“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13, NRSV).
Published on: 02-27-2022
“Forgiveness is the rarest virtue, not because it is not widely available, but because it is so seldom sought.”
It is dangerous to generalize about any group of people, especially one so vast that its biblical mission statement reaches to include those of “every nation and tribe and language and people” (Rev. 14:6, NRSV). But many years of loving this church and serving it as a minister of the gospel have made me conscious of persisting characteristics across our fellowship—in all regions, each language group, and every nationality. Like every group of Christians since the first century A.D., we are practicing the faith of Jesus—meaning that we often stumble in the application of that faith to the realities of our life together. The formerly headstrong and irritable man who became the apostle Peter clearly grasped this reality. Two thousand years ago, he urged his readers to “grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18, KJV). All generalizations must begin with the blessed truth that “God is not finished with us yet.”
But, in a word, we Adventists are not good at forgiving—especially each other, of whom we clearly have higher expectations than those not belonging to this end-time movement. We may ruefully smile and accept the apology of the unchurched neighbor whose cow ate half our garden, but grind our teeth and never release the member of our Sabbath School who dared disagree with us about a passage in Hosea. The pride we feel in forgiving the thoughtlessness and impatience of an uncivil store clerk too often becomes a seething anger at the brother or sister in Christ who acted similarly. The slights and humiliations we experience from fellow believers evolve into great controversies of our own.
Some wonder if our appropriate embrace of the Bible’s message about the perpetuity of God’s law has an unintended consequence: we are predisposed to a “judicial” attitude with each other. In this strange formulation, the grace of God is what we offer those who don’t know Jesus, while we tally wrongs from those within the household of faith—in effect, “counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19, NRSV). And so we struggle with each other, debating everything from the fabric chosen for the church’s curtains to the fabric of its Bible truths—wounding each other on the way. Paul wrote to the new church at Colossae words that should be emblazoned above the door of every Adventist congregation: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13, NRSV).
That “everlasting gospel” we are called to carry (Rev. 14:6) is first a proclamation of the grace and forgiveness offered us in Jesus. It is of little value to a broken world if we proclaim the fallenness of Babylon and the dangers of the mark of the beast unless we are— at the same time—allowing grace to fundamentally change the ways we interact with each other.
Pray for a season of peace and forgiveness in the fellowship where you belong, for there is no higher qualification for belonging to the remnant than what Jesus gave us: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).