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.

(1) Col 3:13 (bearing-with-each-other) can be differentiated from Gal 6 (bearing-one-anothers-burdens).

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.

(2) Forbearence should be understood within the context of forgiveness.

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.

(3) We are called to bear one another together.

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.


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.

Any thoughts?
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?


Angie Van De Merwe said...

John, in your denomination, does the "covenant member" have an individual choice? Or is there a "biblical" (ancient) understanding of "covenant" that undermines the values our country holds?
I ask this because I don't believe that morality really exists apart from free choice. Accountability for choice seems to mean that there is a "universal" agreement of "morality", at least for the community involved.
And how do you understand individual development within these "contexts"? I understand social construction, but then question the universality because of the diversity of "religious" commitments and the uniqueness of the individual. I don't believe the church should be in the business of socially constructing an individual's vocation, marriage partner, ideals, etc. Perhaps I'm more in line with "virtue liberalism".

Micah Tillman said...

It's interesting that 3:12 ends with "patience."

As we're growing as individual new creations and as the Body of Christ, we are to have patience with each other.

The forbearing, then, is teleological (we understand that we are all in the process of developing into what we were meant to be, and therefore are not there yet).

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Drury,
I was wondering if (as you are a prof. at the school) you could give me some insight on Somerset Christian College.

I'm currently looking around, and by way of your link to their site, my curiosity was engaged a little.

I also had a question about housing..they said they were a commuter college with no residential students--does that imply that there aren't any dorms or opportunities available, outside of the Ramada Inn?

grace and peace,
-k. heiple

scoots said...

Hey John.

First, congratulations on finishing comps!

Second, I like your bringing up this verse. I'm convinced that, basically, we are the church to the extent that we bear with people we don't naturally get along with perfectly. Otherwise we're just hanging out with Christian friends--which is a great activity, but shouldn't be confused with what the church is.

Third, to be picky, I think talk of plural verbs in Paul's letters is a little overdrawn. A singular verb wouldn't really make sense in that context, so once we've noticed that Colossians was written to a church, it seems to that that's all there is to say. But of course that doesn't actually affect your point, which I think stands.

And fourth, congratulations on finishing comps! Seriously, I'm jealous.

JohnLDrury said...

Kris -- email me your questions at and we can chat about somerset

Lenny Luchetti said...

Hello John. Thanks for your balanced thoughts on what it means to "bear with one another." It seems to me, you have hit the nail on the proverbial head regarding the uniqueness and potency of Christian love compared to lesser forms of love. Thanks.

It was great to see you last week at the ordination service. I would love to spend more time with you. Perhaps when were back in the Northeast we can grab a meal together and share what God is "up to" in our lives.

If you get really bored, check out my blog. It's neither as cool or as intelligent as your blog, but it does chronicle what I'm learning and experiencing through the Beeson Pastor Program at Asbury.

Blessings in Christ,

Keith Drury said...

Thanks for a helpful and convicting piece this week... I would far rather bear another's burden than bear the annoying person themselves... good convicting thoughts.