Scripture solemnly commands us, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:12-13, NKJV).
Bearing with someone and forgiving them are two different issues. Bearing with someone, or forbearing, means ceasing from all acts and thoughts of revenge. It says, in other words, “Don’t take matters into your own hands. Instead, endure the hurt. Lay the matter down and leave it alone.”
We are given a powerful example of this admonition in David’s life. He was in a vengeful rage toward a wicked man named Nabal because Nabal refused to help him when he needed help. David swore revenge, but he obeyed God’s counsel, “Do not avenge yourself… Let the Lord fight your battle.” That situation was resolved in a timely manner, and David praised God for his intervention (see 1 Samuel 25).
David had another opportunity for easy revenge when he found his pursuer, Saul, asleep in a cave where David himself was hiding. David’s men urged him, “This is God’s doing. He has delivered Saul into your hands. Kill him now! Avenge yourself.” However, David forbore, instead cutting off a piece of Saul’s garment so he could later prove he could have killed him. Such wise actions are God’s ways of putting our enemies to shame. In that case, Saul saw David’s proof and responded, “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil” (1 Samuel 24:17).
Jesus never said the work of forgiving would be easy. When he commanded, “Love your enemies,” the Greek word for “love” does not mean “affection” but “moral understanding.” Simply put, forgiving someone isn’t a matter of stirring up human affection but making a moral decision to remove hatred from our hearts.
Forgiveness encompasses two other commandments that Christ gave his followers. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). As one wise old preacher said, “If you can pray for your enemies, you can do all the rest.” I have certainly found this to be true in my own life.