"And take...the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17)

published by The Northside church of Christ

Meeting at the North Bellingham Grange Hall

5201 Northwest Road
Bellingham, WA

Editor: Joe R. Price

In this issue:

-Biblical Principles Of Unity (Part 4)
Longsuffering and Forbearance
-Sermon: Washed, Sanctified, Justified (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

Volume I, Number 52 (February 8, 1998)

Longsuffering and Forbearance

by: Joe R. Price

Some have properly raised the question, "At what point do we decide that a person is no longer honestly trying to serve God and teach his word to the best of his ability?" If honesty were the basis of determining one's standing with God and therefore our fellowship in Him, one could make a case for saying "never." But since honesty and sincerity do not establish truth or a right relationship with God, we cannot rely upon them to determine Biblical longsuffering. In the scriptures we will find a balance between longsuffering and truth. They are not antagonistic but complimentary, as we attempt to save lost souls and encourage weak ones.

Forbearance and longsuffering are needful to achieve and maintain proper fellowship and unity in Christ (Eph. 4:1-3). In this quotation, their necessity and benefit are duly noted:

"The Bible clearly teaches a long-suffering and forbearing attitude as essential for unity (Eph. 4:1-3). God says that we are to "admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all" (1 Thess. 5:14 - emphasis mine, HRO). Paul's exhortation on restoring in a spirit of gentleness one who is overtaken in a trespass is a principle we must teach and practice. In the case of a brother sinning against us personally, Jesus shows that we must exhaust every effort to solve the matter before counting him as "the Gentile and publican" (Matt. 18:15-17). Even the factious man is to receive the first and second admonition before we refuse him (Tit. 3:10). We can never be justified in severing the bonds of fellowship at the drop of a hat. We have responsibility enjoined of God to be long-suffering in our search for the resolution of every difference between brethren." (Harry Osborne, First article, second paragraph of a written discussion with Marshall Patton on Romans 14).

God has not called upon us to decide upon a person's honesty or sincerity when determining fellowship. Instead, He calls upon us to discern what one is teaching or practicing to see if it conforms to the divine revelation of truth (cf. Gal. 1:8-9; Acts 23:1; 1 Jno. 4:1-6). We cannot argue for ongoing fellowship with brethren who are in doctrinal or moral error upon the basis of their sincerity to the neglect of the presence of sin and error (2 Jno. 9; Jas. 5:19-20).


What passage of scripture teaches us that, on the basis of honesty and sincerity (for instance, one is "honestly trying to serve God and teach His word to the best of his ability"), we may extend fellowship to others? I left the Methodist Church because I discovered, through coming to an understanding of the scriptures, that I was violating God's will -- my honesty and sincerity as a Methodist notwithstanding! Now, brethren tell me that if honesty and sincerity exist we should accept doctrinal and moral differences! If I could not be right with God applying the "honesty and sincerity" test as a member of the Methodist Church, how can I be right with God applying that same test as a member of the church of Christ? (Some will likely say, "because of grace." But, grace teaches us to deny sin and error, not accommodate it, Titus 2:11-12. More on that in a future installment.)


Is there time for forbearance when addressing the matter of fellowship and unity? Yes, indeed. There is time and opportunity for longsuffering and forbearance while abiding in the truth of the gospel (the specific subject of divorce and remarriage, included).

1 Thessalonians 5:14 teaches us to "admonish the disorderly" and to be "longsuffering toward all" (ASV). With an understanding of the chronology of Paul's epistles (obtained from the book of Acts, cf. 18:5-11), about six months to one year later, Paul would again write to the Thessalonians saying, "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (2 Thess. 3:6). The period of warning had been accomplished. The admonitions had been given. Now, further action was needed to try to save the sinner.

Here then is the real difference which appears to be developing between brethren as it relates to long-suffering. One approach defines and applies it to mean "infinite-suffering" -- that is, an ongoing fellowship regardless of one's doctrine (as long as one is honest and sincere, and other such qualifications are in place). On the other hand, the Scriptures teach that longsuffering is just that: long, but possessing an end. There is a difference between a short-temper and a long-temper, but both have a point where indignation or wrath occurs. (God was longsuffering with Israel, but His longsuffering did not prevent Him from seeing and eventually punishing their sin, Exo. 34:6-7.) There is no disagreement over the fact that judgment must be used in determining the length of warning and admonition of the erring. (The period of longsuffering each specific situation requires must be judged separately in this respect.) The real issue becomes whether we can determine if one is erring (in sin), and whether we should "infinitely-suffer" with him in his error.


Although some would protest, this is by no means a call for division. Neither am I urging a lack of forbearance and longsuffering. It is a call for unity based in truth instead of the unity in spite of doctrinal and moral division which is being promoted by more and more brethren.

Was the apostle Paul arbitrarily calling for division when he said, "Note those who cause division and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Rom. 16:17)? No.

Was John arbitrarily deciding the most important issues of the gospel, thereby promoting division, when he said, "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" (2 Jno. 9)? No.

Was Paul to be rebuked for causing division when he said, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them" (Eph. 5:11)? Or maybe when he withstood Peter to the face "because he was to be blamed" for not being "straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:11, 14)? We would never so charge Paul. But, when a fellow Christian, with God's word in hand, warns brethren about the sin of adultery and of having fellowship with sin, he is "calling for division" according to some! Of course, his honest endeavor in the word and sincerity of heart never seems to be considered by those making such a charge. If a person is genuinely going to apply honesty and sincerity as his standard for forbearance and long-suffering, then please do not rebuke those who issue warnings against sin and error unless you can prove they are dishonest and insincere of heart! Better yet, why not give up these arbitrary guidelines of longsuffering and forbearance and return to the teaching of God's word on the matter (Eph. 4:1-6; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; 1 Thess. 5:14-15)?


The attributes of honesty and sincerity could be applied to many denominationalists as easily as anyone else. I have a Mormon friend in Salt Lake City who has great ability and a wonderful attitude. It is his doctrine which is erroneous and which I oppose, not his attitude or his abilities. So it is with brethren on the subject of divorce and remarriage. The issue is not over honesty, sincerity and attitude. It is over understanding and obeying revealed truth. Human reasoning may seem right to many of us, but it is without the strength and authority of inspired Scripture (Prov. 14:12; Jer. 10:23). Therefore, it must be laid aside in favor of the word of God (Psa. 119:97-105).

It is not the moral high ground to continue to fellowship those who are in doctrinal or moral error (sin). Attempts to characterize it as such do not harmonize with the Scriptures (2 Cor. 6:14 - 7:1). Were such a view correct, if the Northside church were to extend fellowship to a practicing homosexual (remember, there are some in churches of Christ who do just that), then we would REALLY be humble and promoting unity and peace!

Let 1 Thessalonians 5:14 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6 help us answer this matter. Let's apply the "infinite-suffering" position to the use of instrumental music in worship. Does longsuffering have an end? Should one have fellowship with those who engage in this practice? If not, why not? If one may have continuing fellowship with those who practice such, what is the Bible authority for doing so? When the instrument was introduced into churches of Christ last century, did brethren who oppose its use sin in doing so? Should they have accepted their honest and sincere brethren who believed its use to be justified? Should brethren have finally divided over this issue? How are we to be forbearing, longsuffering and humble toward these people? Does long-suffering have an end? Yes, it does (cf. Gen. 15:16; Matt. 23:38).

What about local church support of human organizations (such as orphan homes), the sponsoring church arrangement and church-provided recreation? Does longsuffering have an end regarding such matters? Should we have fellowship with those who engage in these practices? If not, why not? If so, what is the Bible authority for it? Are brethren sinning when they oppose these practices and when they refuse to be members of churches which practice such things? I'm sure there are many honest and sincere people within the churches which practice these unauthorized activities. Should brethren have finally divided over these issues? How are we to be forbearing, longsuffering and humble toward these folks -- by having ongoing fellowship with their error? Does longsuffering have an end? Yes, it does (cf. Gen. 15:16; Matt. 23:38).



{Scripture Reading: 1 Cor. 6:9-11}

A. Cleansed By The Blood Of Jesus - Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:13-14, 22.
B. Through A Washing Of Water By The Word - Eph. 5:25-26; Acts 22:16; Heb. 10:22, Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:21.

A. Set Apart From Sin By The Blood Of Jesus - Heb. 10:29; 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; Eph. 5:26.
B. Things Which Sanctify Sinners: Blood, Holy Spirit, Truth, Obedience - 2 Thess. 2:13; Jno. 17:17, 19; Rom. 6:17-22.
C. Holy Living - Eph. 5:27 1 Thess. 4:3-8; 2 Tim. 2:19-23.

A. Acquitted Of Guilt Of Sin By The Blood Of Christ - Rom. 5:9; 4:25; 5:18; 3:23-26; Jas. 2:21-24.

Acts 18:8 (washed, sanctified & justified when they obeyed the gospel!) - 1 Cor. 6:9