Recent experiences have me thinking about ethics in the church and in church ministry in particular. Hence I have started working on a new series on ethics and implications for church life. Today I want to focus on the role of ethics and confession in keeping us in good relational standing with one another.
Jam 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (NIV)
Despite Christ’s command and James’ exhortation, it can be hard to confess our sins to one another and to forgive one another. Even though we have been loved and forgiven by God, we are still capable of forgetting how to do this with others. We can become proud, thoughtless and emotional. We get caught up in our needs and wants above those of others.
We make mistakes. Oh how I wish this were not true! But make no mistake, we do make mistakes. We hurt each other, especially when we feel that we have been hurt by someone. The raw emotion of hurt can sweep our heads and hearts along with it. We may lose sight of everything else at the expense of the hurt we are feeling.
If left to fester, this hurt can start to skew our vision. We might take things personally when they were not directed at us. We may interpret looks and gestures to be hostile when they are innocent. Maybe we believe we are entitled to an apology or another form of revenge. We may over-react, take offense and burn bridges with others, especially with the person who we believe first hurt us.
Once our perspective has been skewed, it can be hard to bring it back to normal again. It may require a rude awakening, gentle support or conflict with others to bring us back to reality. In my experience, shifting an unhealthy perspective takes a lot of repentance and humility.
True repentance and forgiveness with God is one thing after we have screwed up. Right-standing with others is a different process altogether. If there is bad blood between our Christian brothers and sisters, through imagined offenses or genuine hurt, this requires attention. Forgiveness, honest communication and empathy may help to heal broken trust in a relationship. The process demands a willingness to listen and a preparedness to be vulnerable.
Lots of people are nursing hurt within the church and are seeking ways to find healing. For many, this is not about personal tragedy; this is about relational hurt, the pain caused by the action or inaction of another.
This is why I believe it is so important to think about ethics and confessions when it comes to church life and ministry. It is vital to keep our hearts open to one another and resolve conflicts as they arise, not leave them in the hope that they will go away on their own. Ethically and spiritually, we have an obligation to establish and maintain good relationships with one another.
Our relationships with one another directly affect our relationship with God. Our worship is not the same when our hearts are hard toward our brother or sister. I truly believe that God wants all of our relationships to be made whole; this includes our relationship with Him and our relationships within the church.
I will speak more about ethical ministry in further blogs in this series on ethics. In the meantime, I want us to think about this topic, pray about it, talk about it and write about it. If this topic is hard for us to talk about, it is crucial that we begin to speak about it.
The whole notion of confession is counter-cultural. In a society driven by narcissistic, entitled and selfish motives, confessing our sins to one another is a challenge. It is my hope that we can remain humble enough to confess our sins when we get it wrong, and to graciously accept the confessions of others.