The difficulty I am talking about is that which arises from daily intimacy with people in person. And no, I am not really talking about spouses.
Look at the early church in Acts:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Doesn't that sound wonderful? Isn't that what our hearts long for?
But this side of heaven, we and our brethren will struggle with the flesh. As we spend time with one another, at times our flesh will rise up--and we'll be irritable, frustrated, or even angry with our brother or sister, a fellow heir to the Kingdom.
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
I have always found this passage very interesting. Obviously, these two women had a disagreement, and it wasn't a case where one was grievously at fault and the other innocent, nor was it a huge topic that Paul needed to address in his epistle. He just wanted them to put the issue aside, with all its concomitant bitterness and division, and agree with one another in the Lord.
Don't get me wrong, please--this is not an ecumenical call for all of us to "put our differences aside," because, sorry, some of those differences are really important. I am writing here about our lives with the people closest to us, though not necessarily family (though I am sure it applies there, too!). Where we have carnal or insignificant differences with brethren, we are commanded and exhorted to lay those aside.
What's the root, anyway, of allowing these petty differences or dissimilarities to fester in our hearts? Pride. Stubbornness. Refusal to die to self.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
I'll tell you right now that "as the Lord has forgiven you" strikes a holy fear in my heart. I've been forgiven of a lot. Dare I harbor bitterness?
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you 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, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Rather than being eager to hold on to my cherished "right" to be angry/irritated/(insert derogatory adjective here), I do believe I am supposed to lay it aside, to throw it into the sea of forgetfulness, because of what Jesus did for me.
"Bearing with one another" means, to me, that what I will have to lay aside isn't necessarily a one-time thing. If someone exhibits a behavior, for example, that is particularly irritating to me, and that person is my brother, it is my responsibility and obligation to continue to lay that aside, dying to it rather than watering the seed of bitterness.
Jesus had strong teaching about forgiveness.
Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
I really wrote this to myself. I have a tendency to let little things build up over time with someone, and have been going through a particular trial in this area. I pray that the Lord will help me (and you!) to see things His way, and to remember the GREAT DEBT which was forgiven us if we are in Jesus. When I look at the mountain of my sin that was forgiven versus the molehill of the problem with my brother, well, it just brings the whole situation into focus.