The first days of membership at a new church are so wonderful. No one knows you well enough to be themselves and thereby rub you the wrong way. Accordingly, you don’t anyone well enough to be mad at them! So for a short time, you are exhilarated to go to church, eager to worship and see these magnificent people with whom you’ve gladly made a lifelong covenant.
But we all know what happens next. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say. They get to know you, you get to know them, and before you know it, everyone is being themselves to the degree that someone offends you or you offend someone else. Perhaps that offense was a bona fide sin. Perhaps it was just a misunderstanding. Maybe it was an all-out sin melee. At any rate, it changes things.
In the absence of biblical reconciliation, something akin to a religious cold war begins. In milder cases, the participants are able to smile and make small talk while quietly harboring ill will toward one another. Beneath the weekly greeting and handshake is the subtext, “See? I can still be nice. But I can’t forget!” In colder relationships, the participants seek to go to the same church while having as little to do with one another as possible, sometimes even managing to go months without having to acknowledge one another’s existence.
The weaker among these members may eventually adopt a “covenant-shmovenant” attitude, opting to look for greener pastures. The stronger, in a somewhat ironic demonstration of commitment, steel themselves to remain and co-exist with their unwanted covenant-fellows.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself in that position at a former church. Maybe you are somewhere on that cold war spectrum now. There is someone or someones at PBF with whom there is shared suspicion hidden by mutual smiles. Or worse - there’s full-blown “bad blood” between you and someone else. Maybe you’re somewhere in between. Initially, you didn’t really want it to be this way, but slowly you’ve gotten used to it. It's possible you even forgot about it until you started reading this.
There may have been attempts to minimize the situation in your own mind and conscience:
“It’s a personality thing. I can’t be best friends with everyone. Of course, there are going to be people that I enjoy more than others. It’s that way with any group of people. There’s not necessarily anything awry here.”
“Everybody has somebody they don’t really get along with. We’re all human. There’s no reason to make a big deal about it.”
“I’d love to make things right with that person, but I already know how they’d respond, so I’m not going to waste my time trying. When the Lord changes their heart, they’ll come to me.”
“The church is plenty big enough for both of us.”
As your pastor, friend, and brother, I warn you - you must snap out of it. If there is anything more troubling than the reality of such relationships in the church, it has to be how common they are. It may be “normal” to find strained and broken relationships in the typical local church, but we should never tolerate something in the church that the Bible does not.
We’re studying the Highly Priestly Prayer of John 17 on Sunday mornings. In the next couple of weeks, especially the second of those weeks, the text is going to move us to see what an unnatural thing is a broken or strained relationship in the body of Christ. I’ll not preach that text ahead of time by covering it here. I simply want to bring before you in an introductory way that what you and I may have learned to live with should be an intolerable atrocity in a community of gospel-loving believers.
The gospel reconciles us not only to God the Father and makes us one not only with the Father and the Son, but unites us with one another in such a profound way that Paul can write in Ephesians 4:25, “we are members of one another.” Our union with one another pictures the unity of the Father and Son, which is why Jesus prays that we will continue in the faith: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11b). This means that by our relationships within the church we either commend or deny the gospel to a watching world!
Let’s pray as we approach John 17:11-23 that the truth would penetrate our hearts and He would eradicate all hints of division among our members.