We owe a debt of gratitude to Reformation Heritage Books and General Editors, R. Scott Clark and Casey Carmichael, for the latest publication in their “Classic Reformed Theology” series, Robert Rollock’s Commentary on Ephesians.
In reviewing Rollock’s comments on Ephesians 4:1-3 for teaching I am to do next week, I was struck by the profundity of his treatment of the virtues Paul commends in this passage. I found his treatment of Paul’s exhortation to “bear one another in love” especially helpful, given the intensity of conflict we are witnessing inside and outside the church in recent days.
According to Rollock, Paul’s call to “tolerate” one another in love is a specific application of the more general virtues of modesty and gentleness. Whereas modesty involves having a restrained, humble opinion of oneself, gentleness involves restraining our anger when wronged by our neighbor.
But tolerance, as Rollock understands it, is not mere passivity in the face of interpersonal injustice. Tolerance is a form of love, and that in two senses. First, bearing with one another in loves leads us not simply to put up with our offender’s sins but to pardon and forgive the offender willingly. Second, tolerance has a telos: we bear with our offender’s sins in order to promote his sanctification. Forgiving sin does not require ignoring sin. Tolerance does not involve looking the other way. The reason we forgive our neighbor’s sins, the reason we do not prematurely cut off a relationship in the face of interpersonal injustice, is for the benefit and edification of our neighbor: that he might repent of his sins, be restored to fellowship, and grow in Christlikeness. Without this second aspect of tolerance, Rollock insists, tolerance “will be more of a hindrance than a profit.”
Here’s Rollock’s discussion of Ephesians 4:3: “bearing with one another in love.”
Tolerate one another in love. You have this precept set forth in just as many words in Colossians 3:13. It is expressed in other words indeed, but in the same sense in Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens.” The sense is easy: tolerate one another’s offenses through love. Now let us look at these words. Tolerance presupposes weakness and offense. For there is none of all the saints who lives beyond offense, so that he does not offend sometimes. But tolerance does not permit us to connive for a time and then, when the opportunity present itself, to avenge ourselves. Nor is tolerance placed in this, that although we cannot at any time avenge the harm, we bear it indeed, but unwillingly. Instead, we should tolerate harm in such a way that we entirely pardon it. Indeed, in Colossians 3:13, after Paul commends tolerance in the words “tolerate one another,” he immediately adds, “and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against someone else.” Therefore, injury must be so tolerated that it is entirely forgiven. And not that only, but tolerating and forgiving, we should also restore that man who offends in this way. For thus Paul commands in Galatians 6:1: “Even if a man were taken over in some offense, you who are spiritual must restore a man of this sort with the Spirit of gentleness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.” Therefore, tolerating and forgiving at the same time let us also restore the man who offends, so that we might teach him to be more godly. But someone should be a measure of this tolerance, about which we speak, and the weak must be tolerated this far, since it happens for their good. For in this way in Romans 15:2 Paul writes, “Let everyone of us forgive our neighbor, that is, for his edification.” Therefore, in tolerating offenses, the usefulness and edification of one’s neighbor must be regarded. Otherwise that tolerance will be more of a hindrance than a profit.”