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Bear One Another

Bear One Another

Ephesians 4:1-3


It has been called the greatest rescue mission of World War II.

Late in that war, American bombers were sent on dangerous missions over southern Europe to cripple the Nazis’ oil supplies. Hundreds of crews in flying tin cans soared through storms of anti-aircraft shells. Many American pilots were forced to bail from their shot-up planes. The injured airmen drifted by parachute into occupied Yugoslavia, expecting to be captured or killed. Instead, on the ground remarkable rescue teams were already in place. Serbian peasants tracked the path of the floating flight crews. Their sole mission was to grab the downed pilots and bring them to safety – before the Nazis arrived. Risking their own lives, the peasants fed and sheltered the downed solders. These rescued men were in friendly hands but on enemy soil. They still needed to escape. The story of what became known as Operation Haylard builds toward a daring mission, a secret landing strip, and a clandestine evacuation plan. Amazingly, those Serbian peasants rescued every single American airman – over 500 in all.


But there’s a really cool subplot to the rescue. To travel to the evacuation site, the airmen had to spend weeks following the Serbian rescuers, who alone knew the path to the evacuation site. Despite the profound language barriers, the direction, pace, and destination were in the hands of their rescuers. The men had been saved from their enemy, but the journey had just begun. They still had to walk to freedom.[i] For the airmen it was a journey of survival. For us it’s a journey of faith.


This fall we’ve been looking at the “One Another” passages of the New Testament; the passages that describe the way those who follow Jesus are supposed to treat one another. It’s timely for us as we are in the final stages of bringing two congregations together. In a few short weeks we’ll legally be one church. But in reality, it’s going to take time for us to become one. And we’re going to be growing, adding to the body, as we become one. Think about a marriage. Typically, a marriage begins with a wedding ceremony. And during that ceremony, husband and wife become one in the eyes of God and legally in our society. They can file taxes together. They can obtain credit together. Legally, they are one. But are they really one yet? Even if they’ve been dating for a long time before getting married? My experience as a pastor and counselor is: nope. When I perform a wedding, I acknowledge the couple as one in the eyes of God and society. And then I turn to them and say, “Become one.” In other words, work out in your relationship that which has become true about you today. And hopefully, in five years they’re still together and are more one then than they were on the day they were married. And as they grow together, one and yet constantly becoming more one, they might add children, grandchildren. Their family will grow. The same will be true of us. We will soon be one. And our job in the weeks, months, and years ahead is to forge into reality the oneness that we are already living out and that will soon be created on paper.


God calls us to walk with him, together, into the reality that he has already created in Christ. So we have to learn how to do life with one another well. Paul describes our life together in Christ in his letter to the Ephesians us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1).


Walking implies something that is enduring and directed, not frantic and aimless. The walking Paul is talking about here involves a lifetime of faithfulness. In a sense, as husband to Becky, I am walking through this life with her. To follow Jesus, to be a disciple of Jesus, is to walk with Jesus. I find it interesting that before sin entered the world, before the fall, the relationship between God and humanity was pictured as enjoying one another’s presence and walking together. In Genesis 3:8, we read “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” “But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” Because of sin, humanity no longer enjoyed God’s presence, they feared it. In that call, “where are you?” God’s rescue of humanity began. In Christ, God has made a way for us to be with him, to enjoy his company, to be his children, once again.


We are to walk through life in a way that is worthy of the calling we have received. What is the calling we have received? When we think about calling, we tend to think of our calling in terms of our unique vocation in the world. Our special purpose for being here. That thing we were created to DO. American author and theologian Frederick Buechner, who just recently turned 90, has famously said that your vocation, your calling, is “the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Is that what Paul is talking about here? The call to DO something for God in the world? No. What Paul is talking about here is more basic than that. He’s talking about the calling to be God’s children. James Bryan Smith, author of the books we use in the Apprentice Series, describes the call this way: “God says, ‘Sit down. Rest here. Feast with me. BE with me. Enjoy my presence, and let ME serve YOU first. I don’t need you to serve me. I don’t need you for anything. I made you because I love you, and what I really want is to be with you. My deepest desire is not that you go off to try to serve me, but that you would let me love you.”[ii] I love that. Doesn’t mean there isn’t something for us to DO. But whatever we DO for God grows out of our being with God, enjoying his presence. Jesus lived, died, and was raised to life so that we can enjoy God’s presence again.


So what does that look like to walk worthy of this calling? Paul starts to lay a foundation for life together in the body of Christ, and he gives us three building blocks for that life together. The first is humility. Look at V. 2. “with all humility.” Humility focuses on our thinking. It has to do with what, and who, we spend our time thinking about. Have you ever been around someone who thinks only of themselves? Someone who always has a story to tell but it’s always about THEM, about THEIR life, about THEIR experiences? I’ve known a person like that. It was someone who always had a lot to say, but it was always a lot to say about himself. As soon as I started sharing something about myself or something that had happened to me, it would remind that person about something HE had experienced or done and off he would go into another tale about himself. I never had the sense that he had heard me. C.S. Lewis has what I consider to be one of the best definitions of humility. “True humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.” He goes on to paint this picture. “To even get near a humble person, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert. Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” Humility.


Second, we’re to be marked by gentleness. Gentleness is pretty much a forgotten virtue today. The same word could be translated “meekness.” Not something we think of as a great characteristic today. But that’s because we misunderstand gentleness. Gentleness is not weakness, but of great strength under great control. Even outside the Bible, Aristotle wrote often about gentleness. In his thinking, gentleness is the midpoint between the two extremes of never getting angry about anything and getting angry about everything. A gentle person is one who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time. A gentle person might be someone who is angered by the wrongs and sufferings of others but never moved to anger by personal insults and wrongs suffered at the hands of others. Great strength, but under great control.


I want to show you a video that pictures gentleness in a way no verbal description can.


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Are you and I exhibiting gentleness? Are our words, our actions marked by gentleness? Or are they arrogant and rude? St. Peter touched on the same thing when he said “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Gentleness and respect are marks of those who walk with Christ. Gentleness: Great strength under great control.


Now I know, it’s easy to look at characteristics like these, gentleness and humility, and think, “Ok, I’ve got to work on these things. This is what God expects of me.” And then get down on yourself when you can’t do it. But think about Peter. He wasn’t known for humility, or gentleness, or respect. He was arrogant and brash and crass and rude. Even after the death of Jesus he still had problems with it. But listen to him now, after decades of walking with Jesus: be gentle and filled with respect for one another. Sounds like a different Peter than the one who asked Jesus to make him the most important person in his new kingdom, cut off someone’s ear, refused to eat with non-Jews, and tried to call down fire from heaven on a whole village. Truth is, it IS a different Peter. It’s a Peter who’s been walking with Jesus. It’s a Peter in whom the Holy Spirit has been working. It’s a Peter who has been transformed, not by his own effort, but by walking with Christ. He’s been transformed by Christ.


And then we come to the third building block of the one another life: Patience. It’s a word that, in the Bible, has two primary meanings. First, it describes someone who will never give in, who will endure to the end. It is a spirit that never admits defeat, that can’t be broken by any disappointment or discouragement, no matter how large. It pictures a person who hangs on to the end, no matter what. This is the person who continues believing God, trusting God, hanging in there with God no matter how hard, difficult, or painful life gets. Patient people don’t necessarily enjoy their suffering and pain. In fact, they probably hate it and try to seek some means of alleviating it. But they never quit. They never give up. Their walk may slow to a crawl, but they’re still moving.


But that isn’t the only sense of the word. Biblical patience, as includes this same patience applied to our relationships with others. Patience is more than just being able to wait. It is being able to endure, specifically the ability to endure rejection and injury from other people. Patience is the ability to endure attacks from other people and keep on loving and forgiving long after whatever natural human ability endure and forgive has been spent. It involves having the power to take revenge on someone but refusing to do so.


Humility, gentleness, and patience. These are the things Jesus is growing in you as you walk with him. And those three building blocks lead us to the capstone: love. We exhibit authentic love for each other. Flip back to the left probably just a page or two in your Bible to Galatians 6:1-2. Gentleness, there’s that word again. Always gentle. But here he tells us to bear one another’s burdens. To help one another. To allow someone who is struggling to lean on you for strength and support. That’s one part of what it means to bear with one another. And the rest of it? I love the phrase Paul chooses in Ephesians. He says “bearing with one another in love.” I just love that! Do you know what he’s saying? PUT UP WITH EACH OTHER!! Bear with one another. Deal with one another. Love one another, even when it’s hard. Humility: thinking about others. Gentleness: great strength under great control. Patience: enduring and loving even when insulted. And they all lead to love. Bearing one another and bearing with one another. Hanging in there with one another.


In family life and in church life, there’s always a huge gap between the ideal and the real. For example, every autumn we like to go to an apple orchard for pumpkins and apple cider, and donuts. So here’s the ideal day at the orchard. The leaves are golden and rusty, the sky is beautiful, and it’s 75 degrees. We all pile into the car and start singing and laughing as we merrily drive to the orchard. We arrive early in the morning with plenty of time to enjoy the orchard. Surprisingly, the folks at the apple orchard say, “Today apples are free for families.” So we guzzle apple cider and stuff ourselves with donuts – and we don’t even get a sugar high! Then, after a perfect day at the orchard, we drive home as the kids keep saying, “Wow, thanks, Mom and Dad!”


But the real day often looks like this. It’s a disaster from the start. We leave at least two hours late. The orchard closes at 5 P.M., we’re leaving at 3 P.M., and it takes an hour-and-half to get there, but I bark at everyone, “We’re going, so get in the car!” We missed lunch because we were scrambling to get everything done. With blood sugar levels plummeting, Becky and I start arguing. I think it’s her fault that we’re leaving late; she says it’s my fault. We keep arguing until the kids interrupt because now they’re arguing with each other. I turn around and snap at the kids, “Knock it off! I’m arguing with your mom.” When we pull into the apple orchard, we only have thirty minutes before closing time. So we tell the kids, “Hurry up, so you can have some fun.” By this time of the day all the good apples are gone, and nothing is free. When we get the kids back in the car, it’s already dark. On the way home, we finally get our apples: we stop at McDonald’s for an apple turnover. Unfortunately, life is almost never ideal, in our families or in the church. That’s why we have to practice love, acceptance, and forgiveness in the midst of real community among real fellow-sinners.[iii] Bear with one another in love.

[i] Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition (Crossway, 2010), pp. 63-64

[ii] James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God, pp. 106-107.

[iii] Stewart Ruch, from sermon “Shaping the World of Each Child,” at Church of the Resurrection, Wheaton, Illinois