By Shelly Esser
She sat across the table from me at a local restaurant. While waiting for our lunch she began to tell me what had just happened to her. Her husband was a young associate pastor, well-liked by the people he was ministering to – effective for Christ. For several years he had enjoyed a successful ministry.
Then the unthinkable happened, and their world crumbled. Without warning, his supervising pastor, his teammate, told him it was time to move on to another ministry. Both she and her husband were left broken, emotionally devastated.
As we talked over lunch, my mind wandered back to a similar betrayal just years earlier. I can think of no greater emotional and spiritual wound than the pain of betrayal inflicted by a ministry teammate. The wounding actions of a fellow Christian fast become wounds to the soul. The reality of it has been disheartening as I have witnessed how Christians can discard coworkers with no apparent care for them.
What’s so tough about betrayal of this nature is that it not only causes emotional pain, but often thrusts us into spiritual confusion. It’s especially difficult because we expect to be helped not hurt by people in leadership. As Ronald Enroth puts it in his book, Recovering From Churches that Abuse, “When our trust is violated by those…who have the special role as spiritual caretakers and shepherds of God’s flock, the pain, injury, and disillusionment can be devastating.” It can damage the central core of who we are.
Isaiah 53:3 says, “He (Christ) was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” We are not alone in our pain. One of the sorrows Jesus experienced was the sorrow of betrayal. Judas, one of His closest teammates, eventually betrayed Him with a kiss. This was a man who had been a close companion of Jesus for over three years. He had ministered with Jesus.
What did Christ do when Judas betrayed Him? In Matthew 26:50 He called him “friend.” In the very act of betrayal Jesus called His betrayer “friend.” In 1 Corinthians 11:23 we read, “…The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed…” What did He do? He instituted the Lord’s Supper. I don’t believe the phrase, “on the night He was betrayed” was just thrown in there. I believe there is great significance in its inclusion. Even though Jesus’ heart hurt, there was no time for bitterness, for hate, for retaliation, there was kingdom work still to be done. In the midst of betrayal Jesus had to get on with it.
His response got me thinking, “What have I instituted as a result of the betrayal in my own life?” Have I been able to call my betrayer “friend”? If I’m honest with myself I’d have to admit that “on the night I was betrayed” I was too busy wiping my tears and feeling sorry for myself to be able to see God’s greater purpose in it.
Having had time to heal and many years to process a betrayal, God has shown me five things we can institute in the midst of this kind of pain:
1. Forgiveness – God can use our ministry betrayals as opportunities for forgiveness. How easy it is to hold on to our hurt and institute bitterness instead of forgiveness. But that is not what we’re called to do. We need to forgive the people or person who has hurt us. You may even need to “forgive” God. I know for a while I was angry at God. I said, “I love You and I have served You. How could You allow this to happen to us?” And then God turned my attention to the cross. Who am I to think I will be exempt from the very kind of treatment Christ received?
Perhaps the hardest part about forgiving my betrayer was the fact that there was never an apology. Nevertheless, I am called to forgive. Lewis B. Smedes said, “Forgiving is a journey, sometimes a long one, and we may need some time before we get to the station of complete healing, but the nice thing is that we are being healed en route. When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.”
2. Grace – It’s easy to think the worst of our betrayers instead of trying to see them as God sees them. Do these people intend to inflict hurt? In most cases, probably not. Often leaders are unaware of the wounds they are inflicting on others. Many, blindly, become so focused on their own personal agendas that they lose sight of the person. Over time as God’s grace helps us to heal, we become more ready to give grace to others. By extending grace we can come to the place of someday calling our betrayer “friend”.
3. Let God Deal with Your Betrayer – It’s hard to leave injustices and wrongful treatment in the hands of God, but we must. Christ didn’t do anything about His own suffering although He could have. Instead, He allowed Himself to be beaten, betrayed, spit upon, and finally crucified. Jesus commanded His disciples to absorb the wrong done to them and to do good instead (Matthew 5:38-48). They were to overcome evil by doing good, leaving justice to God (Romans 12:17-21).
4. Make Peace with the Sovereignty of God – Either God is in control or He’s not. He uses the circumstances of our everyday lives to transform us if we let Him. We must learn to trust God even when there seems no reason to do so. One of the verses God gave us during that time was Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” As I have been able to recognize God’s hand of deliverance, I have been able to see the good and grow – and that growth has helped me to be able to call the experience a “friend.”
5. Let God Use Your Betrayal – I could understand and empathize with the young ministry wife who shared her story with me because I knew too well what she was going through. God has a purpose for everything and one of those purposes is to use our pain to help others. He will use all of our experiences, all of our pain and suffering – if we let Him. Not one is wasted.
Maybe the betrayal you’ve experienced hasn’t come from a ministry partner, but from a friend, spouse, or child. Injustice of any kind hurts. The crucifixion of Christ was a terrible injustice. But God used betrayal – a kiss no less – to accomplish the salvation of the world. What does He desire to institute through your betrayal?
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