Friday, April 15, 2011


One of the most basic and simple forms of Jesus’ teaching is that Christians in community are never to give up on one another ... never give up on a relationship ... never write off another believer. The Bible seems clear that if a relationship has cooled off or weakened in any way, it is always your move. It doesn’t matter “who started it.” God always holds you responsible to reach out to repair a tattered relationship. A believer is responsible to begin the process of reconciliation, regardless of how the distance or the alienation began.

When someone seriously wrongs you, there is an unavoidable sense that the wrongdoer owes you. The wrong has incurred an obligation, a liability, a debt. Anyone who has been wronged feels a compulsion to make the other person pay down that debt. We do that by trying to hurt them back, by yelling at them, making them feel bad in some way or just waiting and watching and hoping that something bad happens to them. Only after we see them suffer in some commensurate way do we sense that the debt has been paid and the sense of obligation is gone. This sense of liability and obligation is impossible to escape.

What is forgiveness then? Forgiveness means giving up the right to seek repayment from the one who harmed you. In fact, in some sense, forgiveness is a form of voluntary suffering.

Think about how monetary debt works. If a friend breaks my lamp, and if the lamp costs fifty dollars to replace, then that act of lamp-breaking incurs a debt of fifty dollars. If I let him pay for and replace the lamp, I get my lamp back and he’s out fifty dollars. But if I forgive him for what he did, the debt does not mysteriously vanish into thin air. When I forgive him, I absorb the cost and payment for the lamp. Either I will pay the fifty dollars myself to replace it or I will lose the lighting in that room. To forgive is to cancel a debt by paying it or absorbing it yourself. Someone always pays every debt. Always.

In all cases, when wrong is done, there is a debt - and there is no way to deal with it minus suffering. Either you make the perpetrator suffer for it or you forgive and suffer for it yourself.

And when two people within the church are in conflict with each other, it can wreak a lot of havoc in the hearts and lives of the Christians around them who are not immediately involved. The worst thing (but unfortunately the common thing) that happens is rather than suspending judgment, praying, and encouraging the parties toward reconciliation, people take sides in the dispute in a very world-typical way. It is hard not to sympathize with the party you know best. It is also hard for that person not to share his or her hurt with others in a way that does not vilify the other party in the conflict.

As a result, we can have second- and third-order unreconciled relationships. The problem with this is obvious. There is no direct way to heal such breaches. This is a spiritually poisonous situation.

The reason there are so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love other Christians is because the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs or anything else of the sort that bind most groups of people together. Christians come together because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe Him a common allegiance. In this light we are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.

The reason we will have to hold ourselves accountable for our relationships is that mutual love, even within Christian community, is super-hard. Oh - not with your best buds, but with everybody else. Jesus has brought incompatibles together on purpose.

But the larger reason we will want to hold ourselves accountable to healthy and forgiving relationships is that mutual love in Christian community is one of the main ways the world will see who Jesus is.

So we must never give up on each other.

And be blessed.


Bill Tait said...

This one is a hard one. Sometimes so hard that I hope a willingness to try to forgive will at least "start the ball rolling" to real forgiveness.
I sure hope God has a type of forgiveness installment plan with a low down payment due at trying and 0% interest?

Anonymous said...

A powerful article, P. Kevin!

Anonymous said...

When one apologizes and extends the olive branch continually, when is it time to accept it and move on? Is that what Jesus would do? He doesn't do it with us, but people do it, even when they are Christians.

PK's BLOG said...

ANON: Apologizing and extending/accepting forgiveness means that God has covered the offenses and both parties are moving forward with clear records and consciences with one another. It does not mean, in every case, that the relationship resumes 'as normal,' as if nothing ever happened.

Be blessed.

Anonymous said...

It makes me sad, because I have never not forgiven someone. I guess my make-up is not the same. When I care for somone, it is forever...when it is real. Those types of friendships are so few, that is is awful to lose them. Hard to replace. Thank God for Jesus. Even though He's not here physically, He brings me comfort.

PK's BLOG said...

Good for you, ANON. I have never not forgiven anyone either, though on occasion - as with perhaps some family members from the far past - it was very difficult. Sometimes forgiveness may even come in stages, as God deals with personal hearts.

Anonymous said...

There is so much I really don't know about those family members and what it took to forgive them. I know one thing, you are such an outstanding person and pastor. The difficulties of your past have not held you back....and we all benefit from that. I am so proud to have you as a pastor.