Sermons

Forbearance

As sinners we cherish grace, and forbearance is a particular kind of grace. All grace is relational, but forbearance is that grace which overtly carries relationships through conflict. Forbearance graciously demonstrates that relationships matter more. When conflict enters to divide, forbearance bears or carries the relationship along in the hope and faith of future restoration and peace. This message offers four essential ingredients to forbearance.
  • Notes
When we think about the biblical process of reconciliation we tend to think of the need for repentance and the need for forgiveness, but what about forbearance? Where does forbearance come in? What is forbearance and how does it relate to repentance and forgiveness? This important responsibility is the subject of our focus in this message.

The Need for Biblical Clarity in Resolving Conflict

Conflict often involves a complex of circumstances, feelings, and sin. As we look to God’s word in search of divine principles for responding rightly to conflict, we can compound matters by overcomplicating the biblical process of reconciliation. We can also err in oversimplifying our response, and thereby neglect important steps. Confusion results in either case. The solution calls for clarity in both the whole and the parts of the biblical process of reconciliation.

We run the risk of confusion if we assume principles in isolation. Each step must be held in view of the whole and each principle in connection with others. It is sometimes suggested that the process of confronting sin and granting forgiveness on the condition of repentance finds exception in certain cases. This is commonly proposed as the ‘love covering’ or ‘overlooking’ principle and is advocated on the basis of texts like: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Pr 10:12); “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends” (Pr 17:9); “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Pr 19:11). These principles may appear at first glance to be at variance with the principles presented in verses like: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Pr 27:5); “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him” (Le 19:17); “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Lk 17:3); “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Mt 18:15).

So, do we pursue reconciliation by addressing the offense or do we simply work—in the name of love—at ‘overlooking’ offenses? Are we to consider it a token of love to do nothing when someone offends us? When do we gently and lovingly confront sin? What if there is disagreement over what sins to cover, who determines which ones to confront and which ones to overlook? Is the Christ-like solution to conflict a matter of tolerance? Is ‘thick skin’ a mark of spiritual maturity? If so, are the commands to ‘rebuke’ those who sin against us reserved for the less mature? Are we to assume that the apparent differences correspond to different types of sins? Do these principles equally apply to both believers and non-believers? Are we to deal with every sin committed against us; isn’t that unreasonable and practically impossible? Before we can approach biblical answers to these questions, let us first look at the underlying principle that these verses implicitly teach.

The Need for Humility

Relationships die because pride lives. Pride is deadly and the destroyer of every healthy love. It is an enemy to shalom—relational peace in terms of holistic life from and in the presence of God. Pride, therefore, is the root enemy of all relationships. But the greatest danger of pride is that “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). “Everyone who is arrogant [proud] in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished” (Pr 16:5). Pride is idolatry of self. It is the lack of proper humanity. Pride is the brand of Satan (cf. Is 14:12-14; Ez 28:13-17), the trademark of the Fall (cf. Gen 3:5-6), and the first of the seven “deadly sins” (Pr 6:17). It is no coincidence that in the list of sins that God outlines as abominations, He begins with pride and concludes with “one who sows discord among brothers” (Pr 6:19). The point: God hates pride, God hates strife, and pride and strife go hand-in-hand. It is safe to infer that pride is at the root of every conflict. Pride is deadly, and left unchecked, it destroys relationships.

The antithesis of pride is humility—the brand of Christ! Christ, the ultimate Reconciler, in His mission and redemptive work is chiefly marked by the beauty of His holy humility (Phil 2:5-8). From this soil of humility, the love of God springs forth as a rose in stunning array. Before Christ could die in our stead, because of our multiplied offenses against Him, He had to first humble Himself by incarnation. This demonstration of immeasurable humiliation is a most necessary prerequisite and beginning of love.

Humility does nothing from selfishness; that is with self or something for self as the goal. It does nothing from an empty, vain, or inflated view of self. Thinking, willing, speaking, and doing all things free from conceit and a self-deserving attitude is the character of humility. It is maintaining and cultivating a sober, right, proper, real, and therefore low estimation of the importance and priority of self over others (Rom 12:3). Yet, humility is not so much about how we think about ourselves as it is how we think of others.

Humility is not self-hatred nor self-engrossed introspection, but rather a looking away from self and a deliberate looking unto God and others. Scripture teaches us that humility is being sensitive and conscious of the feelings, preferences, and needs of others first (Phil 2:3-4). Humility, therefore, is a habitual pattern of thinking of others as more important and deserving of attention, care, preference, and service than ourselves. It is meeting the interests, requests, preferences, and needs of others before our own. It is an intentional pursuit of the edification, well-being, and esteem of others. If we took serious the mind of Christ in our relationships, the humility of Christ would be a greater reality among us, and our relationships would more stupendously bear the mark of divine love to the glory and praise of God.

Humility is absolutely essential to God-honoring relationships. When humility is lacking, relationships suffer. Without humility, we cannot have Christ (cf. Is 66:2; Ps 138:6; Lk 1:51; 1 Pet 5:5). Without humility, we cannot worship God. Without humility, we cannot reflect and exercise Christ’s love to one another. Without humility, we cannot walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. Without humility, we cannot have true unity and peace. Without humility, we cannot serve one another as we are called. We cannot submit or lead without it. We cannot listen or speak properly without it. Genuine care and concern for one another is impossible without it. We cannot yield to the Holy Spirit, confess our own sin, gently deal with the sin of others, resolve conflict, repent, forgive, and forebear without humility. While God hates a lack of humility in the creature, actually opposing the proud, He makes it equally clear that He “gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Grace is what fuels every God-honoring relationship and since it comes only by way of humble faith, how great is our need for humility?

Every step in the reconciliation process requires humility. Just as Christ’s humility is key to our reconciliation with God, so humility in us is key to our reconciliation with others. The drastic difference between us and the example we have in Christ is that sin and pride are foreign to Him and natural to us. In our case, conflict is most often born and sustained by our own sinful pride. In the vast majority of cases, we contribute to the conflict that we experience, especially in close relationships. Whatever the percentage, we must take full responsibility for our every contribution in every conflict. We lack humility when we fail to consider precisely what we have contributed in situations of conflict (Matt 7:3-5).

In our discussion of reconciliation, humility is essential. Likewise, humility is essential to a biblical understanding and practice of forbearance. This Christ-like virtue is well expounded by Andrew Murray as a necessary element of our daily lives and a key to forbearance:

Let us put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; and let us prove our Christ-likeness, not only in our zeal for saving the lost, but before all in our intercourse with the brethren, forbearing and forgiving one another, even as the Lord forgave us.

Fellow-Christians, do let us study the Bible portrait of the humble Man. And let us ask our brethren, and ask the world, whether they recognize in us the likeness to the original. Let us be content with nothing less than taking each of these texts as the promise of what God will work in us, as the revelation in words of what the Spirit of Jesus will give as a birth within us. And let each failure and shortcoming simply urge us to turn humbly and meekly to the meek and lowly Lamb of God, in the assurance that where He is enthroned in the heart, His humility and gentleness will be one of the streams of living water that flow within us.

Once again I repeat what I have said before. I feel deeply that we have very little conception of what the Church suffers from the lack of this divine humility—the nothingness that makes room for God to prove His power. It is not long since a Christian, of an humble, loving spirit, acquainted with not a few mission stations of various societies, expressed his deep sorrow that in some cases the spirit of love and forbearance was sadly lacking. Men and women, who in Europe could each choose their own circle of friends, brought close together with others of uncongenial minds, find it hard to bear, and to love, and to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. And those who should have been fellow-helpers of each other's joy, become a hindrance and a weariness. And all for the one reason, the lack of the humility which counts itself nothing, which rejoices in becoming and being counted the least, and only seeks, like Jesus, to be the servant, the helper and comforter of others, even the lowest and unworthiest.

And whence comes it that men who have joyfully given up themselves for Christ, find it so hard to give up themselves for their brethren? Is not the blame with the Church? It has so little taught its sons that the humility of Christ is the first of the virtues, the best of all the graces and powers of the Spirit. It has so little proved that a Christlike humility is what it, like Christ, places and preaches first, as what is in very deed needed, and possible, too. But let us not be discouraged. Let the discovery of the lack of this grace stir us to larger expectation from God. Let us look upon every brother who tries or vexes us, as God's means of grace, God's instrument for our purification, for our exercise of the humility Jesus our Life breathes within us. And let us have such faith in the All of God, and the nothing of self, that, as nothing in our own eyes, we may, in God's power, only seek to serve one another in love[1].

Before we can rightly discern the spirit of the texts mentioned above (Pr 10:12; 19:11; etc.) and seek answers to the questions related, we must begin with an inward, self-examination of our own hearts. One thing is for sure, the ‘love covering’ and ‘overlooking’ precepts are impossible without humility. An earnest humility that seeks not to justify self in the condemnation of others but rather to restore and sustain relationships afflicted by sinful conflict. This is the heart imperative implicit in these texts—the mind that we must mind (Phil 2:5). In all conflict, let us first humble ourselves by self-examination before dealing with the contributions of others.

The Need for Forbearance

Because we are sinners interfacing with other sinners, our relationships need forbearance. Where there is sin, there must be forbearance or there will be the demand of instantaneous justice. If there is to be any relationship with a sinner, forbearance is undeniably necessary.

To forbear is “to refrain from enforcing, pressing, or demanding; not to urge, press, insist on, or exact.”[2] It is sometimes used to describe one who abstains from enforcing a payment of debt. It is also used to denote the controlling of one’s self when provoked, the closest English equivalent being longsuffering or patience.[3] Thus, it is elsewhere described as “a refraining from the enforcement of a punishment; generally, a synonym for patience.” Importantly, then, “God’s forbearance does not mean that God condones sin but that God gives opportunity for repentance.”[4] The Lord exercises abundant forbearance, He “is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps 103:8). But this is not at odds with His clear opposition to sin and determination to ensure that impenitent offenses will not go unpunished. So, “the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty” (Numbers 14:18). Through statements like these, God “revealed and exercised his forbearance, that is, his disposition to hold back or restrain his wrath and to delay the divine punishment that must eventually fall upon all sin not covered by repentance and atonement. God’s forbearance is not an easy and indifferent ‘tolerance’ of sin. For sin God has only negations. Neither will God absolve the unrepentant sinner.”[5]


[1] Andrew Murray, Humility: The Beauty of Holiness (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1896), Under: "Chapter 6. Humility in Daily Life".



[2] Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “forbear.”



[3] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “forbear.”



[4] "Forbearance" In , in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 593.



[5] Moisés Silva and Merrill Chapin Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 2, D-G, Revised, Full-Color Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 2009), 630.
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