As the culture war rages on, there is another battle raging to which we must turn our attention. When I was a boy, my dad would sometimes tell me, “No one will hurt you so much as others in the church.” In my lifetime, this has generally proven to be true. Believers sometimes experience the greatest hurt in their relationships with other professing believers in the church at large. When a professing believer hurts our feelings or reputation, how should we respond? Should we, in turn, demean that individual by telling others (whether privately or publicly), “I can’t stand him,” or “she’s such a mess” or “I’m not even sure that he or she is a Christian.” To our shame, most of us are guilty of having responded in such sinful ways. When someone hurts us, the instinct of our flesh is to hurt them back. Thankfully, God does not leave us to our fleshly instincts to learn how to respond. Instead, He instructs us in very specific ways about how we should respond when someone does us harm. By virtue of our union with Christ–in His death and resurrection–we can learn put the following into practice:
1. Remember the spiritual identity of the offending brother or sister. The Scriptures differentiate between the children of God and unbelievers. Everyone who is united to Christ by faith has been adopted into God’s family. None of us deserves to be adopted into God’s family. It is the height of the spiritual blessings that God has conferred on us by grace. When we sin against others in the body, or when they sin against us, we are sinning against one of God’s beloved sons or daughters. We are to view all professing believers as our brother and sisters in Christ–as members of “the whole family in heaven and earth” (Eph. 3:14). Our actions are to accord with what we believe about the doctrine of adoption. If we are brothers and sisters in Christ, then we should “be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10) and we ought never “speak evil of one another” (James 4:11). If we viewed each other according to the doctrine of adoption, it would radically change the way that we respond when a brother or sister hurts us.
2. Pray for the offending brother or sister. Jesus taught us to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28); if this is true with regard to our relationship to our enemies, how much more of our relationship to an offending brother or sister. When someone does something to hurt us, we should pray that God would grant him repentance, give him the same grace we need and make him fruitful. It is a mark of humility when we do so. After all, that is what we should want others to pray for us if we were the offending party. The old adage is true: It’s impossible to hate someone for whom you are truly praying in love. Furthermore, we often forget that 1 John 5:15-16 can apply to personal interactions that we have with other believers: “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death.”
3. Cover the offending brother or sister. We should make it our goal to overlook as many offenses as possible. The point in simple: A godly man or woman is a man or woman who knows how sinful he or she is; and, therefore, should be able to pass by the personal offenses of the brethren. The Scripture teaches us as much. In the Proverbs, we read, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sin” (Prov. 10:12); “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends (17:9); and, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (19:11). Of course, this principle would not hold true with regard to a criminal act or in some serious act of abuse. We are required to report such actions to the lawful authorities. However, it should hold true in most other circumstances.
4. Confront the offending brother or sister. If we cannot lovingly cover the offense of a brother, Jesus teaches us that it is incumbent on us to “go and tell him his fault…alone” (Matt. 18:15). This may be the least obeyed of all of Jesus’ commands. How infrequent are the times when one brother has privately gone to another brother by whom he believes that he has been wronged. It is vital for us to learn this lesson in our relationships with one another. Jesus lays out the process by which the confrontation should occur–giving us recourse to include other brethren and the church if our brother will not receive private confrontation (Matt. 18:15-17).
In the house of God, Christians must learn to remember the identity of their brothers and sisters, humbly pray for their brothers and sisters, lovingly cover the sin of their brothers and sisters and privately confront their brothers and sisters. As we do, we will see God’s grace healing and sustaining our relationships in ways that the world will never experience. The hurt that occurs between believing brothers and sisters in Christ serves as a platform for the Gospel to be at work. May God cause the truth of the Gospel to work in our hearts in such a way as to impact our response to those who have hurt us in the church.