“Let your forbearance be made known to all.” Philippians 4:5
When was the last time you used the word “forbearance?” Have you ever used the word? It’s not in the typical vocabulary. It sounds a little old. Perhaps a little churchy. Have you ever said to your spouse during a vigorous discussion “I am forbearing you?” Probably not. Trust me. It doesn’t help anything.
One of my all-time favorite passages of scripture is Philippians 4:4-8. In fact, the whole book is one of my favorites and has been for a very long time. I remember Bob Justus, the associate pastor of the church I grew up in, saying that if you’re ever feeling down, just read the book of Philippians a few times. I was probably 12 or thirteen when I heard him say that. It stuck with me. And yes, this letter really does help lift your spirits.
Now back to forbearance and also a little lesson in Greek and translation. Greek is a wonderfully complex language with layers and layers of nuance and verb tenses that make it beautifully fitting for scripture and ancient philosophy but often difficult to translate into English. Any translation is more art than science, and the challenge for any translator is to understand deeply the language of origin AND the language into which it is translated. In other words, it’s often not an exact correspondence where this Greek word always means this English word. That’s where the art comes in.
In this rich passage Paul used a word that the venerable RSV scribes translated as “forbearance.” KJV translates it as moderation. Others translate it as gentleness, considerate, kindness, and gracious kindness. Whenever you see this kind of range of translation you know that the underlying Greek word is a bit thorny.
All of these translations help. It’s a very positive word, full of good spiritual depth. If you move through the day with gentleness, kindness, grace, and consideration then you’re very likely to have a very good day. And if you cultivate these wonderful spiritual emotions then the people around you are likely to have a very good day also. And that brings us to my translation of the word: show grace to everyone.
Show grace to everyone. That’s surely what Jesus had in mind when He said we are to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and all those other irritating teachings that at times we either ignore or wish He hadn’t said.
The Christian faith has a universality to it that simply cannot be ignored. I have no problem whatsoever loving people that love me or agree with me. In fact, I generally admire their wisdom!
However, I have a real problem loving the white supremacist, for example. To conceive of yourself as superior to another human being, let alone an entire race, is a concept so anti-Christian that we’re stunned when we see it. Yet it’s real, active, and it’s very hard for me to love the people that embrace it.
But if I’m to take seriously the meaning of this Greek word, then I must show grace to the white supremacist.
That’s what Daryl Davis decided to do. A black man from Chicago, Daryl has decided to talk to members of the KKK. To date some 200 or so have left the klan because of Daryl Davis. He never set out to convert anyone from the klan, he just wanted to talk to them and ask them a simple question: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” Wonder of wonders, when they got to know Daryl, they liked him.
Why? He showed grace. He didn’t respond to their hatred with hatred. He didn’t try to shout them down. He didn’t attack them. He didn't do the things that tend to create a dozen rebels for every convert. When you meet anger with anger you just multiply anger.I just read a clever idea last week. Grace overcomes racism. So what we need is gracism.
Grace changes us in ways that laws, public policies, protests, and even preaching never will. Each of these has its place of course, but our main problem is always spiritual in nature. Always. So grace is the answer. Always.
So here’s where forbearance can get really irritating. I’ll wager most of my reading audience has applauded what I’ve written so far. I doubt I have too many white supremacists among my subscribers. We can all energetically agree that we should be against racism. They should apply grace, note hate. But applying grace cuts both ways. If you hate the white supremacist, what good is that?
Show grace to everyone. It begins within. Unclench your fists. Open your hands. Receive grace and begin living in peace. It’s absolutely futile to tell someone to be loving when they’re filled with loathing, especially self-loathing. So let God’s grace work deeply into your soul. You’re forgiven. Accepted. Celebrated. Loved. Let that sink in.
Then look at the people around you. Think of how different the world would be if we simply stopped hating. That’s a good place to start. Just stop hating. Those raw emotions you feel when someone says or does something you disagree with, you may not call that hate, but that’s what I’m aiming at.
Personally, it’s enormously difficult for me not to feel something, but I can choose not to embrace it. I can choose to consider how to let gentleness, kindness, consideration, and forbearance be made known. I firmly believe that’s how I move away from hate and toward love.
So here’s how forbearance might look like: Does the racist make your blood boil? Show them grace. Are you angry with someone whose politics are different from yours? Show them grace. Do you hate someone who is tearing down a statue? Or someone who wants the statue to remain? Show them grace. Does someone have a different point of view from you on the unrest in our country? Show them grace.
Are you more likely to point out the splinter or log in another person’s eye before you look in the mirror? Show grace.
Translation is difficult. That word forbearance is linguistically slippery. But I think I know what it looks like. I’m going to try to do better in showing grace to all people. Especially the ones who are different from me.
Dr. Terry Ellis
August 21, 2017