God, in his grace, is committed to cultivating attitudes in us that will help us extinguish rather than fan into flame conflict in our lives. These gifts of grace, as displayed in our lives in increasing measure, will restore the peace, the well-being, the wholeness that God wishes to see in the lives of those who belong to Him.
But what about that situation where an offense has been committed against me? How do I respond when someone slanders me? What do I do in the face of injustice? What do I do when I work, (or live with) that person who persistently seeks to tear me down? We have all experienced those kinds of situations – how can we restore peace when peace has already been broken in our lives?
Typically there are two general responses to conflict. Either we fight – return insult for insult, slander for slander, and malicious action for malicious action – or we flee, seeking to shut ourselves physically or emotionally away from the person that hurt us.
But in Colossians 3:12, the apostle Paul has another response to conflict. He says the redeemed people of God are to act in a unique way, “bearing with one another…” To bear with means to absorb the hurtful words or negative actions and not retaliate in kind. It means choosing to mercifully pass over the sin done to us, not allowing it to escalate conflict in our lives.
Bearing with one another does not mean being a doormat. It does not mean creating walls of separation in our lives to keep hurtful people away. It is taking the mercy of God that we have received and applying it to the situation. In his book, Real Peace: What we Long for and Where to Find It, Andy Farmer suggests we turn to Psalm 103 to remind us of God’s mercy. While I don’t have room for quote the whole Psalm, I think just verses 1-5 will get us thinking:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases who redeems your life from the pits, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Ps. 103:1-5, ESV)
The Psalm goes on from there, but I think you get the picture. The mercy of God has been applied to ever so many places in our life. In light of that, God calls us to take the mercy He has lavished on us and to apply it to the difficult people and petty conflicts in our life.
Ideally this bearing with is mutual in the body of Christ. Paul tells us to bear with one another. The hope, of course, is that as we bear with someone, they in turn with us as well. As we overlook someone’s hurtful words, they in turn might overlook our rude actions. As Proverbs 19:11 reminds us, it is glory to overlook an offense. But remember, bearing with is not a product of some superior maturity or wisdom, it is a heartfelt response to the mercy God has poured out into our lives in Christ Jesus.
Think of the many conflicts in our lives that could have been avoided if we had only been willing to bear with the other person or if someone else had been willing to bear with us. Bearing with someone else means you don’t have to have that last cutting word, that final accusation, or that superior opinion that fuel conflict instead of extinguishing it. Instead, it means offering others the mercy that God offers us each and every day.