And here is a question I have asked God, because we are a people not yet made perfect. What do we do when the bonds of peace are strained, overlooked, or just plain broken?
It is no secret – our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ can hurt us. While we are doing what is right, someone may wrong us. They may betray our trust. They may reject us.
There’s no way to soften or avoid the truth: this hurts.
I’ve been involved with church-ministry for nearly my entire life. I have seen absolutely beautiful examples of the Body of Christ loving one another…I have witnessed selflessness, generosity, and grace. I know the sweetness of peace between brothers and sisters in Christ. But I also know the grief of conflict and division. I’ve heard unprovoked words of bitterness. I’ve seen the heart-break that follows. And so there have been times when I have found myself frustrated with the family of God, my heart aching over the way we can treat each other so callously. For a long time, my instinct was to run from planting roots into a church, to not give of myself because it felt too risky. My preference was to keep hidden, un-invested in something that was not a guarantee.
But the Church – with all of its mistakes, regrets, and stumbles – is still the Body of Christ.
Jesus loves us – His people – despite the pain He suffered for our sakes. He loved us before we loved Him in return. He is our Good Shepherd, who told Peter that the response to loving Him was to take care of His sheep.
We – the Church – are His. God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. (from Eph. 1)
How can we hold ourselves back from the church…when He held nothing back to make us a part of it?
Yes, there is healing, even for hurt inflicted within the church – because His body already bore the stripes to bring it.
But we have to open our hearts – we have to let His Holy Spirit breathe new life into our sealed-off corners and turn the lights back on in the places we have kept darkened. We cannot find healing by permanently staying away from the Body of Christ. Paul talks about how we are all needed – everyone a part, each piece of the body important to the whole.
This, I think, is where we – those who have been hurt and are, perhaps, withdrawn or holding back from the Body of Christ – must take a step of faith to become peacemakers.
We must go back to those verses in Philippians and remember that Jesus humbled Himself totally. He took on suffering. He took on the treatment that He did not deserve. To make peace between our hearts and the Father, He took the first steps that we couldn’t take. He did not cause the hostilities between us, but He ended them with His love.
If we want to be obedient to His Word, we cannot hide forever when we have been wounded. If we do not allow God to bring us through the pain in His strength and compassion, then we may get stuck in fear and bitterness. We may begin as those who have been wronged and end up holding onto what is wrong in ourselves – the refusal to follow His command: A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
To love one another as He has loved us, we have to give without expectation of receiving anything in return. We have to take a first step. We have to forgive – even if we never get an apology, even if we have been unequivocally wronged. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:32)
And Jesus said this in Matthew 6– For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Peter later asked Jesus how many times we should forgive those who sin against us – and Jesus said seventy times seven.
In other words, always.
I know it isn’t easy – being a peacemaker is risky! Preferring others, humbling ourselves, forgiving- it all leaves us vulnerable…and, chances are, we will face more pain. People will fail us, just as we may sometimes fail them.
Becoming a peacemaker – resembling Christ and bringing glory to our Father – means loving anyway.
And here is a crucial lesson I had to learn – as we serve and love each other, we put our full confidence and hope only in Christ.
We have to learn the wisdom of giving of ourselves to God’s people while putting our total trust only in God Himself.
If you have been in this place – if you are still feeling the effects of being hurt by someone else in the church – or if you feel this way in the future, I want you to know that Jesus will be with you every step of the way as you follow Him in giving of yourself again to others. We don’t do it without His help. Wasn’t Jesus Himself betrayed? He understands our grief – He does not turn away from our pain- For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet He did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15) He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
Spend time with Him, let His love be your strong tower…wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart…and don’t be surprised if He takes your struggle and – because He is the God who can do beyond what we can imagine, the God who brings light from darkness, the God who brings life from death! – transforms what was meant to do you harm into something He means for your good.
He can even use it for someone else’s good. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)
No matter what man may do, He never fails us. He is faithful – and He is our portion, the promised peace of our hearts that will pass understanding and circumstance.
As His children – we can be fearless in reconciliation, first to forgive, proactive in peace. We must trust Him and we must let our actions follow our faith.
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us…God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus. –1 John 4:16-17