Turning the Other Cheek: The Biblical Call to Forbearance

When consistently practiced, forbearance promotes peace, reconciliation, and spiritual growth.

Forbearance is an essential and highly relevant biblical concept. “Forbearance” means patience, long-suffering, endurance, self-control, and restraint in the face of provocation or annoyance. While not frequently discussed, forbearance is an essential component of faith modeled throughout scripture.

The following post explores the meaning of forbearance and identifies vital examples from the Bible demonstrating how it looks in practice. We’ll also discuss why cultivating a spirit of forbearance is critical for modern Christians seeking to live out their faith.

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What is Forbearance?

To forbear means to tolerate, put up with, endure, abstain from, or delay retaliation against someone who wrongs you. The Greek word in the New Testament translated as forbearance is makrothymia, which implies patience when you have the right to be angry.

Forbearance is closely related to biblical concepts like patience, long-suffering, mercy, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek. However, forbearance specifies not just bearing wrongs patiently but refraining from vengeance when justified in punishing. It means enduring hurts inflicted by others even when one has the right or power to avenge, punish, or retaliate.

Examples of Forbearance in Scripture

The Bible provides many examples of forbearance, where God or other biblical figures demonstrate remarkable restraint in the face of injustice or provocation. These examples demonstrate the critical qualities of forbearance in action – patience, mercy, self-restraint, and love for others.

1. God’s forbearance with Israel’s rebellion

Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites repeatedly disobeyed God by worshipping idols, murmuring against Him, and rebelling through unfaithfulness. Despite their persistent waywardness, God withheld the full measure of His wrath and patiently kept working to restore Israel to their proper relationship with Him. (Nehemiah 9:30-31)

2. Joseph’s forbearance with his brothers

After being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, Joseph had the power to take revenge when he rose to power in Egypt. Instead, Joseph showed mercy and forgave their betrayal despite being within his rights to punish them harshly. (Genesis 42:21-22)

3. David’s forbearance with Saul

Saul repeatedly tried to kill David out of jealous rage, pursuing him relentlessly across the wilderness. When David was able to kill Saul in a vulnerable moment, he spared Saul’s life, trusting that vengeance belonged to God alone. (1 Samuel 24:1-7)

4. Stephen’s forbearance as he was martyred

While being unjustly executed by stoning, Stephen demonstrated Christ-like forbearance by praying for the Lord to forgive his murderers instead of calling down retribution. Stephen emulated Jesus’ example of forgiving one’s enemies even in death. Stephen prayed for the Lord not to hold this sin against his murderers. (Acts 7:59-60)

5. Paul’s forbearance with the Corinthians

Despite their many disputes and immoral behavior, Paul gently corrected the Corinthians like a loving father instead of punishing them as an apostle. He sought their restoration through compassionate rebuke rather than retaliation.. (2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4)

6. Ephesians 4

Paul instructed the Ephesians to live in humility, patience, and love, bearing with one another instead of quarreling, even when wronged or offended within the church. Paul urged the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-2)

7. Colossians 3

Paul urged the Colossians to clothe themselves with compassion, humility, gentleness, and patience, choosing to endure each other’s faults and forgive rather than argue or seek revenge. Paul instructs the Colossians to “put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and…forgiving each other.” (Colossians 3:12-13)

The Importance of Forbearance for Modern Christians

Cultivating a spirit of forbearance remains extremely important for Christians today. Here are some reasons why:

1. It is central to imitating Christ’s example. Jesus epitomized patient endurance of unjust suffering on the cross (1 Peter 2:23).

2. It helps promote peace, forgiveness, and unity within the church. Forbearance lays a foundation for reconciliation.

3. It witnesses to unbelievers the power of Christ in believers’ lives. Showing grace under pressure displays supernatural love.

4. It keeps anger and bitterness from taking root in our hearts when wronged. Forbearance focuses on showing mercy.

5. It is needed more than ever in our divided, quarrelsome culture. Refusing to retaliate counters the worldly pattern.

Forbearance reflects many positive fruits of the spirit. Nurturing a forbearing heart remains vital for Christians seeking to be shaped by God’s Word. Though difficult, it is a biblical model we always have through the power of the Holy Spirit.


Cultivating forbearance may be challenging, but it is a way for Christians to live out biblical values. Though countercultural, forbearance remains relevant for Christians seeking to honor God through patience, grace, and love.

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