When I was growing up, my dad stopped going to church. I don't remember exactly when, and I have never known the full story of why. In fact, we — my mom, brothers, and I — all stopped going for a while. And when my mom and I began to attend again, it felt wrong. It felt like betraying my dad, and I felt like an outcast.
In college, I returned to the very church my dad once left. Even as my faith became my own, I had a love-hate relationship with the place that nourished my heart, but that drove my dad away from faith and community. I felt ashamed to be there, but throughout my life something drew me inside churches to sit on back pews and live at the fringes of Christian communities.
It wasn't until college, when I went on a mission trip with people my age, that I discovered the depth and value of not only joining, but embracing a church home. Searching for that Christian community as a nomadic military spouse has left me vulnerable to unexpected and extremely painful wounds from other Christians. Rejection and betrayal are so jarring when they come from fellow believers — and they drive so many people away from Christian communities, which are deemed full of hypocrites and fakes.
Seeking relationships and community with fellow Christians is hard because a fellowship of broken people is inevitably broken. And if you've been wounded before, it can be painful and downright scary to reopen your heart to the vulnerability that Christ asks us to partake in as one body of believers. But He asks it of us, nonetheless, and He does so knowing intimately the pain we'll endure in the process.
Let's take a moment to look at who it is that calls us to one body in Himself and asks us not to forsake Christian communities (Hebrews 10:25). Jesus had an extremely tight bond with His disciples and knew what it was like to have an intimate and strong community. They went everywhere together and relied on each other in many ways, and we know that Jesus loved them (John 13:23). They were privy to experiences that no one else was able to see (Matthew 17:3, John 20:27).
However, in Jesus’ life, the community that raised Him ultimately rejected Him (Mark 6:4). In the end, Jesus knew what Judas would do (Luke 22). He knew that all of His disciples would desert Him to His fate (Matthew 26:31). He knew that even Peter would deny Him (Matthew 26:34). And most of all, He knew that as He approached the cross, He approached rejection in the most intimate relationship in His life — rejection from His very Father (Matthew 27:46).
Jesus knew rejection. He knew betrayal. He knew what it was to be wounded by people you love or who should have loved you. And still He calls us to one another.
His call is clear, which means that no matter how hypocritical or fake or mean or judgmental or annoying or weird we think other Christians are, they are an inescapable part of us when we choose to follow Christ. We don't get to pick and choose who those people are, and when we run from them, we only deprive ourselves in our disobedience. Relationships with fellow believers may not be easy, but they deepen our relationship with God by showing us more of who He is. Avoiding those relationships and disobeying the Bible's direct call on our relationships distances us from God (Psalm 66:18).
If Jesus thought that forgiveness was worth dying for, it should be nothing less than essential to His followers. And if we are joined to Christ through the forgiveness of His sacrifice, it only makes sense that forgiveness would also live at the heart of how we are joined to each other. Just as we trust the salvation He bought for us, we have to trust the forgiveness that Jesus calls us to. Even if we don’t understand and even if our flesh bristles at the thought, we must trust that His command is ultimately for our good.
For many Christians, the first step toward community must be the same as the foundation of our salvation, and it may be a step we take repeatedly throughout our lives. We must forgive one another of old and new wounds, as Christ forgave His dearest friends and us, and walked willingly to the cross.
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Do you feel comfortable in Christian communities? If not, what situation(s) or circumstances have made you feel that way?
Have you ever been hurt by a fellow Christian? Have you forgiven that person? How can you take steps to forgive that person, daily if need be?
How does focusing on the reality that Jesus understands the pain of betrayal change your perspective on relationships with other Christians?
Have you ever been in a position where you desperately needed another Christian’s forgiveness? Consider the mercy you were dependent upon and the other person’s response — how was that like or unlike the response Jesus asks that we have toward our offenders?
How does your unwillingness to forgive actually demonstrate unbelief?
We often read the story of Christ’s crucifixion and focus on His sacrifice/the story of salvation. Take time to read the story through again, but this time focus on the ways His most intimate relationships were betrayed. Consider how close He must have been to the disciples and how each moment of betrayal and abandonment must have felt. How does this perspective change your outlook on Christian communities?
Now take some time to meditate on ways you yourself have betrayed Jesus — in thought, word, or deed. Then, consider His willingness to forgive you and the joy that He has in the people whom He has forgiven and loves (you included). How does thinking of yourself as the offender rather than the victim allow you to extend grace and forgiveness to others? Ask God for His strength and power in doing this.