with him/her.” Always, the critic would respond, “Oh’ no, I couldn’t sign anything like that!” Though that book was opened thousands of times in forty years, no entry was ever made.
“Bearing with” other people becomes much easier when we recognise our own weaknesses, failures and sins. The godly person is the least likely to be critical, for he/she lives close to the light and his /her sins become obvious to him/her. When we are uncomfortably aware of our own sinfulness, we hesitate to point out the sins of others. Instead, we cast ourselves on God’s mercy and recognise that the same mercy must be granted to our fellow members in the body of Christ.
Nothing is easier than to criticise in others the weaknesses we not have. Yet as we begin to understand God’s pure and holy nature, we realise how far short we fall and how much we are dependent upon His grace. While others might be guilty of some sins, we are guilty of others. In pleading for God’s tolerance or forbearance towards us, we must recognise our responsibility to grant the same to others. Not to do so is a sin of the spirit.
BY Rev. Eric D. Maefonea (SWIM)