Hit By Friendly Fire: What To Do When Christians Hurt You

Genesis 50:15-21; Philippians 3:8-10 One second. One mistake. One firing of the missile in the midst of the war. The missile cannot come back. The weapon is now headed for you. And the one who fired it is on your side. It is war. Hit by friendly fire. And this is not Baghdad or the...
Updated Aug 22, 2011
Hit By Friendly Fire: What To Do When Christians Hurt You
Genesis 50:15-21Philippians 3:8-10

One second. One mistake. One firing of the missile in the midst of the war. The missile cannot come back. The weapon is now headed for you. And the one who fired it is on your side. It is war. Hit by friendly fire.

And this is not Baghdad or the Battle of the Bulge or Pork Chop Hill. I am speaking of the many walking wounded in the body of Christ who have been hurt by other believers, people who have been hit by the betrayal of a Christian.

But this is no mistake. She meant to say those words. He meant to plot against you. They meant to bring you down. And you will never be the same. You will suffer with this for the rest of your life. You will not go back to any church. You will lick your wounds. You will be possessed for the rest of your life by the pain. And the pain becomes bitterness.

Do you know anyone like that? Or is that your story? Are you the victim of a wound inflicted by someone you love? A victim? It does not have to be.

When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him." So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:15-21).

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, (Philippians 1:15-18).

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, (Philippians 3:8-10).

Interrupted by God

I do sermon planning, and then I do sermon preparation. In sermon planning, I seek to plan over a period of time, such as a year, and seek the Lord to take us through books or chapters of the Bible. Then, week-to-week, I do sermon preparation — based upon the planning — where I actually prepare for the sermon coming up. Between series on books or chapters, I bring you single sermon messages, like last week and like today. I thought I knew where I was going in this single sermon. But between the planning and the preparation, God interrupted my life. And that is the way it should be. So I believe this message has come from the Lord.

I would characterize this message as a pastoral sermon — that is, a sermon drawn from Scripture to address a need I see in the lives of our people. I have not seen this need just in this congregation or in any single person here or even in my life. I see this as a universal need in the lives of Christians . . . and, I must say, in the lives of non-Christians. It is the matter of being hurt by one you love. It is the matter of seeing yourself as a victim — or not — in that process. Let me tell you how God brought this to me, and then I want to address it from God's Word.

I like to joke that the way I live my life is just to let women tell me what to do and do it. I joke, but it is true. My beloved wife runs my schedule before 7:00 a.m. and after 6:00 p.m., and Mrs. Miller, my secretary, runs my schedule in between. I simply seek to be obedient. But men, that is another sermon.

Well, one day, not too long ago, Mrs. Miller told me what my schedule looked like that particular day. Among other appointments, I was to see three different families. None of them were from our church, or even from our city for that matter. Without going into detail, let me also say they were all in ministry.

The first began to tell me their story. But soon the words, going nowhere as far as I could tell, ended in tears. Then they said it, "We have been hurt by other Christians." I spent no small amount of time with them. I brought them to God's Word, and we spent time together seeking the truths of Scripture. Our time was over.

Then came the second family. They began a rambling story that got more complicated as they went. I slowed them down and tried to help them identify the heartache. They had been betrayed by another believer. I was amazed. Two appointments, two identical issues. But my amazement would not be complete.

The third person came in. I was almost ready to say, "Alright, so how were you hurt by another believer?" But he told me his concern was about a vocational decision. I thought, Ok, great, this is not a trend. We spoke about his vocational crisis — seeking God's will on what to do with his life. Finally, holding back tears, he interrupted our flow of talk with the real hurt, "I am in this fix because another Christian hurt me!"

Has anyone here ever been hurt by someone you love? or respect? Has any believer here ever been disillusioned about the church because you were let down by a leader in the church? Maybe there is a pastor here who is not in a pulpit because he has been hurt. I know for a fact that whenever I am addressing missionaries or pastors and especially pastor's wives and children, these kinds of wounds are present.

I call this "friendly fire." It is the flack that we take from our own side. It is the misguided bomb intended for the enemy that lands right smack dab in the middle of our hearts. The pain was known by David.

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me (Psalms 41:9).

The pain was known by our Lord.

. . . "He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me" (John 13:18).

Today the question is not, How do we stop it? The question is, What do we do with it? The question may also be put, Will I remain a victim, or will I move to being a victor with Christ?

When the Clock Stops

I once sold insurance door-to-door in poor areas of Louisiana. One of my clients was a poor family who lived in an old house on the other side of the tracks. Every month I would go to collect the insurance money, and we would sit in their living room and talk. One day I noticed that the clock was wrong. It said nine o'clock when, in fact, it was noon. I said nothing. But I saw the same thing the next month and then the next month. Finally, I said something to the husband and wife. Tears came to their eyes. "That was the moment our boy died ten years ago," they told me. The clock had stopped in their lives.

The pain of friendly fire can stop the clock. This happens to Christians who get hurt by other Christians and who fail to identify their pain with Christ. The clock stops. They go through life, month after month, year after year, and often church after church, but the clock stopped in their lives way back when they were hurt. Today it is popular to be a victim. But being a victim is not a good way to live because life cannot go forward when the clock has stopped at the point of our last betrayal.

Yet I wonder, how many here today are living their lives with the clock stopped?

There is another answer. There is a way to healing. But I warn you, it will involve another kind of pain — the pain of Christ's cross. But Christ's cross will bring resurrection, and the new life He brings will also make the clock start ticking again.

This is what we see in Joseph's being able to forgive his brothers after they literally ditched him. Joseph identified his pain with God. In God the pain was intended to bring blessing. Being hurt by his brothers made sense. The pain of false accusation made sense. The trial of unjust imprisonment was good. The years of separation from his father were good for him. He was saying with David, "Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil" (Psalms 90:15).

The power at work in the life of Joseph is what you need in order to get past this hurt. It is the power that was present in Paul when he said in Galatians 2, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

It is what Paul is getting at in our text from Philippians. By embracing the pain that comes at him as a means of identification with Jesus Christ, Paul moves from victim to victor.

So pull up a pew and let's apply God's Word to this situation. What I shared with the people who came into my office that day is what I want to share with you today as your pastor. For believers hurt by other believers, for loved ones hurt by other loved ones, for anyone feeling like a victim of another person, or maybe just feeling betrayed by life, in order for you to move from victim to victor in dealing with the pain of betrayal or suffering of any kind, three drastic steps must be taken. We see these three drastic steps being taken by Paul, who is in prison as a result of the plotting of his own people (Philippians 3:10-11) and by Joseph, who was mistreated by his own brothers (Genesis 15:19-20).

First, think about what God teaches victims about this from Philippians 3.

"That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:10-11).

This is your first step when hurt by another.

Take up Your Cross

This is hard language. Paul cannot go again to the cross to atone for his sins. That is not what he means. He means to say that every sorrow, every act of treachery, every act of betrayal has become, for him, a point of identification with Christ. Through these things he knows resurrection in his life.

Paul is given a cross. His cross is imprisonment. The imprisonment is because of betrayal and treachery of people who should have loved him and encouraged him. In Philippians 1 it is the betrayal and treachery of fellow preachers of the gospel. In Philippians 3 it is the betrayal and treachery and plotting of the Jews. In so many ways we see this man betrayed, and he is now in prison. But Paul will say, "I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel" (Philippians 1:12).

Then after talking about the betrayal and the rivalry of ministry, Paul says that whether Christ is preached in pretense or truth, He is preached. That is enough for him and he rejoices.

How do you move from being hurt to rejoicing? The answer is: you take up your cross. That is not an easy answer, but it is necessary

This is what Christ commanded us to do when he said that we must take up our cross: "Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it'" (Matthew 16:24-25. See also Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23-24).

The person who is hurt and not moving on to embrace that pain as a means for God to do something in his life, is the person who is stuck and the clock has stopped. The reason is that he is not denying himself. In fact, the very thing he wants to do is feed self — my rights, they hurt me, they should do this, they said this about me, I need to be justified, I need to be taken care of, I was offended. But Jesus says, "Take up your cross, follow me, deny yourself, whoever seeks to save his life will loose it, whoever looses his life for My sake will find it."

We want to think about cross bearing as physical pain, and it is. We want to think about taking up our cross as standing up for truth and maybe taking some hits for it, maybe even being a martyr for it. Throughout church history many have done so. But the context of the cross is betrayal. The context of the cross is the pain of being hurt by those close to us.

Zechariah 13:6 speaks of "the wounds I received in the house of my friends." This is the painful life that the people who came to my office were speaking of. This is the pain you may feel in your heart. This may be where some of you are living today.

Sadly, some people live by the words of the late playwright Tennessee Williams who wrote, "We have to distrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal." 1

God does not call us to live in distrust, but to live in faith in Christ. It is not that I implicitly trust all men, it is that I trust God in all situations. And this makes life sweet.

Recently, I was told about a friend from my past who had moved. I asked where he was going to church and was told that he goes nowhere. He speaks of past betrayals, past pain in churches, and says that he will not allow himself to be hurt again. He distrusts. It is now his defense against betrayal. His philosophy of life was related by his ten-year-old son. What a lesson he is getting.

God does not want that to be the lesson you leave with today. Rather, the lesson is that you and I are called to take up our cross in every way, including our relationships. It is true that you may be hurt. But you are a disciple of One who was betrayed, who was hurt, and you are no better than Jesus.

To follow Christ is to embrace the cross, to say with the Bible, "Though He was a son He learned obedience through suffering" (Hebrews 5:8). We are not gluttons for punishment. We are not masochistic and desire pain. We are followers of Christ, and to identify with Christ, we bring all of our heartache to Him. We find meaning in our suffering, even in our betrayals, through Christ.

In dealing with the experience of being hurt by others, to take up the cross is to stop being a victim and begin to be a victor through Jesus Christ.

Think about what God is teaching victims in Genesis 50: "But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today" (Genesis 50:19-20).

Here we can identify our second step. If the first step in moving from victim to victor in our painful relationships is to take up our cross, the second is to

Take Off Your Crown

Stop pretending you are sovereign and confess the truth that only God is sovereign. J.C. Ryle wrote, "Of all the doctrines of the Bible, none is so offensive to human nature as the doctrine of God's sovereignty."2

I have found this to be true in my nature. It is the final act of submission — to say that I am not in control, but God is. In confessing this, you will find healing.

If you are in control, then your crucifixion has no meaning. You must hold hostage in your heart that person who is perpetrating this injustice upon you. You cannot forgive because you have been wronged.

But if God is sovereign, then the One who brought your cross is Christ Himself. This is hard language. It means that like Joseph, like Paul, and, yes, most like Jesus, you see God Himself sovereignly ruling in all of life to bring you to the point of crucifixion. Crucifixion is, as Gene Edwards puts it in his book Crucified by Christians,3 meant to destroy. God has destruction on His mind in your life. He intends to purge, to refine. As the old Puritan Thomas Watson put it, to put the gold into the fire until the last dross has drained from the metal. Jesus was crucified by His Father. And it was to His Father that He cried.

In my counseling session with these three families, things got very still at this point — even uncomfortable. Maybe it is so with you right now. But Joseph escaped being a victim and became a victor by naming God, not as the author of evil, but the One who caused it to work together for good. Paul was not bitter against the Jews. He would pray for them, say that he would give his life for them even though they had betrayed him, and he would suffer and ultimately lose his life because of their condemnation against him. Why? Because God was in control of Paul's crucifixion. God, not man, is in control.

Here is how Matthew Henry summed up the fact of the sovereignty of God and the painful and even sinful things that are sent to us: "God often brings good out of evil, and promotes the designs of His providence even by the sins of men; not that He is the author of sin, far be it from us to think, so; but His infinite wisdom so overrule events, that . . . the issue, that ends in his praise [was at first] . . . to His dishonor; as [in] the putting of Christ to death."4

We need to learn to say with Jonathan Edwards, "Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God . . . .It has often been my delight."5

At a conference I attended recently, I listened intently to Skip Ryan, pastor of Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. Skip was speaking about his struggles with applying God's sovereignty to His own life. He said that there was a time when his wife, Barbara, put a sticky note on the bathroom mirror that said, "When will you stop trying to be the general manager of the world?"

Ouch. Any General Managers of the World out there? As one recovering controller to another, you know there is only one. And that is good news. Because the crucial step in coming to terms with any pain that has come against us, including getting hurt by someone close to us, is to say, "God, You are in control. What do You want me to learn?" This releases people to let God deal with them. It focuses your pain, not on someone who hurt you, but on the God who has led you to your own Calvary. Or as Malcolm Muggeridge once put it: "Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message."6

Grasping God's sovereignty — not as a theological concept, but as an act of utter submission and childlike faith — will move you from the status of a victim to a victor.

We have taken note of two steps: Take it to the cross, Take off your crown. But all of it comes together in the third step.

Go to Your Gethsemane

Paul says that he wants to identify his sufferings with Christ so "that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:11). Deciding that his prison was sent by God, through even the sins of brethren, in order to cause him to know Christ's resurrection was a crucial step for Paul. Deciding that his brothers' awful act of treachery was under the sovereign control of God was a moment of faith for Joseph.

Gethsemane is the place where, like Jesus, like Paul, like Joseph, you come face-to-face with your crucifixion and with the fact that God is in control. Note carefully: If there is to be resurrection — a new life to emerge from the pain, the betrayal, the hurtful words — there must be a crucifixion, and if there is to be a crucifixion — by the Father for the good of many — then there must be a Gethsemane moment when you say, "Not my will but yours." There must be a moment when you say, even when the shadow of pain is falling over you, "They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good."

This Gethsemane — your Gethsemane, the moment when you respond to the pain you have received from others — is the turning point when you will either go forward as a walking wounded, destined to carry the burden for years or you will accept the trial as coming from God and open your life to Him. If you take up your cross and take off your crown, your response of faith will lead you to total trust in the Lord and His will for your life — total forgiveness of others and release of them to the Lord for His will in their lives and total freedom for you and His wonderful grace being unleashed as a powerful reality.

This is what I told the friends who came to see me that day. It is what I want to say to each of you because we all will be hurt. We are all a bunch of recovering sinners living with each other. Like a family, we say things that hurt, we make mistakes that hurt others and ourselves. We live in a world that is fallen and where we are always being victimized by someone or something. But the Lord is calling us to identify our sufferings with Christ so that we are becoming like Him through the things that come against us.

I want to share something with you. I don't say it to bring attention to myself but to show God's faithfulness. There was a time in my ministry, when some things came together to bring pain. I cannot tell you details about these times, for they are too painful to me and too personal for others. But I did not see this truth. As I was hurt, I brooded over my pain. I believe that I was unforgiving in my heart toward these people and toward this one man. The pain festered for a long time. I would say, "This man has hurt me and ruined something good for me." I hope by now you see, I was wrong. There is no resurrection for those who suffer without Gethsemane submission. There is no new life. There is only the grave. But if that is your story, it does not have to end that way. There is always a Gethsemane moment available for you. For me, I found my Gethsemane in a hotel room when no one else was watching. I said, "Lord, you did this. Not that man. Not those people. You did this. And shall I not drink this cup?" I had lost much. I cried and I cried. The tomb opened. I rose, and I lived again.

One day, many years later, I again saw the shadow of a cross coming over me. This time, I remembered. I am sorry but again I cannot tell you details. I will tell you this: I came home to my wife and said, "The Lord has called us to the field of testing. We have entered the time of the cross." The crucifixion came. I felt moments when the Father had abandoned me. But by then I knew, He had abandoned His Son, my Lord, so that He would never abandon me. I knew from my lesson in the cross that to embrace the thing that was to come against me was to release snd forgive those who may have seemed to bring the hammer and the nails and the cross. No. It was God who would do this. For as one writer put it:

Love . . .
ordains every struggle to strengthen us,
lights every furnace to purify us,
mingles every bitter cup to heal us.7

I have never known God's love more than when I took up the cross, took off the crown, and went to my own Gethsemane.

I gave this testimony to these three families, and I saw God moving to bring new life. It didn't take years of counseling. It took one moment of saying, "I want to know Him and the power of His resurrection in my life. I want take up my cross and follow Him, to claim Him as Sovereign King even in my rejection and my betrayals." I watched faces lift up from prayers of confession to joyful release, years of pent up pain dripping away and new life, like fresh sunshine, coming through.

God will do it for you, too. He will transform you who have been hurt, wounded, abandoned, sinned against, betrayed, from a victim to a victor by trusting in the One who was hurt, wounded, abandoned, sinned against, betrayed, but who pronounced forgiveness from the cross. Jesus Christ has transformed the cross from an instrument of destruction sent by the Father to an instrument of salvation ordained by God. In Him there can be no more victims — only victors.

How many here will say, "I want to know him and the power of his resurrection, and share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may rise again?"

How many will believe that they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.


Michael Milton is Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, TN.


1. The Columbia World of Quotations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. www.bartleby.com/66/. 2004.
2. Mark Water, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).
3. Gene Edwards, Crucified by Christians (Beaumont, TX: SeedSowers/Christian Books Pub., 1995).
4. Matthew Henry, Leslie F. Church, and Gerald W. Peterman, The Niv Matthew Henry Commentary in One Volume : Based on the Broad Oak Edition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1992).
5. Mark Water, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 430.
6. Simpson, James B., comp. Simpson's Contemporary Quotations. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988. www.bartleby.com/63/. 2004.
7. Newman Hall, Leaves of Healing from the Garden of Grief (http://www.biblebb.com/quotes/quotes1104.htm, 1891).

Unless otherwise stated, all quoted Scripture is from the English Standard Version.


Christianity / Christian Life / Spiritual Growth / Hit By Friendly Fire: What To Do When Christians Hurt You