The Bible presents the Church using beautiful and glorious word pictures. The Church is the body of Christ, which shares in the perfections of her head (1 Corinthians 12:20; Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). She is a building that is built on the firm foundation of Christ (Ephesians 2:20). She is also called a radiant bride, loved and purchased by the blood of the Son of God (Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 19:7-8). These images are not only beautiful but reassuring. They, in a sense, present the Church in an attractive and alluring manner. That said, one does not have to stay long in a church to notice that beauty and glory is often a distant illusion. It’s in church that many of us have experienced deep hurt.

One doesn’t have to stay long in a church to notice that beauty and glory is often a distant illusion.

The Church Is The People

The church is not the building or its programs. It is the people. And as we all know, people are often messy and hurtful. Hurt people hurt others.

If you are reading this and you belong to a local church, there’s a good chance you’ve been hurt before. This could be through neglect in time of need or some form of nasty treatment—actual or perceived. The reality is that by joining a group of sinners you are almost guaranteed to be hurt in some form or shape. Thus, part of our sanctification is to know how to deal with hurt and the hurting among us.

Part of our sanctification is to know how to deal with hurt and the hurting among us.

Sources Of Hurt

These hurts come from various sources or in different forms. The first and most apparent is inter-personal conflict. These conflicts and quarrels come because of selfishness and sinful desires in our hearts (James 4:1-3). Unless they are dealt with biblically, these conflicts have a way of breeding hurt and will soon affect a congregation (Philippians 4:2). Divisions about doctrine, practice, or ministerial philosophy are also a source of hurt. Those who ‘lose’ the battle will often be marginalised, or hounded out.

Another source of hurt in the church is abuse. This comes in many forms. Some have experienced manipulation from false teachers or leaders who are intoxicated with power. Sadly, we have even seen cases of sexual abuse. Another common source of hurt is the wrong expression of church discipline as well as how we respond to it. Going through such experiences will leave one emotionally and mentally hurting. Many of us have scars to show for it.  

Two Tempting Reactions To Hurt

When one has experienced any of the above hurts, or others, two reactions are instinctive.

The first is to retreat and let the pain simmer inside. These people harbour hatred and bitterness or resort to self-pity. They will often abandon the local church altogether because they cannot stand the pretence and hypocrisy. They figure they are better off alone. In some instances, they may have tried to voice their frustrations, but they were not heard.

Wounded people are often a danger to themselves and others. For we naturally desire to get even.

The second reaction is to attack. Wounded people are often a danger to themselves and others. For we naturally desire to get even, and take the offensive. There is a desire to pay back and put people in their place. Hence, malicious slander and gossip ensues. But this sort of conduct is not befitting of God’s people.  

Whatever the reaction, whether retreating or attacking, we must remember that these reactions, though instinctive, are not biblical. In many ways, followers of Jesus must live counterintuitively to their nature. One of the ways we can be set apart, demonstrating holiness, is in how we respond to hurt.

Make Christ Your Example

In order to respond differently to hurt, we will need the example of Christ before us. For the Son of God came down to earth to live among and die at the hands of the people he had created. What is even more remarkable is that at the very moment they were crucifying him, he was sustaining their lives and dying for their sins.

At the very moment they were crucifying him, Jesus was sustaining their lives and dying for their sins.

Therefore, Paul writes: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1-5).

How To Respond to Hurt

With Christ as our example, contrary to the ways in which we instinctively react to hurt, I will conclude with four biblical responses.

1. Pray  

One of the hymns we sing as a church family asks the following questions: “are you weary, are you heavyhearted”; “are you grieving over joys departed”; “do the tears flow down your cheeks unbidden”? The refrain, and the answer, is: “Tell it to Jesus”. We have an all knowing, sympathising high priest who cares for our needs and knows about our struggles. Dear hurting Christian, cast your cares on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7). Tell him how you feel. Ask for grace and humility to handle the matter in a way that honours him and loves others.

2. Confront 

If someone has sinned against you, we have a Christian responsibility to point out the error of his or her ways lovingly so that they may repent (Matthew 18:15-20). This is part of our responsibility of growing one another. When we develop a healthy culture of confronting sin with the goal of reconciliation, we will, in turn, build one another up in our faith.

3. Forgive 

Whenever a group of sinners comes together, it is guaranteed that they will offend and hurt one another. One sure way churches can live in harmony is by ensuring that we forego our rights to demand retribution. Instead, we must cultivate forgiveness and grace. Resist the temptation to hold grudges and harbour bitter anger.

4. Patience  

Change is a process. Individual Christian faith and maturity grows slowly. It takes time. This is also true of the broader Christian community. Therefore, as we pray, confront and forgive one another, we must exercise patience. Paul exhorts Timothy to teach with all patience (2 Timothy 2:24). As we deal with frustrations and hurts within the church, we must heed the instruction to bear with one another.