Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. -Colossians 3:12-15
There seems to be on ongoing trend and growing problem in the church world that I believe needs addressed. It is something that flies in the face of the very message of the Gospel and way of life we are called to model as representatives of Jesus and brothers and sisters in Christ.
But before I speak into this issue, let me acknowledge a couple things. First of all, I am personally and regrettably guilty of what I am about to write about on more than one occasion. This is not coming from a place of condemnation, but sorrow over my own actions and of the church in general. Secondly, this is a highly emotional and difficult reality to work through, which is why, although unbiblical, it is understandable. The easier way is to walk away than to engage in efforts of reconciliation.
The issue I am writing about is how easy it is for us to get offended and walk away from relationships, friendships and churches, instead doing the painful but biblical work of seeking reconciliation.
We have a problem. If we don’t agree with something, we feel it is justified for us to walk away from a church. If we get offended, we feel it is justified for us to walk away from relationships. If what we want isn’t offered, we focus on how our needs aren’t being met, instead of focusing on meeting others needs. If it isn’t our worship style, doesn’t suite our schedules, isn’t in line with our agenda, we bail. We often even coat it in “spiritual” language, along the lines of “we feel God is calling us to move on.”
But really, can we be honest? Most people leave a church, relationships and friendships because they have been hurt or offended. We leave because we don’t want to be vulnerable, don’t want to work through forgiveness, don’t want to do the hard work of reconciliation, admit we might be wrong or that our pride was wounded. It is all too easy to walk away and off to a church that is bigger, doing something better, around the corner…or none at all.
This is not the way of the cross however. This is not the way of how we are called to live as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not the way we are called to be as a family and church.
The reality is every relationship has it’s struggles. Every marriage has it’s challenges. Every church has it’s flaws. Everybody who seeks to serve and to love will be hurt and offended.
But what difference are we showing the world by just moving on when this happens? What message does this convey to a broken world looking for a place where family means family? What does it communicate about the message we say we believe…a message that at it’s core is all about reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy and grace?
The bible has so much to say about forgiveness and how to handle offense (see Matthew 18:15-35). It happens to us all, but how we handle it is the issue. The interesting thing is that the focus is all on repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness. It’s theme is humility, patience, bearing with one another, striving with all our might to live at peace with one another and to be peace-makers (fighting for peace not just walking away).
Yes, there are legitimate reasons for leaving a church, friendship or relationship. However, we have justified every reason for just walking away instead of seeking to reconcile and walk in forgiveness.
But is this not what Jesus does in pursuing relationship with us?
Is not he long-suffering towards us? Is he not patient with us despite our flaws? Does he walk away and abandon us when we offend him? Did he not go to the cross in order to make reconciliation and peace possible? Did he not suffer in agony personally in order that our relationship with God might be healed and we could receive mercy, grace and forgiveness?
How then, can we not seek the same, despite how hard and painful it might be with one another? How can we preach a message of reconciliation if we are unwilling to forgive or ask forgiveness? How can we call people to repentance if we refuse to reconcile and seek restoration of relationships with one another? How can we so easily walk away when Jesus says he will “never leave us or forsake us?”
What would happen if the world saw us model this way with another as Christ models towards us? How might that heal divisions in our country? What might this do for marriages, families and churches? What if the church was different? What if we placed higher value on relationships than our own ever fluctuating emotions, feelings, preferences, opinions and agenda’s?
Why do we wait for others to take the first step…instead of us taking the first step? Is our worship even true or acceptable to God if we refuse to make right our relationships with one another?
I think we need to remember the dual message of the cross. The cross extends not just vertically between us and God. The cross also extends horizontally…between each other. At the cross relationships with God are restored…but so are relationships with one another. The cross calls us to move towards one another…not away. Shouldn’t we value relationship with one another with the kind of passion Jesus values relationship with us?
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. -Matthew 5:23-24
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. -Romans 12:18
But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. -Matthew 6:15