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Bearing and forgiving
- Jacob Ninan
Forgiving someone is to let him go free, without demanding any punishment from our side. We recognise that we have been forgiven freely ourselves (Eph.4:32), and that we have no right to 'hold anyone by his neck' and demand that he pays for what he has done to us (Mt.18:21-35). We leave justice to God who can take an impartial view (Rom.12:19).
But bearing with someone is different. This is to be gracious towards someone who is doing something that irritates, hurts, offends or upsets us. This may be as small as an annoying mannerism or something big like a character flaw that keeps rubbing us the wrong way. We have to bear with that person because we live with him in the same family or neighbourhood, or work with him. If we think that forgiving someone can be difficult, sometimes bearing with some people can be more difficult, because the provocation is repetitive.
Since none of us is perfect in any sense, we are always going to find things in others that irritate us. While we need to seek for more and more grace to be gracious towards the others, one thing that can help us is to remember that others have to bear with us also, even in areas we may be unaware of. We must not also forget the fact that perhaps the key to changing the other person may be with us, when we exhibit more of Christ to him!
A good relationship involves at least two people, and we should not consider ourselves to be entirely responsible for its success. God recognises this limitation and tells us to seek for peace only within the realistic limitations of our ability (Rom.12:18). Sometimes we can just grin and bear it. But sometimes that is not possible because the irritant level is just too high. As Christians do we have to keep turning the other cheek and bear with everything that others do to us?
No. If we make ourselves doormats and let others walk all over us, we are partly responsible for encouraging their misbehaviour! Jesus tells us to confront people privately first, and then, if necessary, take a couple of others with us to sort out the problem (Mt.18:15,16). The intention is not to pin them down with their fault, but to find a way forward out of the difficulty the relationship is in. If the other person is unwilling to go forward, then we have two options, one of walking out of the relationship, and the other of seeking for more wisdom and grace in dealing with the situation.
Walking out is possible when that particular relationship is one we can manage without, even though at a cost, as in the case of friendships, or associations at work, church, etc. But it is not an option (except in extreme cases) for family commitments such as marriage. In any case, walking out should not be the first thing we consider because that may very well come from a proud, self-righteous attitude. It should be examined only if nothing else works even after long times of waiting, and the relationship is becoming more and more hurtful in every way.