We’ve all said things that didn’t come out the right way. What we intended to say sounded perhaps insensitive, harsh, or even rude. We’ve also had things said to us that hurt our feelings, made us upset, or left us harboring ill will toward the person who said it. Yet once something is spoken, good or bad, it can bounce around like the ball in a pinball game. Words and the tone of our words have a way of getting away from us.
If a stranger speaks the words, we might easily brush them off as there is no relationship involved. However, when a friend or family member is the source of the words, relationships can be damaged. As Christians, we are not immune. Over my 30 years of pastoring, I’ve seen how we can sometimes speak to one another in the church. We might not even realize it, but our words can create rifts within church friendships, just as in the secular world. We are only human and when we walk through the church’s door, we cannot step out of our sinfulness. Thus, as individual Christians, we should always be mindful of how we speak to one another, careful in our word choice, and sensitive about the tone we speak. This is a daily discipline that we all must work on.
Likewise, we must learn to let go of the animosity or bitterness that may arise because of someone’s words to us. In Proverbs 17: 9, we read, “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” (NLT) We are all faulty creatures. Our words and our deeds are still stained with our human sinfulness. As Christians, we must seek to forgive one another’s faults rather than allow them to harbor in our hearts. When unforgiveness settles into the heart, it will inevitably lead to hardness against the person who wronged us. The writer of Proverbs says, “dwelling on it separates close friends.” Broken relationships within the church prevent the church from serving as agents of reconciliation in the world. If the good news of God’s forgiveness can’t work in the church, then how can we share it with the world.
When we act to forgive, however, love prospers. Forgiveness takes work. Letting go of unforgiveness can be challenging for the best of Christians. It is so much easier to hold on to grudges, separate ourselves from one another, and not acknowledge the relationships that need fixing in our lives. Yet, Jesus challenged us to live out his kind of forgiveness in the world. The Apostle Paul would write in his letter to the Colossians, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3: 13) Forgiveness should always be the last word for us as Christians, for in the end it is the only word that really matters.