The last three Sunday evenings we have examined forbearance. Those three lessons are the background for our study tonight.

Obviously, the important question is this: how am I as a Christian to interpret the responsibility to be forbearing? What are the appropriate understandings and practices of forbearance?

  1. To establish the context to answer those questions, I want to make a concise review of the first three lessons.
    1. We defined forbearance.
      1. To forbear is "to hold oneself back."
      2. It is to "restrain oneself."
      3. Commonly, God's forbearance is seen in His restraining His wrath.
    2. In lesson one, we learned that forbearance is a part of God's divine nature, one defining aspect of who God is and how God acts.
      1. Romans 2:4 stressed the urgency of understanding the riches of God's kindness, forbearance, and patience.
      2. Romans 3:21-25 revealed how God's forbearance created the means of and opportunity for salvation.
      3. 2 Peter 3:9 provides an incredible insight into God's forbearance: He is delaying the return of Jesus because He in the hope that all will come to repentance and no one will be destroyed.
    3. In lesson two, we observed God's forbearance at work in the congregation at Corinth.
      1. This troubled congregation had:
        1. A destructive division problem (1:11-17).
        2. Sexual immorality problems (5:1-13).
        3. Terrible relationship problems (6:1-11).
        4. Conviction/conscience problems (chapter 8).
        5. Cultural problems (11:1-16).
        6. Demeaning fellowship problems (11:17-34).
        7. Worship problems (chapter 14).
        8. Doctrinal problems (chapter 15).
      2. In spite of these problems, Paul:
        1. Called them brethren 21 times.
        2. Spiritually claimed them as his children (4:14,15).
        3. Repeatedly affirmed their continuing relationship with God and Christ:
          1. He addressed them as the "church of God in Corinth" (1:2).
          2. "By God's love you are in Christ" (1:30).
          3. As a congregation, they "are" God's temple and the Spirit "dwells" in them (3:16).
          4. They were washed, sanctified, and justified (6:10,11).
          5. Though they did not understand it, they "are" Christ's body (12:27).
          6. They were included in a cooperative multi-congregational work (16:1-5).
          7. He repeated affirmed his personal relationship with them in chapter 16.
      3. It is evident that, in spite of their problems, that they:
        1. Were not out of Christ.
        2. Were not out of the brotherhood.
        3. Were not out of fellowship with other congregations.
        4. Were not out of fellowship with Paul.
      4. He declared:
        1. They must address their problems.
        2. They must awaken to the damage their problems were causing.
    4. In lesson three, we observed God's forbearance at work in the seven congregations in Asia Minor (Revelation 2, 3).
      1. We noted:
        1. Ephesus had six positive qualities and one negative.
        2. Smyrna and Philadelphia each had three positive and one negative.
        3. Pergamum had three positive and two negatives.
        4. Thyatira has three positives and one negative of several parts.
        5. Sardis and Laodicea had all negatives and no positives.
      2. The negatives included:
        1. Loveless obedience.
        2. Encouraging idolatry.
        3. Supporting sexual immorality.
        4. Being spiritually dead.
        5. Never completing what was started.
        6. Spiritual self-delusion.
      3. All that being unquestionably true, at the time of writing:
        1. All seven congregations were still in fellowship with Christ.
        2. None were asked to break fellowship with the other.
        3. The "faithful" were not asked to separate from the "unfaithful."
        4. The dead Sardis congregation still had some within it that were pure.
        5. The self-deluded Laodicea congregation was still loved by the Lord.

  2. Now I focus your attention on an example that I believe reveals practical insights into forbearance: the problem was centered on the serious doctrinal question concerning eating or abstaining from meat.
    1. First, we must understand this first century problem among Christians.
      1. For two thousand years, from the time of Moses, Israelites were forbidden by divine authority and law to eat certain meats (Leviticus 11).
        1. For centuries, devout Jews had not eaten these meats.
        2. For generations, devout families had not eaten these meats.
      2. For generations, devout idol worshippers had eaten all kinds of meat.
        1. The typical way that an idol was worshipped in the first century was by eating a portion of their sacrifice in a sacred banquet.
        2. Eating the sacrifice was an act of worshipping the idol.
      3. In the church, two common situations are quite understandable.
        1. Some converted Jews had major conscience problems when they were asked to eat a meat that had always been forbidden to them.
        2. Some converted idolaters had major conscience problems eating a meat that had been sacrificed to an idol--eating such meat had been an act of worshipping the idol.
      4. However, some converted Jews and some converted idol worshippers correctly understood that all food was just food, a gift from the Creator God. They understood that:
        1. Food had no spiritual significance.
        2. Food could not bring you closer to God or separate you from God.
        3. All food could be eaten in purity and clear conscience.
    2. Paul in a straight forward manner dealt with this problem doctrinally in 1 Timothy 4:1-5: for a Christian to teach that other Christians must not eat meat was to yield to "deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons."
      1. He doctrinally stated the truth.
        1. Those who believe and know the truth understand that God created all food.
        2. They gratefully accept all food.
        3. All food is good because it was created by God.
          1. It is to be received with gratitude.
          2. It is not to be rejected.
          3. It is sanctified by God's word and by prayer.
        4. Those who teach otherwise are hypocritical liars with numb consciences.
      2. This was the doctrinally correct position:
        1. All food comes from God.
        2. All food is good.
        3. Food had no spiritual or religious significance.
    3. Romans 14 focused on the problem within the congregation at Rome.
      1. Some converts, as an act of faith, ate meat (14:2).
      2. Some converts, as an act of faith, were vegetarians (14:2).
      3. Meat eating Christians must not hold vegetarian Christians in contempt (14:3).
      4. Vegetarian Christians must not judge meat eating Christians (14:3).
      5. God accepted the meat eating Christian even if the vegetarian Christian refused to accept him (14:3).
      6. The same principle was true in regard to the observance of holy days (14:5).
      7. Basic true facts (14:5,6):
        1. The vegetarian abstained from meat to honor the Lord.
        2. The meat eater ate in thanksgiving to the Lord.
        3. The one who refused to honor holy days did so to honor the Lord.
        4. The one who kept holy days did so to honor the Lord.
        5. Each was honoring the Lord in what he or she did.
      8. Responsibilities:
        1. Do not pass judgment on each other's opinions/conclusions (14:1).
        2. Do not hold those who disagree with you in contempt (14:3).
        3. Do not judge each other (14:3).
          1. Only the Lord is the master; none of you are the master (14:4).
          2. The Lord can and will make each of them stand (14:4).
        4. Let each Christian be convinced in his own mind (understanding) and honor his own conscience (14:5).
    4. Conclusions to be drawn from Paul's instructions to Timothy and to the church in Rome:
      1. To teach Christians that they must not eat meat was to declare a deceitful, demonic doctrine.
      2. For a Christian to refuse to eat meat because he or she is convinced in his or her own conscience that it would displease God was an acceptable expression of devotion to the Lord, was accepted as a genuine expression of faith.
      3. No Christian may bind his own conscience on others; every Christian is free to follow his own conscience.
      4. We must not hold each other in contempt, and we must not pass judgment on each other.
      5. Even when we radically differ in our conclusions, the Lord knows our hearts, the Lord knows our consciences, the Lord knows our reasoning, and the Lord accepts us.
      6. God is that forbearing, and God is our Father; Jesus is that forbearing, and Jesus is our Lord; we must learn to be forbearing as is God and Jesus.

  3. Basic observations:
    1. Forbearance is a mutual responsibility.
      1. Forbearance is not a responsibility of one group in a congregation, one side of an issue, or one position of a question.
      2. Every Christian is equally responsible to be forbearing to every other Christian.
    2. We must not hold each other in contempt or judge each other when we through study reach different conclusions and accept different responsibilities.
    3. Just a few examples:
      1. If a Christian woman is convinced in her conscience that she should worship with her head covered, she should cover it; she should not be ridiculed, nor should she pass judgment on women who, through study, have reached a different conclusion.
      2. If a Christian woman is convinced in her own conscience that she should wear only dresses, she should wear only dresses; she should not be ridiculed for her conviction, nor should she judge those who through their study reach a different conclusion.
      3. There are occasions we applaud in our assemblies. If a person is convinced through his study that he should not applaud, then he should not applaud; he should not be regarded unloving or inferior in faith because he does not applaud, but neither should he pass judgment on those who through study conclude that it is appropriate to applaud.
      4. In my understanding, such matters illustrate the specific point of Romans 14.
        1. The Lord accepts acts of conscience as appropriate expressions of faith.
        2. In such matters we are not to judge, not to be condescending, or to hold brothers or sisters in contempt.

All factions of those who are in Christ are my brothers and sisters. We all are brothers and sisters by the act of spiritual birth. God placed us in His family. The Lord added us together as His people. We are not brothers and sisters because we agree on everything each of us deems appropriate or important. We are brothers and sisters because we are in Christ. The Lord is the master over each one of us and all of us. He can make each of us stand, and he does make each of us stand. We are not family because we agree. We are family because we are in Christ.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 2 February 1997
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