It might be as simple as an insulting comment or as complex as childhood sexual abuse, but whatever we’re dealing with, one thing is clear: We all get hurt at times.
Sometimes we can overlook and move on. The damage is minimal. But when the hurt is too deep for that, it’s easy for the wound to become infected. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed. We come to hate the person who hurt us, we look for revenge, we talk about them, and we harbour a malicious, unkind heart toward them. Over the next three posts, I want to share some things that God has been reminding me about recently.
For the follower of Jesus Christ, we have some clear teaching on how to respond to those who hurt us.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Here are some of the key points.
Choose forgiveness vs. holding on
A whole series could (and perhaps should) be written on the definition of forgiveness. There is some very, very damaging teaching abroad on the topic and some of that will be addressed in a later post. For now though, I’ll define it simply as the opposite of intentionally holding on to a sin/crime/slight committed against me.
We could talk about how holding on only hurts us and not them, and that is true. But the validity of such a point doesn’t make it Christian. Christian forgiveness, as opposed to such self-serving forgiveness as letting go for my own benefit, can be traced directly back to the cross of the Christ. Paul outlines this explicitly when he tells the Colossians to be “forgiving each other” (3:13). The reason he gives is simple: “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” The power to forgive the unforgivable is found in the realisation that my sin against God is greater than any offence ever committed against me, and yet I am forgiven by God through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Choose compassion vs. hostility
The word “malice” in v. 31 means hostility or hateful feelings and is contrasted with kindness and compassion in v. 32. Note that kindness should never be confused with niceness. Niceness is surface. It is often the most cowardly form of dishonesty. Kindness is deeper than niceness. Kindness is about doing good to another. Which leads to the next point.
Choose benevolence vs. revenge
In Romans 12:21, the Apostle Paul urges us not to let evil conquer us, but rather that we should “overcome evil with good.” What could he say that is more against our natures? Yet that is the point in a sense. Paul insists that we see the smaller slights as part of the bigger problem of the curse of sin. We are to go to battle, not with the one who did evil (no, for them we give food and drink, v. 20), but rather with the evil itself trusting that a just God “will repay” (v. 19).
Choose prayer vs. gossip/slander
Paul includes slander in his list of that which we must put away because how easy it is to slander those who have hurt us. In the sermon on the mount, our Lord exhorted us to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). We will talk—and we should. But if we have bad things to say about others, we must say them first to God. That’s not to suggest that we should never say them to others. Sometimes we should. “But isn’t that gossip?” some might protest. It depends. Gossip is not about what you say or who you say it to (though those things are important). Rather, gossip is about why you say it.
David Brainerd was a man who was hard done by early in his ministry such that his reputation was marred and his opportunities limited. On 3 March, 1744, he wrote this:
In the morning spent (I believe) an hour in prayer, with intenseness and freedom, and with the most soft and tender affection towards mankind. I longed that those who, I have reason to think, owe me ill will, might be eternally happy. It seemed refreshing to think of meeting them in heaven, how much soever they had injured me on earth.
How can such a spirit not be at least partially the result of his praying for those who hurt him? D. A. Carson exposes the reason many of us do not pray for our enemies: “It is very hard to pray with compassion and zeal for someone we much prefer to resent” (A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p. 119).
In the next post in this series, I hope to address the results of making these choices. May God do his gracious work in us today, teaching us the deep, life-altering implications of the cross when we’ve been hurt.
Grace to you.