The Difference Between Forbearance and Ongoing Fellowship

By Mike Willis

In discussing the principles taught in Romans 14, some have justified an ongoing fellowship with those they admit to be teaching doctrines contrary to the revealed word of God and with others who are practicing the things advocated by false doctrine. Sometimes they call this ongoing fellowship “forbearance.”


The Bible does teach the principle of forbearance.

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love (Eph. 4:2).

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye (Col. 3:13).

  The word “forbearance” in these two texts is translated from anechomai which is defined by Thayer to mean “to hold one’s self erect and firm (against any person or thing), to sustain, to bear (with equanimity), to bear with, endure.” Looking at some of the occurrences of anechomai, Jesus had to “bear with” the apostles’ weakness of faith as shown by their inability to cast out a demon from a boy (Matt. 17:17; Mark 9:9; Luke 9:14). Paul “suffered” persecutions (1 Cor. 4:12; 2 Thess. 1:4). The person bears with or endures whatever provocation comes, not giving up his faith in and service to the Lord. The principle of forbearance in Ephesians 4:2 is described by Colly Caldwell:

To forbear is to endure patiently, to suffer tolerantly, to hold back reaction, to evidence self-restraint. Unity is destroyed by fault-finding (Gal. 5:15; 1 Cor. 13:7; Rom. 15:1; 2:4). “Bearing with” or “forbearing” is enduring the faults of brethren with an attitude of holding up, sustaining, and seeking to help rather than criticize. Hasty judgment is antagonistic to peace. Remaining unshaken, erect, and firm in the face of personal difficulties leads to unity (Truth Commentaries: The Book of Ephesians 158).

  The Christian virtue of forbearance should be practiced. We exhort the showing of forbearance, with reference to both moral sin and doctrinal aberration. We should not be guilty of violating the principles of forbearance in any of the following ways:

1. Hasty accusation. We should not go over a person’s life and writings with a fine-toothed comb looking for something to criticize.

2. Fault-finding. We should not be super critical of every misstatement that a brother makes. Hyper-critical examination of his every word reflects on the man who is uncharitable to his brother.

3. Over reactions. We should not over-react to a brother’s offense by making a “mountain out of a mole hill.”

Withdrawal of Fellowship is the Last Act

Withdrawal from a brother is sometimes necessary, but it is always preceded by extensive efforts to save his soul. In personal offences it is preceded by orderly steps described by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. When a brother is over-taken in a trespass, spiritual men try to restore him (Gal. 6:1-2). Those who were “walking disorderly” or “unruly” were to be “warned”; only after they refused to repent were they to be withdrawn from (1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6).

When a brother is overtaken in a fault or falls into error, we should do everything within our ability to restore him. We should do this in a spirit of brotherly love, remembering that we also are tempted to sin. Only after every means of restoring the brother has been exhausted should the church act to withdraw from the erring brother.

There Is A Forbearance That Is Sinful

The word anechomai also appears in 2 Corinthians 11:4. There Paul condemns an unholy tolerance of false teachers. He wrote,

For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.

Paul is condemning the Corinthians’ bearing with those who preached another Jesus and received another spirit or another gospel. That which sometimes passes under the banner of “forbearance” is an ongoing fellowship with sin.

Brethren must recognize the difference between an ungodly tolerance of false teaching and a godly forbearance that does not act hastily, seeks to restore the ones who have stumbled, and does these things in brotherly love. The one has God’s approval and the other does not. When a brother commits himself to a doctrine in conflict with the word of God that leads those who follow what he teaches to commit sin, the time for forbearance will soon pass. When he circulates his false teaching through various means (private studies, public preaching, published articles and books, etc.), brethren must become concerned for those whom he might influence. This is not a time for forbearance; it is a time for marking the brother. The same apostle who commanded forbearance also wrote, “Now I beseech you, brethren, markthem which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). He warned of the dangers of tolerating false doctrine and ungodly conduct in a local church, comparing it to the spread of leaven (1 Cor. 5:6-7; Gal. 5:9).

Brethren may not reach at the same time the conclusion of when forbearance must cease and marking begin. We must give each other room to exercise his own conscience in reaching that conclusion. However, we should be able to agree that an ongoing fellowship with those who teach and practice things contrary to the word of God is not authorized under the Bible principle of forbearance. Rather, this is an unholy tolerance of sin that leads to compromise with that sin.

Romans 14

Romans 14 is discussing a forbearance that is ongoing because no sin is being committed. We need to distinguish between forbearance with our brethren who choose to act differently from us in the matter of authorized liberties (in-difference) and an unscriptural ongoing fellowship with those who are committing sin or teaching others to commit it.

With reference to eating meats and observing days, Christians must receive one another. This is to continue so long as both shall live because neither is involved in sin. The same is true of all matters that do not involve a person in the practice of sin (wearing the covering, using one cup, only using the King James Version, etc.).

An ongoing fellowship of those who are practicing sin cannot be justified under the principle of forbearance. The man who had his father’s wife was not allowed to remain in the fellowship of the church. After a period of time for re-storing him was exhausted, the church was to deliver him to Satan (1 Cor. 5). Those who followed in the steps of Jezebel “to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols” (Rev. 2:20) were to be removed from the fellowship of the local church after a judicious time was given them to repent.


Which is to be practiced with reference to divorce and remarriage? Does Romans 14 teach an ongoing fellowship with those who divorce their mates for any reason and marry new mates? Does Romans 14 teach an ongoing fellowship with men who teach that those who have divorced for any reason and remarried can continue to live with their second (third, or fourth) mates with divine approval? Some are arguing that these issues are to be treated like the covering and carnal warfare issues and not like those in Revelation 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 5. In this they are wrong for the reason that committing adultery is not an authorized liberty or a matter of indifference.

Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 23, p. 2
December 7, 1995