FORBEARANCE AND THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH
Please permit me to begin our study tonight with an apology and a correction.
First, the apology: I apologize for trying to cover too much material last Sunday night and
going through some material too quickly. I have two basic objectives when I teach.
First, I want to challenge you to think. Second, I want to increase your understanding.
You do not have to agree with me. I know that I am not inspired. I understand better
than anyone else that my knowledge and insights are limited.
Second, the correction: Last Sunday evening I said that God did not have to be
forbearing after the death of Jesus. The context of that statement dealt with the fact
that, in the death of Jesus, God paid for the sins He ignored in the past. When Jesus
died, God did pay for the sins that He passed over prior to the death of Jesus. In doing
that, God was true to His just nature. But that did not end the need for God's
forbearance. God satisfied justice, He paid for the right to be forbearing by sacrificing
the pure blood of Jesus. But God is still forbearing; you and I are dependent on that
- I want to begin tonight with a point I covered too quickly last week.
- I cited Adam and Eve as the first manifestation of God's forbearance.
- Some of you asked me about that example, and your questions made me
realize I covered the material too quickly.
- Remember what forbearance is.
- Forbearance is holding oneself back.
- It is restraining oneself.
- Commonly, in reference to God, it is God restraining His wrath, holding
Himself back from executing justice.
- Let me show you why I think Adam and Eve is an example of God's forbearance.
- Turn in your Bibles to Genesis 2.
- In verses 8, 9 we are told that God planted a garden and placed Adam in
that garden (and we know that Eve was to join Adam there).
- That gardened contained every food producing tree and they could eat the
fruit of all those trees.
- It also contained the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was
forbidden for food.
- In 2:17 Adam is specifically told that "in the day" that you eat from it you
shall surely die."
- Both Adam and Eve clearly understood what God said; in 3:3 Eve
informed Satan that she was not to eat from that tree because God had
said, "You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die."
- Before I understood forbearance, this situation presented a problem for me.
- They ate the fruit, consequences were pronounced because they rebelled,
they were forced out of the garden, but they did not die.
- It was in violation of other Bible teaching to conclude that God lied,
because the Bible clearly states in several places that God cannot lie.
- For a long time I concluded that God meant something by the word death
other than would be the common understanding of the word in that
- Death means separation, so He meant that they would be spiritually
separated from him.
- He meant that they would be spiritually dead to him.
- I certainly agree that they destroyed their original relationship with God
and that the result was spiritual death.
- I wonder if we understand that because we look back as Christians; I
don't think that would be the conclusion of the early readers.
- Look in chapter 4, and becomes evident that the separation between God and
people at this point was not total.
- In verse 1 when Eve gave birth to Cain, she said, "I have a son by the help
of the Lord."
- Abel pleased God with his sacrifice; he did well.
- In verse 25 when Eve gave birth to Seth, she said, "God has appointed me
another son in place of Abel, for Cain killed him."
- Verse 26 tells us that when Seth was an adult, a father, "Then men began
to call upon the name of the Lord."
- In 5:24 we are told that Enoch had such an extraordinary relationship with
God that God took him from this earth without his dying--he must have been
an incredibly good man.
- 6:2 tells us that for a while there were a group of people who were so devoted
to God that they were known as the sons of God.
- My own personal judgment is that these were the descendants of Seth, the
people who called upon the name of the Lord.
- It is also my personal judgment that the daughters of men referred to the
descendants of Cain who wanted no contact or relationship with God.
- All of this information leads me to conclude that God was forbearing, that He held
Himself back, that He restrained His wrath when Adam and Even sinned, and
God, in His forbearance, permitted them to continue to live.
- That is my conclusion.
- I do not insist that you hold my conclusion.
- Now I want you to examine a case of New Testament forbearance that, to me,
is more astounding than Adam and Eve: God's forbearance in the church at
- First, examine their astounding congregational problems.
- Problem one: they were a deeply fractured congregation, and their factions
were quarreling (1:11-17).
- Some professed loyalty to Paul.
- Some to Apollos.
- Some to Peter.
- Some to Christ.
- At the foundation of their disagreement was what to emphasize when
presenting the gospel to other people.
- Some found proclaiming a Savior who was executed by the Roman
government disgusting--people would think they followed a criminal.
- They preferred to teach the gospel that emphasized Greek philosophy
in the area of wisdom instead of talking about the crucifixion of Jesus.
- Problem two: they ignored open immorality in a family by pretending the
problem did not exist (5:1-13).
- Problem three: They were taking each other to civil court to settle their
problems and differences (6:1-11).
- Problem four: there was an enormous disagreement about marriage (7).
- Problem five: there was serious confusion and disagreement about eating the
meat of animals that were killed as a sacrifice to idols (8).
- Problem six: there was serious confusion and disagreement about hair and
veils in worship assemblies (11:1-16).
- Problem seven: they were taking communion in a manner that hurt fellowship
and divided the congregation (11:17-34).
- Problem eight: they were using spiritual gifts in worship assemblies to
compete with each other and creating major confusion (14).
- Problem nine: some were teaching that there was no resurrection from the
- Look at the types of problems they had:
- Open congregational division (the factions).
- Sexual immorality problems (the man living with his father's wife).
- Relationship problems (taking each other to court).
- Fellowship problems (discrimination in abuse of the Lord's supper).
- Personal conviction and conscience problems (the question of meat offered to
- Cultural problems (the hair and veil questions).
- Worship problems (using the assembly for competition).
- Doctrinal problems (rejection of resurrection).
- As a Christian, what is your reaction to that mix of problems in that church?
- Should they be disfellowshipped as a congregation?
- Should certain groups in the congregation be forced to submit or leave?
- Should they no longer be considered either Christians or in Christ?
- Should they no longer be considered Christ's church?
- Do not form your conclusion until you consider all the evidence.
- In the letter, twenty-one times Paul called them "brethren."
- Once it is "my brethren," and once "my beloved brethren."
- The only chapters in which he does not refer to them as brethren are chapters
5, 8, 9, and 13.
- He called them his children and said that he was their father (4:14, 15)--Paul
spiritually claimed them.
- He repeatedly affirmed their continuing relationship with God through Christ.
- 1:2--He called them the church of God in Corinth.
- 1:3--He bade them grace and peace from God and Christ.
- 1:4--He thanked God for them and the grace they received.
- 1:30--He said, "By God's doing you are in Christ."
- 3:16--He said they are a temple of God (as a congregation) and that the spirit
of God dwells in them (as a congregation).
- 6:10, 11--Paul stressed the fact that they had been ungodly, but now they
were washed, were sanctified, were justified.
- 12:12-27--They did not understand what it meant to be Christ's body; they did
not understand that they were not supposed to be duplicates of each other.
- Even though they did not understand that they were Christ's body and did
not act like Christ's body, Paul said, "Now you are Christ's body, and
individually members of it" (vs. 27).
- 16:1-5--Paul included them in a cooperative benevolent effort that included all
the churches in the area.
- 16:6--He planned to come stay with them and hoped that they would support
him in the future (Paul had no doubt that this congregation had a future).
- 16:10, 11--He was sending Timothy to them and asked them to take care of
- 16:12--He promised that Apollos would come back.
- 16:19,20--He sent them greetings from other Christians.
- 16:23--He declared, "The grace of Jesus be with you."
- 16:24--"My love be with you."
- This is obvious:
- With all their problems, they were not out of Christ.
- With all their problems, they were not out of the brotherhood.
- With all their problems, they were not out of fellowship with other
- With all their problems, they were not out of fellowship with Paul.
- Not once does Paul suggest:
- That they should drive a part of the congregation away.
- That the "faithful" should take over the congregation and defeat the
- Paul is insistent in his instructions.
- "Address your problems:
- "With love for Jesus Christ.
- "With a better understanding of Jesus Christ.
- "In a manner that will bring healing."
- He pointedly discussed the spiritual damage their problems created, and he
held them responsible to open their eyes and address the problems.
- That is a powerful example of God's forbearance with those who are in Christ
- To me, two enormous, powerful, practical understandings leap out.
- Lesson one: there is too much concern in congregations today about capturing
and exercising control.
- "We know best; our way is the best way for the congregation."
- "We know best; our way will save the congregation."
- "Our way is the direction the congregation must go in."
- Too many things are done in congregations today because people want
- Too many Christians have the ambition to be in control.
- Lesson two: too much energy is wasted in congregations trying to assign blame.
- There often is a powerful drive to assign blame and to determine fault.
- Assigning blame and declaring who is at fault never solves a problem--not in a
family, not in the church.
- Commonly, blame has two ambitions.
- Getting the focus on anyone but me.
- Exonerating me or excusing me of responsibility.
- Is not concerned about exercising control.
- Is not concerned about assigning blame.
- Is concerned about promoting peace and unity through love.
- Is concerned about being forgiving, kind, and gentle.
God was infinitely forbearing with the Christians at Corinth. God is infinitely
forbearing with us as a congregation. God is infinitely forbearing with each of us as
individual Christians. Thank You God, for your forbearance. Without it everyone of us
would be spiritually dead. God, please help us learn how to be forbearing like You
are--with our brothers and sisters within the church, and with all those who are outside
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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