Betrayal, Bitterness, and The Gospel

Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. This little jingle that we learned in Sunday School as children is just as true then as it is now. God loves us, and this love that he gives to us freely transforms us and molds us into his image of love. And the cool thing about this love is that it simply isn’t a love upward towards God, but this love that God plants inside of our hearts is a love for God and for neighbor.

In the gospels, Jesus says to his followers that the new commandment is to love one another as he has loved them.  Loving one another would have been an easy thing to consent but Jesus doesn’t let us define the way we are to love, he adds this qualifier to the command, “as I loved you.”

Love one another.

Paul speaks of this love in action in the famous love chapter in 1st Corinthians 13. He says that all the gifts that they have are so good, and they should absolutely thank God for them. But if they don’t have love, all that they have is meaningless.

Love isn’t a feeling. It’s an act of the will. Love is patient and is kind. Love does not envy, does not boast, and is not proud. Love has good manners. It doesn’t take advantage of people. It’s not irritable.

And love does not keep record of wrongdoing.

That brings us to the Book of Philemon, the book that we’ve been reading through for the past month. I honestly could camp longer than we have in this book. For how short it is, there is just so much good information! Because this book isn’t just love in theory; it’s love in practice. Paul writes to Philemon to love Onesimus despite this huge act of betrayal. The story of Philemon and Onesimus is a powerful story of redemption and recovery. Because when the gospel comes into real life situations, it changes the dynamics. God gives new life. This is the promise of the gospel. And sometimes we think of this new life as a life beyond the one that we are in, but the reality of it is that the gospel of redemption and recovery comes into this here and now. The gospel changed the situation for Philemon and Onesimus.

Onesimus ran off, maybe stealing money from Philemon, and this relationship is completely shattered by human circumstances. But God in a miraculous way brings Paul into the situation to demonstrate the power of love.

In your lifetime, you’ll have lots of opportunities to suffer. We live in a fallen world in the midst of a depraved society. All around us we have these non-perfect humans (NPH’s) running around, and a couple of them are running for president. These NPH’s are hurting one another. We, NPH’s, are hurting one another.

That’s not love in action.

These are real wounds that we are inflicting on each other and on ourselves. The great mystery of Christianity, for me, is that for a religion based upon a mixture of mutual love, honor, and respect, we continue to hurt each other.

So I’ve come up with some simple steps to move towards forgiveness and love for one another.

For the one who broke trust 

  1. There must be genuine sorrow on the part of the betrayer. This is key to rebuilding trust. Without it, it’s like building a brick wall without cement. (cf. Ps 51:4; 2nd Cor 7:10)
  2. Move towards disclosure. Tell the other person what you’ve done and confess.
  3. And do this with a spirit of openness. Keep nothing hidden from the offended person because God sees our hearts.
  4. After confession, allow time for healing. Give yourself to the process of healing. It will take a long time depending upon the hurt.
  5. And through the whole process, remind yourself of the faithfulness of God in this broken relationship. (cf. Ps 18; 32:7; Jer 8:18)

Owning up to your moment of betrayal will be one of the hardest thing you will do, but it is the most freeing thing you will experience!

For the Betrayed

  1. Release the hurts. Don’t retell the story over and over. Retelling the story develops a well-worn path that becomes a rut of thinking that becomes a pattern of pain.
  2. Determine that you’ll practice restoration by letting God handle the rest of the story. (cf. Rom 12:17-21)
  3. Invite God into the betrayal.

And that’s the biggest point. Inviting God into that hurt is the ultimate form of healing. Jesus knew the sting of Judas’ kiss,  and he knew the pain of Peter saying, “I don’t know this man.”

In forgiveness, we don’t ignore the behavior. Forgiveness, as Miroslav Volf says, is a generous release of a genuine debt. But in forgiveness, we are showing love in action. Jesus used a parable to explain love in action when he spoke of the sinful woman saying, “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

Paul, like Christ, knew that forgiveness is what it’s all about. Paul said in Philemon, “Charge it to my account!” God forgets what we remember, and he remembers what we forget.

Here are some questions for you to ponder throughout this week

  1. What are the areas of broken trust that you find yourself continually rehashing? Have you invited Christ the healer into these moments?
  2. Reflect on the emotions of Jesus when Judas betrayed him. Reflect on Peter’s denial of Christ. What ways do we deny the presence of Christ in our betrayal?
  3. How can you move in restoration towards the one who has broken trust with you?

Grace and peace to you as you travel along this healing journey.



5 thoughts on “Betrayal, Bitterness, and The Gospel

  1. I love the point that in forgiveness, we do not ignore the behavior but release the debt. That is such a simple definition of forgiving yet so effective in understanding what successful and lasting forgiveness really involves. And as point #4 says, allow time for healing. Thanks so much for sharing this last Sunday and on your blog, it’s great stuff! One other illustration I heard awhile ago involving not forgiving (or holding a grudge towards a person) is that it is the equivalent of drinking poison yourself and hoping the other person dies. Unforgiveness is powerful stuff…

  2. Jon, this is a great word as it is one of the biggest struggles I believe for individuals, whether Christians or not. It is the trial that most puts personal faith to the test especially when one is betrayed. Point 2 for the betrayed you made is excellent, to let “God handle the rest of the story” with the reference to Romans 12:17-21. Because “hurt people can hurt people” the scripture points instead to do good and get back on track with living a Christ honoring life. Blessings, brother!

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