Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive (Colossians 3:12-13 CSB).
In this letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul teaches us about the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ in all matters. His preeminent lordship means that he has the right to reorder or restructure the way of life of his people. In other words, by the Spirit he tells us how to live godly. Colossians 3:1-17 is a great text about this. Paul starts with the basic idea of being Christ-focused (3:1-4), next he presents ungodly ways that we must put off (3:5-11), and then he tells us the “new clothing” all followers of Jesus Christ are to wear (3:12-17).
Seven qualities of true godliness are presented in these two verses. More follow in the remainder of this section. Forgiveness is probably the most discussed of these seven. People have much difficulty forgiving others, though everyone wants to be forgiven when we have sinned. Most people sense their need for patience, though impatience is easily dismissed as a mere character flaw. Compassion and kindness are applauded, while humility and gentleness are looked down on, though neither is well-understood. That brings us to the one aspect of relational godliness that is forgotten or ignored: bearing with one another. I have taught the Bible for over forty years, and in my experience at least, people are rather “ho-hum” about bearing with or putting up with others. Certainly, we want others to put up with our sins, mistakes, failures, and general quirkiness. Yes, you and I might look at our own strangeness as originality, but others view our peculiarities as eccentricity, oddness, or simple weirdness. All such matters provide numerous occasions to put up with each other.
As members of the Christ’s body, the church, we need to bear with each other. We might be in the same local church (gathering of believers) or small group or Bible study. Since God our Father has put us together, he wants us to develop our relationship as brothers and sisters in his family. Let’s think of some actions and reactions that are not bearing with one another.
- When we become annoyed and angry with others because of their sins, flaws, and quirkiness, we are not putting up with them. This should be obvious.
- It does not mean that we ignore their sins and fail to confront them in love. If we do that, we are simply running from problems.
- During a conversation with someone, when we desperately seek a way out of the conversation, we fail to put up with them.
- Likewise, if we avoid connecting with someone, because we get irritated by them, we fail to bear with them. This never helps a relationship to develop, because we need to interact with each other.
- When we act toward them in impatience, looking eagerly for the opportunity to set them straight. I call this the “grinding your gears” approach. You’re not clobbering the other person yet, but you wish you could! That is not bearing with another person.
When do we bear with one another?
- When we commit to invest time in improving our relationship with the other person. Paul wanted the Colossian believers to develop a close relationship in their local gathering. This will involve emotional pain on our part, because we do not merely flip an internal switch that stops the irritation we feel. It also will require our own growth in grace and the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18).
- When we listen to their story and seek to understand it. This will take effort to concentrate, because we might want to bail out mentally while they tell their story.
- We must be willing to wait for the other person to change. Some people are very broken by what has happened to them and their concurrent wrong reactions to those events. Picture yourself helping someone to walk again after an accident. The process takes time. That is easy to tell ourselves, but difficult to implement practically.
- We need to model good patterns of communication to the other person and perhaps tell them how to communicate properly. Certainly, you cannot start here, because hurting people must know that you truly care and desire a better relationship before they show interest in what you think you need to tell them.
- We ought to pray for the person that we seek to put up with. God works where we cannot: in our heart and in their heart. Pray.
Clearly, this is a complex matter, since relationships among two sinners, including saved sinners, are complicated and complex. But we are new people in Christ, we have the Bible, and the Holy Spirit lives within us to help us. So then, let’s start to put up with people, even when we find it very difficult and frustrating.
Grace and peace