I’m about to say something that probably won’t shock you… Christians aren’t perfect. Some of us may try to act like it, and I’m sure many of you get closer to that mark than I do… but in the end we all miss it.
We are going to mess up. We are going to let ourselves down and possibly tick each other off in the process. A symptom of this broken nature that we inherited from the fall is sin and failure, and because churches primarily consist of “fallen” Christians, they aren’t perfect either. It’s because of that that we shouldn’t be surprised when people who have a sincere relationship with Christ offend or even deeply hurt us… when people we may look up to let us down.
With that in mind, why does it hurt so bad to get wounded by a church, a pastor, or a close Christian friend?
I believe it is because we expect to be mistreated in the world, but we’re often blindsided and get our feelings hurt when our brothers and sisters in Christ let us down… maybe they leave us out, seemingly underappreciate us, make decision we don’t agree with, talk behind our backs, stab us in the back, or aren’t there for us in a time of need. We are a little more understanding when we get hurt by those who haven’t yet received the grace of God and understood the fullness of His love, but we expect to be fully accepted and live harmoniously with those who are already “within the flock.”
Have you been hurt in church? What are you supposed to do? How do you handle it?
So the church hurt you? What do you do? Leave the church? Confront the issue? Bury it? Lash out at the person who hurt you?
When a church, a pastor, or church member hurts a person, how can they resolve the issue? What does this Bible say about this and how do you practically walk that out?
In Frank Viola’s book “God’s Favorite Place on Earth” he says this,
When Martha complained to Jesus about Mary on His first visit to Bethany, Mary could have chosen to be offended by her sister. But there is no indication that she felt that way. She also could have taken offense when Judas and the disciples protested against her act of extravagant worship. But again, there is no indication that she did.
Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the pain that was inflicted upon Mary in both situations. Here was a woman who loved her Lord with all her heart, and she was unfairly criticized for it. Not by her enemies, but once by her sister and another time by some of the Lord’s own disciples.
It reminds me of the old adage, “No good deed shall go unpunished.”
The words of Elbert Hubbard come to mind: “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
In both cases, Mary never opened her mouth to defend herself or her actions. In silence, she entrusted the matter to her Lord. And in both instances, Jesus rose to her defense.
Point: there will always be some Christians who will undermine and denigrate your good actions.
Austin-Sparks once wrote, “If you get upset, offended, and go off and sulk, and nurse your grievance, you will die.”
At times everyone gets hurt. Christians are no exception. The fact of the matter is that those you are around most often are those most likely to hurt or offend you. If you are a Believer, and tend to hang out with Christian friends, then statistics would say at some point you are going to get hurt or offended. So… when, not if, that happens what do you do and how do you respond? Many of us have responded incorrectly by avoiding certain people, leaving churches, bad talking our brothers and sisters in Christ, or even stopping our fellowship with God’s people all together.
This article isn’t going to help you determine whether you are rightfully hurt or not… because let’s face it, sometimes we are in the wrong and our intentions or priorities were jacked up in the first place. This article is going to help us sift through the wreckage once we are hurt or offended so we can move on in our walk with Christ, and hopefully live harmoniously with our local “body” of Believers.
Let’s think together about this sensitive subject.
- Choose to Heal
In the Gospel of John we see an example of how Christ asked a “wounded person” to leave his injury behind, knowing that he could never again fall back on that as his crutch or identity.
John 5:1-9 says,
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
First, Jesus asked the “invalid” if he wanted to get well. I find this part alone fascinating because it is an amazing demonstration that God will not force himself on anyone, no matter how obvious the need, if we don’t make a decision to receive his healing then we won’t! This man had held on to his victimhood for thirty-eight long years. So when Jesus asked him the question, the man did what he had always done before… he played the victim.
Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.
That response did not answer Jesus’ question. In fact, Jesus did not ask what the problem was… Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed or delivered from it. Sometimes that is right where we are. We are on the brink of breakthrough… of healing, and Jesus is asking if we want to be healed and instead of answering we decide to relive the issue and make sure He hears our side of the story!
Still, in this situation Jesus showed grace mixed with a command to do something. He told the man to, “get up.” Jesus already knew the issue and problems this man faced, and he knew how much faith it would take to attempt that seemingly simple task. When the man chose by faith to get up and leave his victimhood behind after nearly four decades, he was healed.
Alfred D’Souza once wrote,
For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.
We have to come to the same realization regarding this life and the church. We are all flawed people and our flaws, collectively, are obstacles to our joy, but at the same time we are the community that Jesus ordained and the Kingdom on which His church is built. Waiting for individual people, humans, to meet our needs will leave us frustrated and unfulfilled here on this earth. We may fall into a flow for a while and our problems may coast under the radar, but I guarantee you that they will someday surface and we will take up an offense or hurt that can cripple us for a lifetime. The amount of energy invested in choosing bitterness or choosing healing is probably about the same… but the end results are diametrically different! One choice leaves us paralyzed in the past. The other choice gives us hope for the future.
In the Christian walk, hurts are inevitable. Feeling like a victim and deciding to stay there is optional.
Sometimes we choose to remain victims when we have the opportunity to move on. It is a waste of our spiritual potential to fixate on how events of the past could have, or should have, been different. Most of us, I do say “most” for a reason, who have been hurt could persuade any jury that the treatment we received from other Christians should have been different. But here is the truth… things are NOT different, and we CANNOT change the past.
No amount of time spent dwelling on how another person hurt us will change our present situation.
My wife is interested in emergency medicine. The idea behind emergency medicine is doing what it takes to keep a person alive, or preventing as much long-term damage as you can on a case-to-case method. With that I mind, imagine that you have been shot and rushed to the emergency room. Would you spend all of your time worrying about who shot you? Or do you think your first concern might be to stay alive?
I hope it would be to stay alive! Who cares about who shot you if you are dead!
In real life, with real physical hurts, we immediately seek physical help. But emotional and spiritual hurts seem to evoke a response unlike any other wound. When people within the church hurt us, we tend to focus on the person who hurt us… the pain inflictor, not the Healer. This is one of our Enemy’s most effective distraction strategies, he knows that healing is available, and he does not want us to get it. So he keeps us where we are through offense and bitterness. Our own feelings can leave us paralyzed and vulnerable.
Satan wants us to forget that being broken is an integral part of God’s plan for our growth.
The apostle Paul, who begged God to remove his affliction, came to an important realization in 2 Corinthians 12:9. It says,
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Paul had to quit focusing on his handicap in order for Christ’s power to shine through and take over. Want to continue to be used by God after an injury? The first step to recovery is choosing to allow yourself to be healed.
- Choose to Forgive
Bernard Meltzer once said,
When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
The bottom line is this… you can’t heal until you forgive.
It doesn’t matter how wrong you think your offender is, you HAVE to forgive. Ultimately, forgiveness is not for the other person… it’s for you. Forgiveness doesn’t justify what someone did that was wrong, nor does it necessarily mean that the relationship goes right back to where it was. If you don’t forgive, you end up bitter and resentful and before too long you’ll end up hurting other people. The healing process can’t really begin until you spit out the bait of offense.
The call of forgiveness is not easy. It requires us to practice maturity, patience to allow the process to unfold, and the tact to endure it. But, we should not forget that forgiveness is also a mandate from our Lord. We can take great comfort in knowing that He is working while we are waiting, and sometimes even suffering. We can best practice forgiveness by realizing how much we have been forgiven. The magnitude of forgiveness from our Lord for what we have done can never measure up to anything others could do to us. When we put forgiveness into practice, we will be free from the bondage of bitterness and pain that sin imprisons us with.
God desires that we seek forgiveness, because God is a God of relationships, and God is committed to our relationships. Relationships are what this life is all about! What is a church without the people? Nothing. Satan seeks to destroy relationships. His first attempt was in the Garden of Eden, nearly defeating our relationship with God and with one another. God’s plan is to prove Satan wrong, and, our call is to build one another up, not destroy one another.
When we have been wronged, and we experience feelings of betrayal, God calls us into reconciliation. When we fail to forgive, we are the ones who suffer the most. Anger, resentment, shame, bitterness, contempt, and defensiveness all synergistically build on top of one another, so every segment within us is held hostage. We are chained like a dog on a leash, unable to reach the destination we desire, what Christ has for us.
Matthew 18:23-35 says,
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-seven times. “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.”
This passage in Matthew is a story of a forgiving king and a wicked servant. The king forgave this servant’s enormous debt, which is an illustration of our enormous debt of sin that we held until Christ forgave us by the cross. This servant represents the Believer, who, after experiencing the forgiveness of God, harbored bitterness to another, and then refused to forgive his fellow Christian, or a non-Christian, for a much, much smaller debt. The king became furious, and handed the servant over to be tortured. The Bible is telling us that if we refuse to forgive one another, and continue to harbor bitterness, we cannot be relinquished from the torment that comes with harboring resentment, hurt, or pain.
I love what Mahatma Gandhi once said,
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
For some reason in our society everyone wants to carry some chip on their shoulder or wants to have the one “soap box” that they carry around with them in hopes that they can one day stand upon it and vent their insufficiencies, or the insufficiencies of others or their past church, out to the rest of the world, when in reality God calls Christians to operate in the parameters of forgiveness, love, and mercy. How can we receive Christ’s forgiveness, and claim Christ as our Savior, when we are unable to forgive one another?
When we have a forgiving attitude, then we will have a heart at rest and in peace!
What does that “soap box” or unforgiveness look like for you? Is it a wound from a past relationship or church that you carry around willing to share with “friends” or on Facebook for all to see, or is it a reluctance to get involved in another Body of Christ or group of Believing friends? They are all the same… they are unforgiveness, bitterness, and resentment in all of it’s flattering forms.
In order to start the healing process you must first start the forgiving process!
- Choose to Forget
General Robert E. Lee once paid a visit to a Kentucky home, where a bitter and angry woman pointed to what was left of a magnificent tree in front of her house. She was upset that Union artillery fire had ruined the shape and beauty of the tree, and she wanted General Lee to share her anger. She wanted her great leader to condemn the Yankees and sympathize with her. Lee paused and quietly said,
Cut it down, my dear madam, and forget it.
General Lee knew that the damaged tree would only be a constant reminder of her victimhood and the pain that she felt from the impact of the war. He wisely suggested that the reminder be cut down entirely so she could get on with her life. That tree would never be the same, and her bitterness would not change that fact, so she was better off to forget the tree and move on with things in her life that she could still impact and make a difference with.
Have you turned your wounds into things that define you?
So many of us harbor our hurts for so long that we basically build a monument to that thorn in our side and no matter how far we go in our life we can always look back on the horizon and see that it is still there! Don’t allow the hurt of your past to become monuments to your future that constantly remind you of the hurt that once was. For many of us it is time to follow the words of Robert E. Lee and cut it down, so that we can forget it.
Many of you may point out that the phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in Scripture. However, Scripture does say that love keeps no record of wrongs and that love conquers a multitude of sins.
Psalm 103:12 says,
As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Micah 7:19 says,
He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
Because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, God will never again allow the knowledge of these sins to play a part in His relating to us. Christ reconciles us to God the Father, who then sees us as washed white as snow through Christ’s shed blood.
Isaiah 1:18 says,
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
Humans are not able to forgive and forget perfectly like God does, and this is why regular reminders of the Gospel are so important. Christ’s atoning work on the cross perfectly covers all of our past, current, and future sins. So any pain we have dealt with in the past, are currently dealing with, or will deal with in the future are perfectly cared for by Jesus. The Gospel frees us up! We have been forgiven so that we are able to forgive.
Colossians 3:13 says,
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.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19 confirms that we have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation. It says,
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
God perfectly models what forgiveness entails through Christ. We are called to walk in the power that is extended to us through God’s mercy. To let the pain from a past hurt or offense keep us from walking in healing is to misunderstand the all-encompassing work of the gospel to save, sanctify, and glorify us.
If we choose to nurse our victimhood rather than treat our wounds, it can become spiritually life threatening.
Next week we will continue on with some practical ways to move past offense and begin walking in forgiveness.