the deep challenge of forebearance

It’s a nice sunny day in middle Tennessee.  Warm, with an occasional breeze and the first hints of fall color…the chamber of commerce couldn’t have done better.

I’m enjoying being home after spending most of Thursday-Saturday at the castle for the Stalcup Seminar.  Laura and Sara are napping, Darby and Ella are coloring,  so I’m tackling the stack of unread mail, unread email and general clutter which rapidly accumulates if not regularly beaten into submission.  Along the way, I’ve been thinking…so I’ll pause to blog…

A recurring thought of late, and one that returns to my mind again this sunny afternoon, is how deeply disturbing…and how unrelentingly necessary…is the challenge of forbearance for any community of faith.  One such disturbing text is Colossians 3.12-13 (click here for the NRSV). 

I say disturbing because it seems to me to assume a particular kind of fellowship in community that is not often realized in our churches.  In other words, one reason I think we struggle to do what Paul has in mind is that our experience often falls so short of his assumptions about the kind of life we have in Christ.  What we have in Christ is grace and that ought to manifest itself in meekness, kindness, humility and compassion.  Instead, we attempt group-think (which is anything but kind, meek, humble or compassionate) and in this type of atmosphere you don’t bear with, you marginalize, gossip-about, or otherwise mistreat.  Denying grace, we attempt to have fullness in ourselves rather that in Christ.  This false fullness may manifest itself in any number of specifics but the ultimate result is a community founded not on the values of the gospel but in some other shallow substitute.  

This text disturbs us because it calls us to deal with others in a gracious way when we would much prefer to disregard them, or worse, dissassociate from them.  We prefer communities of people just like us, when the gospel calls all people and disciplines them to embody grace to each other just as they recevied grace from God.  We’d rather ‘fix’ them than love them, rather resent them than be kind to them.  Denying that we have any room to grow, all the expectation is on the other person.  Bear with gets replaced by shape up.  In practicalities, this denies grace to people and puts the onus on them to get themselves straightened out before the community will love them.  Such may be comfortable, but such is not the gospel.

Forbearance is deeply challening because it reflects the values of the gospel: grace, forgivess, kindness, humility and meekness.  Would that Paul’s vision for the church would be our reality, to God’s glory and for the sake of the watching world.

…now, back to that clutter…

grace and peace.


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