Bearing With One Another

Romans 15:1-6

February 23, 2003 | Brian Bill

I have some good news and some bad news this morning.  The good news is that everyone who has received Jesus Christ is going to heaven.  The bad news is that we’re traveling there together.  It’s easy to get out of sorts with those around us, isn’t it?  The story is told of a little boy sitting on the front steps with his face cradled in his hands, looking very upset.  His father came home and asked him what was wrong.  His sad son looked up and said, “Well, just between us, Dad, I’m having trouble getting along with that wife of yours.”

I heard another story about a little girl who was forced to eat alone at a small table in the kitchen as part of her discipline for disobeying.  As her parents tried to ignore her, they heard her pray out loud: “I thank Thee, Lord, for preparing a table for me in the presence of mine enemies.”

Some of us have family friction on a regular basis and many of us have experienced fractures in the family of God.  As we come to the final installment in our “Body Building” series, we want to focus on the biblical imperative of bearing with one another.

How many of you have seen the movie called, “The Fellowship of the Ring?”  In this film, Frodo Baggins inherits a ring, which is an instrument of absolute power.  Frodo, together with a fellowship that includes hobbits, humans, a wizard, and an elf, take the One Ring on a journey across middle earth on their way to Mount Doom.  This motley crew not only fights external evils, but also has to deal with internal dissension caused by the corruption of the One Ring.   As the fellowship fractures because of selfishness, abrasiveness, and friction, the mission’s success is compromised.  

Likewise, if the evil one can get us to become annoyed, upset, and out of sync with the saints, our mission will be compromised.  As we’ve learned in this series, and as many of us have experienced first hand, every relationship we have is vulnerable and can rupture quite easily.  If we don’t work at it, our idiosyncrasies will become irritants and our unity will unravel.  That’s why we must follow the exhortation in Ephesians 4:3 to: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to find something wrong even with beautiful things?  God’s most beautiful creation is not a magnificent mountain, a special sunset, or even the State of Wisconsin.  The pinnacle of His creativity and His crowning achievement is the church.  Ephesians 5:27 says that Jesus loves the church so that she might be radiant in splendor.  The blood of Jesus has removed the sins that have stained the church’s wedding gown.  What God has declared beautiful, let no one pronounce ugly.  According to Ephesians 3:10, it is through the church that God makes known His manifold wisdom to the world.  

How is it possible then that an institution that brings pleasure to God and unites people is often filled with bitter complaints, growing grudges, and a lack of forgiveness?   Friends, we’re faced with a question this morning: If the Body of Christ is so beautiful, why do believers bug us so much?

This week I checked the Internet for information about annoying people.  Amazingly, Google listed over 1.1 million sites!  One that I found was entitled, “101 Kinds of Annoying People.”  At the end of his rather long diatribe against dumb people, the author wrote, “Even though 101 is a lovely number for a list such as this, the rest of the annoying people in the world are getting off too lightly, so I’m going to continue to add some more.”  He finally stopped when he got to 120!

My guess is that you have some difficult people in your life as well – and there may be more than 120 things that drive you crazy about them!  How many corrosive Christians are eating away at your insides?  Who gets on your nerves?  Who are the sandpaper saints that rub you the wrong way?  I want to suggest this morning that its good to have these kind of people in your life because God can use them to reveal the condition of your own heart.

In a book called “People I Could Do Without,” Donald Smith presents a commentary on conflictive people.  He writes that our pent-up irritation can send us into one of two modes: we can go on a “reactionary rampage” or we can respond with a “silent seethe.”  It might surprise you to know that the Bible has quite a bit to say about this topic.  Our passage for this morning gives us six ways that we can tolerate those who try our patience.  While it’s difficult to put up with people who drive us crazy, we must learn to bear with those who bug us.  

Please turn in your Bible to Romans 15:1-6 where we will see that instead of shutting down or blowing up, we must:

  • Put up (1)
  • Build up (2)
  • Look up (3)
  • Grow up (4)
  • Stand up (5)
  • Speak up (6)
  • Clam up (7)

As we learned when we studied Romans 14 a month ago, Paul is writing to two distinct groups of people in the church at Rome: the weak and the strong.  And each group grated on the other.  The big problem back then was whether it was OK for a Christian to eat meat that might have been offered to an idol before it was sent to Bob the Butcher.  The “strong” saints had no problem with this at all, while others felt that by eating meat a person could become spiritually contaminated.  This group followed a strict diet and felt that some days were more spiritual than others.  These “weaker” believers bothered the “stronger” saints who felt like they could indulge in rib eyes and worship on any day they wanted.  

A “weak” believer is one who hasn’t fully grasped the extent of his or her freedom in Christ.  A “strong” brother or sister is the one who can exercise his freedom in Christ with a clear conscience.

We can easily fall into thinking that the way we do things, or our perspective, is proper and right, and those who differ from us must somehow be wrong.  Some of us go out of our way to try to control how other believers think and behave, secretly judging them according to our own spiritual standards.  In fact, most of us would categorize ourselves as “strong” as we wonder why so many people are “weaker” than we are.

While the person who rubs me the wrong way may not be sinning against me, I can very easily sin against him or her by my attitude and actions

Let me make an important point.  What we’re talking about today is really not a sin issue.  We are not asked to tolerate someone’s trespasses.  Instead, we’re called to give grace to those who are wired differently than we are.  These differences are sometimes expressed in lifestyle choices or they may just be annoying habits.  We’re called to bear with someone who is a bore or someone who snores.  Maybe it’s someone who sneezes or wheezes.  Perhaps it’s someone who’s nosey or rosy (I’ll never be a poet).  But here’s the rub.  While the person who rubs me the wrong way may not be sinning against me, I can very easily sin against him or her by my attitude and actions.

1. Put up (1). 

The first thing we’re called to do is to put up with people.  Look at verse 1: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.”  The stronger believers are to bear with believers who mess up.  When Paul uses the word “ought,” he’s saying that we’re obligated to be gracious with others.  

The word, “bear” means to “endure patiently and to be indulgent.”  It’s the idea of longsuffering and being slow to be angry.  To bear with someone is to be willing to suspend a rightful demand out of consideration for the plight or weakness of another.  We don’t tolerate much today.  We sound off, or run off, or run somebody else off.  Sometimes we square off and we may want to knock someone off, but we seldom bear with people.

We’re called to endure the frustrations of living closely with others, as we tolerate disputable matters about which we disagree, or as we simply put up with personality quirks and preferences.  We’re challenged here to restrain our natural reaction towards odd or difficult people by just letting them be themselves, without thinking that they need to become just like us.  And its more than just being cordial toward annoying people in a detached way; rather, Paul calls us to be gracious in order to achieve newfound intimacy where hostility once existed.

The key here is found in the last part of the verse: “and not to please ourselves.”  This goes back to what we learned last week.  While our tendency is to strive for first place, we’re to lunge for last place as we follow the example of the One who died in our place so that we become servants of others.  Do you get more enjoyment out of pleasing yourself or in looking for ways to make someone else’s day?  

You and I must learn to live not to please ourselves, but instead to sacrificially serve those who are “weak” for the sake of the kingdom.  Paul had this figured out pretty well when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:12: “…we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.”  Are you willing to put up with sandpaper saints so that God’s work is not squandered?

Ephesians 4:2 gives us four ways that we can cut others some slack: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  First of all, we must deal with our pride issues, of always thinking we’re right and everyone else is wrong.  When we’re humble, we’ll put up with people because we know that we’re not all that easy to be around ourselves.  Second, we’re to be gentle with those who behave differently than we do, recognizing that the God of grace deals gently with us.  Third, when we’re patient with others we can see that they’re in process, just like we are.  God isn’t finished with me and He’s not done with you either.  And fourth, when we bear with others, we’re to do so in an attitude of love, not indifference or hatred.  

Colossians 3:13 adds a fifth element: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  Maybe you’re having a hard time dealing with someone because you believe they’ve wronged you.  Before you can bear with them, you may first need to forgive them for whatever they’ve done to you. 

2. Build up (2). 

We’re to put up with people and we’re to build them up.  Look at verse 2: “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”  The phrase “build up” is a construction term.  When we bear with one another, we allow God to use us to help construct Christians.  When we blast away at people, we willingly or unwillingly participate in the process of tearing them down.  We’re not to just endure those around us but instead we’re to encourage them.

God is committed to building people up and is greatly grieved when we pull back or demolish that which He is constructing.  Isaiah 57:14: “Build up, build up, prepare the road!  Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”  Are you a hindrance or a help?  God doesn’t want obstacles to stand in the way of people’s growth.  He longs for builders in the body of Christ.  1 Thessalonian 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

Part of building others up is to recognize that we might irritate others.  While most of us don’t need any suggestions in this area, I came across something this week called, “The Noble Art of Annoying People.”  

  • Staple papers in the middle of the page.
  • Specify that your drive-through order is “to go.”
  • Change channels five minutes before the end of every show.
  • At the Laundromat, use a different dryer for each of your socks.
  • Instead of sitting down at a restaurant, stand by the register and eat all the complimentary mints.

Is there anything you’re doing right now that annoys those around you?  One of my bad habits is to not answer Beth or the girls when they look for me in our house. They can be calling my name out loud and I just wait until they find me.  I know it bugs them but I keep doing it.  That’s something I can change (if I want to).  

I read this week that Sammy Sosa, the Cubs’ superstar slugger, not only arrived at Spring Training on time, he’s even decided to turn down his music in the locker room because he knows his tunes drive his teammates crazy.  He’s willing to modify his behavior for the sake of the team.  If you know you’re rubbing people the wrong way because of something you’re doing, then maybe you should change.

3. Look up (3).

We can put up when we build up, but we can only do that if we’re looking up.  Notice verse 3: “For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’”  As we fix our eyes on Jesus, we’ll be reminded that he did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Paul is quoting Psalm 69:9 here to show that Jesus embraced the insults of irritating people.  He didn’t please Himself and He took on reproaches that were not His to bear, so that good could come to others.

Friend, look up at Jesus and remember that He puts up with you and He puts up with the person who is bugging you

If you find yourself getting really mad at people, then it’s probably because you’re not looking up enough.  Matthew 17:8 describes a very exciting and scary time for three of the disciples when they saw Jesus transfigured before their eyes.  We need to do the same thing that they did: “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”  Friend, look up at Jesus and remember that He puts up with you and He puts up with the person who is bugging you.  Take your eyes off yourself and resist the urge to judge others. 

4. Grow up (4). 

If we’re ever going to bear with the porcupine people in our lives, we must also take responsibility to grow up in our faith.  We do that by spending time in Scripture.  Look with me at verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”  The word “endurance” relates to how we deal with life’s problems and people’s weaknesses.  The Bible encourages us so that we can be filled with hope – hope that others will change, and more importantly, that we will change.

Are you reading your Bible on a regular basis?  Let me state this both simply and strongly: It is impossible to grow as a Christian if you are not allowing God’s Word to enter your life.  1 Peter 2:2 links our growth to our spiritual diet: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”  It’s when we soak ourselves in Scripture that we can begin to change.  Someone has said that should everyone dust off their Bibles we would have one of the greatest dust storms of all time!  When we do open and read our Bibles, we’re doing more than just reciting words; we’re actually allowing God’s Word to penetrate our personhood so that we can become who He longs for us to be.  2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

5. Stand up (5). 

Instead of slamming each other and trying to live the Christian life on our own, God wants to keep us from division and strife.  Since God bears with us, we must be willing to stand up with those who have fallen down, or are just different from us.  Look at verse 5: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.” God’s heart is for the church to be united and to stand together according to Acts 4:32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind…”

I don’t know about you but I’ve made the mistake of allowing my first impressions of people to keep me from being one in heart and mind with them.  When Beth and I were involved in a ministry together at a previous church, we met someone who really rubbed us the wrong way.  She seemed arrogant and stuck up and we wanted nothing to do with her.  When we learned more about her, and discovered that she had survived a tough family situation, our attitudes changed almost immediately.  Sometimes we simply need to get to know people before we conclude that they irritate us.

Years ago, a 10-year-old boy climbed on a stool at a soda shop and asked the waitress how much a hot fudge sundae would cost.  “Fifty cents,” she answered.  He reached deep into his pockets and pulled out an assortment of change, counting it carefully as the waitress grew impatient and annoyed with the boy.  After a few minutes the boy asked, “Well, how much would just plain ice cream be?”  The waitress responded with noticeable irritation in her voice, “Thirty-five cents.” Again, the boy slowly counted his money.  “May I have some plain ice cream in a dish then, please?”  He gave the waitress the correct amount and she brought him the ice cream.  When she came back about ten minutes later to clear the boy’s dish, she got a lump in her throat.  There on the counter the boy had left two nickels and five pennies.  She realized that he had had enough money for the sundae, but sacrificed it for her tip.

Let’s cut people some slack, and recognize that we seldom have the whole story.  I love how God’s heart for unity is revealed in Zephaniah 3:9.  He knows that we’re sinners and so he purifies us.  And, we’re cleansed so that we can stand up and serve side-by-side: “Then will I purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder.”

6. Speak up (6). 

The ultimate goal, or the reason why we are to bear with one another, is so that we can bring glory to God.  God does not want the fellowship fractured because when we’re divided we can’t accomplish our purpose in life, which is to love Him and enjoy Him forever.  Look at verse 6: “So that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The phrase “one heart” means “with one accord” and is only possible when there is no contention or strife.  When we allow others to bug us, then our worship will be short-circuited and our service will be splintered.

We use the term “glorify” so much in the church that we might skip over its significance.  To glorify means to cause people’s attention to focus on God so that they acknowledge Him as important.  One pastor captured the meaning when he said, “Glorifying God is making God look good to others.”  God’s glory is how He shows who He is.  

What do people hear from the church when we’re griping about each other?  How can they learn about God’s glory if we are not speaking up with one voice in order to make Him look good to others?   When we bear with one another we can glorify God with one heart and mouth, thus making Him recognizable to others.   When we stand up, we’re to speak up in praise to the Lord according to Nehemiah 9:5: “Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.”

Do you want to learn to bear with others?  If so, then put up, build up, look up, grow up, stand up, and speak up.  

Body Building Exercises

If we want the body to be built, here are some exercises we can add to our spiritual workouts:

1. Make a list of the people who bug you. 

After you finish, look through the names and find the common denominator.  Are there some traits or attitudes that annoy you?  Do you find some “moral” issues or are they “disputable” matters?  Do you discover personality quirks or simply preferences?  Ask God to help you see people from His perspective.

2. Pray for problem people for two weeks. 

I guarantee that your relationship with people who irritate you will radically change if you pray for them by name for the next 14 days!  You are two weeks away from an amazing relational transformation.

3. Ask God to change you. 

As hard as I might try, I can very seldom change someone else.  The problem is not people, the problem is more personal – it’s me…and I can ask God to do something about that.  

4. Let go of grudges and forgive faults. 

Release your grip on a grudge or it will strangle you.  The longer you hold on to it, the more it gets hold of you.  Is there someone you haven’t forgiven?  It’s time to let go of your grudges.

5. Restore a broken relationship. 

What one positive step can you take this week to mend a fractured friendship?  Do you need to make a call and have someone over? 

6. Perform an act of service. 

Loving feelings tend to follow loving actions.  If you wait for the feeling, you may be waiting a long time.  When you serve someone who bugs you they’ll be surprised and so will you!   Say something nice about someone to a third party, send them a note, or serve them in a way that they’ll never know about.  When you serve someone it will change how you see him or her.

One of the secrets to a successful church is to recognize that we’re all different.  Some of us look like hobbits.  But, we’re part of the Fellowship of the King!  God blends our personalities, idiosyncrasies, gifts, talents, and experiences into something beautiful He calls the church.  And every one of you is a piece of God’s puzzle.  As we conclude our Body Building series, let’s recommit ourselves to the “one another” imperatives found in the New Testament:

  • Care For One Another: In order for the church to function as it was designed, each of us must be committed to care for one another.  We’re in this together so we might as well learn to like each other.
  • Be United With One Another: Unity among His followers was so important to Jesus that He prayed that you and I would be one.  When the church is united, the world will stand up and take notice.
  • Love One Another: Since God loves us unconditionally; we can and must love each other, including the preborn and those affected by abortion.
  • Accept One Another: It’s not our job to change other people; instead, we’re called to accept those who are wired differently than we are.  
  • Carry Each Other’s Burdens: When we walk alongside those who are weary or wiped out; we’re acting like Jesus did.  If we truly care for others, we’ll care enough to confront sin and carry burdens.
  • Greet One Another: When we have depth in our relationships with other believers, and recognize each person’s unique contribution, we’ll greet each other in meaningful ways.
  • Serve One Another: If we want to be truly great, we must be sincere servants.  Let’s focus on serving one another as we anticipate what God will do in the next 35 years at PBC!
  • Bear With One Another: As we put up with each other, and forgive when we need to, the body will be built up.  Is there anyone you need to bear with?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?