Recently, I’ve been asked more times than I can count if I have any insight as to how to deal with people who treat their pastors and pastors’ wives disrespectfully or sometimes even downright hatefully. It’s sadly epidemic, which probably surprises most people who have never experienced such a thing. And, frankly, it should be surprising. The truth is, I have no idea why grown, seemingly mature believers behave this way. It makes no sense to me.
Except for this:
They are sinners. As are we. So every single interaction is all tangled up with sin. Pride, selfishness, envy, self-righteousness, laziness, malice . . . The list could go on and on. And some combination of these sins is present on both sides of the relationship. Our sinful responses may feel smaller than the hurtful words and false accusations hurled at us. I mean, we “just want to protect ourselves,” right? And in some cases, it is perfectly acceptable to attempt clarification and seek better understanding. But when we respond with pride or anger or any form of sin, we are every bit as guilty as our accusers. And we must recognize our own sin if we are to have any understanding of what to do with sin against us.
It is easy to notice and label everyone else’s sins while justifying our own as necessary defense as though our sins against God Himself are less than our neighbors’ sins against us.
“But they are so divisive in the life of our congregation, always creating petty arguments over things that distract from greater ministry opportunities.”
Ok. That’s unfortunate and frustrating.
But did they crucify your only Son?
“But they used to treat me like their best friend, and then just threw me away as soon as we disagreed about something.”
Ok. That’s hurtful and confusing.
But did they crucify your perfectly righteous only Son?
“But they are gossiping and telling lies about me and my family.
Ok. That’s utterly wrong and sinful.
But did they crucify your only Son even though you are perfectly holy?
The answer is no. I don’t know your specific circumstances. I don’t need to. The answer is always no. None of us is perfectly righteous and holy, and none of us has been offended by sin the way God has been offended by sin. And the point is this:
Until we see our sin as the most egregious, most harmful, most devastating sin we know about, we simply can’t process sin against us in a healthy way. The truth is that every single sin we commit—including the pride and/or self-righteousness we may feel when falsely accused or misrepresented—is even more hurtful and offensive to our Holy God than any congregant’s sin will ever be to us. Each sin, ours and theirs, is a blow against the nails that pierced Christ’s flesh.
When we fully understand and believe that, our temptation to immediately scream “Not fair!” in the midst of difficult relationships becomes less and less pronounced, and our desire to grant grace in light of the grace that is repeatedly lavished upon us makes more and more sense. Notice I didn’t say that it’s easy. I don’t imagine any level of sanctification on earth will help us enjoy being sinned against. But we can certainly deal with it better in light of the Gospel.
So the short answer is this. When you are sinned against, remember your own sin first. This doesn’t mean you should be a doormat and never respond. It just means that, if you respond, it must be after much prayer and consideration rather than from a place of anger or pride. The Bible doesn’t tell us to ignore sin in our neighbor. But nor should we attempt to be anyone’s Holy Spirit. Respond with truth and love, and if you are to err, err on the side of grace and let God sort out the rest. Sometimes this will feel incredibly unfair. It probably is.
Grace by its very definition is decidedly unfair. But it is beautifully, astonishingly unfair in our favor.