By Chuck Lawless
If you’ve been hurt by a church or another believer, you know the pain can be searing. Sometimes it seems like there’s no pain quite like the anguish believers can cause one another. Nevertheless, we must not hold on to that pain. Here are some steps to help you address these issues.
- Begin by reading Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15. His words are quite clear: “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” Choosing not to forgive is a dangerous decision.
- Secure some prayer warriors to walk with you. Forgiveness is seldom easy. In fact, we typically can’t forgive apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Select 2-3 trusted prayer warriors, and ask them to intercede for you as you seek to forgive.
- Recognize who the real enemy is. Paul told us: “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Eph. 6:12). Human beings are not our enemy. Period.
- Understand who gets hurt when you don’t forgive. To be honest, seldom does our bitterness hurt the people who hurt us. Instead, we hurt our own walk with God when we choose to remain angry. That’s not very smart.
- Realize that forgiveness does not grant approval for wrong actions. My forgiving you does not approve your actions or release you from possible consequences of your actions. Forgiveness means I no longer hold a grudge or desire revenge; instead, I pray for and love you with the love of God.
- Think about how much the Apostle Paul loved the church at Corinth. That church was in disarray (following different leaders; living in sin; suing each other; arguing about the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, worship; questioning the resurrection, etc.), but still Paul said, “My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 16:24). Only God can help us love such a church – but He can, and He does.
- Evaluate your life for idolatry. I know this suggestion may be painful, but it’s a necessary step. If we know that Jesus commands us to forgive others – which He does – and we decide not to do so, we have placed our will above God’s command. That’s worshipping at the altar of bitterness.
- Pray for the person or church. Again, Jesus was clear: “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). Something just happens to us when we intercede for those who hurt us.
- Seek forgiveness if needed. Perhaps you need to talk to someone; if so, do it. If you need to confess your bitterness, take the steps to do it. You may want to include one of your prayer partners (#2 above) in any conversation, but do whatever obedience demands. Christian love is about showing love more than simply speaking love.
- Move on with the work of God in your life. Don’t let the evil one hold you back. Let go of your bitterness, and focus on the grace of God in your life. Realize that He has forgiven you of much more than you must forgive. Love Him and others – including those who have wounded you. Your supernatural, forgiving love will be a witness to the transforming power of the gospel.