“What are you going to do about your career so you can make sure you are more available to your husband’s emotional and sexual needs? You should get him a feelings chart so he can process his deep pain that’s leading him to these behaviors. You need to make sure you are fulfilling his desires so he won’t be tempted.” – Sarah
I was shocked. Was I really hearing this right? I was in a group with 3 women from church whom I met with weekly. The purpose was to spend intentional time together and foster intimate sisterhood. As I shared about what had been challenging, I alluded to some recent struggles in my marriage. “What’s been going on with your marriage?” Sarah had asked. I had 2 options: exercise discretion and hinder vulnerability or step out in vulnerability and hope it would open up a new depth to our group. I choked the words out, “I found out a few weeks ago that my husband has been unfaithful to me”. Sarah wasted no time bestowing her wisdom.
“I’m angry at you. You just want the church to fix your marriage. Your marriage was broken long before you ever got here. Our church is spread thin, so if you aren’t getting the support you need, you can go somewhere else. If you have a problem with our church you need to go to leadership, not complain to your friends.” – Jennifer
Jennifer, whose husband pastored our church requested a visit with me. In my year as an active member, I’d only had the opportunity to meet with her once. I thought she was checking in, but she had other intentions. She’d recently attended a leadership meeting where a mutual friend and fellow leader had expressed concerns about me and my husband. Our friend felt we weren’t being cared for or counseled properly as we walked through the agony of infidelity. And then Jennifer visited me.
Back to back to back betrayal, misunderstanding, and inaccurate assumptions were fired during the most vulnerable season of my life. I was a new believer in a new town, a new church, new job, and new wounds – the excruciating betrayal in my marriage.
I look back at these moments and try to make sense of them, but there is no excuse. We the Church are full of broken people. We are hard-hearted and self righteous. We have been given love, mercy, grace, compassion, and empathy from a God we have rejected and murdered. We claim we are transformed by what Jesus has done, yet quickly crucify our neighbor, our friend, our brother, our sister. Church, we are called to so much more. We are called to love. There are serious implications of Christ’s command to love one another: our Love authenticates Christ to the world. Likewise, we discredit Christ and defile God’s image when we hurt and betray one another.
How is the church supposed to love? How are we called to walk alongside the brokenhearted? In John 15:13 Jesus tells us what true love is “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” This is the gospel. This is what Christ did for us and what we are to declare to the world. We lay our own lives downs by displaying gentleness when we don’t want to, patience when we’ve run out, humility even if we are “right”, and with carefully chosen words. We give our time and resources when we’d rather have extra money in the bank and a quiet home. Before every action and every word we carefully consider, “How do I display the gospel?” The Apostle Paul further explains how the church is to display Christ’s love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
As deep as our pain goes, the love of the gospel goes deeper. Gospel love looks at ugliness, brokenness, sin, pain, abuse, and sickness and says, “You are redeemed.” “You are forgiven” “You are accepted” “You are seen” and “You are loved. Just as you are in all your mess”. The true love of the gospel never keeps us in brokenness, sin, or bondage but always frees us to love Christ and see Him in all His fullness and splendor.
But there is another side to this. Brother and Sister, hear me when I say these words: When we do not love with the transformative love of Christ and the gospel, not only do we defile God’s very image, not only do we discredit who he is and our testimony, we condemn our own souls.
“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit…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 4:13, 20
This verse deeply convicted me when I heard it years ago. My honest gut reaction was, “uh oh.” The awareness of my critical spirit, my arrogance and self righteousness became vivid in that moment: I had been Sarah, I had been Jennifer, and indeed, I wasn’t a Christian. Sisters and Brothers, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13