War. It’s bloody and wretched and deadly. It requires total commitment on the part of every soldier. A soldier who is injured or gives their life on the field of battle is hailed as a hero. The sacrifice for country and security of all families brings honor and pride to the cherished loved ones who tend to them or mourn their loss.
And then you hear about the stories of what is termed “friendly fire.” They were hit by their own men wholly unintentionally. The response of loved ones is completely different. Frustration, anger and confusion fill their minds. How could this happen? Destruction by the enemy is expected, but wounds from your own side, your own people, your friends—it should not be.
And yet, in our ongoing spiritual warfare, we unwittingly inflict these accidental wounds, as well as find ourselves on the receiving end of them. So what does this friendly fire look like in the life of a Christian? You may have seen it before or were left trying to bandage your own wounds or those of others.
- Unbeknownst to them, “miserable comforters” come with disheartening words for ones bowed down with heavy grief and sorrow (Job 16:2).
- Unwarranted harsh criticism is laid at the feet of those honestly doing their best to be of service to others.
- A sister is left out because assumptions were made that she wouldn’t want to be involved in some activity due to financial reasons.
- Family members (husbands, children) are criticized unjustly. (Wives of preachers, elders, and deacons have experienced this at some point. It is here where “mama bear’s” claws tend to show.)
- Older sisters make known their personal dislike of another sister’s new hair color, shoes or style of clothing. (Not due to biblical standards.)
- Distance is created by Christian siblings because of a disagreement over a non-fellowship issue.
- Unrecognized ignorance of a brother or sister’s situation results in inadvertent neglect to help a in time of difficulty.
- Someone is accidentally overlooked in planning an activity within the congregation.
- Intentions or motives are misunderstood. (Trying to be helpful is viewed as an insult.)
We understand and expect the world to hate us and persecute us (1 John 3:13; John 15:20), but the surprise of “friendly fire” can throw us off balance along with inflicting injury. The level of pain it brings can depend on the individual Christian, their emotional strength, the strain they have been enduring already, their sensitivity and maturity. It can take its toll especially if they are in a situation where they feel its sting often. Frustration and hurt can give way to avoidance of the Christian brother or sister, not choosing to invite more pain. Left to that way of thinking long enough, a specific type of distrustful suspicion begins to measure every word they may say (or lack thereof) and analyzes body language through the glasses of protecting self from any more heartbreak. Assumptions can be created. There can even be scenarios built in the mind which are played out actively defending self against the ones who wounded them. It becomes a type of preparatory protection from further pain which one begins to expect from other Christians. In so doing, detachment from our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ comes easily and bitter feelings develop toward them. Those of us who have found ourselves in that situation know it all too well. We never intended to think or feel that way, but now what do we do? Even if it hasn’t escalated to that point, what can we do at the onset of that not-so-friendly fire?
As Christians God gives us specific instructions for when someone has sinned against us (Matthew 18:15-17, Luke 17:3). Here the danger is so great that disfellowship from the church is the proper action taken if it is not resolved. But the aim in this article is in how to deal with those Christians who have trod upon our sensitivities, not necessarily sinned against us. Humbly going to them and communicating your pain can be a way of reaching a better understanding of each other, provides opportunity for growth and the chance at building a stronger relationship. Sometimes it doesn’t work out nicely like that though. What do you do when the relationship is strained and you feel like the situation is at an impasse? What can you do when the only one you have opportunity to influence in the relationship for the better is you? Treating the physically wounded bears some similarities to treating the wounded Christian.
- For the physically wounded, the first response is to seek medical attention from a doctor.
- For the Christian, we need to speak to the Great Physician before doing anything else. This is not the last resort, it is paramount to initiate healing (1 Peter 5:7). We must pray for strength and patience to respond as Christ would (Galatians 2:20).
- Injured soldiers need an accurate assessment of their wounds for proper treatment.
- Christians need to do their very best to look past their own pain to be as generous as they can in their estimate of fellow Christians (Ephesians 4:1-3).
- What were their motives? Were they truly trying to hurt me? What is happening in their lives that may have caused them to be insensitive? Are they struggling with something themselves? Do they just not know what to do?
- A dear friend who is dealing with heart wrenching grief often receives comments that unknowingly inflict pain. She reminds herself to “try to not rob them of their good intentions.”
- Keep the injury elevated so that the blood will move away from the wound.
- Pray continually for the one who has hurt you. If our own Lord and Savior commands us to pray for our enemies who hate and persecute us, how much more should we pray for Christian siblings who have offended us (Matthew 5:44, James 5:16)?
- Cleaning the wound and changing bandages is essential to healing.
- By extending mercy to our sisters and brothers who have inflicted pain, we remember that we ourselves have been generously offered mercy and patience when we could not see some of the areas in our lives where we needed to grow and improve (Matthew 7:12).
- Engage in physical therapy as is prescribed by the doctor.
- Look for others who are hurting, not to compare or focus on the misery, but to encourage and bless using sensitive hearts to pour out empathy and love.
- Find opportunities to do good to those who hurt you. In Romans 12:20-21 I am to give food and water to my enemy if he is hungry or thirsty, overcoming evil with good. What then should I do for my brother or sister in Christ?
- Use surgery to rid the body of what will eventually cause debilitating disease and eventual death.
- If the hurt and pain have been left untreated long enough a Christian will have to use the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, to cut through repeating scenarios of bitterness interrupting the opportunity Satan is using to cause avoidance and isolation (Hebrews 4:12).
- Take medication as directed.
- Saturate your mind with passages which promote unity and compassion and mercy (Psalm 119:11).
Like physical healing, to heal spiritually we must be actively engaged. Here are a few verses and some directives to guide us in meditating in the right direction, reprogramming our thoughts. Repeat them aloud three times a day or as often as necessitates a transformation of the mind. Take especially with much fervent prayer (James 5:16). For it is the Great Physician who can heal even the most unfriendliest of wounds.
(Click here for a printable version of the verses and directives.)
1 Corinthians 6:7b (ESV)
“…Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”
If I have done what I could to remedy the situation in humility, I can be strong enough to endure suffering wrong even at the hand of a brother or sister in Christ. Even in that I can put on love.
James 5:8-9 (NKJV)
“You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!”
Instead of grieving over hurt caused by my Christian siblings, I keep in mind the big picture of what truly matters in light of eternity.
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
In the midst of conflict with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I generously bear with them in patience and humility choosing to focus on maintaining unity to honor my Lord Jesus Christ.
Colossians 3:12 (ESV)
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,”
I extend mercy by offering kindness and compassion when I have been hurt by my fellow Christians. Knowing my own desperate need for mercy and grace I respond with persistent longsuffering.
James 4:11 (ESV)
“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers…”
I resolve to have my thoughts and words guided by the love found in Christ Jesus always choosing to be generous in thinking the best of intentions of other Christians.
1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 (NKJV)
“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.”
Although I have been disheartened by hurtful words or actions, I choose to continually look for ways in which I can do good and bless them.
1 Peter 2:23 (NKJV)
“who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;”
I can imitate Christ and honor Him in responding righteously to pain inflicted by others in Christ.
Note: Two other verses that are applicable here, as well are John 22:21b and Luke 2:49. Directives or affirmations with those are found in the article “The Land of Comparative Christianity”
By Cheri Deaver
Cheri is wife to Weylan Deaver who preaches at the Sherman Drive Church of Christ in Denton, Texas. She is mother to Orrin, Lacey, Lexie and Ethan, as well as a new mother-in-law to Aubrie Deaver. She is blessed beyond measure for which God has so richly provided.