But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5: 22-23 (NIV)Tweet
We have so much to learn about forbearance from our Heavenly Father. As much as the verse reminds us that there is no law against the fruit of the Spirit (aka practice them), it is really all about the Father. It is his nature of patience and longsuffering that we ought to bear.
A dictionary definition of forbearance is “refraining from the enforcement of something.” Synonyms include patience, longsuffering, tolerance, restraint, and self-control, among others. Depending on your version of the Bible, the verse may read patience or longsuffering, but I have used forbearance because it comes closer to what it means. The Cambridge Bible commentary states it is an “attribute of God, which means patience sustained under injuries and provocation.”
Forbearance, God’s Style
Love Covers Sin
This doesn’t mean that he turns a blind eye to what we have done. God is so holy that his eye cannot even look at sin. What it does mean that God in his divine forbearance passed over former sins until the time of Christ on earth. It means that God in his mercy provided the way out for our sins. Jesus, His Son bore the penalty so we wouldn’t have to. Jesus paid the price. “God demonstrated his love to us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. God has every right to punish us to the full for our sinful lives, but he has chosen to show mercy and love by sending us his Son to be our substitute. That is forbearance.
Forbearance is a legal term where a lender refrains from exercising a legal right. It is used often with mortgages and other loans whereby enforced payment of a debt is either delayed or waived. An example of this is found in Matthew 18 when the king wanted his borrowers to pay back what they owed. One servant owed a considerable sum, so large he, his wife and children would have had to be sold into slavery to pay the debt. The servant begged for mercy and the king, “took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” That is forbearance, forgiveness of a debt.
Desires That None Should Perish
Forbearance doesn’t mean slowness or weakness. But it does mean patience and longsuffering. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God’s love, his mercy, his kindness, his goodness, his forbearance means that he holds back from that final day of judgement so that we might have every opportunity to repent.
How Do We Forbear?
As followers of Christ, we are to “walk in the Light, as he is in the Light”. We are to imitate Christ, to have the nature of our Father. But what does that look like?
To finish the story on the servant who owed much, he was also an unmerciful and unforgiving servant for, even though he had been forgiven much, he did not forgive his fellow servants who owed him little. The king, when he heard the news, threw the unmerciful servant in prison. It was at this point he got what he deserved. We ought not to be like the unforgiving, unmerciful servant.
We are to exhibit mercy, forgiveness, long-suffering, forbearance, looking to our Heavenly Father and to the Lord Jesus Christ to follow their example. Forbearance also includes humility for we recognise our own sins and failures before God so we are not the first to judge and “cast stones” at those who wrong us. A humble person forgives easily. We exercise self-control and turn the other cheek rather than striking back. We love, for “love covers a multitude of sins”.
As I reflect on what is happening around us today, where everyone has rights and demands their rights at the expense of others, forbearance is a word we need to bring back into our vocabulary and use it in our everyday lives. We need to exercise it. We need to forgo some of our rights and take on our responsibilities as trustworthy children of God.
On a personal digression:
In Pakistan, where I live, might is right. That Toyota Hilux on the road has more might and rights than we do in our little Suzuki WagonR (aka cheap & small). We get cut off a lot! When it happens, we have learned to say, “They have rights, we have responsibilities, and our word is bigger than theirs.” Some might call that choosing forbearance as we forgo our rights and let others exercise their power and prestige. Whatever you might call it, it’s laughter and sanity in an insane world.
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