I’m about to say something that probably won’t shock you: Christians aren’t perfect. And because churches primarily consist of Christians, they aren’t perfect either. That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised, really, when people who have a sincere relationship with Christ offend or even deeply hurt us. Disclaimer: I am not talking about spiritual abuse here. That is a topic many have explored, including Tim Challies and Bob Kellemen in this helpful overview.
In this article, I am speaking of the more typical hurts and misunderstandings that happen among Christians, especially those in the church. Though these offenses can sting, they are not based in the clear and ongoing violation of biblical principles.
Here’s an example: One time I collaborated with a few others on a worship service. In the end, I received a lot of the credit and attention for the success of the production. This upset another member of our team, who responded by making some unfair accusations of me and my character. I was so hurt that I just wanted to escape the situation and never work with the person again.
I think many of us respond to conflicts with other Christians in this way. The “escape method” is the most comfortable and requires the least work — we leave the church, drop out of the team or let a friendship fade out. It may be easier, but it can also have a devastating effect on the Body of Christ.
I think all of us can agree that being hurt by others — even Christians — is a part of life in a sinful world. So here are three ways to respond:
1. Prioritize peace.
I recently heard a pastor joke about those in the church who “have the spiritual gift of dissention.” In every situation, this kind of person is looking to be offended, pick a fight or play devil’s advocate. While we can probably all think of a person we have known who fits this description, it’s also helpful to look at ourselves. Am I too easily offended or eager to start a quarrel?
Paul offers this principle in Romans 12:18 (ESV): “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” When a Christian hurts us, our first priority should be working toward a peaceful resolution. In many cases, conflict or hurt feelings can be dealt with in a healthy and biblical way that creates no long-term damage.
This should go without saying, but for some reason, when someone hurts me, my first instinct is to want to hold onto my anger and frustration. Praying almost always diffuses the emotion because it brings truth and perspective. Praying allows God to speak to me, show me my own issues and remind me of His love for the person hurting me.
When a Christian is hurting you, it’s always a wise idea to pray before you respond. Ask God to bring clarity to the situation and provide a peaceful solution if at all possible.
Earlier, I talked about the escape method we sometimes employ when we face conflict with other Christians. An equally damaging reaction is to push it down and let bitterness grow. I was recently looking through old papers when I stumbled upon a handwritten page I’d written as I prepared to meet with the person I referenced at the beginning of this article. A little like King David, I lamented the injustice of this person’s accusations against me and asked God to be my defender. I also asked Him to sustain the ministry and not allow this situation to derail it.
The work I did to pray and process what was happening ahead of time paid off. Both of us came to the table with humility and willingness to hear the other out. As a result, we were able to engage in several more fruitful years of ministry together. (FYI, practicing this approach as a single person is great practice for marriage.)
It may be easier to “bail” when Christians hurt you, and there are instances where that may become your only option, but that should be your last resort. Staying the course to live in unity with other believers is the vehicle God uses to accomplish His work. This is why the psalmist wrote, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).