““Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’ So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’ Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’ ””
Acts 22:17-21 NKJVV
One of the hardest things in the world is winning back people that have been wronged. This is especially true within the church. Once offended, people make it a point to avoid those who brought the offense.
“A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a castle.”
Proverbs 18:19 NKJV
I think this is, in part, because we expect Christians to behave in a godly way, and when offensive things are done, it cuts more deeply. When I have experienced attacks from people in the church, I feel blindsided, because one does not expect the fleshly values of the world to invade the pews.
Those who have offended, often find it difficult to be effective once they have repented and had a change of heart. Bridges have been burned. It requires great humility from all parties to build them back up again.
In my reading this morning in Acts chapter 22, Paul is giving a testimony as he faced off with Jews who opposed him and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He recounted how he was not trusted by those in the Jerusalem church, so Jesus sent him to the gentiles.
“And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.”
Acts 9:26 NKJVB
He went to places where he could be effective, where what he had to say would be received. Sometimes God moves people to expand the reach of His message. Even the most grievous church split can result in the furtherance of the Good News.
I have been fortunate to avoid having to burn bridges, as I generally keep to myself, keep my talk circles small, and say as little as possible. When the offenses do come, I attempt to create distance from those who have offended, using boundaries to limit potential conflict. I endure so that the Gospel can go out, so other believers can hopefully grow and come to repentance.
It is all about the work of our Father in Heaven, and not about me.
“Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”
II Timothy 2:8-10 NKJV
Though Jesus moved Paul, he eventually returned to serve the church at Jerusalem. The grace of God has the power to heal wounds, to unite hearts, to restore burned bridges from the ashes. Christian history is full of stories of former foes made brothers and sisters in Christ, of disputing pews made peaceful, as the Holy Spirit brings healing and unity.
I try to walk through this world with my heart open to the workings of the Holy Spirit as His desire that I extend grace.
He has made me one who is a restorer of bridges, as Jesus has gifted me with grace. By that grace, I hold few grievances, no grudges and seek the peace. I continue to maintain those boundaries, and I am open to communication as it is needed.
Brothers and sisters, you might have situations that have resulted in the burning of bridges, or perhaps you are one who has been offended. Know this, God will use you wherever you are, or whether you stay or go.
Paul persecuted the church but became a blessing. He is essential for the New Testament believer, as he wrote much of the book we depend on.
“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:17-21 NKJV
Paul’s words are essential in these times, and we must dwell on them with regularity as the darkness approaches. It will of grave importance for us to have peace in the church, as we will be surrounded by foes and must lean on each other to endure.
We do not have the option to burn bridges between us and the world, as we are called to go amongst them and share the saving message of the Gospel.
“Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
I John 3:13-15 NKJV