“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Ephesians 4:1-6 NKJV
I have been given the gift of longsuffering. In my life, I have been the one to enter situations with no cover, as I have lived in a world where there are few people of color. I have always been a “first” or an “only” as I have frequently been the only black person in a given situation. With that distinction, I have been the representative, the one who was available to people who had never encountered black people in their own day to day lives.
For many that I have encountered, a mere conversation with a black person has never been a thing. Most of the time, I have the opportunity to share insights and thoughts from the persepective seldom heard aside from media caricatures.
Sadly, for some, I am the one they seek to try their stereotypical beliefs on, seeking confirmation of what someone else told them, but have never actually experienced themselves.
This is where longsuffering has been essential. Even in my current local church I deal with people, mostly women, who have preconceived notions regarding black men.
Unfortunately, I have few of the stereotypes present in my behavior or life, like most of us dark hued people. Still people persist in gossiping and sharing their beliefs in girlish whispers. In the extreme situations, some have gone so far as to try and create scenarios where I might show some flicker of behavior that confirms what the have heard.
My example is just one of many, that every member, regardless or race or sex, in a given body has dealt with in the local church. Every one of us has someone in the pews that we can’t stand, that causes us to groan inside when they approach. I have learned that these people are essential, and the experiences much needed as the Lord refines us and shapes us into the image of His Son.
The passage I read this morning is a wonderful example of why we must assemble, and why we must endure each other, even when the desire is to avoid, or worse yet, strike back. We who are the body have a responsibility to look after those who are in conflict and seek to bring about peace.
We are not allowed to sit back and watch. We are also not allowed to simply give into the conflict and not make the needed corrections. Paul dealt with such a conflict in Philippians chapter four.
“I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.”
Philippians 4:2-3 NKJV
These women and their conflict are immortalized for all time, as an example to us. Like them, we are to have the same mind in the Lord, as the spreading of the Gospel is impaired when we in the body are separated by strife.
I will tell you that bearing with each other can be difficult. In every church, there are people who require more patience than others. Rick Warren referred to them as EGRs Extra Grace Required. I am reminded daily that I am one of those. I came into this walk of faith as one so damaged, and so filled with pain and heaped up with strongholds.
I felt so unloveable, yet God had those who could love even me. I have learned from that, I and I ask God daily to make my heart raw and bloody, that I be sensative to those He may send me who are difficult to accept. I show grace because I received grace.
Unity in the body is essential in providing a loving example for the lost world that is watching. In the early church, those who made up the body were united, and held much in common. Those who called upon the name of the Lord were often rejected by the culture. They lost jobs, families, marriages, and birthrights. They needed each other to survive.
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
Acts 2:44-47 NKJV
Brothers and sisters, I suspect there is coming a day when we too will have to lean on each other for survivial. In that season of persecution, all the external things that separate us willl fade in importance and what will be important is our common bond of salvation.
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Galatians 3:26-29 NKJV
Let us live and love with one heart, with long suffering toward all.