Paul urges us to be tolerant, “bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4 v2)
The sermon was based on Jesus’s command to love your enemies. The preacher spoke, “I’ll bet that many of us feel as if we have enemies in our lives. So raise your hands if you have many enemies.” And quite a few people raised their hands.
“Now raise your hands if you have only a few enemies.” And about half as many people raised their hands ……..
“Now raise your hands if you have only one or two enemies.” And even fewer people raised their hands.
“See, most of us feel like we have enemies.”
“Now raise your hands if you have no enemies at all.” And the preacher looked around, and looked around, and finally, way in the back, a very, very old man raised his hand. He stood up and says, “I have no enemies whatsoever!”
Delighted, the preacher invited the man to the front of the church. “What a blessing!” the preacher said. “How old are you?
“I’m 98 years old, and I have no enemies.”
The preacher said, “What a wonderful Christian life you lead! And tell us all how it is that you have no enemies.”
“All the fools have died!”
The test of your tolerance cannot be taken after all the irritating people have died!!
The Message translates the words in a beautiful way, “alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.”
The Passion Translation relating to the need to be patient says to show love, “especially toward those who may try your patience.”
Bearing with one another. Forbearance.
It means to have restraint under provocation and to freely allow the faults and failures of others.
It doesn’t mean we tolerate evil and hurtful actions towards others nor that what is wrong for one person is not necessarily wrong for someone else. That is a hijacked forbearance which is being seen today and has infiltrated the Church.
It does mean that with the Spirit enabling of our lives we are able to positively love those who irritate or disturb us. Why would we do that?
We bear with one another not through intimidation but through the belief that Christ is building a new society called the Church.
A couple of days ago we had a barbeque in the garden. The smoke was irritating my eyes. But I put up with it for the joy of the steak that was to come! No one else was near the coals and so were not irritated. But they enjoyed the steak later.
People are wonderful and then you get close to them and you realise they are also irritating. But bearing with their many idiosyncrasies means that the tapestry is beautifully created. Throw in different race, cultures and backgrounds and that becomes the Church that Jesus is building today. It is better than steak in the garden (maybe!)
There are deeply engraved divisions in our upbringing. Look anywhere in the world and you find historical disputes that the present generation don’t fully understand why they hate that tribe or family but they do. Anyone can tolerate that what agrees with their position. But can the Jew forbear the Gentile and vice versa? That is the question. The answer is obviously NO. That is why we need more than ever the Spirit to empower our lives. Without HIM this is a nonsense.
Before we close let us also remember someone is tolerating us right now!
Even great men and women of God are irritating! The founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth believed in the sinless perfection of the Christian. I wonder if you would have believed in his sinless perfection if you had entertained the General in his finery and majesty. This is what one lady said of her experience. “On arrival William Booth virtually took over the management of the household. He demanded dinner at once and simply wolfed it, putting his knife in the salt and in his mouth. He next retired upstairs but didn’t like the bedroom I had prepared as it was at the front of the house. So he took possession of the rose room …. . During the afternoon the fire must have annoyed the General in some way because he put it out by throwing water over the fire and hearth … . Nearly all our doors had to be padded with dusters to prevent them banging and orders were sent down to shut the dog up.”
Finally, let me go back to my barbeque. You see, we bear with one another but remember God tolerates us.
Isaiah 42: 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.
You may feel like you are a smouldering wick. Maybe you feel to God you have become ineffective with little impact on the lives of others apart from being an irritation.
However, the good news is that Jesus will never break you nor snuff you out. He will never give up on you nor turn His back on you. He is for you, believing in you till the very end.
He loves and uses the weak and broken.
He started His life on earth weak and vulnerable and he ended his life broken and in pain.
He is with you because He has gone before you. He tolerates you for the glory of God.