Wisdom for Living: Bearing With One Another

“…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” (Eph.4:2,3)

Unity via humility

Paul begins his “walk worthy” section in Ephesians with an impassioned appeal for us to walk together in unity. As much as lies within us, if it is possible, we are to live peaceably with all men. Lowliness, gentleness, longsuffering and raw effort are the holy spices with which we are to mix the sacred oil of our unity.

The fragrance of our efforts will be a sweet smelling savour to our Lord, running down His beard like oil, running down to the edge of His garments (Psalm 133).

I came across an essay by C.S. Lewis years ago that humbled and helped in my efforts to get along with my brothers and sisters in the Lord, as well as with my family and co-workers and friends and in-laws and neighbours. That essay was called “The Trouble with X.” In it, C. S. Lewis made two observations of human nature that turned my point of view inside out and outside in.

Those fatal flaws

The first observation is that we all have a “fatal flaw” (as Lewis calls it). That is to say, we all have some defect, or defects, in our character that disappoint others and make them dread working with us or relying upon us. This fatal flaw could be anything from moodiness to arrogance, from self-centeredness to obnoxiousness, from gloominess to laziness – whatever the case may be.

Whenever we think of working with person “X” or spending time at a social event with person “X,” we may experience frustration or despair at the thought, that our time and plans might be “shipwrecked” (Lewis’ word) upon this person’s fatal flaw.

God feels the same way

The first lesson is this: That despair, that sinking feeling you feel when you dwell upon the trouble with “X,” is just a whiff of the same feeling that God must feel every hour. Every day God’s plans are in a sense “shipwrecked” upon the shoals of our crooked character.

Each ministry, each act of service, each sermon are all somehow spoiled or tainted by our fatal flaws. God does not put up with this for an 8 hour work day, or a weekly Sunday service. God dwells with it, and bears with it, every day, every hour.

And yet, despite His familiar knowledge with all our foul odors, He still loves us. We know that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; while we are still sinners, day after day, Christ intercedes for us.

Inside out and outside in

Get ready for the second observation, and this is the part that turned my understanding outside in. That fatal flaw that you have seen in another person, that trait, that characteristic that you find offensive and irritating, that falls short of what you find acceptable is the exact same feeling you give to someone else.

Your fatal flaw may not be their fatal flaw. But it is a flaw just the same. Your flaw may not be pettiness or cockiness but your flaw is disheartening, and it is something you cannot clearly see but others can see clearly enough. The humbling truth is that the same “sinking feeling” you feel when you think of the fatal flaw of others is the same “sinking feeling” you cause in someone else.

Have you forgotten so quickly the Scripture that says, “We are ALL sinners?” (Romans 3:20) Know that these observations are the practical reality of that Scriptural truth.

A better way to live

Instead of looking at others from the inside out, a better way to live would be to look at others from the outside in. When you look outside yourself and see that fatal flaw in others, immediately turn that thought inside out and look inside yourself to your own fatal flaws. Be aware that you may have fatal flaws that others may see but you don’t.

You may see that you lost your temper last week, while others see that you lose your temper all the time. You may see that you arrive late “once and a while” while others know that you will arrive late more times than not. You may see yourself as discerning; others may see you as judgmental. You may see yourself as frugal; others may see you as cheap. You feel justified; others see excuses.

Blind spots and character flaws

As we “bear with one another” and “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” let us humbly acknowledge that we all have blind spots and character flaws that irritate others. The sooner and more clearly we understand this, the humbler we shall be.

I end with a helpful quote from the essay entitled “The Trouble with ‘X’ by C.S. Lewis and urge you to read the entirely of it with an open mind:

“The more we can imitate God in both these respects, the more progress we shall make: We must love ‘X’ more; and we must learn to see ourselves as a person of exactly the same kind” (God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis, page 164).

Shane Johnson
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