"Be kind to one another,
tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ forgave you."
I have thought long and hard about writing something about why I left my previous church. At the time there were a lot of thoughts running through my mind and emotions churning in me. They have since died down and I feel I am in a better place to write about this episode in my life. I write this not to degrade my old church but to be a help and encouragement to not hold grudges or unforgiveness towards those fellow Christians who wrong us and seek forgiveness and reconciliation. To not withhold fellowship when God in his forgiveness never withholds fellowship from us. This is the radical nature of the Apostle Paul's call to forgive. It is not simply accepting someone's apology (which many Christians today think it is) but it is:
1) To show kindness even when wronged.
2) To have a tender heart (not a judgemental heart) which cares for the person who has wronged us.
3) An attitude that wants to forgive rather than one that wants retribution or punishment, this includes a cold shoulder and "cutting off" of fellowship. This is possible because of how a person sees how much they have been forgiven by God in Jesus.
4) A desire for the best for the person who has wronged us because of who they are in Christ and in light of how much God loves us despite how much we wrong him.
As time has passed I felt now is the best time to write that the reason I left my old church was because I was not shown this kind of tenderhearted, kind, forgiveness.
The Burden of Feeling Unforgiveness
We often think of our own forgiveness towards others as being a spiritual and relational burden to ourselves that stops us from living in the freedom Christ bought for us on the cross. But the unforgiveness others show towards us can also burden us spiritually and relationally so that we cannot live in the freedom Christ bought for us. This is especially true when forgiveness is withheld from those who we attend the same church as because of the closeness of that relationship.Like rocks placed upon a person's back unforgiveness from others can wear down a person and over time make it impossible to have fellowship as the bible commands and describes. To feel like you are never truly forgiven and are being scrutinized as to your actions such that you are expected to screw up (as you have many times before) is a burden too heavy for anyone to handle. The damage this causes to a person is deep and requires much healing. To feel judged rather than loved, to feel scrutinized rather than embraced and encouraged leaves an indelible mark on a person from which only Jesus can heal.
Forgiven Yet Not
For a person to have others say, "I forgive you" yet in action they do not is a painful situation. To no longer be invited out for fellowship, to no longer be texted, to no longer be invited out for coffee, to be avoided in church, to be left out of church "social circles" and yet be told, "you are forgiven" speaks volumes as to the validity of this forgiveness. To have doors, social doors, doors of potential fellowship, gently shut and firmly bolted speaks as to the shallowness of the words, "I forgive you." The bible knows nothing of forgiveness that does not first come from the heart, is expressed in words, and is validated by actions of reconciliation. This is how God in Christ forgave us. For when God forgives us he does so from a heart of love, he tells us we are forgiven in the bible, and he pours out his blessings upon us in reconciliation including eternal life with him, all because of Christ. He forgives us, he tells us we are forgiven, and he follows this up and validates his forgiveness by the great good he does towards us. All this is towards those who neither deserve nor warrant his forgiveness. And we are to do the same.
I am glad I have moved on from my old church. I have been able to make a clean start without the old baggage of other people's unforgiveness weighing me down. I have been incredibly blessed by God to have brothers and sisters who accept me as I am and who deeply love me. Only recently I have been the recipient of their grace as they forgave me in such a way I seldom was in my old church. It speaks to me volumes of how much they not only know the grace of God but have experienced it in their own lives. This grace, amazing grace as the old Puritan wrote, has so impacted and transformed them such that they bear the fruit of grace.
Dear Christian remember that your unforgiveness not only has a great impact on your own life as you simmer in anger, bitterness and resentment but it also has a great impact on those who you show unforgiveness towards as it causes friction, stymies reconciliation and fosters disunity. It causes confusion and in the end resentment as this "forgiveness" even when spoken is nothing but words unless it comes from a heart of love and with actions that seek reconciliation. The forgiveness of God is radical. He forgave us not reluctantly or belatedly but earnestly and lovingly. He said to us, "you are forgiven for all the wrong you have done against me." And he shows his great desire for reconciliation by sending his own Son to die so that we who were once far off have been drawn near to the throne of God.
Dear Christian when you say, "I forgive you" but fail to extend the hand of fellowship it says, "I don't really forgive you." Remember what forgiveness God has shown towards you in Jesus. How your sins are no longer held against you and how God has extended his hand of fellowship to you. Forgive as he has forgiven you, the bible says, in heart, in word, and in action. In so doing unforgiveness has no power to destroy you or the one to whom forgiveness is to be shown.
Learning that I am Forgiven
By the grace of God I have been to grow in understanding that though people may not forgive me God does. That though people may never let go of the past God through Jesus has dealt with my past, my present and my future. It really does not matter what people think of me. Whether they think well of me or not. It really does not matter whether people choose to withhold forgiveness from me. God has forgiven me for all my sins because Jesus bore the punishment I deserve for all of them on the cross. And because of this I am greatly loved, accepted, and approved of by my Father. The opinions, feelings, and verdicts of people are insignificant and mean nothing compared to the One who made me and saved me. Because I have been able to embrace God's love for me and my the identity I now have in Jesus I have been able to be healed and grow beyond the unforgiveness of people as I live in the forgiveness of God.