Thursday, October 04, 2007
Bearing With One Another (Col 3:13)
Someone recently asked me about the meaning of the injunction in Col 3:13 to "bear with one another." As this instruction is so seldom followed and yet is so easily abused, it requires some careful reflection. Here's the beginnings of my thoughts on the matter. br>
(1) Col 3:13 (bearing-with-each-other) can be differentiated from Gal 6 (bearing-one-anothers-burdens). br>
The former concerns bearing persons; the latter concerns bearing things. To bear another's burden is to help them carry it. This plays out it prayer, service, etc. To bear another person is to have forbearance with regard to them and their way of being in the world, to have compassion on the person even when their actions and attitudes are wrong. I bear a person who is annoying, troublesome, needy, even disobedient, just as God bears me. We are called to bear both persons and things, but the two can be differentiated and we should understand the difference in order to make sure we do the word rightly. br>
(2) Forbearence should be understood within the context of forgiveness. br>
Notice that all the other instructions in this verse deal with forgiveness: "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." So forbearence does not mean ignoring or blowing off people's wrongdoing, but forgiving them. Forgiveness implies wrongdoing. Therefore, forbearence never means making excuses for people. The Lord did not make excuses for us; he judged us as sinners while taking that judgement upon himself. To forgive as the Lord forgave, then, is not just a word or a feeling, but is a practice, a way of treating people, dealing wisely with the consequences of sin, giving others space and time to be convicted, to repent, to grow, etc. br>
(3) We are called to bear one another together. br>
The verb in this verse is a plural imperative: "ya'll should bear one another." Paul is addressing the community as a group and instructing them as a group to bear one another as a group activity. Therefore, this instruction should not be performed by one alone. This is not just saints bearing sinners, or wives bearing husbands, or me bearing everyone else. Such a one-way forbearance can become blasphemous as the individual takes on a messianic role of bearing others. The church, not the Christian alone, is the Body of Christ. So, as the community of Christ, we bear with each other. Unidirectional bearing should be disciplined by the community. One who is forebearing another without any mutual forbearance has just cause to call that other person to account (along the lines of Matt 18). The goal is to bear one another together. br>
All this implies that biblical forbearance is not just being a dormat. We needn't hide our own grievences in order to forgive others; in fact, doing so just hides them from the light of truth and lets them fester, turning into grudges. Bearing with one another is an active practice of the Christian life, even as it includes a passive aspect. br>
Do these points clarify or obscure the meaning of this text?
What additional thoughts would you add toward understanding and living out this injunction?
Can you think of additional misunderstandings and abuses surrounding the application of this text?