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Over the years, I cannot begin to count the number of people who have made comments about how badly the Church has hurt them.
Church Hurts Hurt
Photo by Road Trip with Raj / Unsplash

Love God. Love others. Love your enemies.

It would be impossible to count the number of men and women of all ages have made comments to me about how badly the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has hurt them, and that’s why they don’t frequent their local assembly. I can honestly say that I, too, have been horribly hurt by the Body of Christ within local fellowships. I, too, have had to make a decision whether to retreat or to stay and endure the abuse and resulting pain. I wish I could say I always chose to stand, but I have experienced the pain of retreat like so many others.

Based on my family’s personal experiences, I feel at least somewhat qualified to approach this topic. Here is what I have found to be true: How we respond to the local Body’s failure to demonstrate the love of God toward us and the love of “thy neighbor” to others (including our loved ones) is key to our spiritual health. More than that, however, it is key to becoming an instrument in the hand of God to promote a healthy local assembly. If we choose to internalize the pain and rejection, we become a victim. However, if we choose to stand and put the Word of God into action by our obedience, we not only become a victor but we set a powerful example to those who inflicted such pain, opening the way for the Holy Spirit to bring conviction and set restoration in motion.

A Closer Look

People are imperfect. They can be mean. They can hurt us. They can say things behind our backs which make us look bad. They can lie to us and about us. They can falsely accuse us. They can reject us for any number of reasons. They can be nice to us to our faces and rip us to shreds behind our backs. And, that’s just the beginning.

The problem arises when we allow “people” to speak louder to us through their words and/or actions than the Life-giving Word of God. Jesus never said the Church would be perfect. In fact, we see in Revelation where the early churches were anything but perfect. It’s a given. It’s going to happen. We’re not going to agree with everything and we’re certainly not going to please everyone. We’re going to be targeted by someone or some group, and the bigger the church, the more we will find disapproval and even suffer abuse from our fellow- congregants. It’s sad, but true.

To Love or to be Loved

So, why do we assemble ourselves together and why did the Apostle Paul, under the power of the Holy Spirit write “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together”? Do we gather together to please others or to make some kind of statement about our ability to keep spiritual disciplines? Do we assemble ourselves together to please God as if we are earning points for every time we assemble with our brothers and sisters? Or ... is there some other reason? As long as we go with an attitude that we somehow deserve to be served and loved and accepted and edified, we’re going to be sorely disappointed. But, if we go because the local Body of Christ offers an opportunity to serve others and demonstrate the pure love of God dwelling within us, what others think about us or say about us can’t have such a damaging impact!

It’s About Love

Everyone needs love. As humans, we were created to crave love and acceptance. When we don ’t find it, or if we thought we found it but suddenly find out it was a superficial show, we feel rejected and hurt. We retreat and feel justified in doing so. After all, why should we go through the trouble of going if all we’re going to feel is the sting of rejection and the pain of abuse by people who project themselves as ones who are Christlike? And, sadly, some of the worst offenders of the Godly principles of pure love are often the leaders! The very ones who preach and teach the Word so often fail to demonstrate the Word through their actions; this injects a tremendous dose of disillusionment, pain and confusion into the local assembly. The leaders may stand behind the pulpit, lead a group study, serve on the Board, be an appointed elder or deacon. But by the very virtue of their “position”, the responsibility they bear to demonstrate the Gospel is tremendous. But, they’re human, just like we are, and subject to the same frailties, imperfection, and failures. If we don’t love them even when they don’t appear to love us, we are no better than they are! Think about that!

Jesus summed up the whole of the law in two commandments: Love God and love others. It’s all about love—demonstrating the very character of God.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
And we ought to lay down our liv es fo r our broth ers .” (1 John 3:16)

We find it easy to say we love God, but loving others is often the challenge. Or, at least that’s what we think! The fact is, if we don’t love others as God loves them, the love of God is not in us. We miss the mark and the pain we feel from rejection and isolation essentially becomes self-inflicted. The enemy wins when we love God but feel as if we cannot stand to be around our brothers and sisters in our local congregations. How can we, though, love those who are outside the Body when we cannot even love those within? If we say we can, we are only fooling ourselves. It is the same as saying “I love the homeless and destitute but I cannot love my husband!” Do you see how the enemy has sold such a lie? We cannot hope to minister God’s love to others until we get ourselves in a mindset to love those for whom God has given us the greatest responsibility—even those who speak badly of us or are spiteful and hateful to us. Consider Jesus and the example of His lifein Isaiah 53:3-6 ...

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Now, consider where we would be today if he had retreated from those who hurt him? What would have happened to His witness to all the generations of the earth if He had repaid hurt and hurled assaults at others when they sorely abused Him? What would our hope look like if Jesus had simply shut himself out of the “assembly” and stayed to Himself? The answer is obvious ... we would be lost in sin with no way out! But, because He knew that His Father gave Him strength to face His accusers, to love them so much that He submitted to death on the cross, He didn’t let what others though about Him or said about Him or did to Him stop Him from demonstrating the greatest love known to mankind by giving of His own life so they could know the power of love at work in their midst!

This is our example! This is the pattern! If we will commit our ways to God, He will give us the strength to love those who despitefully use us. If we don’t, we become playmates with the enemy, victimized by His determination to prove God a liar!

It’s a Matter of Heart

Either God’s Word is true and the example of Christ’s life is the pattern for our life, or God is a liar. If we don’t follow God’s Word and emulate His love for all, we are actually declaring that His Word is not useful for us—that our ways are better than His, that we are due a greater measure of love from others than Christ Himself.

It’s a matter of OUR heart, not other’s hearts toward us! We’re not held accountable for how others treat us. However, we ARE held accountablefor how we respond to others.

Believe me, I know there are a lot of problems in the Church—many more than most of us know. But, those problems are not going to get any better as long as people choose to maintain their right to BE loved rather than to SERVE one another in love – the pure love that comes from the indwelling of the Spirit of God. First John 4:8-10 says:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

God doesn’t wait for us to actloving toward Him before He lavishes His love upon us and this is our example. Don’t wait for others to show you how much they love you by how they treat you and respond to you—love them regardless. Jesus had to be strong and maintain His conviction to love even when He was facing the worst possible persecution from the very ones upon whom He poured out His love!

Don’t let the enemy have the victory. If you’ve been hurt and wounded, and those you love have been dealt a deadly blow by someone in your local fellowship, demonstrate love and be the leader. Your response to hurt can set in motion a rippling effect that will thoroughly change the atmosphere of a local assembly. Whether or not you have the title, be the leader! Prove the devil that he’s wrong—he’s a defeated foe, a liar, and the father of all lies. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps and choose to rise above the pain and rejection, and love those who have hurt you!

If we don’t do this, we will live a life of isolation and drown in a pool of rejection. As a child of God, this is NOT your lot. Your life is to emulate the victory we have in Jesus and that means loving others as Christ has loved you— without exception, wholly, thoroughly, and sacrificially, even if they kill you and/or those you love.

Pray about it ... don’t blame the church. Look inside your own heart and make a decision to be an example of the perfect love of God at work in you and through you. Whether anyone accepts it or acknowledges it doesn ’t matter. You don’t livefor them anyway—you liveand lovebecause that’s what God has commanded you to do!

Love God. Love others. Love your enemies.

Don’t follow your heart—follow God and you’ll walk in victory, not as a victim!