Bearing with One Another
I remember when I served as pastor several years ago that we had a woman in our church with mental problems. She required a lot of care not only from me but from others in the church as well, and she sometimes took advantage of that care. In short, she could be quite frustrating to work with. But I remember my beloved wife saying something about this woman and our church one day that shed much light about our situation. She said, “Everyone in the church falls into a ditch every now and then and needs the loving care and concern of all the members; Peggy is just going to fall into that ditch every ten feet, and when she does we have to be there for her.” Peggy was one of the weak, one of the “least of these,” whom God gave to us, and we were called to bear with her. (Incidentally, it was she who brought a number of children to church one Wednesday evening when we were having Bible study that forced us to start a children’s ministry where we were blessed to minister to many unchurched urchins who needed to hear the gospel, proving once again that God is not limited by our limitations. Looking back, perhaps it was she who bore with us.)
Paul reaffirms here what he wrote before, that we must bear with the failings of one another. One of the most awful things I have ever heard about the Church is that we are the only army that shoots its wounded. Indeed, one of the primary purposes of the local church is to hold one another accountable and even disfellowship if one continues in egregious sin, unrepentant. But the purpose of such drastic action as this is always restoration (1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11). And Paul would have us to understand that in such cases, the word of God calls us to endure and persevere with one another for the hope of glory: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” And so as Christ has welcomed us, so we welcome one another. And please understand, we don’t just tolerate one another; we love one another.
Paul closes this passage calling the Jewish and Gentile Christians to unity in the same hope of eternal life. He reminds both groups that the ingathering of the Gentiles was prophesied from the beginning in the Law and the Prophets, the writings of the forebears of the Jews. It has always been God’s plan to “unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10): The weak and the strong, the healthy and infirm, and outcast. May the local church be a foretaste of that heavenly blessing.