The title of this blog post is probably not the kind of slogan that anyone on Madison Avenue would ever recommend for a church. I do not expect to see it on a billboard in the Metroplex anytime soon. In the hallways at the various state conventions this Autumn, I would be surprised to hear any pastor, when he is asked how things are going at his church, to utter the sincere sentiment, "Well, they're putting up with me, and I'm putting up with them."
We like to indulge in and sell the fantasy that church is a place where you don't have to put up with people. We like to tell people to come to church where they'll get along with everyone and everyone will get along with them. We like to create genetically screened and modified congregations, demographically controlled to lessen the likelihood of their having to put up with anybody too different from them.
We pastors speak of our church having no problems that "a few good funerals" couldn't solve. We aspire to a more frequent practice of church discipline, sometimes because we wish to return to a biblical ideal, but if we will be honest with ourselves, sometimes because there are some people we'd rather ship off to somebody else. (Do not misconstrue: I'm working toward a better practice of biblical restorative church discipline here at FBC Farmersville, and I think that most of our SBC churches are in disobedience to the Lord if we are not doing so. I'm just saying that we pastors ought to check our own motives while we do so. More on that in several coming posts.)
But putting up with one another is a good and biblical idea. This morning I am preaching from the first two verses of Ephesians 4, in the first steps of a journey that will take us through that entire chapter. In the second verse, we find the powerful command (in Greek) that we should be “ἀνεχόμενοι ἀλλήλων ἐν ἀγάπῃ” unfortunately rendered in English in the NASB as "showing tolerance for one another in love." I say "unfortunately" not because of any defect in the NASB translators, but simply because the language of "toleration" in twenty-first-century English has come to carry so much baggage. We have come to associate with "toleration" a sort of attitude in which another person's behavior doesn't bother us. Often, in this age, the apex of toleration has come to be characterized by laissez-faire at the best and amorality at the worst.
The meaning in Ephesians, in contrast, conveys expressly the state of being bothered terribly by something or someone, yet patiently enduring the offense and putting up with the offender. The church that puts up with each other—that's a high biblical ideal to which we ought to aspire.
Ultimately, as I said in this morning's sermon, these attitudes arise out of our gospel calling. Each of us should pose two questions to ourselves as churchmen and churchwomen: (1) Do I really believe the gospel? (2) Do I really believe that the other members of this church are in the gospel?
If I really believe the gospel, including what it says about what I was and about what it took to remove me from what I was and to move me toward what I will be, then I will be humble in the church. And if I really believe that the gospel is at work in my fellow believers, then I will patiently put up with them in love, confident that whatever unChristlike thing I am enduring at their hands, it will not last forever in them as the Spirit has His gospel way with them.