“Angry voices harden hearts. Gracious voices disarm them. May we be known for our kindness to people, but fierce in the battle with evil.” – Dr. Beth Grant
How do I stand up for what I feel is right with grace? How can we listen to others who disagree with us, love them well, and not push them away?
I love people being at peace with one another. I hate confrontation. I love unity. I love being around people that carry “grace” and “mercy” well. But sometimes, when you really love someone, you must be willing to confront. Sometimes, love is a scalpel that may wound to heal.
“I have a dream I have to tell you,” I said to a best friend. My friend had been struggling with alcohol and anger issues for years. It was destroying her family and relationships. I had argued with God on giving her this dream for days but wasn’t winning. I knew it could cost us our friendship.
“The dream is this,” I said as I searched her face. “I saw a criminal trying to get in your house to destroy your family. You went to the front door and welcomed him in.” Her eyes grew wide, but I continued. “Then, I saw a bucket of vipers in your bedroom. You kept taking your arm and sticking it in the bucket. As you pulled it out, strike marks from the bites were all up and down your arms.” I couldn’t tell if she was getting angry at me or not as her face grew red. “But then, you grabbed your daughter’s arm and thrust it in the bucket with you.” Her eyes filled with tears as she turned her face from me.
Sometimes, speaking up hurts. Sometimes, it can cost you. Sometimes, it can save a friend and a family.
Terms like “be a person of peace” and “forgive and forget,” they sound right, biblical even; however, the way I’ve seen them applied makes me question things.
So, let’s take the first statement. “Be a person of peace.” God tells us to seek peace and pursue it, and I truly want to be a person who carries and releases shalom, which has a ton of meaning attached to it, my favorite definition being “Nothing missing. Nothing broken.”
Yet the interpretation of that statement that I’ve understood is to be a person who doesn’t rock the boat. Sometimes, the boat needs to be rocked. Jesus is shalom, yet He rocks my boat all the time. So, as much as I love getting along with people, there are times when it is appropriate to take a stand.
Does the Bible teach us to forgive and never mention the offense again? “Forgive and forget.” “Take it to God, and He will take care of it, but if you bring it up again, you are in sin.” He is the Great Judge. We do release things to Him, but it does not mean we don’t mention things again or hold people accountable for their actions.
Recently, a friend of mine mentioned the example of forgiveness that Corrie Ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place, demonstrated. Truly, Corrie exemplified forgiveness in the worst of situations, from the middle of a Nazi concentration camp. Yet she wrote the book detailing the story of her and her sister’s imprisonment. Though she walked in forgiveness, she didn’t forget the story but, instead, proclaimed it to the world.
On one side, the world is filled with angry voices venting their opinions about each other. It is so easy to point out faults and issues in others, even demonizing them, which just adds to the problem instead of being part of the solution. Being easily offended is not good, but it’s really a symptom of a wounded heart.
On the other side, if we go to the extreme of silencing people because they disagree with our viewpoint by calling it gossip and/or slander, we are also heading for trouble. We have a world inundated with gossip and slander. I get it. God hates it. It’s hurtful and damaging. This is what gossip and slander are meant to do: tear people down. Make others look bad. It has evil intent. It is unverifiable information that is used against someone. Hurting people hurt people.
But if we call voicing concern, telling our story, or disagreeing with someone’s gossip and/or slander, we can find ourselves fertilizing a field where abuse can flourish.
So what is offense? Offense is defined as “a breach of a law, an illegal act; an annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one’s standard or principles.”
Does God get offended at sin? Did Jesus get offended at sin? There’s a lot of Scripture I could bring out here about how God looks at offense. He certainly doesn’t ignore it. Jesus told Peter, one of His closest followers, “Get behind me, Satan! You are in My way (an offense and a hindrance and a snare to Me)” (Matt. 16:23, AM) So, sometimes it is appropriate to call offense out.
Let me give a couple of the many examples of how I’ve seen this twisted against people. I have a friend who will remain unnamed, who brought a concern of a potential for abuse to the elder board of her church. Her concern was legitimate, but even if it wasn’t, you would think an elder board would allow her to have a voice, would check things out, would love her well regardless of whether she was accurate in the claims or not. Instead, they ostracized her, accused her of slander, and excommunicated her.
Another example of someone I know approached a minister who had a family member who had fallen into some sin. They were seeking the truth from the source, as they should have, with the intent to help. When they asked about it in a private setting with just the pastor, the same thing happened to them. They were convicted of being the problem, not submitting, of gossiping and slander, and told to leave.
This type of abuse of power happens over and over again regardless of denomination or non-denomination.
Does the Bible in general just skip over sin or offenses?
The Bible I read has some pretty colorful stories in it. I don’t ever see God’s Word hiding offenses but actually listing them, talking about them. Take David, for example. He is forever known as a man after God’s own heart and also an adulterous murderer. In fact, the punishment for his offenses was quite severe. It doesn’t take much reading to see that God doesn’t hide offenses but He tells the whole story.
Jesus Himself is love personified. He had many people who did offensive things to Him. Did He just brush it off for the sake of unity? He is the Prince of Peace, yet He often stirred the religious pot wherever He went. He called out sin, accused the Pharisees of being a brood of vipers, sons of Satan, whitewashed tombs, etc. He didn’t shrink back from having a voice for justice. Yet He was filled with grace.
In fact, I don’t think “unity” as we see it was His goal at all because He said His followers would have to leave father, mother, sister, and brother to come after Him. He said He was bringing a sword that would sometimes separate.
Unity is not created by the absence of disagreement. Unity is not conformity. Unity is created in an atmosphere of value, empathy, listening, caring about another human being, trying to see things from their point of view, and allowing them to have a voice. Unity is created in an atmosphere of being understood, at least in trying to understand someone else’s point of view. It’s an atmosphere of mutual respect and love. This brings unity between people.
I actually have people in my inner circle that I don’t see eye to eye with on everything. I don’t always like it because some of those people are a high challenge for me. But I need them. I probably need them in my life more than the ones who tend to agree with me on everything. Why? Because I trust that their hearts toward me are for my good, and as a result, I can hear what they have to say even if it hurts. If I only allow people in who speak what I want to hear, then I’m setting myself up for a big fall.
So, when I get offended, I do take it to God first, and then if it is sin, I am required by the Word to take it to the person who did the offense. If they won’t listen to you, then you take another person, and then if they still don’t listen, then you take others in leadership. The goal is to restore the person who has done wrong. But if they still don’t listen, then the Church Body is not to have anything to do with them.
Many times, instead of following these steps, when the one who was offended tries to bring it to the light, whether it was valid or not, it is often times the one voicing the concern that is getting the boot. Especially if the offender is in leadership, what often happens is the offender rejects the person and then accuses them of slander and gossip.
It ends up being the person who was offended that is pushed out and excommunicated, while the offender is left unchallenged. That then creates an environment of fear, that “Oh, I don’t want to be accused of gossip or slander, so even though something doesn’t feel quite right, I just won’t say anything.” This leaves the door open for abuse to happen.
If we want to be trusted and create unity, then we have to be willing to be questioned. We need to love well, giving others a voice even when the voice may challenge us. This is not attacking unity. This is promoting unity if it is handled with love, honesty, and humility. Unity is built on trust. Trust is built by loving others well.
I can’t tell you where the line is in someone’s heart when it comes to if they are truly seeking truth and justice or they have ill intent to harm. It is God’s place to judge someone’s heart. But it hurts me to see people pushed away and labeled who are trying to do things in a Godly way and protect and help others.
If we could just listen, admit our own failures, and seek reconciliation with one another, maybe our love for one another would make the true Lord Jesus known to the world. The world has enough hatred, back-biting, and slander. Let’s show them something different. Let’s show them what loving each other well should look like. We are His example after all.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on wholeheartedwomen.org
Featured Image by Kate Kalvach