Forbearing and Forgiving One Another

By Richard Halbgewachs

If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creature (I Corinthians 5:17).  Their new desire is to bear the fruit of the Spirit within them of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Galatians 5:22-23). Colossians 3:13 says this includes, Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” There are ever so many ‘one another’ passages in scripture. They are all of utmost importance. In fact, unless we live for one another we cannot fulfill the law of Christ (Mark 12:32).  This truth is further accented when our Savior said that all men would only know we were His disciples if we had love one to another (John 13:35). Much time is spent attempting to spread the gospel, yet here is a statement that says all our efforts may be negated if we are not living for ‘one another’. This Colossians passage commands us to be forbearing and forgiving of one another as Christ forgave us.

Forbearing and Forgiving

Forbearing and forgiving characterize the attitude Christians should have toward one another. Forbearance is the quality of being tolerant in dealing with people who are ignorant or weak. It is very similar in meaning to patience. This may be expressed as putting up with people for a long time and not being irritated at them. It requires burying our own anger, and being long-suffering toward them even though they continue to provoke us. The sense is to have an accepting attitude even though the actions or attitudes of the person are immature and tiresome.

We are also to be forgiving one to another. We are not unlike Paul and Barnabas who had a contention so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other (Acts 15:39). It is our duty, however, to forgive one another in such cases and not to bear any grudge, but to put up with the affront and pass it by. Forgiveness is to give freely as a favor, to overlook completely. Forgiving is based on the root word for grace. It carries the idea of a complete pardon. Furthermore, forgiving another requires the offended to take the initiative in forgiving, rather than waiting for the offender. Anyone can hold grudges, but the mark of Christians is that they have a forgiving attitude regardless. Many offenses may occur, but the parallel must be drawn to the gracious act of Christ who initiated forgiveness of our many sins even though we are yet still sinners.

Forbearing and forgiving are a constant challenge. While we are in this world, where there is so much corruption in our hearts, and so many occasions of difference and contention, the need will be often. Forbearing usually has to do with present offenses. Forgiving usually has to do with past offenses. The quarrel mentioned in the text has to do with blame, complaint, and hardness of heart in both instances. All members of the body of Christ will have to forbear or forgive at some time or other. On these occasions there will be the great possibility of blame on both sides. Only the mutual respect of the 'one another' principle will retain the weaker members and bring growth to those who think they are already mature in Christ.

As Christ Forgave You

How does one forbear and forgive another? It is the experience of having been forgiven which releases the impulses to forbear and forgive others. The command to forbear and forgive can only be done “even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (also Ephesians 4:32). Christ had an infinitely greater cause of complaint against us and yet He forbears with us and has forgiven us. All our sins are committed directly against Him, yet He paid for them upon the cross. He is our motive.

We are forgiven though we are without strength, ungodly, and yet sinners (Romans 5:6-8). We are to have a heart of forgiveness for others who are yet without strength, ungodly, and yet sinners. We are forgiven by One who is infinitely Holy. We are certainly not infinitely holy, so we are in need to forgive those who like us are unholy. We who have offended God are forgiven. We who have been offended are to forgive those who have offended us. The impetus to forbear and forgive one another is that in Christ, God has forgiven us.

Surely, we who have been forgiven so much desire to forgive the comparatively small things done against us. We, of all people, should always be eager to forgive. God forbears so much from us for the sake of Jesus Christ. Our Father forgives us on account of the atonement which Christ made. Divine justice has been satisfied. Those who are forgiven of God should be of a forbearing and of a forgiving spirit (Matthew 18:32-33). Even as God sincerely, readily, cheerfully and continually bears with and forgives us, we should likewise be forbearing and forgiving to one another.

The model of Christ is explicit on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). There is an interdependence between forgiving and being forgiven, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). These two are experientially connected. Jesus instructed Peter to forgive seventy times seven (Matt. 18:22). We are to be compassionate to those who know not what they do. We are to reciprocally forbear and forgive others as the Lord in Christ does to us. We are to ongoingly forbear and forgive as Christ. A community has hope of holding together and growing only when the need for forbearance and forgiveness is recognized on each side and when forgiveness is both offered and received on each side.

Put Off and Put On

Christians can be confident about their faith. They have a basis for what they believe, and they can say, “I know humans ought to be like Jesus Christ.” The principle for positive change in our study verse is profound. Christians should be confident that it is the Lord who works in them (Philippians 2:12-15). Yes, it may take time, and yes, we will forget, but if we continually renew our mind to the truth that God is constantly kind, compassionate, merciful, forbearing and forgiving to us it will conform us into His image (Romans 12:1-2). Just think, He has loved us with an everlasting love, and nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).

God’s way of change is the putting off and putting on pattern. Contextually, this passage says put off the old man and put on the new man (Colossians 3:5-15). The injunction “put off anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds” is countered by a “put on.”  “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.”

If a child of God is to be forbearing and forgiving in interactions with others he must “put on” Christ. This is crucial: when you are not in a mood to forbear or forgive, do not just command yourself, “Stop being bitter. Start forbearing. Stop holding a grudge. Start forgiving!” Certainly, one must make every effort to put off the works of the flesh; but, to do that one must remember the truths of the gospel. The goodness of God leads to change and His commandments are not grievous (Rom. 2:4, I John 5:3).

Put another way: during a battle against the flesh, believers must by God’s grace remind themselves they are Christ’s own and that He dwells within them. They must be renewed in the spirit of their mind by consciously rehearsing to themselves that the flesh will never bequeath what it promises. Christian soldiers must rehearse the truth that they are more than conquerors through Him that loved them, and that putting on the new man brings joy and peace because in the new birth they have been created to righteousness and holiness. In the thick of shrapnel and warfare, we must meditate upon the fact that we owe our lives to the Captain of our salvation. Our struggle to forbear and forgive one another is not a fleshly battle, and the weapons of this warfare will never be carnal (II Corinthians 10:3-6).

Yes, we are guilty by nature, guilty by practice, guilty by thought, guilty by deed, and ongoingly so. Remind yourself, though, of what Christ has done. He has been forbearing or we would not even be here. Every one of our sins is against Him. Open sins, private sins, past sins, present sins, they are all flagrantly against Him. Yet, what has He done? He has taken those sins upon Himself and paid the price upon the Cross. What we must do is meditate upon the truth of who He is and what He has done for us and live out the Savior who now lives within us.

Sinners we are, but more so we are God’s own. We are, therefore, to forbear and forgive one another. God bears with us and forgives us in Christ, so we are only able in Christ to forbear and forgive one another. Put off the old man and put on the new man by meditating on the fact that in our precious Savior God will never love you less, and in our precious Savior God can never love you more. Be humbled at how your Heavenly Father has ever been so forbearing and so forgiving to you. You are a new creature in Christ; be stirred to forbear and forgive one another as Christ has done to you. Every difficulty is more than just a struggle. It is also an opportunity to work out what Christ has worked in you and to bring him glory in those moments. Yes, quit the old, be forbearing and forgiving, but to do this we must put on the new. Even as the Father in Christ forbears and forgives you, so also do ye.

Dickie Halbgewachs is pastor of Oak Hill Primitive Baptist Church in Austin, TX