taking the words of Jesus seriously

Adapted from Chapter 7, “Excuses”

For years, Bible scholars have danced around the matter by saying slavery in Rome was far different from slavery in the first few centuries of American history. No doubt their observations carry a measure of merit. Often, Roman slaves were more educated than their owners and were people of great means prior to their captivity. Many were professionals of great service to their owners. What’s more, they were not enslaved because of the color of their skin. So, yes, there exist significant differences between the Roman and American approaches to slavery. But aren’t we just splitting hairs? At its core, both systems’ commitment to slavery was based on its very definition—the owning of people. 

While I was born much too late to be the legal property of a person in America, I have been the recipient of racism. When a classmate called me a racial epithet in my first year of college, I was devastated. No, it wasn’t my first time being called such language. But the wound was especially painful because it happened at a Bible college where everyone claimed to be followers of Jesus. His words that noonday hour on campus sent me into an emotional tailspin. I felt the waters of bitterness and hate toward him and all White people rise within me. 

Around this time my father visited me, and unaware of the incident, he asked me about my future plans. I told him I’d much rather drive trucks than be around White people. My words jarred him, and me. As these “feathers” left my mouth, I knew I was in sin and needed to begin the long road back to Colossae. It would take me a considerable amount of time to take my first steps back, but I finally mustered up the courage to write a letter to the person who had hurt me, asking him to forgive me for my sin of unforgiveness. I don’t say these things to guilt White people or to make myself look like some hero. Hardly. But the main reason for my delay in leaving the Rome of my unforgiveness is that the flesh and the Spirit within me were embroiled in a very long back and forth. The flesh articulated more than its fair share of justifications as to why I owed no attempts at reconciliation. 

Today, being counted among the oppressed is equivalent to receiving a congressional Medal of Honor. Because of this, many choose to wear oppression as an ornament and use it as an excuse to not forgive. Unforgiveness is an act of theft whereby we refuse to acknowledge the humanity of those who wronged us because we do not look the beast in the eye. While there are certain acts of cruelty and injustice that close the door to reconciliation, we must take the first steps out of Rome nonetheless by offering forgiveness, without which reconciliation is never possible. 

There will always be very good reasons as to why you should not be reconciled to certain people. Justifications abound as to why you should never sit at the table of friendship with your ex-spouse whose act of betrayal took your breath away. And why you should not make amends with the father who abandoned you. 

The older I get, the more difficult friendship seems to be. I’m running out of energy to come back for yet another round of sit downs, truth encounters, and “come to Jesus” moments to do the inescapable work of friendship. Much has been made of the dissipation of sexual vitality as we age, but we don’t really talk about the relational vitality needed as our emotional bandwidth recedes. Sometimes I wish there was a pill for this as well. There goes Frank, popping off at the mouth again. Let me take this friendship pill so I can get the energy needed to have yet another chat. Oh, Cheryl disregarded my feelings? Hold on, let me go to the medicine cabinet. In the absence of these pills, it’s easy to shrug my shoulders and sigh to myself, “I just don’t have the time to do this anymore.” 

But remember, most relational breakdowns have more than one offender. I’m not the only one who would love to have a friendship pill. When both parties have the truth encounter, they are bound to bring two very different perspectives on what led to the downfall of their relationship. The dad who neglected his responsibilities at home could gently push back and say there was a lot more at play, like the demise of his relationship with the child’s mother. But the problem is, children well into adulthood do not see their father’s departure as merely leaving their mom but as leaving them. Then there are all the justifications surrounding the gap between what was done and what was intended. When confronted, the offender reaches for their version of “charge it to my head and not my heart,” which is far from helpful. Or the offender suspects they have wounded the other—but because they have not been confronted, they shrug as if to say it wasn’t that big of a deal, and the friendship slowly dies. And of course, there’s always the offender’s pride lurking beneath the surface. Even if they do see the wrong they committed, the apology just won’t roll off their tongue but gets caught in traffic somewhere around their esophagus. 

I’ve laughed and cried over the years when I think of the sovereign irony of God at play in my own life. To think of the number of books I’ve written, conferences I’ve spoken at, and lives I’ve shaped in the area of ethnic unity and racial reconciliation is indeed laughable, considering at one point I was so embittered with racial trauma I would rather drive a truck than work with a certain race of people. My “ascendency” up my own ladder began in my little bedroom, where I put down my excuses, picked up a pen, and asked forgiveness from the one who had wounded me. That decision to leave Rome has brought me to the Colossae of my destiny. 

The work of repentance and reconciliation is not so much about the relationship, as important as that is, but something far more. When we refuse to remain enslaved to our justifications and instead decide to leave Rome to go back and make things right, we are marching down not just the road of change but the road of destiny. We are headed to the place where God wants to transform us from slaves to brothers to bishops. 

Adapted from Enduring Friendship by Bryan Loritts. ©2024 by Bryan Loritts. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com

About The Author


Bryan C. Loritts (DMin, Liberty University) is teaching pastor of the Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina. He has dedicated his life and ministry to seeing the multiethnic church become the new normal in our society. He is also vice president for regions for the Send Network, the church planting arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, where he is responsible for training church planters in multiethnic church planting. He has been a featured speaker at the Global Leadership Summit and Catalyst. His books include Insider Outsider, The Dad Difference, The Offensive Church, and Enduring Friendship. Follow Bryan on Twitter: @DrLoritts Follow him on Instagram: @Loritts Find him on Facebook: Bryan Loritts Visit his website at BryanLoritts.com

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