Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Forbearing one another

We visited a house church in the Houston area over the weekend. One of the passages of Scripture read that evening was Ephesians 4:2, “With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love. . . Someone asked the group what the word, forbear really means. This question surprised me. I can define forbear, but I realized that I had no idea what it meant in Scripture.

The Bible in Basic English translates the phrase as “putting up with one another.” The NASB says, “showing tolerance for one another.” The NIV merely says, “bearing with one another.” Because I realized my ignorance of the word forbear, I did not contribute to the discussion. Instead, on the drive back to Kansas City Lisa helped me conduct a word study of anexomai, which is often translated forbear, endure, and such.

Any New Testament word study must include a study of the Greek translation of the Old Testament. While I use many English translations, I conduct serious study from The Apostolic Bible. Not only does the Septuagint (LXX) enlighten the meanings of New Testament Greek words, it was the version Scripture commonly available to the Apostles. The language of the LXX framed the language of the New Testament more so than the Hebrew and Aramaic.

In the LXX, anexomai first appears in Genesis 45:1. Joseph was unable to contain himself as he revealed his identity to his brothers, so he sent all of his attendants away. The Apostolic Bible says, “Joseph was not able to withhold.” Imagine Joseph, many years after being sold as a slave and deported to Egypt. He is now second only to Pharaoh. He has restrained himself as he assessed his brothers’ change of heart. Now overwhelmed by emotion, he reveals himself and asks, “Is my father still living?” Joseph was not able to withhold. Imagine the effort it must have taken for him to withhold his emotions to this moment. Suddenly, anexomai appears to be a stronger word than “putting up with” appears to be.

Job chapter 6 contains the next two occurrences of anexomai. Job asks in his misery, “What is my strength, that I remain? or what is my time, that my soul endures?” Job questions how his soul can endure his present suffering. Here anexomai again appears to be an intense word. Later in the same chapter, Job tells his friends turned accusers, “Nor will your reproof cause me to cease my words; for neither your utterance of a word will I endure. Besides that, you fall upon an orphan, you assail against your friend.” Job refuses to receive the accusations from his friends. He hears them, but he will not endure them.

The Greek translation of Isaiah uses anexomai several times. In chapter 1, God speaks through Isaiah to Israel saying, “If you should bring fine flour, it is vain; incense is an abomination to me, I cannot endure your new moons and the Sabbaths and the great day.” God rebukes Israel for their rote ceremonies because their hearts were far from God.

In Isaiah 42 God promises a day of judgment, saying, “I kept silent from the eon; shall I continually keep silent and endure?” Throughout history God has revealed himself through Creation, through prophets, and in the person of His Son, Jesus, the Christ. A day is coming when God will no longer withhold knowledge of himself. In that day, the unbelieving will have to account for their unbelief in the light of the revelation they have rejected. A careful reading of Isaiah 42 reveals a companion passage in Romans 8, but this is an entirely different discussion.

In Isaiah 46, God promises deliverance to Israel, saying,

Hear me, O house of Jacob, and all the rest of Israel! O ones being lifted up from the belly, and being corrected from childhood until old age; I AM, and until whenever you should become aged, I AM. I endure you. I made, and I shall spare. I shall take up and I shall deliver you.

Isaiah 46:3-4 (AB)

In Isaiah 63 and 64, Israel turns to God in repentance, asking God,
Where is your zeal and your strength? Where is the abundance of your mercy and your compassion, that you withhold from us? For you are our father. For Abraham did not know us, and Israel did not recognize us. But you, O LORD our father, rescue us! From the beginning your name is upon us. Why did you wander us, O LORD, from your way. You hardened our hearts to not fear you? Return on account of your servants! on account of the tribes of your inheritance that we should inherit a little of your holy mountain.

Isaiah 63:15-18 (AB)

In this passage, anexomai is translated “withhold.” God endured or withheld his blessing from Israel. Isaiah 64 recounts the pain inflicted upon Israel, and Isaiah says, “All over all these things you endured, O LORD, and kept silent, and humbled us very much.” In Romans 11, Paul explains why Israel experienced a hardening, but again, this is another discussion.

The next appearance of anexomai, we find in Amos 4. The Lord indicts Israel’s unbelief saying, “I withheld from you the rain before the three months of gathering crops . . . And you returned not to me.” God persisted in judging Israel, but they would not respond in repentance. Likewise because of Israel’s disobedience, the Lord says through Haggia, “On account of this the heaven withholds of dew, and the earth keeps back its resources.” Haggai 1:10 (AB)

Moving into the New Testament, Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9 recount the healing of a demonized young man. Jesus’ disciples had not been able to cast out the demon and Jesus responded saying, “O unbelieving and perverted generation, until when shall I be with you? Until when shall I endure you?” Jesus then rebuked the demon and the child was healed. Jesus was intensely involved in his disciples lives. He was teaching them, but they exasperated him at times? He’s asking rhetorically, How much more time do we have here? Jesus’ enduring of his disciples was not a casual “putting up with” them. It was intensive, intimate, daily involvement in their lives.

In Acts 18, the Jews in Corinth dragged Paul to the rostrum before the ruler Gallio. There they complained that Paul’s teachings were contrary to their own. Paul started to offer his defense, which was his right, but Gallio interrupted and said,

If indeed then it was some offense or evil villainy, O Jews, on this account I would have endured you; but if the matter is concerning a word and names and a law of yours, you shall see to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of these things.

Acts 18:14-15 (AB)

Gallio sent the Jews away, and some of the Greeks grabbed Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue and beat him publically. In this account, Gallio was obligated to follow the legal process. However, he would not see it through to the end because it did not interest him. He abruptly ended the proceedings because he was not willing to endure.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of his affliction, saying,

As far as the present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted and unsettled; and we tire of working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being blasphemed, we appeal; as the rubbish of the world, we were all the sweepings until now.

1 Corinthians 4:11-13 (AB)

In this passage, the Bible in Basic English does not translate anexomai, “put up with” . It says, “When we undergo punishment, we take it quietly.” Of course, that is a bad translation, but at least it acknowledges that anexomai is not a casual word.

In 2 Corinthians 11, the word anexomai appears five times. Paul implores the Corinthians to endure his foolishness as he compares his credentials with those who also commend themselves to the Corinthians. Paul commends them for not enduring another Gospel, but he also chides them for enduring those who enslave them, promoting themselves, and even those who slap the Corinthians in the face.

When Paul asked the Corinthians to endure his foolishness, he was not asking to be casually ignored or put up with. Rather, he was asking them to consider his credentials using the same criteria by which they evaluated false teachers who were abusing them. They endured those who enslaved them! Paul, of course, was telling them they should rather withstand such false teaching. Paul’s play on words becomes apparent in the context illustrating that anexomai does not mean merely tolerating anything, but rather standing firm in a course of action.

Paul commended the Thessalonians telling them that he boasted of them in the assemblies for their “endurance and belief in all [their] persecutions and the afflictions which [they] endure.” 2 Thessalonians 1:4 (AB)

Paul warned Timothy, saying,

For their will come a time when they will not endure healthy teaching, but according to their own desires they will accumulate to themselves teachers tickling the hearing. And from indeed the truth, the one hearing, they shall turn away, and they shall be turned aside unto the fables.

2 Timothy 4:3 (AB)

Conversely, the writer of Hebrews implores us, “Brethren, endure the word of the exhortation!” Hebrews 13:22 (AB)

Paul told both the Ephesians and the Colossians to “endure one another.” Considering the intensity surrounding the word anexomai in the rest of Scripture, it is unfathomable that Paul uses it here to mean something less.

Paul does not tell us to forbear everyone. He says endure one another. One another conveys mutuality to the equation. We know from 2 Corinthians 11 that we are not to forbear those who teach another Gospel, or those who promote themselves at the expense of others. We should learn to spot such people and follow Paul’s instructions in Titus 3:10.

Still, “Forbearing one another” is not supposed to be easy. Paul uses an intense word to tell us that we are to remain involved in each others' lives even when it is not easy. Forbearance in Scripture is not casual neglect. Rather it is engagement or entrenchment. We are to entrench ourselves mutually in the lives of our fellow believers. We are supposed to stick it out from the beginning to the end.

I appeal then you you,
I the prisoner in the Lord,
to walk worthy of the calling
of which you were called,
with all humility,
and gentleness,
with leniency,
enduring one another in love;
hurrying to keep the unity of the spirit
in the bonding together of peace.
One body,
and one spirit,
as also you were called in one hope of your calling.
One Lord,
one belief,
one immersion;
on God and father of all,
the one over all,
and through all,
and in you all.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (AB)

Put on then as chosen ones of God,
holy ones, and beloved,
feelings of compassion,
enduring one another,
and granting forgiveness to each other
if any should have any blame against any.
As also Christ granted forgiveness to you,
so also you.
And upon all these things
the love which is the bonding together of the perfection.
And let the peace of God preside in your hearts!
in which also you were called in one body.

Colossians 3:12-15 (AB)

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