Bearing with One Another in Love

One of the foremost difficulties of our national response to COVID-19 is a widespread sense of isolation and loneliness. For many Christians, that reality may be the biggest challenge of the next several weeks.
But for others, there is another challenge. If you have a family (and especially if you have kids in the house), you may now face the struggle of living in close proximity to other sinners almost 24/7. As much as we could wish that all our families were perfect examples of enduring love, that kind of time can expose relational weaknesses that we may not have recognized before.
The question for people in that situation is this: “Am I going to emerge from this national crisis with deeper and more loving family relationships, or will they be frayed and broken down?” Obviously it is our hope that the former will be true, not the latter.
But how can we ensure that this crisis drives us together? That we don’t instead just drive each other crazy? In a word, the biblical answer is patience.
Patience is an attribute of God, and it is something that he has richly demonstrated to us as his people.
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, (7) keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Ex. 34:6-7)
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (9) He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. (10) He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (11) For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; (12) as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (13) As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (14) For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Ps. 103:8-14)
God expects us as his people to practice patience, both with fellow Christians and with unbelievers.
Love is patient and kind. (1 Cor. 13:4a)
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, (2) with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, (3) eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, (13) bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (14) And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Col. 3:12-14)
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thess. 5:14)
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, (25) correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 2:24-25)
So it is clear that patience is not optional for us as believers. But that doesn’t make it easy. It is important for us to remember that patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). This means that patience is something that is produced in us, not something that we merely work up for ourselves. So we have to be seeking the Lord’s grace to grow in this area.
The fact is, we don’t really know where we are on the virtue of patience when life is easy and our usual routine is uninterrupted. It is when life throws us and people irk us that the true condition of our hearts is exposed. And if we’re honest, it can be the people we are closest to who bear the brunt of our fleshly impatience. It is possible that the events of the last week or two are already exposing a lack of patience in your heart. If that’s the case, what should you do? Here are a few biblical admonitions.
  1. Rest in God’s sovereign purpose for your life (Rom. 8:28). Your present circumstances may not be what you would choose for yourself, but they have not taken God by surprise. In fact, he expressly intends to use them to conform you more to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
  2. Remember God’s unending patience with you (Ex. 34:6-7; Ps. 103:8-14). It is much easier for us to be patient with others when we have a healthy appreciation for the patience that God shows us every single day in the face of our own repeated sins and failures.
  3. Recognize that developing patience takes time. If you lose your temper with a family member, acknowledge the sin, make it right, and seek God’s grace to continue the fight against your flesh. Don’t give up (Gal. 6:9)!
  4. Be proactive, not reactive. An unprepared heart is a fleshly outburst just waiting to happen. Seek to serve others from the start of each day rather than expecting to be served by others (and being indignant when they don’t). This was Jesus’ example to us (Mk. 10:45).
  5. Pursue the Lord with your whole heart. Remember the principle God has given us: if we walk by the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Gal. 5:16).
When we emerge from this unique trial we are weathering together, may each of us better reflect God’s glorious patience toward us.