Forbearance is a word found mostly in the King James Version of the Bible. It has two meanings. One is to delay repayment of a debt, as in “The borrowers requested forbearance until they could provide the proper documents.” In the Bible, however, forbearance usually refers to a godly character trait. To forbear is to abstain or hold back; forbearance is akin to patience and self-control. Colossians 3:12–13 is one example: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another” (KJV). The New Living Translation words it this way: “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.”
God shows forbearance in that He holds back the judgment the world deserves: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, KJV). In this instance, forbearance refers to God’s mercy, kindness, and longsuffering in delaying rightful judgment. Paul is warning mankind not to take God’s delay in dealing with sin as a sign that He is uninterested or that man is innocent. Paul warns the moralist not to be hasty in judging others since God will judge everyone some day. The fact that God is so forbearing in judging the world should cause us to forbear to judge others.
Forbearance is a quality God holds in high regard. Whether manifest as patience, endurance, gentleness, tolerance, or moderation, forbearance is woven throughout the Bible (Proverbs 25:15; Ephesians 4:2). Several of the qualities listed as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 have an element of forbearance reflected in them, including love, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, and self-control. God is patient, and He desires those who seek Him to be patient as well.
An oft-repeated command in Scripture is “wait on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14; Proverbs 20:22; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Isaiah 40:31). It could be that God requires us to wait upon Him in order to help us develop forbearance. When we’ve learned to wait upon the Lord, we find it easier to forbear with our brothers and sisters (1 Peter 3:8).