The Lost Art of Forbearance

“Forbearance” isn’t a word we hear much these days, but it’s a needed one. It shows up throughout KJV New Testament passages meaning endurance. But two passages in particular bring out this meaning more fully.

Ephesians 4:1-3 says “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Other translations say, instead of “forbearance”:

    • “bearing with one another in love” (several)
    • “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love,” NLT
    • “showing tolerance for one another in love,” NASB
    • “patiently put up with each other and love each other,” CEB

A similar passage is in Colossians 3:12-15, with similar translations in other versions: Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”

The Dictionary.com definition for “forbear” that most closely matches this context is “to be patient or self-controlled when subject to annoyance or provocation.

A former pastor’s definition matches most closely with the CEB: “good, old-fashioned putting up with each other.”

People don’t “put up with” much these days, do they? Or, I should say, do we? We want what we want, the way we want, and we want it now. Woe to the person who hinders any aspect of our getting what we want. Having multitudinous selections and the fastest cooking and delivery times in history have not made us more patient: we’re more impatient than ever. And if someone wrongs us in the slightest way or even makes a mistake that inconveniences, we feel obligated to let them have it and vent all over social media. And if someone holds a position we disagree with, well, then, they’re fair game for ridicule at the very least.

Granted, some things should not be tolerated: abuse, criminal activity, actions which hurt others all need to be dealt with. Wrongs need to be dealt with. Stands need to be taken.

But everyday faults and mistakes? Who doesn’t have those in abundance? How do we want others to treat us when we mess up?

Ephesians and Colossians pairs forbearance with:

  • humility (Where’d I get the idea everything is supposed to be my way?)
  • meekness
  • kindness
  • forgiveness: Colossians 3:13 gives the standard: “even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
  • love
  • peace

Aren’t these the traits we long for in others’ interactions with us? Don’t we long for others to take time to hear and understand instead of just assuming, reacting, and blowing the situation out of proportion? Wouldn’t we rather someone talk to us privately when there’s been a misunderstanding instead of talking to everyone else? When we make a mistake, and we’re fearing the worst reaction, aren’t we blessed when someone says, “That’s all right — don’t worry about it. We all blow it sometimes.” Don’t we yearn for mercy and grace?

Then let’s take the initiative and exercise these traits toward each other.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV).

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