Does your relationship with the people you worship with feel more like enemies than brothers and sisters? Are there more alliances formed in your congregation than in an entire season of Game of Thrones? When you see a fellow Christian in the grocery store, do you enter stealth mode and escape down the next aisle hoping not to be seen? Sometimes worship can seem more like a battlefield than a place of refuge. Christianity becomes a burden when the people who are supposed to be family turn into adversaries.
We may not want to admit it, but we likely all have enemies in Christ. G.K. Chesterton once said, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” The people who are closest to us are sometimes our greatest foes. Living in community is challenging. One person offends another. Envy, jealousy, and pride make relationships difficult. A lack of patience, kindness, and gentleness can be devastating to a church.
Although this is a reality for many, it should not be so. Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In the list of the works of the flesh from Galatians 5, Paul includes enmity, strife, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions. He lists peace as a fruit of the Spirit, and Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matt. 5:9). If what we produce Sunday after Sunday is rivalries, dissensions, or divisions, then we are not walking “in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).
Establishing and maintaining healthy friendships in the name of Christ, is not always easy but it is essential. No one makes this plainer than John.
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21)
Loving our brothers and sisters in Christ whom we can see is how we show our love for God whom we cannot see. If we are serious about being a Christian, then we must be serious about loving others.
Any group of people who spend much time together will have their fair share of problems. A perfect community of people does not exist. We all have our flaws and shortcomings. What makes the church different is that we are committed to work through our problems as we seek to be like Jesus.
How do we avoid making enemies in Christ? How do we deal with individuals who may not like us? These are important questions that every church should consider. Here are three things you can do.
Focus on You
The behavior of others can be quite upsetting. No one likes to have people talk behind their back. When a person is petty or rude, it can really get under our skin. In these times, we must remember that the only person we have control over is ourselves. We cannot change the behavior of another person, but we can change our behavior. We can choose how we react to the inappropriate behavior of others. We can respond to the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. When others see Christ living in us, then hopefully the power of Christ will lead them to respond in kind.
Forgiveness is a Must
The Christian community rests upon the foundation of forgiveness. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15). Christianity is a constant cycle of forgiveness. We forgive others, and God forgives us. There can be no grudges in Christianity. If someone offends us, then we must seek to forgive as quickly as possible. Even if they are not deserving of forgiveness, we must forgive just as Jesus forgave his enemies from the cross (Luke 23:34).
No matter the situation, kindness is always the proper response. In Romans 12, Paul instructs us to feed our enemies and give them something to drink. He says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). When someone is unkind to us, we naturally want to retaliate. We want to do something unkind in return. This creates a cycle of vengeance. If someone throws a rock at you, then you want to throw a rock back, but you pick up a bigger rock than the one they threw. If this goes on for very long, then it will quickly get out of hand.
How do we stop this cycle? How do we live with one another? The answer is kindness and love. When someone does something to us, we do not do the same to them. In fact, we do the opposite. We extend kindness to our enemies. We pray for those who persecute us. Responding with kindness often leads to a change of heart.
We cannot force people to like us, but we can be like Christ in all that we do and say. We can choose to love all Christians, and we can treat one another like brothers and sisters, not enemies. A community founded on love and forgiveness is unusual. It takes work, but when it all comes together, people want to be a part of it.