July 23, 2017
What group of people in the Bible did Jesus denounce more than any other? Was it the tax collectors, commonly known for swindling people out of their hard earned money? No. In fact, he called one to be a disciple. Was it the prostitutes who lured men into forbidden sex? No. In fact, he praised one of them publicly to the group He railed against, and she became a faithful follower and the first person He appeared to after rising from the dead. Was it those who went around murdering His followers? No, it wasn’t even them, for He called one of them to not only preach the Gospel, but write half of the New Testament. Who could possibly be worse? If you haven’t guessed, it was the self-righteous, hypocritical Pharisees. He actually called these religious leaders, who carefully studied and taught God’s laws, worshipped regularly, gave their tithes to the temple, and put forth all appearances of being holy – sons of the devil! They were not children of God, as are those who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, and as I hope and pray all of you are. Why was Jesus so harsh in his view of them? Because they led people away from Christ and the freedom that the Gospel offers. They used God’s law to promote themselves and to keep the people under their control. And they themselves did NOT keep the heart of the law. And what is the heart of the law? Jesus himself said it is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself; and that all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)
So how do the Pharisees tie in with a message about forbearance? Obviously Jesus did not show much tolerance for the Pharisees. No, because he knew the hearts of those who rejected him, he knew they would never change and accept the Gospel message, nor would they ever love either God or their fellow man more than they loved themselves and their image and the power it gave them.
But Jesus loved the sinners, the common man, and the ones others had forgotten, overlooked, and even shunned. He loved the Samaritans, whom the Jews hated. He loved and respected women, who were not considered equal to men in those days. Not even close. He even asked God to forgive those who were crucifying him, and I believe actually pitied them because they did not understand what they were doing, and someday would realize the magnitude of their actions. He was patient with those who sought understanding, and gentle with those who had tender hearts. He admired the open hearts and simple minds of children, who freely came to him. And NO ONE who came to him did he ever turn away or refuse (John 6:37), nor will he now, and nor will he ever. Not even a Pharisee, like Nicodemus (John 3), who sincerely sought the truth.
And we who belong to Christ are called to have a heart like Christ. And yet how often do we not forbear with each other’s differences, and what we deem as their faults and failures?
I admit I am guilty as the rest. I am very particular about certain things, to the point of being somewhat OCDish. I try to curb my perfectionism, but I still fail at times, and have a difficult time letting some things go. But the Lord is working on me. He is helping me to learn that everything doesn’t have to be a certain way. He is teaching me to quit sweating the small stuff and focus on what he has called me to do, which is to reach others with the love of God, and the salvation, joy, hope, and reason for living that only comes through his son, Jesus.
So when we are busy trying to make everything in our lives the way we want it, we are not being forbearing, patient or tolerant; nor helping others to make their lives better – unless of course their goal is also to make our own personal life exactly the way we want it. And that would be a very selfish expectation on our part.
Now what about you? Is there someone in your life that you just can’t seem to tolerate? Someone you consider a ‘thorn in the flesh’ or who just gets on your nerves? Pray and ask the Lord to give you patience and understanding and to help you see things from their perspective. And then do something nice for that person. It is amazing what a difference just a small gesture of kindness can make. Make that a priority for this coming week. A church needs to work together in a spirit of love and compassion, not a spirit of selfishness and rivalry. And then we need to take that spirit of love and compassion out into the world, and share it with others who might not know Jesus and how he can change their life. Because unlike Jesus, who knew ahead of time who would accept him and who would not, we do not know who will accept the Gospel message. Therefore we are called to forbear with everyone, to give everyone a chance to both hear the Gospel of redemption through Christ, and to accept it. Many won’t accept it immediately – some might never. But the seed you plant into the heart of a lost soul, and the love you show them today, might bring them to repentance and a saving faith before they leave this earth.
In closing, remember that the Bible says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), and as Christians we are called to love above all else. So no matter your circumstance: love each other, never lose hope, and trust in the Lord’s promise that “all things work together for good to them who love God” (Romans 8:28). Amen.