It is the stuff that grows right under our noses without even a shout or snicker to alert us to its presence. It morphs and grows into killer potential but still stays silent. Waiting. Just waiting for the church to discover it.
We, however, continue to ebb and flow in life… picking up forgotten communion bread, grabbing a last minute bite to eat, heading to the soccer fields for yet another practice in the rain. We have no clue that something is lurking behind the folds of another person’s skin. Life continues… and the cancer grows.
Months go by and everything on the surface level seems fine. Smiles. Laughter. Positivism. And yet… something seems to be missing. An occasional harsh word erupts… and is excused due to stress…. or a bad job situation… or tiredness. People begin to notice that something is not quite right.
It is not until questions are raised that cancer is even suspected. And when those questions leave the lips of the person asking, just be ready for the cancer diagnosis. Almost immediately, you will be shamed with evidence of the cancer that has been growing inside them for awhile.
The kind of cancer I’m speaking of begins as distrust. It morphs and grows into bitterness and anger and will reveal itself as rage. The person affected with cancer will begin to affect others’ opinions and soon the cancer will spread.
If you do not remove the cancer, your church will begin to die. (Notice, I did not say to remove the person!)
Hebrews 12:15 says:
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…
I love that the first part of that verse emphasizes that no one should fail to obtain the grace of God.
But… the author is asking the Church to do this task. We need to be diligent in making sure that those who walk through our doors and claim to love Jesus, really do understand and have the grace of God. Without this, bitterness will grow and “cause trouble.”
Ephesians 4:31 also reads to us individually:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
I know that I myself have struggled with all of these. And to think, that a small amount of any one of these things can spring up and grow cancer. Enough to destroy a entire church.
So, in our churches, how do we cure cancer? I think 2 Corinthians 13:11 has something to say about it.
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace with be with you!
This one verse has what I would call a step by step plan for reconciliation.
First: Aim to Restore
We must try to repair our relationships with those who have bitterness or anger growing for us. Luke 17 give us a clear picture of what Jesus expected from others. He first asks for us to pay close attention to ourselves, and then go to the person and confront them. When and if, they admit to their bitterness, anger and ask for forgiveness, we need to forgive them. Even if they are repeat offenders: forgive, forgive, forgive. We need to always try to restore a person to spiritual health, no matter the offense.
If you are one that shies away from conflict… you’re going to have to get over it. We are imperfect humans… and at one point or another, we will hurt others and others will hurt us. The best advice I have ever received in confronting someone was to go in to the situation with a humble spirit. We need to be able to admit our weaknesses and do what it takes to amend if we have offended one another. We cannot and will not know the peace of God, until we are restored with each other.
Second: Comfort One Another
How do we comfort one another after conflict? When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he had some advice when a believer caused some strife. 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 reads:
5 I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me. 6 Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. 7 Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. 8 So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.
We do not want to cause other believers to become discouraged when we have a disagreement with them. The New International Version of that scripture translates it into “excessive sorrow.” How many times have we been discouraged by things that have “gone down” in a church, that we become discouraged and leave? We should never want that.
It may still be difficult to comfort someone who has hurt you. But Paul had a few ideas about where to get started with this. He pointed to Christ’s example:
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
We must look to Christ to be an example about how to love others. We cannot comfort, if we do not love.
Third: Agree with One Another
Paul wrote to the church in Corinth because they were having some major relationship problems. He addresses it almost immediately at the beginning of his letter to them. Here it is in the Message:
1 Corinthians 1:10
10 I have a serious concern to bring up with you, my friends, using the authority of Jesus, our Master. I’ll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.
He is asking them to “cultivate a life in common.” What does that mean for us as Christians? Paul points to his “main point” towards the end of the chapter.
26-31 Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”
We are not perfect. We are not Jesus. We cannot expect our fellow believers to be perfect either. As Paul states, “Everything that we have (our thinking and living), the fact that we get to start anew, is because of Christ.” If we can’t agree with that… than what can we agree with? We need to agree that we are here to show God off to the world. And we can start by finding things we agree with.
Fourth: Live in Peace
This may be the hardest step to live by. We, as humans, have always had in issue with keeping the peace. Nations have warred against nations, tribe against tribe, man against man. We are bent, by sin, to be self-centered people. So, how do we avoid this?
1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 gives us some great guidelines to follow.
12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idleand disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
The last three are probably the ones that I struggle with the most. Am I always rejoicing? (Even when my mother is diagnosed with breast cancer? When I drop a glass lamp that was handed down to me by my Grandma who now has Alzheimer’s? Am I rejoicing when I know that I will never measure up to my own standards of motherhood?) No, I’m not.
Do I pray continually? Man- I wish. I do talk more frequently with God than I did a year ago… but continually? Still working on that.
Do I give thanks… in ALL circumstances? Definitely not. This probably goes hand in hand with rejoicing always. I know I have a lot of work to do when it comes to living in peace with others.
I know that by following Paul’s advice to restore relationships in your church, you will build back those relationships. I know, because I’ve seen it happen many times.
But what do you do if nothing happens? What if they continue to grow in their bitterness and anger, or worse yet- are unable to forgive you?
Jesus actually gave his disciples advice about this. He knew that they were going to have to deal with this often, as we all know that humans are indeed imperfect. He laid out another step-by-step plan in how to address it. (Matthew 18:15-17)
No matter what the outcome- keep at it. At the end of 2 Corinthians 13:11, Paul reminds us that: “the God of love and peace with be with you!” We need to remember that God is with us. His Love and Peace will be there for us. We must keep loving God and loving others.